By Jeffrey Lutz
The best story of 2013 can barely be told.
It’s not WWE’s fault. The company is doing everything it can to highlight its most interesting person of the year; unfortunately, that person is playing a character that presents too many limitations on telling the person’s story.
Dustin Runnels, should, for all intents and purposes, not be holding a roster spot in n WWE as 2014 begins. He’s 44 years old – nearly three months older than Triple H, several months older than Chris Jericho, and only a few months younger than Batista, who is returning to WWE on January 20.
Jericho may never return to WWE, and Triple H has settled into his corporate role while wrestling a handful of matches every year. Those performers get the headlines, while Goldust receives a fraction of the fanfare he deserves. In a year that has include a possibly final stint from The Rock, another great Undertaker match at WrestleMania, and the teasing of one more match from Shawn Michaels, Goldust has provided the most rewarding nostalgia this year.
Simply a return from Goldust wouldn’t have been enough, because we’ve seen it many times before. In truth, the character was washed up 10 years ago, when it was saddled with a brutal Tourette syndrome gimmick that Runnels made more entertaining than it should have been. Since then, Goldust has returned several times with little character evolution, the "highlight" of which was his marriage to Aksana as a mid-level story line on NXT.
In 2010, though, Goldust had perhaps his most important year as a person and as a performer. He released a book chronicling his substance abuse issues, finally confronting a past that included days when he took more than 40 painkilling pills. In his book, Runnels revealed that he was essentially saved by WWE’s wellness program and a subsequent stint in a drug rehabilitation facility.
Putting his story out for public consumption apparently gave Runnels freedom as a performer, because he also removed his proverbial shackles in the ring. On an episode of Superstars that happened to be taped in my hometown, Goldust had a match with Chris Jericho that earned praise as one of the best of the year. It essentially came out of nowhere, because Goldust had never been known for match quality even though Runnels frequently produced strong matches.
WWE apparently didn’t put much stock in Goldust’s performance, because within months he had reverted to playing a comedy character, first as he sent suggestive notes to Ted DiBiase about Goldust’s desire for the Million Dollar Championship, then as Aksana’s short-lived, on-screen husband. He left WWE, where he transitioned to a role as producer, in mid-2012 and it seemed there would be no great matches – or matches at all – with Jericho or anyone else.
There was never a clamoring for a Goldust return, probably because WWE only treated him as a minimal player. In his time, Goldust was one of the industry’s most innovative characters – if he didn’t lead to the Attitude Era then he at least gave a glimpse of it in the mid-1990s with edgy and risqué characteristics. But an ambiguous character had run its course socially and within WWE, so no controversy was attached to Goldust in his more recent WWE stints. His returns were often met with a nostalgic excitement, but it’s nearly impossible to say they had any expectations attached.
In September, though, Goldust created his own expectations. At 44, he returned to WWE and immediately began the best work of his career, carrying his weight – and sometimes simply carrying – in matches against The Shield. That’s no small feat, either, because those matches were incredibly fast-paced and Runnels, who carried extra weight in previous stints, kept up perfectly and was never out of condition.
Goldust’s recent performance opened up an array of opportunities for WWE, though it hasn’t been able to take advantage of them all. It’s difficult to delve into Runnels’ substance abuse issues when he’s playing Goldust, because the character didn’t have those issues. Same with his relationship with his brother, Cody Rhodes – it’s been touched on, but it’s difficult to document completely since the Goldust character is barely human.
If not for the restrictions on telling Runnels’ story, Goldust may have earned a level of attention that stands up to that of Triple H, Batista and Chris Jericho. It’s almost impossible not to be excited, or at least eagerly curious, about Batista’s comeback. He won’t have matches as strong as Goldust’s, but he’s a larger-than-life character who will add entertainment to WWE’s WrestleMania-season programming. The same applies to Jericho if he returns, though his teases are beginning to fall under the law of diminishing returns.
No return, though, is as compelling as Goldust’s because Runnels has lived a compelling, if tumultuous, life that included his 2005 arrest stemming from a domestic incident with a girlfriend. That behavior is inexcusable, of course, but Runnels should be commended for accepting and admitting his issues, then dealing with them. In the last three-plus months he has completely changed his legacy, probably earning an eventual Hall of Fame spot to go along with his excellent work and renewed purpose.
Dustin Runnels’ transgressions and mistakes could have erased him from WWE and from the memory of fans. Now it’s certain that we’ll never forget his name.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lutz's Blog: Goldust's comeback is more interesting than waiting on Chris Jericho or pining for Batista or anyone else
Dec 31, 2013 - 06:35 PM
Dec 31, 2013 - 06:35 PM
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