"The whole point of loyalty was not to change: stick with those who stuck with you."LARRY MCMURTRY, Streets of LaredoLoyalty. It's likely the characteristic I most laud in others. That admiration was molded and burned into my skull at an early age. So here's an accounting of what loyalty meant to my Father... In the nineteen-eighties...Dusty Rhodes had assumed the role of executive producer, matchmaker, "booker" at Jim Crockett Promotions. Hearing it from one of pro-wrestling's most special men, Paul Heyman(who as a young man and photographer hid in the back row of my Father's production meeting)...wrestler after wrestler pulled into that Carolina territory. Most thinking of it as another notch in their body-of-work...just a stop on the train that was territory wrestling in the concluding era of The National Wrestling Alliance. They pulled-up in Chevy Novas and Pintos, wayward wrestling cowboys and cowgirls. Wait...how I know all this?? Being that I was born in 1985...study? Various accounts from the men and women who lived and lived it with ferocity, and of course from a man I consider(and without argument I might add, for his multi-faceted contributions to his business, one of pro-wrestling's Mount Rushmore) my Father, BUT whether I was in the backseat of a mini-van watching him pick his teeth with a plastic bag or it was being fortunate enough to hear it from him as he helped my Wife with an interview in the "pre-tapes" room, nobody was more specific and flush with the details like Paul Heyman. Like I said, most of these young men and women...or aging stars thought this would just be business as usual making a dollar in the wrestling game. But as we students-of-the-game know, the eighties and JCP was anything but business as usual...it was white-hot fire. The gritty "real" opposition to the World Wrestling Federation. Next thing you know, those Pintos and Novas were Mercedes Benzes; and those apartments had now ripened to 250,000 dollar houses...paid in cash. Arn Anderson went from doing an interview on the beach while hanging out with Ric Flair to becoming the "enforcer" of the Four Horsemen to becoming an elite "super genius" and WWE Hall Of Famer. That's just one name on a very long list. And then we turn the clock forward...when the bottom fell out and when JCP delved into the red. The same man you were looking to for another adrenaline fix or showering with gifts...it was all his fault. The same ideas that got you into the game, that got you the house on the hill, the car you dreamed about...well apparently those ideas eventually led to game-over. And to this day, whether it be a "shoot" interview or a panel...some delusional men still point the finger at The Dream. Now the point of this story isn't to say what happened in the period before Ted Turner bought out what was left of the promotion and Georgia Championship Wrestling, or to shed light on the negative bad-blood that came to be. Hell!! There are those same men who look me in the eye today and advise me on this industry and think I don't know that they gave Dusty Rhodes their back(and the whole time I nod and remain polite, I want to headbutt their teeth inward)...but that's not the point. Because loyalty still existed. It was December 1999, it was The Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia...it was ECW. Prior to this, as a bitchy teenager I had seen the proverbial fall from grace, I'd seen my hero...my Dad lose the thing he might have needed the most. His confidence. Years of being used in a minimal and neutered role in the modern WCW, and the inevitable clock that kept turning forward...bringing him further away from standing under that evening's spotlight with "The Nature Boy" and hearing it in the air..."DUSTY...DUSTY...DUSTY..." (The ultimate seal of approval from the paying customer, your name), but like I said...loyalty called. Paul Heyman called. He told my Father, "just come down...meet the guys, I'll pay you and you don't have to do a thing". "I'll pay you and you don't have to do a thing..." Now, Paul Heyman did have something in mind...and although we needed the money, my Dad hesitated to make the trip. Extreme Championship Wrestling, the promotion...even the venue...was a departure from the wrestling Dream was accustomed to. He was so reluctant in his showing-up, that he brought a few of his hunting buddies along for the ride...just so that if he was gonna' be an alien on the extreme planet, he wouldn't be alone. Now Heyman can tell you how he convinced Dusty to take-place in the segment that would come to pass...needless to say they both called eachother "super-geniuses" in the end. But that's not the part that interests me. The part that interests me, is what the fans gave Dusty Rhodes that night... The stage was set, a young Steve Corino stood in the ring drawing the ire of the two-story play house like' venue...he then called to a man he knew was in attendance, my Dad. Joey Styles, very aware of the contractual legal mumbo-jumbo of the nineties, called for the truck not to show Dusty and then to flat-out cut the feed. But they showed him. They showed him in my least favorite shirt of all time. His "Cleveland Bowns" legit hole ridden tee. I hated that shirt. And if you go back and watch this clip, the man you'll see...is the man I described. It was a man who'd lost his confidence...his footing. It was painted on his mug, and it killed me and eats at me today when I watch it. He made his way to the ring though...adrenaline coursing through his veins I'm sure, but you could still tell that he wasn't sure how to do "it" anymore. There was a reluctance in his step that he played off with a quiver like gyration; even the muscles in his face seemed to not remember how this part goes. As he and Steve came face-to-face he allowed the verbal abuse of the bleached-blonde antagonist...and then "it" happened... BIONIC ELBOW TO CORINO, BIONIC ELBOW TO JACK VICTORY, AN UNCHARACTERISTIC AND FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWLESS BODY SLAM... Followed by a mighty elbow-drop to Corinos chest as the Tabernacle fans and a wood-plank wrestling ring composed a echoing score. If you watch it, you'll see what some refuse to ever see...you don't pop-up to your left knee like it was day one at Verne Gagne's camp , when you're 50something years old unless you're an athlete. Lil' rant here, but for the pro-wrestler who recently did a string on interviews for his reality show who claimed my Dad wasn't an athlete...that's fiction, his body looking how it did was common knowledge, but you don't hold the home run record in distance and quantity at Johnston High or play in the CFL unless you're an athlete. Oh, and the reason you didn't see eye to eye, is because you're four feet tall. End of rant, back to story. Like I said, you can watch that ECW clip and see these things, but if you listen to it...you'll hear it... "DUSTY...DUSTY....DUSTY..." Loyalty. The audience returned to him his confidence...his footing. The Dream was asleep no more. I can never thank those fans that night enough. Paul Heyman will NEVER know how important that remains to me. Maybe one day I can pay him back. It's always been my intention. -Cody Rhodes
I loathe Buffalo.I love Buffalo. In just about four hours I will be walking into an arena where every step I take reads like a photo-album in my minds eye of one of the greatest nights of my life.
The First Niagara Center hosted the site, the locale, the setting for the very last "Bionic Elbow". It was October 6th 2013...it was WWE Battleground.
-but before I speak to the event, let me provide you with a little bit of exposition. I never wanted or had the tag-team encounter that took place in mind. When I was fired during an episode of RAW and had a bit of a "Freudian" moment(as I was being escorted from the premises) with a backstage interview; I selfishly left that arena, suit slacks over a pair of rasslin' boots, thinking I had reached my brass-ring. I thought I would be returning as the competitor I always envisioned...a seasoned, finally properly trained, "battle born" solo competitor vying for the richest prize in the game. I even pondered that maybe I would return in a vigilante manner...a modern-day Midnight Rider(had a mask commissioned inspired by Wildstorm/DC Comics' Grifter and everything) or like my childhood hero Sting did in 1996. As I transitioned to voyeur over the next few weeks, I realized the ship was now at the mercy of the sea and who knew what would happen next. My Half-Brother Dustin, as Goldust, walked down the ramp to a welcoming Air Canada Centre and captured the imagination of a whole new generation of fans with his match against Randy Orton. People may not agree with my attitude-shift at this point, but during all the magic and noise...I was silent as a mouse. Silent and selfishly angry. I love Dustin Runnels. Know that. He and I are sixteen years apart, grew up in different households, and spent very little time together throughout my informative youth. So I dreaded the idea of a tag-team match. What was I gonna' take on Seth Rollins and The Shield by myself?? Madness. I look at the current WWE programming and usually discourage nostalgia and most moments relying on some of the industries' greats and legends. Not because it isn't wonderful pageantry, but because lose-or-win I want the success of all pro-wrestling to be this generation of talent's fight. Without going into detail, my Father had a very high-tolerance for pain. Not in a bravado tough-guy sense, genuinely he was able to shrug off most things as a minor inconvenience of his nemesis, aging. Where as a lot of folks would be seeking specialists and monitoring ones self cautiously. My Dad was sick. I think of when I got my first big break in pro-wrestling. February 2nd 2011. Smackdown. A public apology to future WWE Hall Of Famer Rey Mysterio. Dad tried to appeal to Rey, setting the scene to ensnare the master of the 6-1-9...and somewhere as those two stood in the ring and before my music hit I remembered what he said to me privately and would say several more times on WWE programming..."there's nothing a father wouldn't do for his son". "Nothing".
That statement still looms in the air. Distorted slightly but undeniable. Fast-forward to Autumn 2013. Once I had stopped bitching and realized the unique and real opportunity before me, I think I took that flush statement of his and pushed him. Pushed him to fly to Biloxi(in coach), pushed him to remember my stats for his face-off with Stephanie, just pushed him...the nerve. Yet he would tell any soul that would listen, this is "whatever Cody wants and envisions". We often joked he was like Anthony Hopkins in Legends Of The Fall. A lion in winter. And when levity meets the callous rusty constraints of reality, guess what?? He was a lion in winter. He was a God Damn lion. Throughout that day I caught him several times standing by the steps and propping a single one of his famous hunting boots on the steel...saw him talking privately to various superiors of mine. He was concerned about getting in the ring and didn't want to fall...he disliked when legends would return with gray hairs, broken bodies, or just a shell of their former-selves, because he always wanted the fans to remember his peers and himself as he was when he/they moved you...and here he is making sure he doesn't fall. Dammit. All the while I am slightly complaining that I wasn't coming out to "smoke and mirrors" but instead we would be coming out to his legendary cowbell laced theme. I always wanted the crown, but I wasn't the king.- So onto today. A day where I am gonna' stand in the spot...the exact spot where the very last "Bionic Elbow" would happen. The spot where almost 12,000 fans voluntarily or even involuntarily provided a thunderous bellow to accompany said elbow when it hit a young Dean Ambrose's head. The spot where a 67 year old, masking a concerning amount of pain, man did what none of us in that ring had yet to do in the encounter, bring the people to their feet. Bring them to a frenzy. Steal the show. For the last time. I am going to stand in that spot and remember. I am going to look in that ring and wonder...is the fire ever gonna' come back?? Is it gonna' rise in my gut and burst through my retinas and provide an unmistakable hue?? What in the blue Hell am I doing?? And I am going to stand in that spot, the same boy who complained about using my Dad's music, and now I'd be willing to cut off both my legs just to hear said music one more time and see him walk out to it. It's like that song you liked...🎶keep on dreaming, even if it breaks your heart🎶 I even packed his old Tumi as my gear bag these past few weeks. I can hear you saying "tighten-up those abs" or "get you a tan". Can even see you on this bag's bag-tag where you just used a trading card that says "wrestling legend".
As I wrap this up, I want fans of his to know...we had a memorial service for Dad. A memorial service, not a funeral. I wouldn't...my family wouldn't allow that. Because what he stood for isn't gone. How he stood for it isn't gone. The idea that you can do anything, no matter what deficit you begin at...that your critics and naysayers can stand in your way...but you can clench that fist and raise it to the sky and deliver your own "Bionic Elbow" and keep moving down your path. It's not an idea, it's a dream. Virgil Runnels passed away. "The American Dream" still lives. Always.