Cody Rhodes competed in the WWE from 2006-2016. But during his time in the land of sports entertainment, Rhodes never sniffed the main event scene. Instead, he was saddled with one bad gimmick after another, ranging from “Dashing” Cody Rhodes to Stardust.
After asking for and receiving his release, it’s been an entirely different Rhodes.
He’s grown as a performer exponentially inside the ring since signing a contract with All Elite Wrestling at the beginning of 2019. Rhodes’ promos are some of the best in professional wrestling, and the matches on pay-per-view against his brother Dustin at Double or Nothing, Shawn Spears at All Out and AEW heavyweight champion Chris Jericho at Full Gear are emotionally charged to the point where fans are sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation of what will happen next.
Well, next up for one of the Executive Vice Presidents of AEW is Saturday night from the sold-out Wintrust Arena in Chicago against heated rival MJF.
Before the highly-anticipated clash, Rhodes sat down with Sporting News to discuss the jump from the top of the steel cage last Wednesday against Wardlow on “Dynamite,” his newfound confidence in the ring since leaving WWE and how he puts himself in the right place mentally for the PPV bouts.
(Editors note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
Sporting News: What were you thinking when you were climbing on top of the cage to do the moonsault to Wardlow last week on “Dynamite?”
Cody Rhodes: I’m very terrified of heights. I have a genuine fear of high buildings. I never want to look over like even when I go to the mall; I don’t want to look over the edge. So, when it came to going up there, our cage was too high, which I was growling at the production people about the day before. Nonetheless, I made the decision, and the decision was simple as soon as I got up there, and my feet are flat; that’s when I’m going to jump. I never had to think about it. I would have done it again and again and again.
SN: Your mindset and how you’re viewed is entirely different since AEW came to fruition in terms of having more confidence when you walk to the ring, cut a promo or when you have a match. Where did that confidence come from?
CR: I just found my stance. I’ve been doing this since I was 15. I was not the first pick kind ever. I’ll be honest, even with All Elite Wrestling, I wasn’t the first pick. That’s what always drives me is the consistent chip on my shoulder, and I was able to find a stance. What I mean by that is when I’m at the plate, I can hopefully hit home runs. It’s hard because it’s a merit-based wrestling company. You got Matt and Nick (Jackson, The Young Bucks) who dominate tag team wrestling and they dominate tag team psychology. You have Kenny (Omega) who provides a very different aesthetic. He’s so important to the evolution of the business because what he does is so different.
Then there’s me who found the missing (link) to the old school but without being lazy about the presentation and being old school in all the right ways. As a group, I’m glad I found what I’m able to offer, and it’s really clicked. If it all falls apart tomorrow, I had a good run. If not, then I’m going to keep going until I rock the wheels off.
SN: Are you even surprised at where you’re at because you were never given the opportunity in WWE even though the talent had always been there? Did you feel like this moment would ever come for you?
CR: I don’t mean to sound like pretentious by any means, and occasionally I come off that way, but I’m not surprised because I had this superior education in the industry. I got to be around Dusty (Rhodes, Cody’s father) for 30-something years. I got to train in the house that built me, WWE, and learned so much not just about wrestling, but about production. I had this education that at some point, the light bulb was going to go off.
For some wrestlers, it goes off sooner than later. I do the work. That expression isn’t meant to be a condescending, goody-two-shoes expression. I consistently do the work. I still train twice a day. I just ended up going halfsies on my own wrestling school so that I can continue to hone my game because the younger and hungrier are still out there, and they’re looking to jump ahead of us.
Darby Allen is a good example. That’s the part of wrestling that’s so real that people don’t realize is that the struggle for the top two spots — especially when it’s merit-based and it’s not favorite-based — when it’s merit-based, is incredibly important. So, if I ever let up, I won’t be able to hit it. But I wasn’t surprised because I knew I was going to do the work. And I’m not surprised either at the amount of guys who have risen up on the roster as well because I see them do the work too. I mentioned Darby Allen. He’s a prime example.
SN: You look at your matches on the AEW PPVs, and they have all been emotionally-based matches. You have the crowd so invested into the story and take the fans on a ride. How do you prepare yourself mentally for these programs?
CR: Al Snow trained me, and that was something that he always brought up. There’s a level of emotional connection if you really do give yourself deeply into the material, you give yourself to what you’re doing, and you feel that crowd. There’s no high on earth that can be replicated like it. There’s no energy on earth. Something would be so amiss and so wrong if I were not to feel emotionally drained. Physically drained makes sense as you’re doing the moves, and you’re involved with the high spots, but you’ve got to be emotionally drained if you execute it well.
A lot of my matches center around emotion. I’m very much what I do out there is real, and I know that might sound strange to people, but that’s who I am. I’m really Cody Rhodes. I am just living this current dream as the American Nightmare, and I don’t want it to end. That’s why it takes me so damn long to get to the back. I don’t want it to end.
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