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The Texas Outlaws

 - Gordon Grice

Virgil Runnels was discovered by San Antonio promoter Joe Blanchard and given the corny ring name Dusty Rhodes. He went to West Texas State University to play baseball and, in what I imagine was a package deal, also stopped off in Amarillo to polish his ring craft.

Dick Murdoch was the son of the Fabulous Texan, Frankie Hill Murdoch. The elder Murdoch had feuded memorably with Dory Funk Sr. in the 1950s. That made his athletically gifted son a natural enemy for the younger generation of Funks.

Murdoch and Rhodes crossed paths in Amarillo and formed a team. They were billed as WTSU  athletes, but Murdoch's tenure in WT football was fictitious. Nonetheless, they convincingly played the role of hard-drinking aggies cruising for trouble. Both were blond and buzzcut. Both were heavy but powerful, with little fat on their frames. Rhodes in particular was thick as a slab of country bacon. (In Florida he was billed as "the Human Tank") Murdoch spoke for the team; he was at that stage an unspectacular but capable promo man. Rhodes stood in the background, glaring. He seemed to be mentally defective, and he gave off a disturbing vibe, as if he might wonder into the audience at any moment and start twisting people's heads off. As a team, the Outlaws exuded danger. They might not be as polished as the Von Brauners or the Infernos, but they seemed far more likely to accidentally kill someone while they were having their fun. And it did seem as if they were having fun; the danger didn't cancel out another side to their image, that of overgrown boys romping.

Though they had some notable matches here with the Funk Brothers and others, the Outlaws had greater success when they hit the road. In the late '60s and early '70s, they were champions in Detroit, Houston, Florida, and Central States. In the AWA, they headlined cards against Bruiser and Crusher. In Toledo, they headlined against the Fabulous Kangaroos. They toured Australia and Japan.

Both spent much of 1968-70 in Amarillo, but not necessarily together. Murdoch appeared in specialty matches (beating the Lawman for the Brass Knucks title, for example). He teamed some with Rhodes, but more often with top-of-the-card heels like Bull Ramos. He even appeared under a hood as the Black Ace.

Rhodes, meanwhile, teamed with a succession of partners, including Harley Race. At the same time, the charismatic Thunderbolt Patterson was working main events in the territory. I mention this because over the next few years Rhodes developed a funky ring style and an electrifying approach to promos that owed a lot to Patterson. Rhodes would, of course, use these traits to become one of the biggest draws in wrestling.

In the wider world of wrestling, the Outlaws continued to have good runs together, but, as things worked out, their time in as a team in Amarillo came to a premature end. Rhodes moved on to other territories, never again to have an important role in Amarillo. Murdoch formed a team with another WT athlete who played an undisciplined redneck: Bobby Duncum. Duncum had been around Amarillo for a while, working opening matches against heels and babyfaces, gaining experience as a partner to various veterans. Murdoch and Duncum reached the top of the card, feuding with the Funk Brothers. The new team was less charismatic, but seemed more business-like, more eager to deliver a beating.  More...

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