This week we have a very special Slammer Jabber taking a special look at Cody Rhodes. Wrestling Editor Tom Mimnagh is away on paternity leave after the birth of his first child but will return next week with normal Slammer Jabber coverage.
The Rhodes well travelled
If I am truly honest, for a long time I did not necessarily see the upside of Cody Rhodes. Now, of course, he has wrestling in his blood, his father Dusty Rhodes was (and always will be) with considered wrestling royalty, his brother Dustin Rhodes is a legend in his own right, and Cody himself was a decorated amateur wrestler at school. Perhaps the most athletic of the Rhodes family, Cody seemed to have the blueprint for greatness. However, despite the hype, from his debut on the WWE roster in 2007 alongside Bob Holly, Cody seemed like the epitome of a cookie cutter, create-a-wrestler, Gary blue-pants competitor. He had the athleticism, and he was far from awful in-ring but he was certainly green and needed way more seasoning. His heel turn on Holly and subsequent run with Legacy was a step in the right direction but he just seemed to continue as Randy Orton’s lackey for the next couple of years, really not developing at all. While it had improved, his in-ring work was still pretty average at that stage, and lacking in character, although there were flashes of something more, especially when he was in the ring with veterans like Shawn Michaels and Triple H. For the most part, Rhodes didn’t seem to really kick on, and his lack of kneepads was often very distracting. That might sound like an odd detail, but it was a constant during a period where he looked and felt like a lower-card performer. Something about his appearance just didn’t seem to click with me, or the majority of fans. Don’t worry, this is not some sort of hatchet piece on Cody Rhodes, far from it, I just think the honest context is important.
That all changed in 2010. After a pretty lacklustre performance at Wrestlemania in a nothing three-way dance with his former legacy teammates, Randy Orton and Ted Dibiase Jr, Rhodes debuted his new persona, “Dashing” Cody Rhodes. The vignettes featuring Cody giving grooming tips and showing a new arrogant side displayed some real personality and charisma for the first time in his WWE career. Not to mention the inclusion of his new theme music which immediately gave him a great building block to begin his solo career. Rhodes still seemed to be lacking anything truly special in the ring, and perhaps a certain intangible factor, but it was a start. A good gimmick, especially when a performer buys into it fully, it can cover a multitude of sins. However, for me, Rhodes still felt like an actor playing a professional wrestler. There were nuances that I liked, including Rhodes picking up the mantle of “The Model” Rick Martel, and other famous adopters of the vain, self-absorbed model-esque character who deliberately avoided being hit in the face during matches and doing anything to protect his good looks, even at the detriment of his in-ring career. It was very well done, and a huge improvement even if it didn’t quite propel Rhodes massively forward, it showed he was capable of something more. Then he got stuck in a tag team with a young Drew McIntyre (someone who you can argue has a lot in common with Rhodes) that did little for either man. Cody was improving and the company dropped the ball instead of letting him run with it. One step forward, two steps back.
The “Dashing” gimmick had a very short shelf life, admittedly, and it was always going to be a one-dimensional character. Which is why it was so refreshing when Cody took a real-life accident and broken nose suffered in a match with Rey Mysterio and built a whole new character with it. The burn-mask wearing Cody was superb, cutting some great promos and bringing a new viciousness and added psychology to his in-ring work. It was another gimmick that was never going to get him to the main event immediately but it showed a level of development. But then as he transitioned out of his masked gimmick in a feud with former mentor Randy Orton, he went back to a bland, cocky mid-carder, albeit one who held the Intercontinental title. Rather than taking the improvements he had made over the past year and running with them, WWE would have Rhodes languish in the mid-card for much of the next year feuding with Booker T, trading wins with Big Show, even teaming with David Otunga and generally doing little of note. I’m not suggesting he should have been headlining at this point, but there was certainly more to his work than even two years earlier, and more could have been done with him here, but it was back to the pack for Cody. One step forward, two steps back.
By the end of 2012, Rhodes had teamed up with Damien Sandow and the two as the Rhodes Scholars slowly began gaining some traction in the tag division, and I have to say I very much enjoyed them as a duo. Cody grew a moustache and showed some real charisma in the following months, although again he seemed to be missing a piece of the puzzle to really kick on and get to the main event. In the summer of 2013, he seemed to finally start to gain momentum, with the fans essentially turning him babyface, as Damien Sandow turned on Rhodes costing him the Money in the Bank briefcase. The audible cheer from the audience as Cody reached for the briefcase, and the negative reaction as Sandow pushed him off the ladder seemed like a turning point in Rhodes’ career. The subsequent feud painted Rhodes as a very popular babyface, even though he didn’t win the programme in the end.
The autumn of 2013 brought perhaps the highest peak of Cody Rhodes’ WWE tenure. His feud alongside his brother Dustin (as Goldust) with The Shield and The Authority made for some compelling television and showed a level of fire and gumption from Cody that evokes some of the finer qualities that made his father such a huge babyface in his heyday. The matches with The Shield were superb and made Cody seem poised to be a huge breakout star. Yet WWE kept the team in the mid-card and after the heat for Rhodes died down. He would end up taking on the dreadful Stardust gimmick, which barring an on again/off again feud with Arrow star Stephen Amell leading to a memorable tag match alongside King Barrett against Amell and Neville at Summerslam in 2015, slowly signalled the end of Rhodes career in WWE. Again one step forward, and two steps back.
However, in 2016 Rhodes did something many would not have had the bravery to undertake. He left the relative safety of WWE where he could have coasted along for years doing just fine, but never quite realising his full potential, but Cody chose to go out and wrestle for some of the biggest companies in the world outside of WWE. Armed with a list of things he wanted to achieve outside of WWE, Rhodes mortgaged his future on his own talent, I imagine believing himself to be worth more than what WWE valued him at, and he was right. This decision has led him to a major run in New Japan Pro Wrestling where he has been involved in one of the top storylines as part of Bullet Club alongside and then against Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi, he has been Ring of Honor champion, and now All In, which as we detailed in the past few weeks has sold out, which is a huge achievement. With Omega now the IWGP Champion, Cody has emerged as the logical first challenger, again thrusting him into the well-deserved spotlight. With the popularity of Being the Elite, and Rhodes willingness to wrestle all over the globe, he has reinvented himself as a top talent. Cody no longer seems like someone playing at being a pro wrestler, he is now the epitome of a pro wrestler. His in-ring skills have shone outside of the constraints of WWE, and his personality has radiated far beyond the range he was allowed in all of his time in WWE. There is something to be said for that sort of pioneering spirit, and in an age where the easiest thing to do is so often the thing that requires the most effort Cody Rhodes decided to roll the dice, and it has very much paid off. Much like AJ Styles when he left TNA and went off to NJPW and back to travelling the independents, Rhodes has gone out and finessed his already stellar skill base, as well as upping his own value within the industry through hard work, and sheer force of will.
Now, after All In in Septemeber, it is fully possible that Cody may decide to go back to WWE, or he just as easily might end up continuing on the path he has set for himself (some might say he could soon found himself at something of a “cross-Rhodes”). I’m sure WWE would welcome him back with open arms as a major player, and he could have a huge run there following on from his superb run in NJPW and ROH. Cody’s stock has probably never been higher, and his stint away from WWE has raised his stock significantly. Whatever decision he makes in the future, there is no taking away from what he has achieved, going from mid-card comedy act when he left (as Stardust) to a bonafide international superstar on his own terms. Cody Rhodes has transformed himself into one of the more pivotal figures in the industry, proving that while the WWE monster machine rages on, there is life outside of the Titan’s grasp. Two steps forward, and off and running.
Well, that is it from me for this week. I will be back at the same time next week with all the news Raw and Smackdown, as well as touching on any major stories that might break in the next week. In the meantime, keep it locked here at Screenjabber for all the best movie, Blu-ray, DVD and video game reviews, as well as all the latest news, podcasts and more. Until next time, so long folks.