When Old School Heat-Seeking Met Corporate America: The Night The Road Warriors Blinded Dusty Rhodes

I’ve been battered, I’ve been beat, I’ve been scraped and I’ve been cut. You should have made it a point to get both eyes, because when I get up in the morning and look at my children out of one eye, I think of you, Road Warriors! I’m gonna take a lot from you. My violence! My lightning bolt! My fire! My thunder! An eye…for an eye! – Dusty Rhodes

For much of their run throughout the ‘80s, The Road Warriors received deafening cheers from pro wrestling fans all across the globe, regardless of whether they were babyfaces or heels. There simply weren’t very many people walking the Earth that looked like Animal and Hawk and yoked up oddities that they were, fans turned out in droves to see them destroy the unlucky tag teams tasked to wrestle them.

The tag team’s late-’87 through mid-’88 feud with The Powers of Pain was a bloody, physical series of matches that tested them in ways Animal and Hawk had yet to be tested, for as big as The Road Warriors were, Warlord and Barbarian were every bit as physically massive and intimidating. The teams went back and forth for months with The Powers of Pain actually making The Road Warriors look mortal. At the apex of their rivalry, Warlord and Barbarian slammed Animal’s face into a stack of barbell plates during a bench press contest on TV, forcing him to wear a hockey mask to protect an injury to his eye socket.

Forcing Animal to wrestle injured, The Powers of Pain teamed with Ivan Koloff to win the NWA World Six Man Tag Titles in February of ‘88. They held the championships for four months, vacating them on June 12th and leaving for the WWF after learning they were set to face The Road Warriors in a series of Scaffold Matches.

With the Six Man Titles up for grabs, The Road Warriors teamed up with “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and defeated the trio of “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard in a July ‘88 Great American Bash Tour Cage Match. Two months later, Anderson and Blanchard jumped to the WWF after a dispute over money with Jim Crockett. With The Four Horsemen gutted and The Powers of Pain up north, Dusty (then the head booker of Jim Crockett Promotions) needed bad guys with some heat. He decided to turn The Road Warriors heel.

Pulling off a “double turn” in October of ‘88, Animal and Hawk defeated The Midnight Express for the NWA World Tag Titles. After spending three weeks defending the titles against “Sweet” Stan and “Beautiful” Bobby, The Road Warriors began a feud with Sting and Lex Luger. The problem was that fans simply did not want to boo The Legion of Doom. Looking to salvage the turn and get some heat on the team, Dusty came up with a plan that would not only (hopefully) light a fire under Animal and Hawk, but also give himself a nice babyface bump.

Face Of A Fighter

In most markets in 1988, Dusty Rhodes was still the “Son of a plumber” and was greeted with cheers from his adoring fans. Truthfully though, he was beginning to get somewhat of a mixed reaction in places like Philadelphia and Chicago. As more and more fans began to embrace the heels, “The American Dream” was at times viewed as passé. Additionally, Dusty’s “Midnight Rider” gimmick did not get over with fans the way he’d hoped.

Knee deep in a battle with the WWF for control of the wrestling world (and with WWF coming off a lackluster WrestleMania IV), Dusty was undoubtedly looking to grab a bigger piece of the market share and generate another money-making run at the top of the card by garnering some sympathy from fans. The formula was tried and true…

Write Your Own Song

During the November 26th broadcast of World Championship Wrestling, L.O.D. cut heel promos at ringside, during which Animal took the opportunity to call Rhodes out concerning a singles match they had coming up in December. Dusty walked out, cut a promo of his own and hopped in the ring, saying he didn’t want to wait to fight Animal. The Road Warriors returned to ringside and attacked Rhodes, using one of the spikes from their trademark shoulder pads to gouge out the right eye of “The American Dream”. It was a bloody, violent scene, made even worse by Dusty’s agonizing screams. Fans in attendance and watching at home were horrified at what they were seeing, but not nearly as horrified as the Standards & Practices office of Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. Having purchased the company from the Crockett Family in October, TBS had implemented a strict “no blood” policy on television.

This wasn’t Rhodes’ first run-in with a spike. Four years earlier while wrestling in Florida, Kevin Sullivan had hit Dusty with his Golden Spike, igniting a vicious series of matches that packed houses throughout the State and made Kevin Sullivan one of the most hated men in pro wrestling. Dusty was hoping to recapture similar magic in ‘88.

Truthfully, Rhodes might have gotten away with a slap on the wrist had he not previously been reprimanded for the very same issue. The problem was he had already ignored the policy once, just two weeks prior when he okayed Paul E. Dangerously hitting Jim Cornette in the head with his cellphone during The “Original” Midnight Express’ attack on the then-current incarnation of the same name. Cornette bled far more than planned and Dusty was admonished by corporate. When he again defied the powers that be, even though, according to Cornette, he bled “a fraction of the blood I bled” TBS was done with warnings.  

In Dusty’s defense, he was just looking at it from the perspective of heat-seeking. Get fans talking, you get fans attending live events and watching your television program. TBS, then the home of wholesome, family-friendly programming like The Andy Griffith Show and Charles in Charge, were concerned about offending parents and sponsors. “I think it was a combination of the way Dusty sold that spike and the way I was hammering the spike into him,” said Animal when asked about the incident on Ric Flair’s podcast in 2016. “People went, ‘holy crap, he’s trying to take his eye’, and Dusty was selling it like I was taking out his eye.”

“I never understood why he did it,” said legendary broadcaster Jim Ross. “He’d bled before on TV, but the rules had changed. I figure he was gonna run a bluff, see if he could get by with it, apologize and still get the benefit of it for the angle.” Unfortunately, Dusty wasn’t given much of a second chance (not then, anyway). Though he stayed on as a wrestler through the middle of January of the following year, he was removed as booker immediately after Starrcade on December 26th, 1988.

On The Road Again

Shortly after Dusty’s exit, George Scott was brought in as the booker. “He had to be fired after three months,” said Cornette, “because he tanked the ratings; the worst wrestling rating TBS had ever had since they’d started carrying wrestling 20 years before that.” Dusty, however, moved on to the WWF, donning the now-legendary yellow and black polka dots and feuding with fellow legendary names “Macho Man” Randy Savage and “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. 

Though Ric Flair would take over booking (via a committee) and fix some of the post-Dusty issues, “Dream” would have the last laugh on WCW after being rehired in ‘91 as a member of the booking committee and part-time manager. “They never should’ve fired Dusty,” said Cornette. “TBS played catch-up for eight years (with WWF/E).”

Do Your Thing You’re A Cowboy

It could be argued that the firing was a blessing in disguise for Rhodes; that Dusty was fried and needed a break from booking. After all, he’d been at the helm of JCP/WCW for four years by that point. Perhaps the repeated open act of defiance was a product of self-sabotage in place of admitting he was mentally exhausted.

Hubris is certainly also an option as anyone who’s reached the heights of Dusty Rhodes is sure to have a healthy ego. You don’t reach out and ‘touch’ one side of a television screen without knowing in your heart that everyone on the other side of it is gonna touch the other side. Whatever the real reason for his bucking of the system, history remembers “The American Dream” (and the eye-gouging angle) far more positively than it does the years that followed his first exit from WCW.

While Rhodes is primarily remembered for his innovation, charisma and legendary promos, WCW has gone down in history as a promotion with plenty of highs, but entirely too many self-inflicted lows.

WWE Superstar Rock ‘Em Socks (Large/X-Large, Dusty Rhodes)

Toon Tumblers WWE Dusty Rhodes 16 oz. Pint Glass

World Heavyweight Championship Belt Buckle Gold