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McGuire’s Monday: In defense of Cody Rhodes

By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)

“So the mystery continues as to why Cody left AEW.”
Of all the wrestling world things that were written and broadcasted over the last three days, that sentence came from Jason Powell at the end of a quick post about an interview Cody Rhodes gave and it stuck with me. Because he was right. The mystery does continue when it comes to this Cody/AEW/WWE stuff.

But something occurred to me when I saw Mr. Rhodes walk down the gigantic WrestleMania ramp to re-debut with WWE. It was something I was hoping I’d have answered once I saw him appear on WWE programming. It was something so obvious, it felt like it couldn’t be real. That something?

A DIFFERENT NIGHTMARE

Cody was right.

He was right to leave AEW. He was right to go to WWE. He was right to do everything he’s done over the last handful of months.

I instantly thought that when I saw his demeanor. He didn’t look scared, but he didn’t look like he was at ease, either. There was an odd lack of comfort to his entrance and opening minutes of his match with Seth Rollins. He signaled to the crowd, trying to pump them up, multiple times, as he did so often in AEW. He yells. He raises his arms. His face looks like a thousand veins are going to pop out of it.

The thing was, the crowd ate it up. They were fully behind him — so much so that I’m not entirely sure I remember an AEW crowd, at any point in his run in that company, being as into Cody as that WrestleMania crowd was into Cody on Saturday night. If wrestling is in the business of reaction, Dusty’s son did a pretty great night of business.

And for a guy who kept his theme song, ring gear, and suspect neck tattoo, he looked different. There was an air of arrogance in so much of what he did in AEW. Saturday night? Not so much. It was as though he felt like the leader of the pack, the biggest draw, the most important wrestler when he was in the company he helped find. In WWE, though, he seemed grounded, more focused. This wasn’t a guy flanked by Arn Anderson and a thousand other guys in tracksuits.

On Saturday, it was just Cody. That’s it. Cody. And only Cody.

Which leads me to this …

CHASING STARDOM

“I’m the best wrestler in the world. And to go further with it, I actually don’t think there’s a close second.”

That was part of a story written about Cody that was published over the weekend. While it initially took me aback, I got to thinking about it and came away with something: Maybe this is why Cody Rhodes wanted to go to the WWE in the first place. Everybody and their mother is going to say that the best wrestling in the world is currently in AEW, and that’s probably not wrong. But AEW could never provide the superstar platform that WWE can, and perhaps that’s what Cody is chasing.

It’s the whole big fish in a small pond thing. That’s not to say AEW is a small pond (and to be fair, that’s not even to say Cody was the biggest fish in that pond to begin with), but it is to say that WWE is the only wrestling company in America that transcends what it does into the pop culture lexicon. Cody tried with his reality series and the “Go Big Show”, but those things also didn’t necessarily endear himself to the AEW fans.

Such is to say, to be viewed by a mainstream audience as the best wrestler in the world, he has to go to the most mainstream company out there. Keep in mind, that equation has as much to do with popularity as it does with actual wrestling. Cody’s match with Seth Rollins was very good, but I’d be hard pressed to say Cody was even the best pure wrestler in that match, let alone the world.

But then again, maybe that’s not the point, and instead, the point is being the biggest name on the biggest stage. If that’s what he wants to do, he’s in the right place to do it. In fact, maybe that’s why Brandi Rhodes isn’t with him. Maybe that’s why he isn’t aligned with anybody. Maybe that’s why there’s no manager. Maybe he’s just a guy who wants to go out there and stand out on his own as, in his words, the best performer in the world.

I admire that. I even kind of admire the quote. If you’re going to be on an island, go be on an island. Cody leaving AEW to go to the WWE certainly puts him out there. It would be reductive to flirt with anything else suggesting you want to come play with the rest of the kids at this point. He’s clearly carving his own path in his own way. It’s hard not to respect that.

It’s also hard not to respect …

TIME TO GO

… his self-awareness.

At some point, for some reason, the AEW thing turned around on him. If that company is the cool kids table of pro wrestling, that cool kids table also splits itself into its own factions and, bless him, but Cody did not have a seat at the cool kids table, even if the entire lunchroom was filled with cool kids. He never had the credibility that Kenny Omega had. He didn’t have the edge that Jon Moxley had. He could never compete with Chris Jericho’s star power.

Still, that didn’t stop him from trying. Look at all the blood he shed in AEW. Look at the moonsault from the top of the cage. Look at him falling onto a burning table. Look at all those Very Serious, Very Long promos he cut. He searched for acceptance from a crowd that isn’t kind to those it doesn’t like or respect, and he never quite got it.

Yeah, they chanted his name, and sure, the first 80 percent of his run, he was treated kindly enough by the fanbase. But they liked him until they didn’t. And once they didn’t, there was no turning back. You can point to any number of those teary promos or even the dramatics of almost taking off his boots to retire after realizing he was never going to beat Malakai Black. Perhaps it was a combination of many things, but once the first few boo birds began to fly, it was inevitable that the wheels were going to fall off.

And they did. And instead of turning heel, Cody was persistent in his commitment to being a babyface. Or, at least that’s what we’re told. Who knows what the truth is. All I know is it wouldn’t surprise me if Cody was smart enough to know that even if he turned heel, it wouldn’t solve the problem. The AEW fans, by and large, were over him. Wrestling requires you to be loved or hated. A heel turn from Cody would have just been another stop on the road to apathy, which is the path toward the end of a career.

So, he had to go. And he knew it. He didn’t want to veer into Ronda Rousey Land and become indignant toward fans — especially with his commitment to the AEW community team, a venture that he seemed genuinely excited to participate in. Sticking around in AEW would have ultimately ruined his career in the long-term, and if his goal was to be the best, most popular, highly regarded wrestler in the world, that goal would have never been met.

Speaking of goals …

REWRITING A LEGACY

… Maybe Cody had some demons he needed to exorcise if he was to ever feel his work was complete in pro wrestling.

Don’t forget: His story is not the same story that Nick Jackson or Matt Jackson or Kenny Omega shared. Cody’s story involves an initial run in WWE that he walked out on because he didn’t feel he was being used properly. While he showed a bunch of promise during that time, he ultimately ended up with a painted face that was sometimes used for comedy. A mid-carder to the core. He felt he was worth more.

So, he went and got it. He rebuilt himself on the indies and in Japan, helped start a company and completely changed his narrative (take that, EC3). Maybe part of that narrative was always the ability to go back to the WWE to do right by his time there and not forever go down as just some guy. Perhaps he felt like he needed to take this version of Cody Rhodes — the grown-up one, the popular one, the leading one — to the WWE to see if this one could gain some traction on the big stage.

And let’s not get upset about things he might have said four years ago, either. Not for a second do I hold against him the talk about the revolution or the fact that he, the Bucks, Omega and Page would never split up. You need someone saying those things to get the operation off the ground at first; 10 out of 10 times, I would stand up for all those rah-rah comments he made when AEW and All In first took shape. Saying those kinds of things created the bond and camaraderie that put the company over the top in the beginning, taking an idea and turning it into a wildly successful business venture.

So, I don’t care about anything he might have said years ago. If he always knew he’d go back to WWE if the timing was right, the money was there and things went sideways with AEW, that’s just called being smart and preserving one’s self. Nobody should be mad at that. If there’s one form of entertainment in this world where the phrase “never say never” takes on a fully realized life, it’s pro wrestling, so we should all know that no matter what people say today about their future in the wrestling business, those words could be rendered meaningless by tomorrow.

Actually, with tomorrow in mind …

LOOKING AHEAD

… What happens now?

This is where the fascinating stuff begins. There’s no way you put Cody Rhodes out there, debuting at WrestleMania, and have him lose. So while it was no surprise that he beat Seth Rollins on Saturday, where we go from here is anybody’s guess. He’s supposed to speak tonight on the Raw after WrestleMania, and though it’s hard to imagine fans booing him this close to his debut, I am curious to see if the reaction he’ll receive Monday will be on the same level as the reaction he received Saturday.

On top of that, what’s going on with his creative? Will he be strapped to television writers for his promos or will he have free rein to do what he wants? There’s only one Big Deal Title in the company now; does Cody set his sights on that? I’d proceed with caution if I were WWE because if you aren’t going to beat Roman Reigns, and that’s going to mean Cody Rhodes will take a loss this early into this run in WWE … well, that’s not ideal.

Either way, the answers to these questions aren’t as important as the answers to other questions we can only ask down the road. The most discussed one? Will he consistently be a top guy? Don’t forget that we’re coming off a WrestleMania without a U.S. or Intercontinental Champion defending their titles. And those guys, Finn Balor and Ricochet, were can’t-miss signings beloved by fans far and wide for the longest time. We all know that once Vince McMahon gets bored with you, that’s the end of that. So what’s going to happen when we first get that Stardust appearance that’s supposed to be ironic at first and then becomes the full-time gimmick?

All these things, we have to wait and see. For now, though, Cody Rhodes is reborn. Yes, he brought the music, and yes, he still comes up from underground and yes, he looks the same in a WWE ring as he did in an AEW ring. But this is new. This is one of the biggest “betting on yourself” moves wrestling has seen in quite some time (or, well, since AEW was founded, really). Cody should be commended for that, even if it means the road won’t be easy.

Will he ever go back to AEW? I think so. If he does, will that be viewed as a failure? I don’t think it should be. But that’s another conversation for another time. On this, the Monday after WrestleMania, it’s all about the here and now. And the here and now is Cody Rhodes wrestling in WWE.

Not only with his colleagues, but perhaps, as he rebuilds his story in that company, with himself.

SPECIAL EPISODE

WE VALUE YOUR PRIVACY

Readers Comments (15)

  1. chicago_animal April 4, 2022 @ 5:44 pm

    He appeared once in wwe so far. Let’s see how long the honeymoon lasts. Might not be nearly as long as it took for AEW fans to start booing him.

  2. The fact that you can actually sit there and try to dismiss all those “rah rah” comments he made and act like they don’t matter and they were just a “necessary part” is disingenuous at best.

    The shots he took at WWE are whatever, where it REALLY matters is all those times he convinced us that AEW was his family. He made the fans feel like he lied to us and worked us in all those speeches that he gave to the crowds that were not part of the show is an massive betrayal.

    Cody sold out. This is coming from someone who does not use that term lightly, ever. In fact I am usually on the defense of the person being called a sell out because that term is used way too liberally. With that being said there is no other classification of what Cody has done that makes more sense. The fact you are so willing to side step exactly how hypocritical he was here is a massive blow to whatever credibility you might have.

    At the end of the day Cody can do what he wants, hes a grown ass man. However, in no way, shape or form does that make him immune from being held to account for throwing around all that “AEW is my home and my family” shit only to turn around 2 years later and jump ship.

    And not only jump ship but jump ship to the company that thinks making blood money deals with Saudi Arabia and mass releasing employees during a pandemic are acceptable business practices.

  3. One thing is for sure. No matter what happens tonight or in the future, Cody has made a pretty unique mark in wrestling and is sure good at creating a buzz for himself

  4. TheGreatestOne April 4, 2022 @ 7:29 pm

    Cody got a company started for the nobody indie children who will never draw a dime on their own, got tired of dealing with a moron owner who couldn’t be bothered to try and run the company with a modicum of professionalism, and took one more shot at getting a title push in the only company that matters.

    If that’s selling out, then we should all do so.

  5. Thegreatestone, look at the financial numbers of events like last year’s All Out and see how much of a moron you are for making statements like that. Pull your head out of Vince’s ass.

  6. “So, I don’t care about anything he might have said years ago. If he always knew he’d go back to WWE if the timing was right, the money was there and things went sideways with AEW, that’s just called being smart and preserving one’s self. Nobody should be mad at that. If there’s one form of entertainment in this world where the phrase “never say never” takes on a fully realized life, it’s pro wrestling, so we should all know that no matter what people say today about their future in the wrestling business, those words could be rendered meaningless by tomorrow.”

    Someone needs to find a dictionary and look up the word hypocrite. That’s what Cody looks like right now. He also looks like a little crybaby who ran away from AEW because he couldn’t handle a little heat from the fans. Instead of being a man and doing what anyone with half a brain knew he needed to do, which was turn heel.

  7. I had massive respect for Cody for leaving WWE, becoming a star, and getting a new promotion off of the ground. He proved that he didn’t need WWE and that he was bigger than WWE

    Now, he just looks like a loser for going back there and backstabbing everyone in AEW in the process.

    This feels like a complete regression for his career. He could have stayed in AEW and turned heel. Eventually, he could have parlayed his heel run into a baby face turn. That’s how things work in wrestling. Instead he leaves a company that he had a hand in creating, and goes back to the one that made a mockery of him like returning to an abusive ex. Where is his pride?

  8. TheGreatestOne April 5, 2022 @ 12:29 am

    Cody could have stayed in AEW where the audience will never grow, or he could go back to the big leagues. Only a loser would keep playing around with the cocaine trust fund dipshit and his merry band of badass midgets.

  9. You’re always harping on about midgets(I know it’s because you struggle to think for yourself and have to parrot all the Jim Cornette talking points but I’ll humor you), so I gotta ask, what’s the height cutoff for “midget” vs “not a midget”? I ask this because Bron Breakker is 6’0, same height as Adam Page and Kenny Omega. Is he a midget or is 6’0 and higher okay, in which case Kenny and Hangman are full size and thus okay? But then does that make Kevin Owens a midget? He’s 5’11, which puts him just an inch taller than Matt and Nick Jackson who I know fall into your midget category. Just wanting how we determine who’s a midget and thus immediately worthy of dismissal to the mudshow(obviously Rey Mysterio has gotta go) and who we can feel comfortable in keeping in the big leagues.

  10. I totally agree with Justin, Marko, Jake and Dshiflet. “One,” is completely out of his element and incorrect once again.

  11. Cody did the right thing. He wants to be a celebrity. That is much more likely to happen being with WWE than with AEW. I don’t think any party really loses anything from this move.

  12. TheGreatestOne April 5, 2022 @ 12:42 pm

    Cody made a business decision. These comments also prove why nobody should give a flying rat’s ass about the IWC. You boys (definitely not men) sound like your mom’s bought you the wrong kind of hot pockets again.

  13. Hey, ThotlessOne, I’m not concerned about Cody’s decisions, WWE or AEW makes no difference to me. I noticed you dodged my question about “midgets” though…presumably because it’s something Cornette has never had to answer, so you don’t know how to respond either? But I’ll pretend that’s not why and act like maybe you just didn’t see it, and I’ll ask again:

    What’s the height cutoff for “midget” vs “not a midget”? I ask this because Bron Breakker is 6’0, same height as Adam Page and Kenny Omega. Is he a midget or is 6’0 and higher okay, in which case Kenny and Hangman are full size and thus okay? But then does that make Kevin Owens a midget? He’s 5’11, which puts him just an inch taller than Matt and Nick Jackson who I know fall into your midget category. Just wanting how we determine who’s a midget and thus immediately worthy of dismissal to the mudshow(obviously Rey Mysterio has gotta go) and who we can feel comfortable in keeping in the big leagues.

  14. I think you are way off the mark saying Thotless just parrots Jim Cornette. Cornette is very vocal about how terrible WWE programming is.

  15. No, he’s a WWE mark who parrots Cornette’s views on AEW, right down to the same nicknames for wrestlers.

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