Cody Rhodes: Going back to the place that made him sick in the first place
In 2016, Cody Rhodes requested his release from World Wrestling Entertainment. His final match in the company was his good friend Matt Cardona (then Zack Ryder) defeating him on WWE Superstars in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Except Cardona didn’t defeat Cody Rhodes. He defeated Stardust.
Stardust was a mad clown version of Goldust, his brother Dustin Rhodes character. It was a gimmick Dustin didn’t seem too excited to do anymore, and now Cody was strapped into a watered down version. Cody tried to make it his own. He tried to portray it like a comic book super villain and form his own villainous legion of doom to go against the superheroes of WWE. When his father, the legendary Dusty Rhodes passed away in June of 2015, Cody wanted to take off the gimmick and be himself to carry the name of Rhodes. Instead he was gone for a month and back as Stardust. He tried to make the best of it, having friend and actor Stephen Amell show up to work a tag team match at Summerslam that summer. Once that match was over, Stardust found himself flat on his back looking up at the lights most nights.
By May, nearing the anniversary of his fathers passing, he requested his release.
Cody infamously created a list of wrestlers he wanted to work when going back to the independents. He worked in Impact Wrestling and Ring of Honor. He made his time in New Japan Pro Wrestling. He got to work a lot of that list but not everyone. Kevin Owens hooked him up with the Young Bucks and Cody became a member of the Bullet Club. He fit the club perfectly, chewing a cigar instead of dressing like a clown. The Bullet Club was all about swallowing the imagery and attitude of western wrestling and appropriating it for a modern fan. If it was going to crotch chop and too sweet like D-Generation X and the New World Order it needed someone who was close to it. Cody Rhodes feuded with Shawn Michaels and Triple H in WWE. His father was briefly a member of the New World Order. He was a level of credibility the group needed beyond its usual gaijin being prickish.
More importantly, Cody Rhodes represented a hope in western wrestling that had been missing for a very long time. NWA:TNA failed to become a credible contender against the WWE. Ring of Honor was merely like an independent artist winning a Grammy but still doing shows in theatres instead of arenas. It felt like this was professional wrestling going forward. If you saw through NXT as WWE’s way of presenting independent wrestling without going to an independent wrestling show, it was hard to feel hope for anyone else. Cody showing up to the independents felt like a rising tide.
Cody knew it too. He embraced the role of the folk hero. Being the Elite featured him making constant jokes against the WWE. They even at some point had Frankie Kazarian playing Triple H to take Bullet Club members to NXT. While the Young Bucks got the blame for “Fuck the Revival” it was Cody Rhodes more than anyone else to expressed it with venom and repetition. When Bullet Club through a rally in a WWE parking lot to say they were taking over, who was front and centre? It wasn’t the leader Kenny Omega. It wasn’t BTE producers Nick and Matt Jackson. It was Cody Rhodes.
When @TheWWEGuy_ asked Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer if ROH could sell out an arena with 10K+ fans or something like MSG, Meltzer responded not any time soon. It was Cody Rhodes who replied he would take the bet. What we got was All In. Cody Rhodes was front and centre of the poster. He wasn’t in the main event (that was the Young Bucks) but instead he won the NWA Heavyweight championship against Nick Aldis in an extremely emotional and passionate victory. He left the WWE as Stardust on Superstars in 2016. He was now winning a championship his father held on a show he helped create in front of 11,263 fans in Chicago in 2018.
That momentum of All In would soon form into Tony Khan finally starting a brand new wrestling company in All Elite Wrestling, which both Cody Rhodes and his wife Brandi Rhodes would take executive roles in along with the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega. Following them would be Hangman Adam Page and nobody else from the Bullet Club. The rest would stay in New Japan Pro Wrestling to work Madison Square Garden in 2019. All Elite Wrestling would hold their first show Double or Nothing that May, which much like All In, Cody wouldn’t be in the main event. Instead he had the match everyone left talking about against his brother Dustin, rated five stars by Dave Meltzer.
Cody Rhodes was the beating heart for an alternative in the western wrestling scene. He went from a pastiche of his brother’s Goldust character to setting the indies on fire all over the world to igniting the Bullet Club in New Japan Pro Wrestling to heights they had never seen before and now he’s helped lead a proper competitor against the WWE. That Double or Nothing he took a sledgehammer to a Triple H throne. Fans rallied behind Cody Rhodes as the man who would bring an alternative to western pro wrestling.
And now those fans have to watch him going back to the WWE.
We don’t know the real reason yet as to why he’s gone back to the WWE, but it certainly feels like his final year in AEW was him being asked to play the heel and Rhodes refusing at every turn. It felt like at the time it was this great subversive story where Cody refusing to turn heel made him a bigger heel than if he did the typical turn. Instead he never wanted to turn, and all of his references might have been him telling Tony he couldn’t control him. Cody had a three year deal with All Elite Wrestling with a two year extension option. Tony didn’t exercise the option.
Current word first broken by PWInsider is Cody Rhodes will be wrestling Seth Rollins at Wrestlemania. With a title unification match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, I wouldn’t be surprised if Reigns wins leaving Raw without a champion. Which would lead to a tournament. Which could be won by Cody Rhodes. In November 2019, Cody Rhodes surprised everyone saying if he lost to Chris Jericho in his only AEW World title shot he would never wrestle for the title again. He lost to Jericho and never wrestled for the title again. Tony Khan made it clear this was Cody’s decision and he would respect it. If Cody ends up a world champion in WWE months into entering the company it’ll just made this story that much more bizarre but I feel like that’s what we will see.
AEW fans are still young and loyal to the company. Most of them bring the baggage of having to begrudgingly watch WWE because it was the only game in town. Many tried to switch to NJPW or a smaller company but couldn’t escape the pull of following the biggest wrestling company in the world. With AEW around now they don’t want anyone to leave and don’t see it as just two companies in the same field. It’s us versus them. Leaving to the WWE doesn’t feel like an employment change. It feels like a betrayal. It was always a conversation to see who would “jump first” and the fact it was Cody Rhodes, the EVP, the folk hero, feels like stab in the back.
I wonder if it’s Cody Rhodes who feels stabbed in the back with CM Punk coming in and taking up all the oxygen he once held with AEW fans.
Cody thought he was doing the right thing. He would stay a hero. He would try to help make his friends and trainees bigger stars by working with them. He put over young talent like Darby Allin and MJF. He did it only for August 2021 to roll around and CM Punk, the man who left the industry, to once again be the beating heart of the fan who rejected WWE.
On January 19, 2022, Cody Rhodes cut his last promo in AEW and we quite frankly didn’t listen clear enough.
“I’m reminded from that last match of a man who was sat on a stage just like that, looked at a ring just like this, and he gave one of the most important addresses in the history of our sport. It inspired thousands of would be wrestlers. It mobilized literally millions of fans at the first hint of a revolution. I am talking about CM Punk and the Pipebomb. Someone told me to save this promo but I don’t know if I’m gonna get the chance so I’ll do it now. In that interview, which was the first whift of a revolution he laid out a road map. He listed things, things that for him, for somebody like me were taboo at the time. Things like going to New Japan Pro Wrestling, working with Ring of Honor. And ultimately, he would talk about teaming with the Young Bucks. As destiny would have it, as fate would have it, he was unable to do those things. But he would join…”
Cody Rhodes was interrupted by people telling him to shut the fuck up.
“He would eventually wind up here which Pro Wrestling Illustrated would call the Comeback of the Year but if we’re being honest with one another, and I see all the CM Punk shirts, it is the comeback of the decade. We are all living it and we are all loving it. But in his absence, in the void that CM Punk left behind, somebody did do each and every one of those things. I did them. I carried every ounce of empty monopoly sentiment on my shoulders. I held every grain of the revolution in my hand and each and every one of you cheered. You want to ask why I won’t turn heel? Because you cheered me when I needed it the most. When it says there’s more than one royal family in wrestling I am talking about me and all of us. People talk about the forbidden door. It’s a proper noun! It’s vernacular! But if you are an industry journalist who covers what we do and disagrees with anything I say tonight you’re not a journalist. As this generation likes to say check the receipts. Check the dates. Before there was a forbidden door? I was the one who built it.”
“And I’m gone.”
Cody would continue, with references of ReDragon being developmental talent and Gunner McGillibuddy, his old shots at the WWE. It gave comfort to people fearing he would be going there. Now it looks like Cody trying to generate the cheers he once again needed most. And this time? He wouldn’t get them. The crowd half heartedly cheered him by the end but he didn’t win them the way he might have wanted. At the very least, he gave them something to remember in his ladder match with Sammy Guevara the next week as it was fantastic. Cody poured his heart and soul explaining he did what their new folk hero CM Punk could not and the AEW fans in the crowd were telling him to fuck off.
But there’s a different speech I want to go to. Because it isn’t the original Pipebomb that Cody is harbouring a taste of acid in his mouth. It’s the one that CM Punk did in his debut in AEW. I feel like it has been eating away at Cody Rhodes and will eat away at him as he re-enters the WWE.
“If at all through my journey, any of my personal choices or decisions related to my life made you feel disappointed or let down? Let me just say. Let me just say I understand, if you all understand that I was never going to get healthy physically, mentally, spiritually, or emotionally, staying in the same place that got me sick in the first place.”
– CM Punk
Unlike Punk, Cody didn’t quit wrestling. Cody went to the indies. He didn’t wait for competition to form. He made it happen. But unlike CM Punk, Cody Rhodes is about to go back to the place that refused to let him be himself after his father died. He’s about to go back to the place that tossed polka dots on his father. He’s about to go back to the place that made him an undercard clown in a shiny jumpsuit and face paint in his early 30s. He’s about to go back to the place that never saw him as a top star. Punk left the place that made him sick. So did Cody. Three years ago Cody thought CM Punk was returning to the WWE. Instead it’s him.
I think he was misquoted. I know 1 of us had met with him in person, and yes I texted him plenty when we couldn’t connect on the actual phone, but not a contracted offer. I wouldn’t be surprised if he went back to wwe. Regardless, great wrestler & guy. Door is open if he wants it https://t.co/3ityuurGGy
— Cody Rhodes (@CodyRhodes) July 26, 2019
Will it be successful? Will it last? Who knows. I like Cody Rhodes. I’m not going to pretend he wasn’t a good wrestler or there was no fit left for him in AEW. I could care less that he’s getting paid a lot of money to do this (Cody ain’t starving folks) and honestly his reasons for leaving AEW and going back to the WWE don’t matter to me that much. I like Cody so seeing him going back to the company that tried to keep him from using the Rhodes last name and tried to fight him over old pay per view names his father invented disappoints me. When Vince McMahon stops listening to his ideas and concerns and books him in matches and storylines he doesn’t want to work I won’t feel like I did in 2016. Nor will I feel bad when he’s given a script from someone told to write something that sounds like Cody Rhodes. But when it’s all said and done and Cody is sitting at home with a 90 day non compete, which we all know one day he will be, and he takes off the polka dots of sports entertainment? I’ll be there to welcome him back to professional wrestling. If he wants it.
CM Punk said in August that he left professional wrestling when he left Ring of Honor, and by coming to All Elite Wrestling he was returning to it. On May 16, 2016, Cody Rhodes left sports entertainment. On April 2, 2022 (probably), he’s going to be returning to it.