Updated: Feb 23, 2022
Anything big happen in wrestling last week?
Seriously though, the news of Cody Rhodes leaving AEW was one of the biggest stories in wrestling in awhile and sets up a lot of possibilities in not just whatever company Cody joins (with the odds-on favourite being WWE) but also AEW with new opportunities arising for members of the All Elite roster. So in a special edition of our roundtable, we discuss the news of one of the AEW EVP’s leaving All Elite Wrestling and look at what the future holds for The American Nightmare plus a look back at his AEW career.
1- On a scale of 1-10 how shocked were you that Cody announced that he would no longer be All Elite and do you think he has made the right decision?
[Tim @TimmayMan] I really can’t think of anything in recent memory that would be comparable so I’d give this a 10 on the shocked scale. If AEW was floundering I would be less shocked (ie when Jarrett left TNA) but the company is doing fine. Cody has also gone on record repeatedly stating how AEW was the sanctuary for workers (“Ellis Island” he called it). It’s all very odd to me. Only time will tell if this is the right decision. I hope Cody and Brandi are happy. They’re new parents and if they use this change to spend more time at home I can understand. If Cody jumps back to WWE, it would feel very hypocritical and self serving.
[Andy] 1. I saw this coming a mile off...is what I'd say if I was a liar. This is a 10 on the shock scale for me and honestly, I don't know who could say differently. After all of the work put in to get AEW where it is, to now leave and head to the territory he has been bashing for the last 3 or 4 years? Such a strange choice on the surface. I'm still suspicious that it is all a work and until I see Cody on WWE TV I will have that suspicious.
[Joe @GoodVsBadGuys] 8/10. I was surprised and sad. But I’m saving my word count for the next question.
[Brian @AEWmetrics] 9/10 - While I did not fall out of my chair, I did a definite double take when reading the news. If not for the Royal Rumble appearance news the week prior this would have been completely off my radar. Once the surprise wore off, I found it quite sad for all involved to be honest, Cody and Brandi included. Before anyone starts up with thoughts of Cody crying into a pile of money, what I mean is that I think it’s evident that WWE is not Cody’s first choice and so long as he’s going in with his eyes wide open (and is consciously aware that he’s not going to get everyone he wants there as well) he will likely find a degree of success and happiness there but without the same level of creative freedom he has enjoyed for most of the last 3 years.
To this extent, I think he has made the right decision for himself, his family as well as the AEW faithful. Without belabouring the point too much, Cody has not been a consistently enjoyable part of AEW for the last 12+ months, arguably since he dropped the TNT Championship to Darby at Full Gear 2020. Only he knows the complete story as it exists in his own mind.
[Peter @PeterEdge7] 10/10 for me. Even when Dave Meltzer hinted at the news to come on Wrestling Observer Radio just hours before the press releases, I gave a sideways glance to my phone and thought “really” because I thought why would Cody leave? I’ll go deeper into this thought process in Question 2 but when I saw on Twitter that Cody was indeed leaving, it shocked me. Tuesday afternoon was one of the biggest “where were you” moments there has been in wrestling for a long time.
2- Get your booking hat on. How would you book the first six months of Cody Rhodes in WWE should it happen? What position do you think he will be in by next year's WrestleMania?
[Tim @TimmayMan] Cody has been very quiet since leaving AEW so the best thing for a debut would be a promo. Now if I was a booker, I’d give Cody the mic uninterrupted, but this is WWE so I expect a 20 minute rambling promo before someone interrupts. So who would be Cody’s first feud? Orton might be nice as both men have a shared history and Orton has been a WWE stalwart for his entire career. The drawback is Orton already has a program going in the tag ranks. AJ Styles would be a fun matchup on paper but I don’t know what the storyline could be. I wouldn’t insert him into Lesnar/Reigns as that doesn’t need anything additional. I really don’t know. I didn’t enjoy the nationalist character run that Cody had in AEW, but I get the feeling that Cody desperately wants that gimmick to work. Dust off the Patriot or Mr. America mask Vince!
By next year’s Wrestlemania you could have Cody main event I guess. I’m not watching one way or another.
[Andy] Whatever he may have been promised, he won't be a consistent main eventer. When has Vince ever continually pushed someone who has made their name outside of the company?
Fantasy booking - Rhodes would be a babyface who works his way up to a confrontation with Reigns. To get there he will need to run through some others, giving us months of entertaining matches and storylines. I'd look forward to seeing him going up against the likes of Rollins, Zayn, Styles and Balor would be interesting.
[Joe @GoodVsBadGuys] Something I put on a premium, that WWE does not, is keeping things fresh, and not going back to the well until it runs dry. WWE will have more Reigns vs Lesnar main events than Fast and Furious movies, have Kevin Owens face Sami Zayn for the 800th time as though Peacock and WWE Network and Honor Club and YouTube don’t exist where you could relive every possible variation of their interactions already. I don’t want that with Cody, and certainly not right away.
That means I don’t want Cody vs Orton (their history is 3 wins for Cody and 21 losses suffered at the hands of RKO in Singles and 4-27 against in Tags), or Sheamus (1-8 in Singles, 3-26 in Tags), The Miz (0-6 in Singles, 1-6 Tags), or Rey Mysterio (4-5 Singles, 6-17 Tags). I want Cody to enter against someone of a high level as well. World Champ caliber. Main Event status. So what options does that leave us with? If Cody is a babyface - which based off of supposed disagreements with Tony Khan, was likely essential to joining WWE -, then that leaves us with Bobby Lashley (no matches of any kind ever), Kevin Owens (no singles matches ever), Seth Rollins (2-0 Singles, 23-7 Tags), and the big one - The Big Dog - Roman Reigns (no singles matches ever, 23-7 in Tags). It seems like Owens might be busy with Steve Austin, and Reigns will be busy with Brock. The direction I would go is Cody vs Rollins to start.
A lot of fodder there. Could easily see Cody saying he can sympathize with Seth, he knows what it’s like to live in the shadows of others (Mox and Roman and Beck in Seth’s case), talk about understanding the Messiah thing, and wanting to Burn it Down, he wanted to start a Revolution once upon a time. Cody would have to win that match at Mania, then it would lead to feuding with Seth’s buddy Owens, that match could take place at Backlash. I would have Cody go over Lashley at the June 5 Chicago PPV. I would have Cody win Money In The Bank in July. I would have Cody challenge Roman for the title with an honorable, announced-ahead-of-time, “call-your-shot” cash-in (ala RVD and John Cena) at SummerSlam in Nashville. I think after a push that strong, you would have the freedom to feel it out and see if he is the right guy to be THE guy to end Roman’s epic Reign. I’d be inclined to give Cody a run through Survivor Series with it and see what happens. I don’t think Roman vs Rock needs a title. If Cody wins, that’s when you can revisit his history with Orton, etc. Though I could see Cody being very interested in talent like Damian Priest and Ricochet because I see continuing his legacy of elevating talent remaining important to him. Yes, Priest is older than Cody but I’m not talking years I’m talking status.
By the next Mania, I would have Cody facing someone fresh, ideally the artist formerly known as WALTER, Gunther. That plays into Cody’s love for playing Captain America as well as getting the chance to play the underdog physically and find a Vader for his Sting. Along the ride I’d like to see him cooperatively aligned with Big E, Cesaro, and eventually Bron Breakker who seems like a perfect fit for Cody as a protege. Some sort of match with Edge I could see being something both parties wanting to cross off their bucket list, with their only history being Edge getting the win over Cody’s team in 2 tag matches, and the same goes with AJ Styles and Finn Balor, who Cody has never faced or teamed with.
However, nothing close to this good will actually happen because Vince McMahon is still in charge and nothing really sustainably exciting has happened there for around 4 years now.
[Brian @AEWmetrics] Projecting 6 months gets us to SummerSlam and hearing this morning that’s it’s going to be Roman vs Brock - Title vs Title - has sent my original thoughts of Cody coming in guns a blazing into WWE Championship scene in time for this year’s Mania crashing to the ground. I still think he gets coronated at some point so, in real time, I’m going to pivot my prediction into something I just thought of. I think Cody’s going to bring back the last World Title belt his father ever wore; that’s right, I’m talking about Dusty’s third and final NWA World Championship victory in which the American Dream defeated Ric Flair.
For the sake of argument, Roman beats Brock to unite the WWE and Universal Titles. The next night on Raw, he comes out and brags about how he’s son all the titles, nothing left to prove, and so on. Out comes Cody. He’s wearing a robe. He undoes the sash to reveal… the wait for it, the BIg Gold Belt! Boom. So what does that leave for the here and now? (Full disclosure: I haven’t watched a WWE show from start to finish in years) Well my next thought was Orton and Joe’s stats, while compelling, haven’t completely dissuaded me from that. I think on some level, both in kayfabe and reality, Cody needs to defeat Orton to start anew with his own (pun-intended) Legacy. From there, he can add a few new pieces handpicked from NXT à la The Nightmare Family 2.0 (I’m assuming Rhodes retains the naming rights to this).
[Peter] First off Cody needs to keep his Kingdom theme tune. It would play into this Cody, who since his departure from WWE in 2016 is now a bigger star than he was when he was Stardust.
I would have Cody on RAW and I would wait until after WrestleMania and wait til after the post-Wrestlemania RAW which has been a focal point for major moments like Brock Lesnar’s return. I would announce in the week before the RAW that Cody redebuts that WWE has signed Cody and he is drafted to the red brand and that he will be opening the show. The viewership numbers for this moment would be big surely?
The first words Cody should say are “I wonder what the 18-49 demo number is right now?” That sets the tone for Cody to be the outsider, the guy who left WWE and made himself a star that is earning more money than anyone in the back except Lesnar of course and now he’s back in the WWE family and he will write the Rhodes name on WWE history and he won’t have to wear polka dots and a gold suit to do it.
Cody should talk about having the balls to bet on himself not once but twice which others in the back haven’t got the guts to do. It sets up animosity between him and others on the RAW roster and leads to feuds with the top faces on RAW for the rest of 2021.
But will WWE do that. We know the answer to that.
I do think Vince and co will want to book Cody strong. With other potential free-agents coming up in the next 3 years, if Cody thrives in WWE, it sends a message to those who want a bidding war for their services that they would enjoy life in “New York”. But want and will are two different things.
Vince and Bruce Prichard are stuck in a past which, while it had its glory moments, is in the past and as the numbers show, the audience is getting as old as those at the head of creative and Vince doesn’t know how to make new male stars anymore which is why I think at WrestleMania 39, Cody will be just another guy after losing to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania Backlash, at best he’ll be at Seth Rollin’s level come April 2023. I hope I’m wrong. I want engaging stories which will make me watch the Premium Live Events as we’re supposed to call them now instead of looking at the results on the internet when I wake up the morning after the PLE and that’s why I was shocked Cody left. Cody likes to be creative. It’s why he left WWE in the first place and apart from a small number (the sheets presuming it being Lesnar and Reigns) it’s Vince’s way or the highway and a guy that Vince booked to be a midcarder in his first stint will have less power than the make-up artist when it comes to creative. It’s the Vince playbook and after 38 years he isn’t changing for anyone,
3- It was an eventful 3 years for Cody in AEW. What was your favourite match or moment from The American Nightmare in AEW?
[Tim @TimmayMan] My favourite match of his was when Brodie Lee challenged for the TNT title and laid waste to Cody in short order. I’ll give Cody all the props in the world for his willingness to put over his opponents. Brodie, Malakai, Darby, Sammy, MJF, they all came out of their programs with Cody stronger than when they started. We wouldn’t have strong pillars in AEW if it wasn’t for the work they did with Cody.
[Andy] Thinking about it, there are plenty of options for this one. The match Tim mentioned is definitely a memorable one but for me it would be his first match with Darby. I had never heard of Darby before that match and it kick started his run to being one of the most popular acts on the roster today. Whilst the Factory feud did leave a bad taste in the mouth, Cody has not been afraid to put others over. If this really is the end, then he leaves that as a great legacy.
[Joe @GoodVsBadGuys] The Silver Spoon promo he cut on Jericho. The brawl against the Inner Circle in the early days of Dynamite. The cage match main event against Wardlow. The TNT Open Challenge that gave us Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston. The Dog Collar match with Brodie Lee. Passing the TNT torch to Darby Allin. Introducing Red Velvet and Jade Cargill. The ladder match with Sammy Guevara.
[Brian @AEWmetrics] I will preface this that Cody was a foundational piece of AEW and for this reason alone I hope he remains talked about in high esteem. As a standalone bout and post-match promo, it’s tough to his in-ring debut opposite Dustin at Double or Nothing 2019 it doesn’t get better than “I don’t need a partner; I need my brother”.
His Open Challenge era with the TNT Championship is what stands out to me. Call it a collective moment but Cody defended the newly created championship 8 times in an 11-week span which included the memorable debuts of Ricky Starks and Eddie Kingston. His subsequent 3-minute thrashing by Brodie Lee in the vein of Vader-Inoki capped off a logical story that had a clear beginning, middle and ending.
[Peter] Two moments from the first 6 months of Dynamite stand out for me. The segment when he plus his entourage came up to the Inner Circle suite which saw Cody use MJF’s scarf to help him break the window to get to Chris Jericho got me saying “here’s my money” and would lead me to watch my first PPV since WrestleMania 30 staying up until 4am here in the UK.
The strapping angle where MJF used his leather belt 10 times on Cody as a condition for the Cody vs MJF match to happen at Revolution is just fantastic. Cody was the best babyface in the world that night and it’s an interesting look at AEW’s past with The Young Bucks there to lend moral support which after Kenny Omega’s interview on Wrestling Observer Radio feels like a world away from the lay of the land now.