Last weekend saw Cody Rhodes, “The American Nightmare”, headline a New Japan Pro Wrestling show against the planet’s greatest wrestler, Kazuchika Okada. This was massive for the current ROH World Champion.
Cody left the WWE just over a year ago. He left the Stardust gimmick behind and attempted to rediscover his love for wrestling. He came out with his ‘list’ and worked freelance, popping up in Impact, ROH and basically every major indie promotion in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
The time difference between the US and the UK always makes me feel like I’m out of the loop with breaking wrestling news, but when I did find out about Cody’s decision last year, I was pretty pumped. I’d always liked Rhodes, but I really became a fan in 2013.
That tag run with Goldust, where Goldie rolled back the years and they fought for their family’s honour against the Shield sucked me right in. Cody was thriving and it felt like, once their nostalgia run inevitably ran its course, he was poised to break out on his own. Yeah, he’d had Intercontinental title reigns before but this was it, this was his time to shine and become a main event player.
Now you’re probably wondering why I, a teenager from South London, was so invested in a man who’d spent his entire wrestling career with the WWE. Well, it all stems from my Grandfather. He was the person who introduced me to wrestling and is still undoubtedly the greatest influence on my love of the graps. He’d been a huge fan of World of Sport and told me all about the likes of Kendo Nagasaki, Big Daddy and Jackie Pallo. When young Andrew initially began watching wrestling, he fell in love with faces like Batista and Rey Mysterio. My Grandfather told me, “You want to see a real good guy? Look no further than a man called Dusty Rhodes.”
That was a time when I never questioned my elders but it wasn’t for a couple a years after my Grandfather died that I found out who this Dusty was. He was the everyman, who didn’t look like Hogan or Warrior of Flair, but he felt real. To this day he remains my favourite wrestler of a bygone era and when he died in 2015 it struck me like a hammer blow. It felt sad that the wrestling world had lost such an icon and such a huge presence in its new landscape, but also because he’d never got to see either of his boys hold a world title. I’d thought Cody was capable and the midcard pattern of sporadic title wins felt like such a waste. I wanted Cody to win the world title in homage to his father, as I knew that would have brought a smile to my Grandfather’s face, and if that didn’t happen I wanted him to succeed out on his own.
Alas, that never happened and in truth his WWE run thereafter amounted to a grand sum of nothing. There was that match with Stephen Amell, but that was it – hardly what I’d expected. Then the announcement came – he was off, doing his own thing. I couldn’t have been happier and I eagerly awaited his first indie dates. They soon came and one stood out: the main event of EVOLVE 67 in Brooklyn, NY against Chris Hero.
The childish wrestling fan in me loved it, what a match! Chris Hero was having an all-time great year and I couldn’t wait to see what Cody, free of the shackles of mediocre booking and a dreadful gimmick, could do against one of the best. I thought they’d put on a classic – how disappointed I was. Nothing had changed, the match was OK, a *** special, nothing more.
Last year, I naively brushed the match off. It’ll only get better, I thought. Cody will settle, all the pressure and attention will die down and he’ll start producing some classics. He’ll prove me right. I waited and and watched and the hope I’d had gradually dissipated away.
Then Cody went to Impact. He wrestled Eddie Edwards, a great base who can produce a good match with almost anyone, and he was alright. I thought the match was ***1/2, and that they had more in the tank. This was also a face/face dynamic, so I tentatively climbed back aboard the Rhodes hype train. He wrestled Moose and although the Grand Championship formula arguably hindered the match, it was good.
We still had Final Battle to come: Cody’s big ROH debut. He was booked to take on Jay Lethal, who was losing his own momentum since dropping the ROH belt. The match was serviceable, nothing special, but what followed was key. Cody turned heel. As far as I could tell, this was the first time someone had turned him heel since his WWE departure. I was intrigued.
A little over a week later, Cody’s NJPW debut was confirmed for Wrestle Kingdom 11. What news! My favourite promotion, probably the best wrestling show of 2017 and someone I was invested in seeing succeed. His opponent—the man formerly known as CJ Parker—Juice Robinson. Robinson had taken the massive gamble of quitting the WWE developmental system and backing himself in Japan. He’d won me over with his hard work and ever-improving work between the ropes. This was a great opponent for Cody, someone who’d push him, but someone who’d make him look great.
January 4 rolled around and what a show that was. One of the greatest matches of all time, some incredible title matches and Cody’s debut. The match was great, highly enjoyable and easily the best match of his indie run at this point. Issue was that it was an NJPW singles match, a rarity in itself, and it clocked in at ***3/4. Naively, I still had hope. This match was a marker, a sign of things to come. Yet again I’d set myself up for disappointment.
Cody made ROH his new home and moved into the title programme. The triple threat at War of the Worlds was OK, and the finish was inventive, but it was another *** special. Even I had worked out that a trend had emerged, Cody was consistent but consistently in the range of **1/2-***1/2. Nothing that was newsworthy at either end of the spectrum. He got stuck in a rut, the same type of rut he’d tried to escape from.
NJPW’s Dominion came around—the event that gave us Okada/Omega II and a masterpiece between KUSHIDA and Hiromu Takahashi—also gave us another Cody singles match. He was scheduled to wrestle Michael Elgin, a man who himself had turned around his career in the previous year, going from ROH also-ran to NJPW star and indie promoter. Just a year before, this is a match that would have got the feels going. By now, I didn’t care. I knew Cody would win, he’d probably get in the G1 and seemed to be locked in to win the ROH World Title two weeks later against Christopher Daniels.
The Elgin match disappointed, and the match with Daniels wasn’t much better. I’d decided, belatedly, that I was done with Cody now. Part of me still believed he could amount to something more, but I was resigned to the fact he wouldn’t. This was the lot we’d got, and I’d move on. I’d watch his matches but I wouldn’t invest in them anymore. From now on, he’d just be a guy.
Still, I was like a dog with a bone. Cody’s disappointing Indie run left me with numerous questions. What exactly was it that was preventing Cody from having the great success I thought he would? Was it simply that he just didn’t have that extra gear to kick into in the closing stretch? Or was it more than that?
Maybe it was his moveset? It wasn’t that limited compared to some other recent WWE departures (I’m looking at you Ryback) but it also wasn’t overly inspiring. Still, he’d faced such a wide scope of opponents that he’d picked up new stuff and that’s not normally what holds guys like him back.
Was it his reaction with the crowd? Well arguably he’s not the most charismatic of faces, but differing promotions had booked him in different ways. He got a reaction from all of them so it couldn’t be that either. For whatever reason, I couldn’t put my finger on it.
So by the time the first G1 special came around, and Cody was set to headline against Okada, I wasn’t excited. I was excited for Omega/Elgin, I was excited for Juice/Sabre Jr, I was excited to see Ishii/Naito. There was even a morbid curiosity about Tanahashi/Gunn, but Rhodes/Okada? I thought I’d pass.
It was fair to judge now, a great match between these two was out of the question. I had a nagging fear that they might, just might, put the strap on Rhodes. It’d certainly make a statement, that’s for sure, but surely they wouldn’t?
But then something new happened. Cody finally showed up.
Cody had a ****1/2 match. Okada didn’t carry him, Cody more than held up his end. He was a cocky heel, getting some great heat, and the moment he nailed Okada with a Rainmaker of his own had me off my seat.
The post-match angle with Omega also intrigues me, what potential could a match between those two have?
After the match and angle, I sat there for 30 minutes after the show thinking, thinking that this was it. Cody had finally achieved the sort of match I’d expected him to have a year ago.
I still have hope for Cody, but it’s not what it once was. He’ll continue to get booked, he’ll continue to have decent matches. He might even have some great ones. But I doubt he’ll ever have that moment that will make me smile or would have made my Grandfather smile.