There is something to be said for a father/son bond like the one that existed between “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes and his youngest son, Cody; the former WWE performer that has chosen to walk a similar path originally trudged by his father all those years ago in the territories of yesteryear.
Their bond is one built of blood, sweat and tears; often times sounding like the cheers and boos of a mere few hundred people in a dimly lit gymnasium or expo center, all of which sit atop their uncomfortable steel folding chairs, sipping on soft drinks and eating concession stand pop corn, yearning to see the WWE darling they all know and love, wrestling here, of all places, right before their very eyes in a situation many people would have never expected to see Cody in until the very twilight of his career. On a past episode of the “Talk is Jericho” podcast, Cody spoke of his father like he was larger than life. Dusty, a man of character and respect, who treated the art of professional wrestling like it was a precious heirloom to be passed down, so much so in fact that Cody stated that Dusty could never bear to look him in the face and actually tell him that the sport was all a work and the outcomes were pre-determined, much like a father who doesn’t want to take the magic away from the Christmas season by unveiling Santa Claus as an imposter. Instead, it was always left unspoken to keep the magic alive between a son and his father; a hero he tragically lost almost one year prior to making his decision to leave the company he had spent the better part of his in ring career working for.
On June 3rd, 2016, Cody Rhodes, also a man of both principal and respect chose to leave the world’s largest wrestling company in what seems to be a pro-wrestling soul search if I have ever seen one. Instead of taking guaranteed money and continuing to perform as the comic book bad guy character “Stardust”, who floated unceremoniously down the mid-card for far too long, Cody chose to leave, closing yet another chapter of his career that saw him ascend no higher than the ranks of tag team gold over his last couple of years, as his biggest match of recent merit with the company was with “Arrow” actor Stephen Amell in a contest that was merely akin to the days of old where a carnival performer would wrestle a gator or bear in a effort to sell tickets using that “special attraction” billing, with lots of hoopla being made about the fictional television superhero doing battle with WWE’s own version of a comic book villain in what basically became Cody’s last relevant moment in WWE (aside from losing efforts in multi-superstar ladder matches at Wrestlemania), as Cody was mostly relegated to being on the wrong side of the win loss column in clashes with superstars like Neville, Apollo Crews and Titus O’Neil, which culminated in Cody’s request to leave the company and strike out on his own when the brass refused to drop the Stardust gimmick or allow Cody any say in the storyline direction of his character which by that point, was merely more fodder for the children buying up Stardust masks and gloves in the WWE web store than entertainment for the true fans of professional wrestling; an art form Cody felt he was losing by continuing to stay with a company that was killing his passion for the business.
In the days leading up to his WWE release, Cody continued to post via twitter, informing his fans that he was taking bookings on the independent circuit and had even made himself a wish list full of dream matchups that featured some of the best and brightest names on the independent scene; a testament to Cody’s belief that he needed to reinvigorate his passion for the sport and feed an appetite that yearned for more than a six minute “throwaway” contest where he would play the loser to someone on an unheralded WWE program like “Main Event” or the now defunct “Superstars”. Cody wasted no time in his search for grand opponents; much like a man forced to walk in the desert all day with nothing to drink, Cody booked himself as if every booking was a glass of water and his life depended on it. In his first bout since his WWE departure he wrestled for the Evolve promotion in a highly touted contest with Zack Sabre, Jr. and then followed that up with marquee matches against competitors like Kurt Angle, Sami Callihan, Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), and even won big at “Wrestlecade” as he captured the GFW NexGen Championship from a quality opponent in Sonjay Dutt, the long tenured TNA X-Division wrestler and independent circuit mainstay.
In short, wrestling in its purest form, once again became the focal point, something WWE seemed to overlook in lieu of the spectacle the former two time Intercontinental champion was forced into being. Much like the mythical story of his father Dusty and the belief that Vince McMahon decided to “stick it to him” by plastering his ring attire in polka dots as a silent, subtle punishment for Dusty’s years of loyalty to rival promotions, the whispers about why WWE never gave Cody an adequate singles push vary and seem to take on different forms. Some say he’s too small and doesn’t have a “Vince McMahon” body type, a label usually reserved for superstars with a larger stature such as WWE’s current faces like Roman Reigns or John Cena. There are those who say WWE was simply under the belief that Cody was not as good as Dusty was on the microphone, another rumor circulating that could easily be shot into the ground given that Dusty was easily one of the top 5 wrestlers to ever cut a promo and any current superstar, related or not, would find those shoes far too big to fill. Whatever the rumor, Cody continued on in his grand pursuit, announcing deals with both Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling, two places he could seemingly seize the opportunities given and eventually become a massive star within the walls of each promotion. Cody debuted for Impact Wrestling on October 2nd, 2016 at “Bound for Glory” debuting in a segment where both Cody and his wife Brandi began a feud with Mike Bennett and his wife Maria Kanellis (which eventually led to Cody defeating Bennett in the following weeks) yet his ascent up the Impact Wrestling ladder has seemed both stalled and stagnant when you think about how much talent has left Impact Wrestling and how Cody as champion could be beneficial to the product. Once again, Cody needed to make a bold statement, and much like the “Hard Times” promo cut by his father, he did just that.
The Bullet Club
December 2nd, 2016 was a big day for Cody as he was set to debut in Ring of Honor, easily the most notable company in the United States when it comes to pure wrestling and finding the “cream of the crop” when speaking of in ring ability. On this night, the soft spoken “Grandson of a Plumber” turned heel, using a low blow to defeat Jay Lethal and carried this momentum into a video package that aired on December 8th, 2016 where Cody announced himself as a member of the most popular group in professional wrestling, The Bullet Club, in a NJPW promo where he referred to himself as “The Star that Left Them in the Dust”, a small shot to his former employers and those who wondered if the Stardust gimmick would ever resurface in a WWE ring. The promo was effective, poised and a bit darker than one would expect from Cody, a necessary component in both his development and range and only helped further add fuel to the fire that burned within the man on a soul search, finally finding himself in the process.
As the months have rolled on, though Cody has adopted a heel persona, he has seen a surge in diehard fans circulating his popular exploits from the indie circuit online, via Youtube. On January 13th of this year, Cody wrestled for the Defy wrestling promotion in Washington state, where upon his entrance a fan yelled “Stardust” inciting the boo’s of fans in the small arena, which were all prompted to silence by Cody, who played the good sport, going through Stardust’s motions, offering the fan a cartwheel into the parting of his hands spot, only this time once he was finished, Cody lifted a middle finger and flipped the fan off in retaliation, prompting the cheers of the entire arena, including the fan who tried to be funny with his minor heckle. This video hit the web around the time of another popular video involving Cody speaking to the crowd after his match and requesting a beer in the middle of the ring before a packed WCPW show in Newcastle.
Much has also been made about the videos that help with his heel personality, one being a brief clip of Cody hitting his own wife Brandi with his patented “Cross Rhodes” finisher and even more notable and important, a gut wrenching clip of Cody delivering a rather stiff, cringe worthy chair shot to Donovan Dijak at a Ring of Honor show from February of this year. In the comments section, the buzz is that Cody is making us all forget the atrocious Stardust gimmick and that he is faring way better outside of the walls of WWE than ever expected. I too, echo this sentiment as I watch highlight after highlight of a seasoned veteran who proves that you are never too polished to stop learning and never to old to stop growing.
In a very entertaining chain of events, controversial indie wrestler Joey Ryan and Cody have been involved in a storyline feud that has seen Ryan kidnap Cody’s wife on multiple occasions, culminating in possibly the most glorious moment in Cody sticking it to the WWE brass without even being in the room. On February 17th I was home working on an article when I received a tip that Stardust had returned for one night only and I quickly dropped what I was doing in an effort to gather enough info for short news piece. What I found instead was a golden moment of hilarity, and a victory for the man who WWE has wronged over and over, most recently by disallowing Cody Rhodes to use the “Rhodes” at the end of his name, as if he was some simple WWE creation and not the son of a wrestling legend who both inspired and developed countless core members of the current WWE roster.
If that wasn’t enough, on the Dec 26th edition of WWE Raw, the creative team ran with a segment involving Goldust and R-Truth and current (not at the time) tag champions, Anderson and Gallows, in which fan favorite Bayley gave Goldust a teddy bear dressed like the late Dusty Rhodes and in order to gain heat, Anderson was instructed to rip the head off the bear as a pre-cursor to their match later on in the night. This did not resonate well with the younger Rhodes, who took to twitter to air his grievances:
“Not gonna say something mean or blow a whistle. All I can say is whoever produced that, I hope they never know what this feels like”
As a sort of “revenge” if you can call it that, Cody and the rest of the internet community watched as “The King of Dong Style” and the only wrestling superstar sponsored by a pornographic website (Joey Ryan), arrived to the All Pro Wrestling show in Daly City, CA dressed in very familiar attire, none of it which was his own. As he made his way to the ring, he was clad in a Stardust outfit with his face painted going by the “one night only” moniker of“Stardong” much to the excitement of the audience. The promotion went even more rouge by using the original WWE Stardust theme music as Ryan made his entrance, doing a hilarious impression of the Stardust character. It was a small, creative victory that left many in the wrestling community to wonder how Ryan even attained a Stardust suit, when I think deep down we all know this is part of a more elaborate plan that could’ve been prompted by the man who has proven his worth on the internet as much as he has in the ring.
In what has been a tumultuous year for Cody Runnels, the youngest son of the late Dusty Rhodes, it easy to see that his best work is yet to come. Cody has shared his experiences with us, the audience, in a way that few personalities in the business are able to. He has celebrated his highs with us, raising his hands to the crowd who appreciate the moment as much as they appreciate every maneuver he executes in the ring, offering applause and cheers as a gesture of their warmest regards. He has cried on our collective shoulders via social media as a man connected to the fans, dealing with his most difficult loss in the way any loving child would cope with losing a parent. Sometimes he appears defeated by the absence of his father, but then a day passes and we see another side of the man WWE so easily cast into the “land of misfit toys”, a man with so much more to offer the sport of professional wrestling than a character meant to sell action figures and cheaply made souvenirs. It seems as though the unsure road, the one that is far less traveled in this era of professional wrestling, was the perfect place for Cody to re-evaluate and continue his career at what seemed like his lowest moment, which he has swiftly turned into a renaissance. In a move that many originally saw as Cody following in his father’s untouchable footsteps, Cody has managed to follow them just long enough to forge his own path, clearing the way for his own shot glory and cementing a legacy that is all his own.
As I reflect on his incredible first year on the indie circuit, I can’t help but hear Dusty’s voice resonating from his WWE tribute video in a quote that can still move me to tears:
“We don’t have to look at what I have done and where I have been…you’ve met my two sons, I am so proud of them. One thing is for sure though, when you go back and you look at our industry, you look at passion. The passion I have for this industry is why I am still here.”
It goes without saying that this quote more than applies. Through every high and low, I feel greatly honored and privileged as a wrestling journalist and even more so as a wrestling fan that I am able follow Cody on this amazing journey he is taking on a road that belongs solely to him.May he continue to walk it with honor, respect and most importantly; passion.
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