Absolute silence; that was the norm on the Cody Rhodes front for well over two months. Since news broke of his departure from AEW, speculation mounted as to where he would land until his destination became the worst kept secret in professional wrestling. Leaving AEW was previously unthinkable in the same way that once upon a time no one could have imagined Flair or Hogan could move from one company to another.
It’s funny though. When you think of Cody, or even his dad and brother, “home” has always been relative; meaning different things to different people depending on the context. Home is both a physical structure, and a feeling all in the same vein. “Home” is fluid, shifting its definitions from moment to moment depending on where you are, either in terms of a place, idea or sentiment. In their case, they’ve collectively worked everywhere that matters across their combined wrestling careers.
In pure professional terms, once upon a time Cody Rhodes called WWE “home,” but realistically the wrestling business is in his blood and the ring itself; Whichever company happens to own one, is his home.
That Rhodes debuted on WWE TV in 2007 is only a portion of the story. Son to a famous wrestling father, and brother to arguably one of the more under-appreciated wrestlers of all time, wrestling is in his heart and very much a part of his soul in whatever terms you want to define that as. Oftentimes, however, there’s a disconnect in what you see for yourself and what others do. That’s why Rhodes effectively wanted out of WWE in 2016; considering the trajectory he was on, he was never going to be in the world title picture. And so he struck out and stormed the indies, travelled the world, and won multiple titles wherever he went regardless of the ring or promotion.
When Rhodes left WWE, he was a mid-card act with multiple Intercontinental and tag team title reigns. Now nearly six years removed from his release, he’s wrestled on some of the biggest cards in wrestling in the Tokyo Dome. For his work he was entrusted numerous indie titles prior to signing with ROH, which begat an ROH world title reign and later an NWA title reign; all rounded out by an IWGP U.S. title reign well before AEW ever materialized.
Rhodes’ story is interesting and inspired, and that WWE and AEW loyalists on either side might slander him is ludicrous when at varying times he was cheered by both as recently as Saturday. Even now. Regardless these are a minority, but the reason I say that, beyond the truth of the previous statement, is because any one of us could coast in our professions and ride along the easy road to our destinations on cruise control with someone else in the driver seat. He could have been content in WWE the first time around, whether as Stardust or as himself, and been content with his standing. He could have been content as a former IC champion and tag team champion, but like so many of us, whether we act on the impulse to reset ourselves, we see more for our futures and that was the impetus for him asking to leave when he did.
The phrase “betting on yourself” has been synonymous with Rhodes since then and I don’t believe anyone could have foreseen the trajectory of his career post-WWE (anchored by substantial title reigns across four promotions). This is of course emphasized further by the “bet” that birthed the All In Indie Supershow and later All Elite Wrestling mere months later on a colder January day in 2019.
What that means now that we’re in the midst of the third phase of his career, one anchored within WWE as opposed to AEW, is we may be about to see Rhodes like we’ve yet to see him. We may be amidst the true spiritual successor to his pre-AEW run that saw him carry NWA, ROH and IWGP titles (arguably peak Rhodes?). There are certainly questions surrounding how he will fit into a system that is far more constrictive, but he’s now also built equity in his own name and because of that he should have the freedom to wrestle his way; and now armed with the confidence of what he’s capable of, excel to transcend the questionable perceptions some still hold about him.
That has nonetheless vaulted him to the top of conversations with some believing he’s sold out, or is a traitor, or that they have simply been deceived by him. And those people are allowed to feel how they’re going to feel within reason (if you’re burning t-shirts, I have concerns for you), especially now that Rhodes is firmly back in WWE after six years in which he struck out on his own, won world titles and truly came into himself inside the ring and out of it. He, despite any revisionism, was the key driver behind All In; not the sole driver but if the Young Bucks for example truly wanted to strike out and start a promotion, or Khan had truly intended to start up a company himself, they had the prior chance by the time September 2018 rolled around. And even then, he was the face of the “revolution.” Truly consider whether any of the other Elite members were as vocal as him. As emphatic? In that, it’s understandable how some — especially those who cling to anti-WWE rhetoric — might have latched onto every word he uttered from 2016-2021, or “popped” over the destruction of the throne at Double or Nothing 2019. But if you’re now turning on him, were you ever truly behind what he was trying to do, or simply continuing to vapidly hate on Vince McMahon’s company with him as the lightning rod? Because there’s a difference.
For over 20 years we have lived within a wrestling bubble where as the ebbs and flows of time have shifted and allowed certain promotions to have a modicum of success in the post-WCW world, it’s almost exclusively been a WWE-centric landscape. While ROHs and Impacts have existed, WWE is the company that young fans like ROK-C or Cora Jade in NXT grew up wanting to be a part of. It’s the only company even some younger stars in AEW knew (Anna Jay, for example) and because of that as well, there’s a natural divide between WWE and “the others.”
While I don’t think we’ll see the true long-term effects of AEW being present for quite some time, the mere presence of the company changes the game. It puts another major player on the field, and if there’s another big company that allows for the workers who put their bodies on the line to get better pay so they can take care of themselves and their families, that’s a positive. It means there are more places to work, and if not on a major network then the ROHs, Impacts, NWA or NJPW USA still exist to help people grow even without dipping into places like GCW. The wrestling boom is very real, the platforms haven’t been this big in some time, and while Tony Khan may very well have started a company at some point any way, while the Bucks and Omega may have joined him, there’s no guarantee it would have had as much traction initially without Rhodes and the Meltzer bet that spawned All In. Because from the outset he’s been the heart of North American wrestling expansion since 2016 and I’m not sure that’s arguable anymore.
Rhodes originally left WWE to apply himself and what drove him forward was professional wrestling itself, in addition to what he saw as his place in it within the present and well into the far-flung future. What drove him was the love of the craft his dad and brother both excelled at. He grew up in it, and that’s simply undeniable. He believed he was worth more, capable of even more, and if that sounds familiar that’s because we’re having the exact same conversation now regarding his value in the wrestling landscape and his place in AEW nearly 6 years after his departure from WWE; treading back along the same path. Between Khan having no shortage of wrestlers to use now in top spots, Rhodes own stock in AEW gradually fell after his “no title shot” condition removed him from the AEW World Championship landscape. This relegated him to either the TNT title picture, or was otherwise left sputtering in short feuds. He effectively became AEW’s gatekeeper, which is the absolute antithesis to why he wanted out of WWE in the first place. In that respect, would you expect any less now from someone who believes there’s more value in their name?
So with that in mind, why would he not take advantage of the pro wrestler-centric landscape he helped revive to finally win the one big world title no one from his family — not even Dusty — has won?
Home: No company or person defines it universally — it’s hyper-personalized and relative. For Cody, home is the centre of any ring he’s able to get down on his knees in to kiss the centre of the mat in acknowledgment of his father. Home is the ability to excel past misconceptions and the ability to prove your worth in defiance of those who might not see you the same way anymore. Home is the ring, the posts, the mat, the steps and the barricades; the referee, the announcers and the people in the crowd. It’s the people in the ring putting themselves out there for us, but more importantly themselves and their families.
The centrepiece in this case is Cody, and whether we’re talking about his debut in 2007, his exodus in 2016 or his return to WWE in 2022, all roads lead to the same place.