Wrestling is a funny business. What's strange or odd in our everyday existence pales in comparison to things that qualify as normal in what can be a truly bizarre business, so to actually trudge out onto a limb and call anything in professional wrestling strange should be a carefully regarded proposition. One gimmick that can be firmly lodged in the strange category would be that of Goldust, the androgynous movie-quoting Oscar statue lookalike portrayed by the second generation wrestler Dustin Runnels/Rhodes. Goldust made his return once more to the world of the WWE last night, participating in what has been a buzzworthy and well-written feud between HHH's handpicked "face" of the promotion, champion Randy Orton, and the Rhodes wrestling family. With tongue planted firmly in cheek and roots buried into very real events, the McMahons vs. Rhodes feud has been on the boil for decades. And yet that wasn't the only reason this match became so compelling, despite featuring a competitor who hadn't seen WWE action since 2010. Another big reason was Goldust himself.
Wrestlers who use their sexuality to advance their character are not uncommon. I'm sure you've lost count (as have I) at the number of times some hapless guy or gal thought they had found the one, only to discover they were merely a launching pad on a quest for something more. Similarly, men using "feminine" traits have been a part of wrestling for a very long time. While there is some question as to who may have been the first to do this in the ring, there is no conjecture that the most famous man to do it was WWE Hall of Famer Gorgeous George. To say that George inspired a multitude of wrestlers would be an understatement: from "Exotic" Adrian Street (himself a huge groundbreaker in this area) to "Adorable" Adrian Adonis to Rick "The Model" Martel to Billy, Chuck & Rico, the list goes on and on. While all of those gentlemen exaggerated and built up on various elements of the George character, I don't know that anyone put it to work quite as effectively as Dustin Rhodes.
Need some convincing? I was hoping you might. Start by answering this question: What wrestler, known for solid in-ring work but not particularly proficient, used extensive theme music and visual aids (including a red carpet) for his trip down to the ring, accompanied by a woman and wearing thoroughly bedazzled and intricate ring gear? If you answered Gorgeous George, you're correct. If you answered Goldust, you're also correct. Substitute the gold confetti with rose petals, and you've got yourself a latter-day match. Dustin learned the lesson that George and company had learned long ago, much to the promoters' delight: If you give yourself a controversial persona, you're halfway there. And if that controversial persona involves come-ons and uncomfortable squirming in a sport that features testosterone to the nth degree, well, more the better.
One lesson you quickly learn about professional wrestling is that while everyone loves a hero story, the tales of the villain are a bit more complex. They also show us just a bit about the society we live in, as does any form of entertainment, and that perhaps can be the most uncomfortable truth of all. I was absolutely fascinated by Goldust during his initial run in the WWE. Having grown up well after the ring work of George, I had truly never seen anything like the Goldust character before. It was in-your-face, it was disturbing, it was provocative, and it was excellent entertainment. I also found it interesting that despite being a face for a good bit of his career in WWE, I've never met one fan who enthusiastically informed me that Goldust was their favorite wrestler. Not quite the gimmick that's going to push the merchandise off the shelves. And that, quite likely, is the point. As a society, we tend to ignore things we don't understand. The backstory of Goldust was never fully fleshed out in the WWE (due in no small way to Rhodes's off-screen issues), but appeared complex to say the least. Furthering the intrigue was his relationship with manager/valet Marlena, portrayed extremely well by his actual wife, Terri.
By contrast, George and most of the other men who dared to head in this creative direction were heels through and through. They used these tactics as a way to take advantage over their competition, and broke every rule possible while doing so. There was no question why you were SUPPOSED to dislike George: he was cheating all over the ring. Why people ACTUALLY disliked George may have been another question entirely. Recall that this was the 1940s. Having listened to all the familiar jibes about guys grappling in their underwear, did the fine gentlemen of the Flying Forties applaud a guy who handed out bobby pins and checked a mirror before his matches? The answer will not surprise you.
While we can content ourselves with laughing at the simplistic nature of that time period, have things really changed all that much? Goldust disturbed his opponents in the ring because they thought he intended to do inappropriate things to them or with them, despite no evidence of that. It would be similar to Honky Tonk Man's opponents worried they were punching Elvis, just because he thought he was. The "mind games" of Goldust are in reality no different from those employed by The Undertaker or a litany of other legendary wrestlers, but because they contain the wisps of sexual overtone they will never be mentioned as such. It's only in this age of meta-understanding and wrestlers coming out on TMZ that perhaps this sort of thing has become passé. Sex is in our face 24/7, and it's hardly shocking that your next door neighbor might be a businessman by day and a wig-wearing, glitter-painted, lingerie-wearing exhibitionist at night. In fact, it might be more shocking if they weren't.
That said, we shouldn't let those facts taint the way we look at Goldust through the prism of history. There is no doubt he heavily borrowed from what went before, but that's commonplace in wrestling. Name any of the current group and you can begin tracing your way to the first time someone exhibited those characteristics in the ring. The real test is what they did to further and enhance those traits, and I'd argue that Goldust did quite a bit indeed. The son of quite frankly one of the most legendary wrestlers ever to appear in a wrestling ring (WWE or otherwise), there can be little doubt that avoiding that shadow was damn near impossible. (Not a fat joke.) The travails of Cody, DiBiase, Hennig, etc. show that to still be the case. While wrestling has always been about history and name recognition, it's also even more about reinvention. Nobody wants to be guilty of cheering for the same gimmick that their father/grandmother/postal worker did. To say that Dustin did a 180 from what had come before would be an insult to GPS.
Perhaps it shouldn't have worked, even in the "Do-Anything" Era of the Attitude '90s. To think a wrestler right now could come to the ring, make objectionable and graphic gestures, and kick his opponent in the genitals as a finishing move while his manager smokes a giant cigar is to seriously misunderstand the current climate of wrestling. You'd have seven groups on the phone complaining about generalizations and stereotypes before you could even blink. Even better if that scenario no longer shocks you; now you're on the road to understanding how effective Goldust was as breaking down some of those doors. Like any good Method actor, you just didn't know where you stood with Goldust. It just probably wouldn't be very close.
Goldust brought lots of great moments to WWE programming. His backstage segments are the stuff of legend. I really appreciated the package WWE did highlighting some of the humor. I always got the sense that Dustin was way more comfortable with himself and his delivery when sporting the face paint, even with other, less-successful characters. He delivered two solid promos on Monday, one without saying a word. He also wrestled an exciting and believable match despite the outcome not really being in doubt. His ability to resurface and bring you back into a different time is magical. What else can you say about a wrestler who worked with gimmicks involving kissing Roddy Piper, teaming with the Blue Meanie, quoting the Bible, and developing Tourette's? Nothing was off limits. Today we're concerned about fake bullying being portrayed by fake bullies on a fake show which is presented as entertainment. How far we've come.
The character could have been one-note, a cheap throwback to an earlier time which was discarded almost as soon as it had been employed. Instead, Goldust managed to win the Intercontinental Championship three times, while also landing the Tag Team and Hardcore belts. Look at the crowd reaction in January's Royal Rumble if you need evidence that Goldust successfully overcame the objections of his day. Look at the fact that I'm writing a column about him nearly twenty years after the debut of his indelible character. Look at the fact that WWE keeps bringing him back (it actually IS good for business) and that he was the MVP of last night's show. In a career that has certainly had its share of trials and tribulations, plus a fair share of personal demons, Dustin Runnels accomplished something that many thought he never could. He created his own spotlight out of the ashes of several others and blazed his own way to success. He taught us as fans that not only was it okay to cheer for something that was strange, it was a damn good idea. He encouraged us to face down the preconceptions about what makes a successful wrestling gimmick and turn them on their heads. For that he is worthy of a salute.
Dustin Rhodes will never be the best ring technician. He never has had and never will have the "look" that so many promoters cultivate. He won't ever be the most successful wrestler in his family. He may never even be in a WWE ring again (though I highly doubt that one). It is for all of those reasons that I encourage you to re-examine the time Dustin spent in WWE and appreciate what he brought to the table. As we celebrate the courage (and rightly so) of what happens in real life, we should reserve a place at the table for the folks who portrayed those antics for our amusement and shock. It's especially important as we navigate our way through our daily lives, because it might make us stop and spend a moment or two with someone who we wouldn't normally interact with. It breaks down the barriers that we as people have put up in front of other people. And what's not to celebrate about that? Here's hoping that we all remember the name...Goldust.
* Chalk it up to me being negative, but I'm not sure that what the sagging tag team division needs is an injection of Los Matadores. As we continue to get bombarded with these vignettes week after week, I find myself being tired of them already. In addition to the fact that the gimmick itself seems transplanted from the 1980s, when the best way to become a pro wrestler was to get a random occupation, I don't even understand what we're supposed to think about the repackaged Primo & Epico. Is it like Zorro? Are we supposed to not figure out that it's those two behind the Halloween hold-up masks? Didn't we already explore pretty much everything that's cool about being a bullfighter with Tito Santana? Are there still some hidden legends we've yet to uncover? And is that the Most Interesting Man in the World doing the voiceovers? I have no idea when or if we'll get answers to any of these questions, but I'm afraid most of them won't excite the viewing public. There is still very little time being spent on the tag division in WWE, and with the usage of the Real Americans as of late, I don't see that changing any time soon. Perhaps this will be the answer, but I highly doubt it.
* I'm not privy to all the issues that occur within the wrestling industry, thank heaven. I am quite sure that Vinnie Mac and company have done some horrendous things and insulted more than a few egos. That said, now that Bruno Sammartino is in the WWE Hall of Fame, can we finally put an end to all of this rhapsodizing about when people will get in? Of course Randy Savage should be in there. Of course Warrior should be in there. Nobody knows that more than VKM. If you've any doubt as to whether Vince will use personal demons to sell tickets, get thee to a nunnery at once. He's done it for years. Warrior's way is apparently paved since he's on board with the latest video game. As for Savage, I respect him and his family tremendously, but if he truly made it an all or nothing affair for putting him in, it was a mistake. This is foolishness to a degree that a player from your favorite sports team not attending a reunion night because of lingering bitterness is. The Hall of Fame is about the fans, and the fans want those guys in. They don't want to wait until it's an appropriate year where there's the appropriate amount of big names available. It's not even a real building yet! Stop playing whose is bigger and give the wrestling fans what they want, which is a chance to celebrate the careers of guys we loved, especially those that sadly aren't around anymore for us to appreciate. Enough already.
* Certain things are self-evident by this point. Marriages in a wrestling ring will encounter difficulties. Managers will betray their protégés in their time of greatest need. Triple H will sound like Christian Bale portraying Batman. And Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff will send companies into the unemployment line. To blame those two gentlemen for the current issues in TNA is unfair, as they don't control day-to-day operations and Dixie Carter has to take her share of the fault for what's gone on. Just like Jeff Jarrett and Vince Russo before them, she has made the conscious decision to surround herself with people that are gifted creatively but by most accounts toxic to work around. I love Paul Heyman as much as the next guy (probably more), but I recognize his shortcomings and delight myself with seeing him able to perform on a nightly basis without being restricted by the business of doing business. When will TNA figure this out? Just because you have somebody on the payroll doesn't mean you should repeat the sins of the past. The fact that anyone is even having a discussion about AJ Styles potentially not being on the roster tells you all you need know about this tragic state of affairs. There will be have to be serious restructuring to fix this morass.
* It pains me to say it, but news that Christian has suffered another injury setback has given me cause to wonder if we haven't seen the last of any extended run for him in the WWE. Even if the answer to that query is an affirmative, it certainly doesn't mean that we can't continue to enjoy this great talent and what he does in the ring. Seeing the "reunion" of he and Edge Monday made me all the more wistful. I was greedily hoping that we'd get another decent run with Christian, that we'd receive that "one more match" and allow us the chance to send him off into the sunset fondly. But the more time he racks up on the disabled list, the more I wonder if it wouldn't be smart to leverage him to help out in other ways. A tag team might be a good idea and a chance to elevate a younger star. Needless to say, I think he'd be excellent as an on-air talent, regardless of whether he wrestles or not. I don't think the WWE knows quite what to do with Captain Charisma, but it might not be a case of lack of desire this time around.
That is all I have for you this week. I have my doubts about Night of Some of the Champions, but as always the upper part of the card should make for a meaningful and memorable night. If you're looking for resolution on Bryan/Orton or Punk/Heyman, though, you might want to give it a skip. Monday's Raw made me surer than ever that both of those feuds will continue longer than this weekend. Feel free to leave comments and feedback in the space below, or as always you can reach out via Twitter @coffeyfan77 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until Friday's headlines, this is Mike Holland saying thanks very much for reading and have an outstanding week!