Just What IS Cody Rhodes' WWE Story Anyway?!

A long-read on why some stories are bigger than the championship pursuit...

Cody Rhodes

Cody Rhodes is the Undisputed WWE Universal champion elect.

He in April 2022 made his shocking return to WWE. On night one of WrestleMania 38, he defeated Seth Rollins in an excellent match that only evolved into an excellent match after the seven minute mark. The visual of Cody Rhodes in a WWE ring was so utterly surreal that what he did inside of it barely registered. For a long time, the action was incidental to the seismic, unfathomable event. In a great (and inspired) sequence deep down the stretch, Cody was about to strike Seth with a third Cross Rhodes. Instead, he let go of the set-up and blew Seth away with his father's flip, flop and fly strike combination. He then hit a third Cross Rhodes to win before revealing why exactly he paid tribute to Dusty Rhodes.

On the Raw after WrestleMania, he cut a promo and told the first chapter of the Story. He recounted his father's story of challenging for the WWWF title by requesting a photograph, dated September 26, 1977, be displayed on the tron. The picture was of Dusty Rhodes holding the old WWWF title, sideways, in Madison Square Garden. Cody said to his father that he never knew he was a "champion like Hulk Hogan". Dusty said to Cody that he wasn't, explaining the champion's advantage, and that he had in fact won the match but not the championship belt. (This doesn't explain why Dusty held the title aloft; this result wasn't a Dusty finish, predated the Dusty finish, and the scene of celebration was a bit stupid if you think about it - but it's a very warm story, so it's probably best to just go with it).

Cody then and there decided at eight years old to become WWE Champion in his honour - by finding his destiny “on the path he had taken to avoid it”.

At the time, there was some concern that Cody couldn't reconcile the sheer amount of potshots he aimed at WWE during his six years away, given everything that happened, but on April 4, 2022, he received a hero's welcome. Wrestling fans are forgiving (or fickle), and Cody was and is a star. Stars get away with everything. There's no use in psychoanalysing the WWE fanbase. Perhaps they enjoyed that Cody left the outfit he was instrumental in forming because he knew where the big boys really played. It wasn't as if Cody was a hugely over star that had returned. He was a nobody when he left. Perhaps they admired his sheer ambition and drive.

Regardless, the fans bought Cody as a main event-calibre returning hero. To really drive home that he was the top babyface in WWE - and, perhaps, to write a prospectus to any other want-away AEW talents - Cody cleanly defeated Rollins, a top star synonymous with WWE, twice more on pay-per-view. Cody didn't necessarily need to be any more over than he was, but his already incandescent star power was enhanced - only in wrestling is this sort of thing fortunate - when he tore his tricep ahead of Hell In A Cell. A very lengthy layoff awaited him, but he completed the match. A purple Cody Rhodes, whom it hurt just to look at, gutted it out. As infamous as it was disturbing as it was utterly compelling, the match established Cody not just as the man who got one over on those minor leaguers, not just as the gregarious showman, but the man who would endure unimaginable pain and put off major surgery to give the fans a show when they had paid for a ticket. Cody was a man who wrestled after the wheels fell off. To be a little cynical, in biting through the pain and making the grand comeback, Cody was Triple H in 2002 if the push panned out - a better flex than the publicity stunt he had pulled at Double Or Nothing.

He made his return from surgery to win the 2023 Royal Rumble, at the #30 slot, and his final show-down with GUNTHER was both an excellent match-within-a-match and a glimpse of what his eventual Undisputed WWE Universal title win might look like.

He didn't finish the story at WrestleMania 39 (in retrospect, WWE didn't really hammer that storyline with Roman Reigns). He lost, which was stunning. The feel-good win was considered a formality, especially when considering that Sami Zayn, both white-hot underdog and actual needle-mover, did not take down his manipulator at Elimination Chamber in Montreal. The complexion of the WWE fanbase had changed considerably since the old days of crowd hijacks. Cody and Sami co-existed as lead man and best supporting actor in the "cinema" that was the Bloodline saga. And still, he didn’t win.

The result was bad; the finish was worse. Solo Sikoa simply interfered, and Cody simply lost, as if this was the phoned-in finish of some B-level 'PLE' or other. The match was incredible. Cody Rhodes and Roman Reigns paced the drama so effectively that they genuinely could have gone an hour, if not longer. The fans were entranced. It felt like one of the biggest occasions in the history of a huge company that had rarely felt bigger. All the pity’ if WWE was going to screw Cody, they could have really thought about it. They didn't. Would it have been more poetic and heartbreaking, had Cody ironically followed in his father's footsteps and won via count-out?

Or should WWE have simply booked Cody to win at WrestleMania, since the Bloodline "saga" would have made more sense had Roman actually lost?

This dented faith in the process, as unfounded as the pessimism turned out to be. It did not however dent the faith of Cody Rhodes.


Posted On: 

Michael Sidgwick is an editor, writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling. With over seven years of experience in wrestling analysis, Michael was published in the influential institution that was Power Slam magazine, and specialises in providing insights into All Elite Wrestling - so much so that he wrote a book about the subject. You can order Becoming All Elite: The Rise Of AEW on Amazon. Possessing a deep knowledge also of WWE, WCW, ECW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michael’s work has been publicly praised by former AEW World Champions Kenny Omega and MJF, and current Undisputed WWE Champion Cody Rhodes. When he isn’t putting your finger on why things are the way they are in the endlessly fascinating world of professional wrestling, Michael wraps his own around a hand grinder to explore the world of specialty coffee. Follow Michael on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MSidgwick for more!