#OneYearDON: The True Ascension of Cody Rhodes

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Photo: AEW

#OneYearDON is a look back at All Elite Wrestling’s debut event with match by match retrospectives on how talent has fared in the year since the event as well as other profiles looking at how some performers have progressed from one Double Or Nothing to the next. This one looks at Cody Rhodes and rise to become a main event star after discovering his true worth after departing WWE.

On May 22, 2016, Cody Rhodes left the bright lights, big city of the WWE Universe, and for the first time in pro wrestling career was on his own. He had grown up in the WWE Machine, signing with WWE in May of 2006 and starting in one of their developmentals in Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). His father and mentor, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, had passed away the previous June in 2015, and his older brother, Dustin Rhodes, remained in WWE under the warpaint of Goldust. For the younger Rhodes, the grind had become too much. Four years ago, he walked out the door and began his own story on his own terms. Two days later, his wife, Brandi Rhodes, would also be granted her own release from WWE, joining her husband’s odyssey of self-discovery.

For three years, Cody Rhodes went on a trek throughout the independents, working in the US for the likes of EVOLVE Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), Smash Wrestling, DEFY Wrestling, and House of Hardcore; he stormed the UK as well, wrestling with WCPW (later Defiant), Revolution Pro (RevPro), Southside Wrestling Entertainment (SWE), IPW, and Preston City Wrestling (PCW). He even wrestled in Europe with Ireland’s Over the Topp (OTT) Wrestling and Germany’s Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw). If his indie onslaught wasn’t impressive enough, he managed to work for both Ring of Honor and IMPACT Wrestling at the same time, and debut with New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in 2016. Cody would have a historic calendar year for marquee events in 2016, starting with WWE WrestleMania 32 in April, followed by appearances at PWG Battle of Los Angeles (September 3, 2016), TNA Bound for Glory (October 2, 2016), ROH Final Battle (December 2, 2016), NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 11 (January 4, 2017) and wXw 16 Carat Gold 2017 (March 10, 2017).

On December 10, 2016, Cody Rhodes debuted with NJPW via vignette, announcing the introduction of “The American Nightmare” and the newest member of Bullet Club. Rhodes would rise quickly within the dominant stable, ascending to the top alongside The Elite‘s Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks. But despite his feud with leader Kenny Omega, Rhodes always felt like second fiddle to Omega in the public perception. While he had shed the stink of latter WWE gimmicks like Stardust, won the World title in ROH, and the NWA World’s Heavyweight title at All In in September of 2018, Cody Rhodes was just not universally accepted as a true main event player yet. While he definitely had his supporters, his naysayers decried he was riding on the coattails of Bullet Club or living off brand recognizance from his days in WWE. But all of that changed when All Elite Wrestling presented their debut PPV, Double or Nothing, on May 25, 2019.

After departing ROH and NJPW at the end of 2018 alongside The Elite and Adam “Hangman” Page, it was revealed at midnight on New Year’s Eve 2018 that Rhodes would be joining his former Bullet Club mates in AEW, a new promotion that would soon rise to challenge the WWE on major cable television. With Rhodes – alongside Omega and the Bucks – being named Executive Vice Presidents of AEW, it only skewed his detractors more that he would wrongfully push himself to the main event scene. But Cody’s first feud out of the AEW gate was instead a story of family strife against his brother Dustin Rhodes, that became symbolic of the Attitude Era fans versus the Modern fans, with a promo that had the entire pro wrestling world holding its breath after airing in the weeks leading up to Double or Nothing. And by the pay-per-view’s conclusion, it set a new bar for emotional storytelling in the ring and remains, arguably, AEW’s best in-ring match yet.

Those waiting for Cody to jump into the main event picture following his brotherly feud had to wait though. With a renewed buzz around Cody akin to his departure from WWE three years prior, Cody instead used his name to push the names of Darby Allin, Shawn Spears, and Sammy Guevara into the AEW zeitgeist. When he was finally pushed into a World title match against Le Champion Chris Jericho at AEW Full Gear in November of last year, it was made very clear that if Cody lost the match, he would not be able to compete for the World title again. In his loss, Rhodes showed that he had taken himself out of the main event story, in a way to show the world that he would not use his backstage authority to keep himself in the World title hunt. For Cody is two very different men – on business conference calls, Cody is an executive who portrays a wrestler, while on TV he is a wrestler who happens to be an executive. He’s found a very convincing balance with both positions that seemed to have erased many people’s original concerns.

His popularity continued to rise within the fanbase of AEW, as the thunderous reactions from those in attendance soon became some of the loudest each night. He continued to work with new talent in AEW, working with The Butcher & The Blade in the closing months of December, while chasing his former friend MJF. In seemingly doing less than he had done in the short years prior as far as accomplishments go, his first year with AEW has made him arguably AEW’s biggest folk hero. Selflessly facing newer or more unknown talents with greater frequency and helping elevate to higher levels, while being the face of the fans both in the ring and in the boardroom. Cody will finally get his chance at AEW gold again on Saturday at this year’s Double or Nothing when he faces Lance Archer in the finals to crown the first AEW TNT Championship. His journey has been one of a humble warrior after four years, Cody Rhodes has finally found the exact person he is – a man capable of taking the throne by every means necessary.

Stay tuned to 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. You can catch AEW Dynamite Wednesday nights at 8pm ET on TNT and AEW DARK Tuesday nights at 6pm on their YouTube Channel. AEW Double or Nothing is on Saturday, May 23, at 8pm EST on FITE.tv.

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