Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn Pay Tribute To Dusty Rhodes

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UPDATE x 7: Sami Zayn posted a tribute to Dusty Rhodes via Twitlonger. You can read it in full below.

Earlier today, I was devastated to hear about the passing of Dusty Rhodes. Words like ‘shock’ and ‘sadness’ come to mind, but don’t truly capture the whirlwind of emotions that take place when you are blindsided by news like this. It was particularly shocking to me because I had seen him almost every day this week at the WWE Performance Center when I went in to rehab my shoulder. He appeared to be in good health and so it was really hard for me to believe that the news was true. But as I read more and more about it, and tears filled my eyes, I didn’t know what to do with myself. So I came home and decided to just write a little bit about Dusty. Many mourners referred to Dusty as a great mentor and a great teacher, which he absolutely was. But I would like to share with you the little things about Dusty that I greatly appreciated in my time with him. He was a great guy.

I need to start by stating that Dusty was a particularly huge influence and a great help to me when I first arrived at WWE. I started with the WWE in February 2013, reporting to FCW in Tampa, FL, the developmental territory at the time and predecessor for the WWE Performance Center in Orlando. Despite coming to WWE with 11 years of experience already under my belt, the idea of “cutting a promo” terrified me when I first got here. Though I had done a lot before getting to WWE, my interviews or “promos” had consisted of only a few words. I had relied on a lot of my non-verbal skills to get to WWE, but the jig was up now that I had signed. It was time to learn, and school was in session every Thursday at the FCW arena: promo class with Dusty Rhodes.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had to do something that you weren’t good at, in front of someone who happened to be one of the best of all time at it, but needless to say it is intimidating. But Dusty washed away a lot of my fears very quickly, as he took a liking to me right away, and was very nurturing. He really encouraged me to speak in a conversational and natural manner. There is no greater confidence booster than getting a sign of approval from one of the greatest talkers in the history of our industry. As my confidence grew, so too did my interview skills. After every interview, we would tell me what he liked, what not to do, and would frequently remark how I “reminded him of a young Robin Williams”. It made me laugh every time, and it still does, because I still don’t see it.

Dusty is also responsible for my name and character upon my arrival to WWE. After dropping my previous persona from the independents upon signing, I had to choose a new name and a new identity; a new character. It was Dream’s belief in me as a more natural, conversational speaker that helped my decision to more or less just be myself. Picking a name proved to be difficult though, as I had submitted three separate lists of names, all of which had been rejected. Finally, I was asked to narrow it down to 3-5 names and I had a private meeting with Dream to make the big decision. Well, that meeting lasted about a minute.

“So, which name do you like?” Dusty said, in his unmistakable and frequently imitated lisp.
“Uh, I don’t know…I kind of like Sami Zayn”, I replied sheepishly. Bear in mind, I had kept this name on each of the lists, and so the name Sami Zayn had been rejected three times at this point.
“Hmm…Sami Zayn……Sami….Zayn….” he said, as he slowly waved his arm laterally, as if visualizing it on a marquee. He paused, and nodded dramatically. “Yeah, that’s the name. You tell them Dream said Sami Zayn is the name.” And so it was, just like that. Even now telling that story, I have a grin on my face from ear to ear.

I grew so much as a performer thanks to Dusty and my two and a half years spent with him learning to communicate. But for as much as he did for me professionally, the lessons I took from him as a person resonated with me even more.

WWE developmental is a place where you need to learn to navigate the waters of a very unique business, and there are times it can feel like a political minefield. Perhaps what I found most refreshing about Dusty Rhodes is that he was a true life cowboy and sincerely did not give a damn. He spoke his mind. He was defiant. He rocked the boat. He was unapologetic where people were often worried about voicing opinions that differed too much from the norm. In short, he was himself. I can’t tell you how much that resonated with me. And while I don’t aspire to be the cowboy that Dusty was (I could never pull it off any way) he solidified my own faith in myself. He taught me about standing by your convictions and having an opinion of your own, whether it was the popular one or not. For a man who was such a great speaker, it was his actions rather than his words that made the biggest impact of all on me.

In my entire time with Dusty, I honestly don’t remember seeing him in a really bad mood. He was always very lighthearted around the Performance Center, and cracked jokes every single time he would see me. I laughed a lot around Dusty Rhodes. He was very funny, sometimes when he wanted to be, and sometimes just because he was.

One of my favorite things that Dusty would do that would make me laugh, was brag. I absolutely loved it when he would brag. He was just completely unapologetic; he knew exactly how good he was, and he would tell you about it. He would just tell these great stories about himself in his prime; about this amazing promo he cut, and how it sold out the building the next time they came to town. It was done in such honesty, that it was almost humble in a very twisted way; the opposite of someone you can tell thinks they are great but are obviously trying to downplay it. It’s hard to explain, but trust me, it was amazing.

Another thing he did that would make me laugh a lot is he would call people by the wrong name. I still don’t know if he did it on purpose or not, but it was just hilarious. For example, Enzo Amore, one of his star students in promo class and arguably the best talker on a week to week basis in promo class for the last three years…and Dream would still call him “Enzio”. This would make me laugh, every single time, without exception. I’m laughing right now just thinking about it.

My favorite of his wrong names though is undoubtedly when Kevin Owens first showed up at the Performance Center. Kevin came into WWE as Kevin Steen. Usually when a new talent arrives to the PC, his/her first week is only observation, and sometimes just a quick getting to know you. However, on one particular night when many important guests were in attendance (“Luminaries”, as Dream would call them), Dusty decided to surprise everyone and put Kevin on the spot by calling up “Kip Stern” to cut a promo. Kevin just stared blankly because his name was Kevin Steen, not Kip Stern. This awkward silence filled the room for a good 10 seconds until William Regal, who was sitting next to Kevin, nudged him with his elbow and said, “You should probably go up there.” Good God, I still laugh about that one all the time. There’s a road here in Orlando called Stern Street and every single time I drive by it, I do my best Dream impression and say, “Let’s see Kip Stern”. Then I laugh.

As I recount these little anecdotes, I can’t help but feel so lucky to have gotten the past two and a half years to work with Dusty. This man had seen it all, done it all, watched generations come and go, and had a wealth of knowledge and understanding of the business that literally no one else on earth possessed. I got to share in that and that’s just amazing to me.

A few days ago in the trainer’s room at the PC, he was sitting around talking to someone and I said, “Hey Dream, you got put over again by Paul Heyman on Steve Austin’s podcast the other night. Heyman was talking about how you helped him learn how to cut money promos.” And he smiled and in true Dusty form he replied, “There is no one in this business that the Dream hasn’t influenced”. The best part is that he was right. Thank you, Dream. They don’t make people like you anymore. I’m so glad I got to know you.

You will never be forgotten.

UPDATE x 6: Kevin Owens posted a tribute to Dusty Rhodes via Twitlonger. You can read it in full below.

These past few weeks, I kept telling myself that I had to find time to stop by the Performance Center and talk to Dusty. I wanted to thank him for all of his help in the last year and make sure he knew how grateful I was for the chance I got to work with him. But I’ve been very busy and just couldn’t find the time.

Well, today, I learned that Dusty Rhodes has passed away.

There are no words to express the sadness I feel, not only because I won’t get to see him or talk to him or laugh with him again, but because I didn’t get to tell him how special he was to me.

So today, I invite you all to make time to tell the people in your lives how much they mean to you…You never know what tomorrow will bring.

I can only hope that even though I didn’t get to tell him directly, Dusty knew how much I appreciated and valued his help, wisdom, support and friendship. He was unlike anybody I’ve ever met in this industry and to say that I will always remember him and be thankful for the honor of having known him is an understatement.

In the meantime, the entire NXT crew is on its way to Pittsburgh where we will do what we do best. And you can bet every single second of tonight and every other NXT show this week are dedicated to the memory of the legendary, one-and-only Dusty Rhodes.

My thoughts are with his family and friends at this time…especially his children. Your father was an incredible coach and an even better man. He will be greatly missed.

Dusty used to call us “his NXT kids”… Well, I think I speak for all of us at when I say that tonight and every other night from here on out, we will give it our all for you, Dusty.

We’ll make you proud, Dream.

Thank you for the memories…thank you for everything.

Much love,
Kevin

UPDATE x 5: TMZ reports that Dusty Rhodes was focused on improving his health as recently as last week. Jerry Brisco told the site that he hung out with Rhodes in Orlando last Thursday and that Rhodes was talking about how he had been going to the doctor regularly. The late WWE/NWA legend told Brisco that he needed to bring his blood pressure down and that his weight loss was helping with that.

Brisco said that he and Rhodes were planning to go to event tonight night in Tampa, Florida in order to raise money for a wrestling “wall of fame.” Brisco is still attending so that he can get together with wrestlers and fans to share Dusty stories, even if it won’t be the same without him there.

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UPDATE x 4: WWE shut down filming of Tough Enough at the Performance Center in Orlando after it was announced that Dusty Rhodes passed away. Rhodes was heavily involved with WWE and NXT.

Many of the NXT talents considered Rhodes a mentor and friend.

UPDATE x 3: TMZ has an update on the death of Dusty Rhodes and what might have caused it. EMTs responded to Rhodes’ home in Orlando, Florida at 5:56 AM yesterday morning after getting a call that he suffered a fall. Rhodes was taken to a nearby hospital where he ultimately passed away. It’s believed he suffered “numerous complications” through the night. His immediate family rushed to the hospital when they found out what happened.

UPDATE x 2: The wrestling world is currently in mourning. Here are posts from several people in WWE:

UPDATE: As reported earlier, WWE.com announced the tragic news that Dusty Rhodes (Virgil Runnels) has passed away at the age of 69.

While there aren’t a lot of specific details to report at this time, we can confirm that Rhodes suffered a fall at his house yesterday and his kidneys were shutting down as he started to get dehydrated. The fall took place yesterday and his condition became worse throughout the night. He succumbed to his injuries this morning.

Rhodes was one of the biggest names to come from NWA and is a three time champion of that promotion. He started wrestling in the 1970s and wrestled for a little over thirty years. He’s also the father to WWE stars Goldust (Dustin Runnels) and Stardust (Cody Runnels).

We would like to give our condolences to his family, friends and fans. Also, we should have more information on this unfortunate story later today. Stay tuned.

ORIGINAL: The following is from WWE.com:

WWE is deeply saddened that Virgil Runnels, aka “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes — WWE Hall of Famer, three-time NWA Champion and one of the most captivating and charismatic figures in sports entertainment history — passed away today at the age of 69.

Runnels became a hero to fans around the world thanks to his work ethic, his impassioned interviews and his indomitable spirit. Moreover, Runnels was a dedicated father to WWE Superstars Goldust (Dustin Runnels) and Stardust (Cody Runnels), a caring husband and a creative visionary who helped shape the landscape of WWE long after his in-ring career had ended.

WWE extends its sincerest condolences to Runnels’ family, friends and colleagues.