In a 2017 interview with Sam Roberts, Cody stated that upon his WWE release he felt as if he was telling the world he was so good by leaving.
In this piece, I am going to be looking at Cody’s post-WWE career and seeing if he has met his own expectations.
Has he lived up to his father’s American Dream or his own American Nightmare?
Cody Rhodes, son to the late, great Dusty Rhodes and half-brother to Dustin Rhodes, had quite the lineage proceeding him when he stepped through the OVW doors in May 2006. One year later and Cody debuted on the main roster in an angle consisting of himself and Randy Orton. By placing him up against one of the companies main stars, it certainly boded well in terms of how highly the company perceived him.
However, as the years past Cody by in WWE, he became part of the furniture. He was an established lower/mid-card talent who’s saving grace seemed to be his last name. He exhibited an abundance of gimmicks ranging from Dashing Cody Rhodes, Legacy Cody Rhodes and, most notably, Stardust. He accumulated three World Tag Team Championship reigns, two Intercontinental Championship reigns and another three WWE Tag Team Championship reigns in a lacklustre 10 years with the company.
In May 2016, 10 years after his OVW debut, Cody decided enough was enough and asked for his release which was granted the day after. Despite initial excitement for the Stardust character, due to its comic book influence, he quickly became fed up with being a Goldust rehash and noted, in a 2017 Talk is Jericho podcast, this to be the catalyst for why he wanted his release.
Creative frustrations and an unflattering placement on the WWE card tipped the scales for Cody who decided it was time to bet on himself. Leaving the pinnacle of wrestling, an easy payday, and his family’s legacy behind, Cody went against the grain to prove to himself and the world that he could be a main event star. This is where the rise and resurgence of Cody begins.
Having only known WWE his whole wrestling career, Cody embarked on his first-ever voyage of the Independent scene in late 2016. His first stop was Evolve 66 on August 19th 2016, where he faced and beat Zack Sabre Jr by submission. Parallel to how his WWE career began, by facing an established top star, Cody established himself as the star here by beating a submission master at his own game. Under his new moniker “Cody”, to avoid any trouble with WWE, he dipped his toes in every substantial independent promotion in America and Europe. Cody had notable matches with Kurt Angle at Northeast Wrestling and WCPW; he got to the quarter-finals of PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles in 2017, losing to Marty Scurll his soon to be stablemate; and he won the GFX NexGen Championship defeating Sonjay Dutt at Wrestlecade’s Show of Champions. Cody had reinvented himself.
He built himself from the ground up and worked effortlessly to banish any WWE perceptions fans and wrestlers alike had of him. Having tirelessly worked the Independents throughout 2016 and 2017 he had won plenty of gold at the likes of WCPW, Global Force Wrestling, and Northeast Wrestling. Whilst winning a plethora of championships and putting on incredible matches, Cody simultaneously worked at ROH, Impact Wrestling, and NJPW during 2016 throughout to 2019. He was performing to all demographics and audiences in order to solidify himself as a main event star.
The first of Cody’s notable mainstream voyages was Impact Wrestling. Signing a non-exclusive contract enabled Cody to still work ROH dates. This shed a light on the work ethic and effortless lengths he would go to get himself over for the business he loved. A common theme of Cody’s career seemingly being his debuting at a top-level, he entered the Impact Zone on October 2nd 2016 wiping out Mike Bennett, who he made quick work of two weeks later. Cody had memorable feuds with Bobby Lashley and Moose but never managed to grab any solid momentum due to the back and forth between Impact and ROH. He bowed out of the Impact Zone in 2017 to focus on his career in Japan, which in hindsight was arguably one of the best decisions of his career.
During this time, Cody was also working ROH in which he debuted against Jay Lethal on 2nd December 2016, establishing himself as a heel by winning with a low blow. This heel aspect showed not only could he work as an incredible face but also perform at an elite level as a heel. He then embarked on a feud with Christopher Daniels which culminated at ROH: Best in the World on June 23rd when Cody defeated Christopher Daniels for the ROH World Championship, the first World Title of his career.
Having beaten a legend, in the shape of Christopher Daniels, whilst also winning the first world title of his career it showed how far Cody had come from his stagnated, vapid WWE career. He was awarded Ring of Honor’s Wrestler of the Year award in 2017 and also won the feud of the year for his heated rivalry with Kenny Omega in 2018 before leaving in November of that year.
The longest and most memorable of Cody’s mainstream voyages was NJPW and it was on December 10th 2016, that Cody announced himself as “The American Nightmare”. He also announced that he would be the newest member of the prestigious Bullet Club. A stable associated with main event calibre talent, this was the stamp of approval Cody needed to show to the world that he was a main event star wherever he goes. With that being said, he furthered this perception by defeating Juice Robinson on his debut at Wrestle Kingdom 11.
Within his stint at NJPW, he had notable matches with the likes of Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, at the G1 Special in the USA. A match that Cody himself, on the Talk is Jericho podcast in 2017, said was his favourite post WWE match at that point in time. Despite losing, it thus furthered that Cody was affixed to the main event level. With further losing efforts to the likes of Ibushi at Wrestle Kingdom 12 and Omega at the G1 Special in San Francisco, Cody was still managing to build himself up as a star. His in-ring skills and mic work had improved tenfold and whilst managing to lose a variety of high stakes matches he retained that main event perception which only proved that Cody had solidified himself at the top. He won his first, and only, NJPW title by defeating Juice Robinson for the IWGP United States Championship at NJPW Fighting Spirit Unleashed before dropping it three months later to Juice at Wrestle Kingdom 13.
Though on paper it could be perceived that Cody did not have the most glamorous three-year stint in NJPW, he did join the Bullet Club, embark in an infamous inner stable feud with Kenny Omega, faced the very best Japan had to offer all whilst branching out to a newer market of fans. Having never really wrestled in Japan before NJPW and ROH, Cody successfully established himself in front of a new audience whilst furthering his main event depiction worldwide.
It was also during his time in Japan that his career changed forever. In May 2017, Dave Meltzer was noted to have said that an independent show, in the United States, would not be able to sell 10,000 seats and it was The Elite, Cody and The Young Bucks, who took particular umbrage to this statement. Being from the States and having branched out to Japan, where they had successfully honed their craft, they knew they could entice not only their fans from back home but all the fans they had enamoured from around the world. It was May 2018, a year later, when Cody, Matt and, Nick announced All In, in independently produced show consisting of talent from all over the world. They managed to sell out in 30 minutes and become the first non-WWE or WCW wrestling event to sell 10,000 tickets in the United States.
Having gone from WWE’s mid-card to being their biggest rival in two years speaks paramount to the work ethic, desire and, resilience of Cody. He hadn’t just rebuilt himself but he had rebuilt wrestling as a whole. Rejuvenating the lapsed fan and hardcore fan into watching again he was a beacon of light in a fading business. His match at All In against Nick Aldis for the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship was the picture-perfect, chapter-ending match for Cody. A title synonymous to his father, Cody managed to join him in being amongst a list of world-class champions.
The rise and resurgence of Cody ends there. In the three years Cody wrestled outside of WWE he lit the wrestling world on fire. He delved into a litany of independent shows, performed on every non-WWE mainstream wrestling promotion, spread his name around the world, and most importantly made everyone forget he was once a mid-card WWE star. With this immense amount of momentum by his side, Cody and The Elite capitalised by announcing the formation of a new wrestling company: All Elite Wrestling. One year on from its debut and it is safe to say it has been a success on every front for Cody and everyone else involved. From his five star battle with Dustin Rhodes at Double or Nothing in 2019 to his intense and personal feud with MJF and now to his TNT Championship reign, Cody has not only maintained his place at the top of the wrestling ladder, but he has also changed the industry as a whole.
Cody Rhodes is a trailblazer. He has redefined what it means to be a successful wrestler. He has proven you don’t need a big company, like WWE, behind you. He has proven that no matter what your family lineage says no shoes are too big to be filled. He is the living embodiment of self-belief and persistence. He will go down in history for what he has done in the ring and outside of it. As a wise man once said “Get a dream, hold on to it and shoot for the sky”. Cody has done exactly that.