Dusty Rhodes is without a doubt one of the greatest and most popular wrestlers of all time. As a three-time NWA World Champion, he was one of the biggest stars in the business in the 1970s and 1980s. He became a household name with his legendary lisp and powerful promotions. His “Hard Times” promo is arguably the best ever.
When Rhodes left the ship for WWE in 1989, in his mid-40s, we saw a man at the end of his run wanting to see what he could do on the biggest wrestling stage. While his two-year run in WWE wasn’t a complete failure, he will long be remembered for one thing: peas. Vince McMahon, famous for changing the personas of any new wrestler he signs, decided to dress the future Hall of Famer in a black singlet covered in yellow polka dots. Here’s why.
Dusty Rhodes was the working man
Dusty Rhodes was hugely successful in NWA as a member of their roster from 1974 to 1984. In 1985 he started working not only as a wrestler but also as a booker (he was one of the top wrestling) for Jim Crockett Promotions in the days leading up to WCW. He was more popular than ever. That popularity skyrocketed in a feud that year with Ric Flair. If you’re a wrestling fan, chances are you’ve seen the “Hard Times” promo. CM Punk’s pipebomb has nothing on that. When Rhodes passed away, it was again shared on all social media. He spoke of the difficult times that workers and their families go through trying to keep up with the pace on a daily basis. His voice quivered with a passion that could be felt through the screen.
The backstage promo was only three minutes long, but it spoke volumes about how so many wrestling fans felt. There was power in his words for struggling fans who looked to wrestling as a way to escape their pain. Dusty Rhodes has become their hero. Dusty Rhodes was truly the American dream for them.
Vince McMahon ridiculed Dusty Rhodes’ workman gimmick
In 1989, at the age of 44, after achieving every level of success imaginable, Dusty Rhodes took his talents to WWE for one last run. Rhodes was no stranger to Vince McMahon. He had already worked with his father. As we all know, the son is a different beast.
When Dusty made his WWE debut, he was nicknamed “the common man”, doing skits with him dressed as working class. It was a little cheesy, but it worked with past Rhodes references. It was good. What many took issue with was what Rhodes was wearing in the ring. His whole career had been spent in simple black trunks. It was about who he was. Now in WWE, he’s stepped out in a black singlet with giant yellow polka dots all over it.
Many took it as a slap in the face to Dusty Rhodes and as a way for Vince to insult him. Dusty talked about having fans of all skin colors, from black and white to brown and yellow. Was this Black and Yellow Vince’s way of making fun of Rhodes?
Jim Ross, more than anyone, thinks it was intentional, as he once said on his Grill JR podcast. “I think it was a rib. I have a hard time arguing that it wasn’t. And I think Dusty was the key player in the competition and without calling the competition, without doing billionaire Ted sketches like we saw later, I think that was a subtle way to throw some shade on Dusty because he was a top babyface, the booker and the owner’s right-hand man.”
Dusty Rhodes made the peas work
The polka dots may have been Vince McMahon’s way of trying to humiliate his former competitor, but it apparently didn’t work. Dusty Rhodes accepted the gimmick with his head held high and made the most of it. Fans loved him more than ever. They love its catchy entrance music. They loved his swagger and the way he danced. They even loved the peas. You could have put Dusty Rhodes in a tutu, and they still would have cheered them on because Dusty Rhodes was one of them. It was not an Adonis. He was not genetically gifted. He was a fat man with a lisp, a man like them, who had worked hard and achieved the American dream. It would never be forgotten no matter how many peas you put on it.
Rhodes’ WWE career didn’t last long, just a few years, but it was a success. Many older fans only remember Rhodes from WWE. Peas are all they know and they love it for it. In 2005, Rhodes would return to WWE, where he worked until his death in 2015. He was an important part of NXT, training the next generation of WWE greats and showing them by his own past example, that no matter the stuff you’re given, even if you don’t like it, enjoy it. If you’re good enough, you’ll make it work anyway. Dusty Rhodes did.