Dustin Runnels, better known today as Dustin Rhodes, is one of the greatest performers in the history of professional wrestling. To state something so grandiose and complimentary, I need to give some kind of tangible proof for my argument. With this entry however, I’ll probably end up doing the opposite. So instead of beginning this retrospective with a sour note, I’ll start by briefing you on his other personas, far removed from the “Seven” character.
Photo credit: WWE
Runnels began his wrestling career in 1988, going by “Dustin Rhodes,” taking the name of his father, the late, great Dusty Rhodes. He was on the upper-midcard of most promotions he found his way into, namely WCW and AJPW. His career really took off however, when he debuted the “Goldust” character to WWF audiences in 1995. Goldust was, in essence, a Hollywood-obsessed, androgynous character who painted himself in gold, wore golden spandex and bore a blonde wig. He would modify traditional wrestling moves to be suggestive and sexual towards other male wrestlers and lust over his opponents in innuendo-laced pre-match promos. It was truly taboo stuff for 1995 standards, and as you could imagine, homophobic slurs were constantly thrown his way by fans in attendance. He’d evolve the gimmick over the coming years, upping the ante to even more controversy. Nipple tassels, ball-gags, leashes, you name it. Goldust was silly, weird, creepy, but ultimately amazing. The character is etched into the lore of professional wrestling. Goldust has had several evolutions over the last 20 years, and today Runnels resides resides in AEW as Dustin Rhodes, where he is a fan-favourite
In mid-1999, Runnels left the WWF to rejoin WCW, which was under the guise of notoriously controversial wrestling writer, Vince Russo. Russo, who had given us such gems as the “Judy Bagwell on a Pole” match and putting the WCW championship on actor David Arquette, had something up his sleeve for the once-in-a-lifetime talent, Dustin Runnels.
“Awaken my son.” Runnels says in pale white face-paint as he stares into the bedroom window of a toddler. Who is under your bed? Who is in your closet? Who is at your window? Come to me and live forever. Join me in complete bliss.” When the boy turns his head after putting his hand against Runnels’, his eyes are blackened and his expression is blank.
This was Seven. An Uncle Fester-looking child-stalker and presumed demonic kidnapper. Jokes aside, this was actually creepy as shit. When I was a kid, I was scared of The Undertaker’s fucking entrance music. I can’t imagine being a kid and watching that vignette. I wonder how many kids stopped watching wrestling and never went back after seeing that Lynchian nightmare play out on their TVs.
On November 9, 1999, Seven made his debut on WCW television among smoke and flames. He “levitated” to the ring, but the wires and cables hoisting him up were so blatantly visible that it just looked like a joke. All the money in the world and Ted Turner backing your show, but you couldn’t get some thinner cables? When Seven entered the ring, he quickly grabbed a mic and would speak his first and last words as the character.
“Turn off the music now! I want everybody in here to take a good look at the crap I’m in!” Uh oh. He went on to state his resentment for his WWF career and blame “the powers that be” in WCW for the silliness that his character had become. He also said that he felt that the legendary Rhodes name carved out by his father was tarnished due to WCW “[kicking] him to the curb like he was a piece of shit.” Seven was never seen or heard from again.
So… What the fuck? What happened? Many speculated that Runnels was “shooting” on the company, or going off-script and airing his grievances. In other words, they thought it was real. That however, is a testament to Runnels in making something so incredibly unbelievable, believable. In reality, Turner Broadcasting Standards and Practices forced WCW to cancel the character because fans could “misinterpret him as a child abductor.” No shit, go figure! Who woulda’ thought? The character’s appearance and subsequent promo was just a product of Vince Russo’s writing. Don’t wanna cancel a character entirely? Have him shit on the character he was given!
I should note that Runnels has gone on the record in saying that the original Seven character was his idea, and was just fine-tuned and directed by Russo. That being said, who knows if the character had potential or not? It was cut way too early to tell, but if you want my opinion, I think the character had promise. I think those vignettes were creepy as fuck, and given the right treatment, the Seven gimmick could have been more than just a tiny blip in the Monday Night Wars. If there’s anyone who can make an absurd gimmick work in the world of wrestling, it’s Dustin Runnels.