For the past few weeks, the WWE Universe has heard a lot of talk about “finishing your story”. Sunday night sees the conclusion of not just one story but potentially a whole raft of loose ends when Cody Rhodes challenges Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship.
But what exactly is Cody’s story and why should we care? More than most, this is an important chapter in the steeped history of WWE. A story of redemption, making a name for yourself and ultimately cementing your family’s name in history.
Join Andy Spoors as he looks back at the career of Cody Rhodes and his journey to the main event of WrestleMania 39…
Wrestling has more than one royal family. As Cody Rhodes’ entrance theme hits, every stadium and arena explodes into life.
Those seven words that act as prelude to Downstait’s Kingdom sum up just part of the motivation the grandson of a plumber carries with him into every match since his return to WWE.
Even at the relatively youthful age of 37, Cody has experienced more than most in the business will ever encounter.
A career that has come full circle with the strangest journey along the way, including setting up a rival business to the one he now works for.
A Second Generation Superstar
So how about we start at the beginning?
Making his WWE TV debut in July 2007, Cody’s first appearance perhaps somewhat poignantly came as a backstage segment with both his father, Dusty Rhodes and fellow generational Superstar Randy Orton.
His first feud would see him face off against the latter after he slapped The American Dream during Orton’s legend killer era.
Although he may have lost that debut battle, it would plant a flag in the ground for Cody. Don’t fuck with my family.
After his TV debut, Cody’s first WrestleMania match would come almost three years later at XXVI inside Gelndale’s State Farm Stadium in Arizona.
Once again his opponent would be The Viper, Randy Orton, this time adding in another Superstar with family ties in the form of Ted DiBiase Jr.
The trio had previously been part of the team Legacy, before imploding into a triple threat match at the show of shows.
One year on, Rhodes claimed his first Mania victory at XXVII against future Hall of Famer, Rey Mysterio.
This feud a result of Mysterio accidentally breaking Cody’s nose during his 619 finisher, forcing him to wear a transparent face mask and dropping his previous “Dashing Cody Rhodes” persona.
That would be the first and last Wrestlemania match Rhodes would claim a victory at for 11 years.
Competing at four more Manias, losing to Big Show, eliminated in the first Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal and two losing efforts in Intercontinental Championship Ladder Matches under his Stardust moniker.
It would be that particular character and creative storyline that led Rhodes to ask for his release from WWE.
On 21 May 2016, Rhodes cited his frustrations at the WWE Creative Department as his reason for leaving, seemingly pleading with writers to abandon the bizarre gimmick to no avail.
His request was granted a day later.
It wasn’t as if Rhodes hadn’t made an impact during his original run with the industry leading company.
A major talking point came in October 2011, as Rhodes displayed respect and reverence for the old school, bringing back a white strapped version of the Intercontinental Championship to huge appreciation from the WWE Universe.
The American Nightmare
For the next two years, Rhodes travelled the world and the independent scene, getting back to basics and seemingly rediscovering his love for the industry.
Stints in Ring Of Honor, TNA/Impact Wrestling and New Japan Pro Wrestling, cemented the now rechristened American Nightmare (an obvious homage to his father’s nickname of The American Dream) established himself as a force outside the bubble of WWE.
His legacy would be further solidified on 1 January 2019 as Cody Rhodes, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega joined forces with Tony Khan to announce the creation of new wrestling promotion All Elite Wrestling.
The promotion came around after a remark by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
Stating no one outside of WWE could ever sell more than 10,000 tickets to a show, that “challenge” came to fruition in the shape of All In, selling out in rapid time.
At the event Rhodes also captured the prestigious NWA Championship.
In AEW, Cody would serve as not just in ring talent, but as an Executive Vice President.
Taking to his role, Rhodes took shots at his now rivals WWE and in particular Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque.
Sensing his success could forever be linked with comments of being in a position to push himself to championships and success, Rhodes seemed to fall out of favour with the AEW crowd.
As his contract began to wind down, Rhodes looked to prove himself as one of the industry’s absolute elite.
Rumours began to swirl that a return to WWE could be on the cards and it became a matter of when not if he would return home with unfinished business…
“Undesirable to undeniable”
Fast forward to WrestleMania 38, with Seth Rollins stood in the ring eagerly anticipating who his mystery opponent could be.
As Cody entered the cavernous AT&T Stadium, the crowd went berserk. The now immortal words of Cory Graves, “From Undesirable to Undeniable” perfectly encapsulated Rhodes return to WWE.
Putting on a clinic with Rollins, Cody was able to claim only his second WrestleMania win, increasing his win ratio at the granddaddy of them all to two wins in seven appearances.
Two further Premium Live Event matches against Rollins would not only bring two more victories, but an unfortunate and stomach-churning injury in the form of a torn pectoral muscle.
Returning momentum well and truly halted. Fans would be forced to wait seven long months before Rhodes’ return at the Royal Rumble.
And what a return it would be, entering as number 30, Cody booked his WrestleMania main event to set up a showdown against Roman Reigns.
This won’t be the first time the pair have faced off at a WWE PLE.
Back in 2013, Cody teamed up with big brother Dustin Rhodes aka GoldDust in a must win match against long term adversary Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns (two thirds of The Shield).
An attached stipulation was that the brothers needed to win in order to get their jobs back after being fired in storyline by Triple H.
Finish The Story
Strip away the theatrics, remove the grandeur and at its core this is a tale as old as time.
This is a son seeking his father’s approval. A man looking not so much to restore but solidify his family’s name in the annals of wrestling history.
Dusty Rhodes may not have held the WWE Championship in his storied career but his mark on both the company and industry in general is simply indelible.
Scan the list of Superstars on the card of WrestleMania and the vast majority have passed through the Performance Center and learnt under the tree of the American Dream.
Those old roots are strong and branch out from WWE and can even be seen in AEW with the likes of Jon Moxley.
At WrestleMania, Cody has a chance to do something his father couldn’t and capture WWE’s top prize.
Should that happen, the son of a son of a plumber is unlikely to rest on his laurels. Capturing the top prize is one thing, but following a record breaking championship reign has its own pitfalls and challenges.
Rhodes must find a way to stay fresh and relevant to avoid becoming a transitional champion and merely an answer to a wrestling pub quiz question of “who was the person to end Roman’s 900+ championship run?”
This is Cody’s ‘hard times’ moment. But it is also his own.
Back in 1985, his father defeated the top heel at the time to lift the NWA Championship, but almost four decades later Cody must do the same.
Should the unthinkable happen and he fails, will the Rhodes family be cursed to never hold arguably the biggest prize in the industry?
They say those who don’t learn history are doomed to repeat it, but that adage clearly doesn’t apply to a Superstar who has not only studied the game but is intent on changing it forever.
Find out if Cody Rhodes can win the main event of WrestleMania by tuning in April 1 and 2 on the WWE Network.