The American Nightmare Cody Rhodes’ Path Back to WWE
Let’s face it. It is inevitable. At some point in the next 6 months to 5 years, the son of the son of a plumber, Cody Rhodes (real name Runnels) will make a (hopefully) triumphant return to the WWE. His initial departure was reported to be on mutual agreement and amicable and with only one or two mild shots at WWE since he left, there was never any reason to suspect that Cody would be gone from WWE forever. Not only that, everything that Cody has done since his departure can only be seen as positive to awesome and bodes well for a return to a much higher position on the WWE roster. Let’s start with that, a brief rundown of Cody’s WWE run.
Cody’s WWE run began with a feud with a pretty high profile wrestler in Randy Orton. He lost the feud and moved on to other things, but it was a sign of how high the WWE must have been on Cody. He eventually landed in a feud with Hardcore Holly where he lost three matches in a row before earning Holly’s respect and forming a tag team to contend for the WWE tag titles. Cody and Holly eventually won the championships (December 2007) and held them for almost six months. Cody’s first big turn came when he dumped Holly in a tag title match revealing himself to be Ted Dibiase’s partner and winning the titles from a outmanned Holly. This led to the eventual creation of the stable Legacy where Cody was placed in the “Randy Orton during Evolution” spot.
It was clear that out of all the guys who were either in or attempted to be in Legacy, Rhodes was the won who was most likely to get the world champion push at some point in his career. Legacy had a relatively decent but short run and when they disbanded in 2010, Cody continued to play heel adopting the “Dashing” Cody Rhodes gimmick. This led to an eventual series of runs with the IC title between 2011 and 2012. This was Cody’s most successful singles run in WWE to date. It was during this time that he had the mask due to being ‘disfigured’ due to nine stitches required to close a wound following a beatdown from Randy Orton. This was also the only time that Cody would capture singles gold during his WWE tenure.
Eventually, post-IC title run, Cody was teamed up with Damien Sandow to form the Rhodes Scholars. The team had a series of unsuccessful attempts at the tag team championships, held by Team Hell No (Daniel Bryan & Kane), along with a few other feuds but were never able to capture the belts. The eventual split and the highest non-champion portion of Cody’s career occurred when Sandow screwed Cody at Money in the Bank 2013 to win the briefcase.
This sparked what should have been a strong feud between the two over the briefcase with the hope of Cody eventually capturing the briefcase from Sandow. However, the feud fizzled, Sandow lost his cash-in attempt on an injured John Cena and Cody got sucked into The Authority storyline with his real life brother Goldust (Dustin Runnels). As entertaining as this was and as much short-term attention that Cody received from this angle, there was a bit what if hanging over what could have manifested from the Sandow feud. In all seriousness, Cody was always the heir apparent to a guy like Orton. Preternaturally gifted at wrestling, capable of making the slightest alterations to his character feel like a whole different persona, second-generation wrestler, athletic, handsome (PAUSE.), all-American look – Cody should have been the next Randy Orton, or at least some variation of it. Unfortunately, (don’t get me wrong, we were somewhat excited about Goldust and Cody teaming for the potential of a brother vs brother match at Wrestlemania, but that didn’t happen either), but unfortunately, this was the beginning of the end for Cody.
Midway into his run with Goldy, Cody debuted a new character, his own version of Goldust, named Stardust. Cody’s dedication to a legitimately shitty angle is proof positive that he is a wrestler’s wrestler and deserved better than what WWE was giving him. Even though Cody seemed to give his all to the bizarre and insane character, WWE didn’t really reward him in any meaningful way. We got the crossover match/moment with him and Stephen Amell but Stardust was generally either ignored, overlooked or misused during the last two to three years of his WWE run.
Again, even though Cody referenced his issues with WWE creative and their misuse of him when he requested his release and even though WWE made it seem that they would be willing to fight over the use of the Rhodes name, this was one of the most amicable abrupt split a wrestler has had from WWE over the last few years. Especially considering it was a situation where the wrestler requested the release as opposed to WWE outright releasing them.
Since WWE and Cody parted ways we have seen The American Nightmare character debut on the indie circuit and, in this writer’s humble opinion, catapult Cody into the upper echelon of wrestlers on the planet today. Here are just a few of his matches/highlights since leaving WWE:
Since You Been Gone
Now, while Cody has been away plying his craft in the likes of ROH, NJPW, TNA and others the WWE launched into a full-on embrace of incoming wrestlers who earned their chops and cut their teeth in the indies. In the year and a half since Cody’s departure we have seen the rise of a host of former indie stars in WWE’s developmental system, NXT and main rosters – AJ Styles, Shinsuke Nakamura, Kevin Owens, Bobby Roode, Drew McIntyre, Eric Young and more recently Bobby Fish, Kyle O’Reilly and Adam Cole all come to mind. I don’t know if Cody saw the writing on the wall, but it sure seems that his amazing work on the indies coinciding with a boon for recognized indie names becoming big money stars in WWE is perfect timing. Cody is building a strong resume that WWE will be unable to ignore when he eventually decides that he is ready/willing/able to return. He has raised his profile amongst hardcore fans especially but also among fans who have a cursory knowledge or awareness of the world outside of WWE – the world is in fact getting smaller Vince, WWE isn’t the only game in town. Facts – Cody has been willing to wrestle just about any and everywhere since his WWE departure and has shown out at every turn. If Cody was a rapper, this last 18 month stretch would be akin Lil Wayne’s run of features from roughly 2008 to 2011 – Cody has been everywhere and has been outshining almost everyone that he has shared a ring with.
Given that we (and to some extent WWE) always knew that Cody was superbly talented and could go in the ring and that he has finally had the opportunity to really display that talent in full, it should only be a matter of time before we see Cody back in WWE as The American Nightmare (an awesome play off his dad’s nickname, The American Dream Dusty Rhodes – and one of the ideas I imagine Cody pitched to the ‘E before leaving) and hopefully receive a push similar to the one that AJ Styles in particular received.
For “smart” fans we are all anxiously anticipating a slew of new WWE matchups for a main event level Cody WWE run. Cody vs AJ, or Shinsuke, or Bobby Roode, or Roman (get over it), or KO, or Seth, or Dean (when he gets his act together), or Braun, or Brock (believe it), or Finn (more on this shortly), – or any other main event or near main event talent – any of these matches/feuds should be gold and if WWE doesn’t think that Cody belongs in that group after this run then they don’t deserve Cody. Hopefully this run has afforded Cody the leverage to never have to play Stardust again… but I will close this out with an idea.
So if and when Cody returns to WWE, how should they book him? I mentioned this either on the pod this week or last or to the rest of the OTTB guys off-mic (I can’t remember, but nonetheless) but I think WWE could get away with some real subterfuge and bring Cody back as Stardust initially. Look, we all know what Cody has done, but imagine WWE starts hyping his return and when he is set to make his re-debut he appears as Stardust. The crowd would be angry. This is not the Cody that they wanted. Let’s say he jumps into a feud with Finn Balor. We get maybe a two to three month feud that ends with a match between the Demon and Stardust and the loser has to abandon the face paint forever (we know forever is not a legitimate time constraint in WWE, but hear me out). Stardust is the one to lose and the next night we get the first sign of The American Nightmare. You get the anger of the audience at the initial appearance of Stardust but then a reluctant acceptance of the gimmick due to a Finn feud, and then the eruption once he actually shows up as the character everyone has been dying to see. You can flesh this out a number of ways and/or take a number of paths to get there, but I for one think that this would be a particularly fascinating way to reintroduce Cody to the WWE audience.
We just need Cody back with his lovely wife Brandi as his valet/manager. You can follow Brandi on Instagram here. And here is a reminder that no matter what Cody does, he always wins: