Three years ago, on May 22, 2016, Cody Rhodes (then portraying Stardust) was granted his release from the WWE after ten years in the company. And since then, the man known as Cody has simply changed the wrestling business forever. In just three days, All Elite Wrestling will have their first ever show, Double or Nothing which is sure to be the start of something that will only be bigger. In those three years, Cody has gone from the “star that left them in the dust” to the Executive Vice President of AEW that plans to “Change the World”. Here is Cody Rhodes’s three-year journey back to the top.
His independent journey all started with a list. Cody Rhodes put together a to-do list of competitors and his what he plans to complete now that he was free from the WWE on May 28, 2016. The list is now forever remembered by fans as it included names like Roderick Strong, Adam Cole, and Kurt Angle.
After 8/19 pic.twitter.com/txeAKw9SSN
— Cody Rhodes (@CodyRhodes) May 28, 2016
On August 19, Cody Rhodes would return to pro wrestling, having his first independent match as a part of EVOLVE Wrestling at EVOLVE 66 in Joppa, Maryland against Zack Sabre Jr. He defeated the British submission specialist via leg submission and would grab the mic to make his first public remarks since leaving the company. He would recognize how he didn’t take the safe bet by any means when he left WWE. He would bring up being in the shadow of his father, Dusty Rhodes, and how he loved being in that shadow. And when Dusty passed away and that shadow disappeared, he didn’t know what to do. He would make the statement that this match would be the first time he knew what to do without that shadow. The following day, Cody would take on Chris Hero in a 20-minute classic at EVOLVE 67 in New York City. He would suffer his first independent loss, but it would be the start of a greater rise for Cody.
Cody would head to Northeast Wrestling afterward spanning from August 25 to the 28. In his debut match, he would face Brian Anthony with Ricky Steamboat refereeing the matchup. Doing so, he would defeat Anthony in his first of four matches. On the 26, he would face Mike Bennett where Cody would walk out as the winner. His next two days he would have his first match with Kurt Angle in just a ten-minute bout, then the following day would face Sami Callihan. He was successful in both bouts, giving him a 4-0 record in his first tour with Northeast.
In July of 2016, Ring of Honor would announce that Cody Rhodes would become a member of their roster when he would debut at Final Battle on December 2 against ROH’s most decorated champion, Jay Lethal. While fans awaited his ROH debut, it wasn’t difficult to find Cody as he continued to wrestle in a number of promotions. He would become a participant in Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s Battle of Los Angeles (BOLA), winning his first-round matchup against Sami Callihan, marking another victory over him. He would then be eliminated from the tournament when he would lose to his future friend, Marty Scurll, who would be on his way to winning the entire tournament. Cody would continue his indie journey, returning to EVOLVE as well as debuting in WrestlePro and Big Time Wrestling. Cody would find himself as a part of IMPACT Wrestling on a non-exclusive deal as he would go after “The Miracle” Mike Bennett with his wife Brandi Rhodes by his side for the first time since her departure from the WWE.
Cody Rhodes would make his IMPACT debut at Bound for Glory against Bennett, sparking a rivalry between the two men and their wives. He would be a big time favorite as a part of the IMPACT roster, defeating Bennett at Bound for Glory as he met the Cross Rhodes in the match. This would result in Cody’s first championship opportunity since debuting on the scene, battling TNA World Heavyweight Champion Eddie Edwards for the championship in a losing effort. He and Brandi would compete in their last match together in IMPACT taking on Bennett and Maria Kanellis. They would only again defeat them as Cody would prepare for his huge run in ROH and New Japan Pro Wrestling, along with some other huge matches outside of those two companies.
He would finish out 2016 heading to Defiant Wrestling, at the time known as WCPW, House of Glory, Smash Wrestling, and other companies before stepping into Ring of Honor. At WCPW’s True Legacy in October of 2016, he would face Kurt Angle once again, with Angle winning this time around to even up the series between them at one apiece. He would even take on Matt Riddle at House of Glory as well.
Finally, after plenty of lead up to the match, Cody Rhodes would debut in Ring of Honor at Final Battle to face Lethal. Inside the legendary Hammerstein Ballroom, fans could see Cody really taking it in as he prepared himself for his biggest match since leaving the WWE. As the match was competitive from the start, Cody would show his true colors when he would hit Lethal with a low blow when referee Todd Sinclair would be down from Lethal smashing his head against Sinclair’s. Cody would then hit the Cross Rhodes to score a huge victory over ROH’s biggest player but would quickly become hated by the fans as he would act bigger than the brand. This would only begin the rivalry between Lethal and himself, leading to a huge match down the line.
On December 10, 2016, Cody Rhodes would officially become “The American Nightmare” as NJPW would feature him in a video to hype up that he would officially be joining the Bullet Club. Little did fans know then that his addition to the Bullet Club would be the beginning of a friendship that would help change the wrestling world.
Cody would make his NJPW and Bullet Club debut at Wrestle Kingdom 11 when he would face Juice Robinson on January 4, 2017 inside the Tokyo Dome. “The American Nightmare” would successfully defeat Juice and get on a rocket as he would become a key part of both New Japan and Ring of Honor. Whether it was teaming with the Bullet Club or being on his own, Cody’s stock only rose more and more to levels that would create a buzz that companies were hoping to have in their presence. At ROH’s Honor Reigns Supreme, he would team with Adam Cole to defeat Christopher Daniels and Frankie Kazarian. He would head back over to Japan for Honor Rising where he would team with Hangman Page in a losing effort on night one, then with The Elite on night two in a victory.
After of plenty tag action with the Bullet Club, Cody would return to the states and Northeast Wrestling to face Kurt Angle in the rubber match inside a Steel Cage. Cody would defeat the WWE Hall of Famer for the second time, completing their series of matches in which he would take the win to help propel him to yet another level. His victory over Kurt Angle would earn him a Northeast Wrestling Heavyweight Championship match against champion Michael Bennett, defeating him yet again to win the championship. In his defenses, he would defeat the likes of Bobby Fish, Donovan Dijak, Adam Cole, Ricochet, and even Rey Mysterio. In a reign that would last 258 days before he would lose it in a Triple Threat match to Flip Gordon.
He would finish up his rivalry with Jay Lethal at ROH’s Supercard Of Honor XI in a Texas Bullrope Match. In a physical match, to say the least, Lethal would defeat Cody in the matchup to only heat up their rivalry even more. Both men would earn an opportunity to compete for the ROH World Championship at the War of The Worlds tour in May of 2017, however, the champion Christopher Daniels would win as both men would walk away the loser. Cody wasn’t done with Daniels by any means despite being pinned in the match, as he would become obsessed with the ROH World Title. “The American Nightmare” would be granted another shot at the championship at Best in the World live from Lowell, MA on June 23. This would mark the grandest moment of Cody’s career when he would win the ROH World Championship from Daniels which would be his first ever world title victory. This would be the first world title in the Rhodes’ Family in 31 years, making it even more special for Cody.
After winning the ROH Championship, the good days for Cody Rhodes would only get better with his opportunity to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from champion Kazuchika Okada at NJPW’s G1 Special in USA. He would fight and fight against Okada, hitting the Disaster Kick and even his own version of the Rainmaker Clothesline but it would not be enough. “The Rainmaker” would strike Cody once and for all with his own Rainmaker to win the match and retain his championship.
Cody Rhodes would defend his ROH World Title throughout 2017, defending it against SANADA, KUSHIDA, Minoru Suzuki, Christopher Daniels, and Jay Lethal all successfully before facing his toughest test in Dalton Castle. A year after his Ring of Honor debut, Cody would defend his title at Final Battle 2017 against Castle inside the Hammerstein Ballroom. Castle would be the one to end Cody’s world title reign, turning his focus away from the ROH World Championship and wanting sole control of the Bullet Club as its leader instead.
“Bullet Club is Fine.” A phrase that would be used by Cody plenty as he looked to overthrow Kenny Omega as the head of the group in a feud that would boil over on the popular “Being The Elite” series done by the Young Bucks and company. It would take up much of The Elite’s first half of 2018, as it would lead to a matchup between Cody and Omega at Supercard of Honor XII. The two men would battle for almost 40 minutes before the Young Bucks would get involve to ultimately make their decision of who the leader should be. They would look to deliver dual Superkicks to Cody, but they would instead catch Omega, leading to Cody gaining a victory over Omega and giving him a gripe over Omega to be the leader. The sides were chosen, as it would be Cody and company vs Omega and company for much of early 2018, with the Bullet Club tearing apart. While Omega would manage to defeat Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Dominion, this would be another opportunity for Cody to try and get into the head of Omega.
On July 7, Cody would challenge for Omega’s championship at the G1 Climax Special in San Francisco. “The American Nightmare” and “The Best Bout Machine” would put on another classic, which would result in Omega defeating Cody once and for all, making him not only the surefire leader but ending the feud between the two. Following the match, Cody would head to the back in disgust while the Guerrillas of Destiny came out to celebrate with Omega at the top of the stage. This would mark the moment when Bullet Club would implode, with GOD and Haku taking out Omega. The Elite would come and try to help Omega but would not be enough, with even Cody heading out there after disagreements to try and help. The end of The Elite’s time in the Bullet Club would finally find its end, however, Cody’s biggest creation along with the Young Bucks would occur on Labor Day weekend of 2018, an event that would be only the beginning.
When Dave Meltzer was asked if an independent wrestling show could ever sell-out ten thousand seat arena in the United States, he answered with a “no” in which Cody Rhodes would respond “challenge accepted”. In due time, ALL IN was born, an event that featured all of wrestling’s greatest independent wrestlers, an event that was created by Cody and the Bucks. The event sold out in less than 30 minutes to really show how important this was to not only the performers but the fans. The special event was only the beginning of what we would learn Cody would hope to create someday with his friends and gave Cody an opportunity to fight for a championship that his father Dusty held as well. At the spectacle of ALL IN, he challenged Nick Aldis for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. It had an incredibly special feel from the entrances to when the bell finally rang at its conclusion. With blood dripping down his face, Cody would pin Aldis in the center of the ring to become the NWA World Heavyweight Champion. Emotion would fill Cody when the title would be put into his grasp, realizing the history that this championship had as his father held it long before him. ALL IN was such a success that only gave Cody and company the confidence to go bigger.
In the final months of 2018, Cody managed to add not one but two championships to his mantel when he would defeat Juice Robinson at Fighting Spirit Unleashed to become the IWGP United States Champion. With his fellow ALL IN partners the Young Bucks, he would win the ROH World Six Tag Team Championships from SoCal Uncensored at Glory By Honor. On October 21, he would drop the NWA World Title back to Aldis in a Best Two out of Three Falls match at the NWA 70th Anniversary Show. Aldis managed to get the second, deciding fall on a roll up that would shock Cody in the end.
His final days as a part of Ring of Honor would include losing the ROH World Six Tag Team Championships with the Young Bucks to The Kingdom at Survival of the Fittest 2018. His final televised match would be at Final Battle 2018 on December 14th, two years removed from his debut at Ring of Honor. He would face the same exact opponent in Jay Lethal, this time for the ROH World Championship. The former champion could not win it back unfortunately and his time in ROH would find its end with his contract ending just two days later. The Elite would give their farewells as the show went off-air. After multiple years of calling ROH their home, Cody and The Elite were off to pursue something even greater.
The passion that Cody has for pro wrestling has always been there, and when he left WWE, he knew that he could show that even greater than before. After plenty of rumors, a special Being The Elite would come out on New Years morning that would announce the next special event by The Elite, this Sunday’s Double or Nothing event. And above that, the official first announcement of All Elite Wrestling.
Three years removed from WWE; Cody has been a part of something revolutionary for professional wrestling. AEW has only announced more and more to excite wrestling fans. From the announcement of Chris Jericho being apart of the company, to a match between he and his brother Dustin Rhodes at Double or Nothing, all the way to the official announcement just last week at the WarnerMedia upfronts that AEW had acquired a TV Deal with them to be on TNT this October, excitement remains in the air. The Executive Vice President has done all he could to make a brand that fans sit on the edge of their seat day in and day out as the first event draws near. For fans who haven’t totally been following, his Nightmare Family YouTube page has featured 16 episodes on the “Road to Double or Nothing”, with the final episode airing on Wednesday.
Cody will deny all the praise, but without him making the move to bet on himself, we would not be just three days away from a game-changing event for a game-changing event. What Cody has inspired in not only other wrestlers but fans in general, is to never be afraid to bet on yourself in order to be happy. With his father sure to be smiling as he looks down on his son, Cody has been a true role model and AEW remains the talk of the town in pro wrestling, changing the business one step at a time.
AEW’s Double or Nothing airs this Saturday at 7 pm EST, with The Buy-In Preshow airing at 6 pm EST for free on social media platforms. Cody looks to put an end to the beloved Attitude Era this Sunday when facing Dustin, in what is sure to be a match to remember between the two brothers.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.
Check out our other #AllEliteWeek articles for more AEW news heading into Double or Nothing this Saturday!
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