On Wednesday, April 22, 2020, Dustin Rhodes, the eldest son of the late great Dusty Rhodes, faced off against Kip Sabian in the quarter-finals of AEW’s TNT Championship tournament. The stakes were at an all time high as Dustin had vowed in a voicemail to brother Cody that if he couldn’t beat Kip, he would retire. Dustin got past Sabian thanks to a small assist from Brandi Rhodes, who kept Sabian’s girlfriend, Penelope Ford from costing Dustin the match. The victory not only kept Rhodes’ career alive, but it set up a semi final clash with the monstrous Lance Archer. Dustin was, predictably, unable to defeat his much more powerful opponent and found himself eliminated from the tournament.
So what does this mean for Dustin moving forward? By beating Sabian he brought himself some valuable extra time on his already legendary career, but the days of him regularly competing on the midcard of a major wrestling promotion are surely long behind him. The real conundrum that AEW are faced with is finding a way to give him a fitting send off. For me, the best way for Dustin to depart would be bowing out after one final defeat at the hands of his brother Cody.
For those who don’t know, though I’m not sure how, Dustin Rhodes and Cody being brothers isn’t just for television, they are half brothers and they are half brothers with a somewhat complicated relationship and history that needs to be unpacked to understand what might be brewing.
First of all, Cody and Dustin have the same father, Hall of Famer and wrestlinf icon, Dusty Rhodes, however Dusty fathered Dustin and Cody and raised them at two very different points in his life. When Dustin was growing up, Dusty was a journeyman wrestler who traveled the world to entertain fans and support his family and raised plenty of hell in the process. It was a 300+ day a year job that kept him far from home, and away from his family much of the time, which resulted in divorce, ending his first marriage. When Cody was growing up, Dusty had transitioned to a more backstage role and was semi-retired, which meant he had the time to actually be the dad to Cody that he hadn’t really been able to be for Dustin. Add in personal issues surrounding Dustin’s marriage to Terri Runnels, his struggle to get out of his father’s shadow, and the hugely controversial character of Goldust, and you have a pretty complicated family story.
It’s no secret that Dustin and Cody love each other, they inducted their father into the WWE Hall of Fame together, but it doesn’t take a psychologist to see that Dustin could be forgiven if he resented Cody. It could also be said that at the same time, Cody had his own reasons to resent Dustin. Dustin got the chance to establish himself as a star away from their dad, while Cody was never really allowed to be a star without the Rhodes name following him and the unspoken assumption that all his title runs were more because of Dusty pulling strings for him rather than because of his own talent. Every time Cody went to the ring, we were reminded that he was the son of Dusty Rhodes, something Dustin was largely able to avoid during his Goldust years. Though Cody has embraced his name and family legacy in recent years, that wasn’t always the case during his WWE run.
Over the years, the Rhodes brothers have spent a lot of time as enemies, with Cody going out of his way to embarrass his brother and father, and as allies, but the relationship seemed broken beyond repair after Cody went down the long and embarassing rabbit hole of his Stardust gimmick before leaving WWE in 2016.
Fast forward to 2019 and the brothers seemed to be back on the same page after Dustin’s departure from WWE and after a legendary, blood soaked, battle at the first Double or Nothing. Cody won, but admitted that he needed his big brother back on his side, and since then Dustin has been the bedrock of the Nightmare Family, as well as the respected coach backstage to the AEW roster.
Let’s go back to where we started: the April 22 edition of Dynamite. On that week’s ‘Road To’ episode, Dustin dropped the bombshell that he would retire if he couldn’t beat Kip Sabian, much to Cody’s clear distress. It was shocking, but also a very random thing to announce while wrestling is almost at a complete standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially since Dustin is experiencing a career resurgence. Of course, Dustin got past Sabian, but retirement was in the air and it begs the question: What is going on here?
Here’s what I think.
Dustin Rhodes is as good in the ring as he’s ever been, but it’s becoming clear that he’s slowing down. It certainly looked clear against the younger, and much quicker, Sabian. So, it might be that that Dustin is aware of his limits and doesn’t want to end up like so many legends, barely able to move but still getting booked because of nostalgia of what he used to be able to do. Dustin doesn’t NEED to wrestle anymore but as long as AEW exists, he’ll have a job. There are many members of the AEW roster, particularly the women, who praise him as an outstanding coach. Which is where Cody comes in.
Now obviously AEW have already missed the golden opportunity of having the Rhodes brothers face eachother in the final of the TNT Championship Tournament. Dustin simply didn't need to put his career on the line against Sabian, that was an announcement which should have been kept for an eventual confrontation with Cody. You know the drill here - Dustin falls short in the final after a spirited performance, is retired by his loving brother in an emotional match, a fond farewell on the next episode of Dynamite... think HBK retiring Ric Flair from WWE.
Moreover, if Dustin is truly serious about wanting to retire and focus on working behind the scenes of AEW, or needs time to recover from injury, the person who should end Dustin’s storied, controversial, and amazing career is Cody. It would open another chapter in the Rhodes Family Saga, and complete the heel turn Cody seems to be on right now.
Once Cody predictably finds a way past Archer in the final and becomes TNT Champion (because duh) it should be Dustin who challenges him for the belt. I'm glad that this match will not be happening as part of the tournament as it now gives time for a proper build and program. Think back to that match at Double or Nothing - the hype was fantastic, the match was fantastic and the pay-off was again, fantastic.
However and whenever this is eventually decided, it seems clear that Cody and Dustin are headed for at least one more collision, and one with even more at stake. If Cody is indeed the one to end Dustin’s career, it would be a fitting end and I certainly can't think of anybody else on the AEW roster who can bring out the best in the great Dustin Runnels.
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