A Fork in the Rhodes: Why Cody Deserves More
Posted by Len Archibald on 09.01.2014
Despite being in WWE for seven years and proving he has the talent, Cody Rhodes has not yet been given his due. 411's Len Archibald looks at why Rhodes deserves a run at the top and why it's only a matter of time before he gets there!
Before we get into this week's bit of professional wrestling goodness, I want to give a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who agreed with me, disagreed with me, pointed out holes and generally contributed to last week's column concerning Alberto Del Rio and how WWE's perception of different cultures. The fact that so many of you were passionate about your opinions and were not afraid to share them was what I was hoping for, so as a writer I feel I did my job.Thanks once again for allowing me to spark an awesome and mature debate about social issues on a pro-wrestling website(!) This is something I will refer to when I need to defend us as fans from those too ignorant to understand that just because we enjoy sweaty men beating each other up in a scripted environment, that doesn't mean WE aren't intelligent, rational human beings, each with a unique experience and point of view in life.
Now for some fun. Check out what is the frame for the new 18'x18' ring we will have ready for the show in October. I am honored that I've been asked to help build it! I am a man of simple dreams...
As fans, we all have our favorite performers. Whether it is through their athleticism, skills as a trash talker or overall entertainment value, there are wrestlers we all have found a connection with and relate to. We all have that one performer that we have attached to seemingly against all odds, defiant at any roadblocks on their way to superstardom. We call them unappreciated, undervalued and underrated. In our eyes we can see them as a World Champion even the face of the company in a world where the majority may say otherwise. If we could just convince the right people of this performer's strengths and attributes, maybe we could rally enough crowd support to warrant a push. It's a pipe dream - or a pipe bomb about to blow up in our face when reality hits. I can't stop making this case though and I suppose I will finally end my fanboy-ish ways when this performer is either released or dead.
While several names have been brought up as potential performers who could carry the "future" of the WWE on their backs, there has been one that has stood out for me above the rest over the past several years now. I will give you the opportunity to laugh me right off this website now.
I believe that Cody Rhodes is not only the future of the WWE, but he has been the best all-around performer in the WWE for the past five years. Yes. Snicker away. I know, I'm insane. But at least hear me out (or for the purposes of this medium, read my case before you make a mad dash for the comments to tell me how far out of my mind I am.) I find it absolutely mind-boggling that the youngest of the Rhodes' boys (and the man currently known as "SsssssSTAR-DUSSSSST" has not achieved World Champion status in the WWE at least once. I am sure he will get there. There are obstacles in his way, but if the time that Rhodes has been in the WWE so far is any indication, when the brass decides to finally test him out to see if he can carry the ball, he just may run with it farther than anyone could possibly expect.
I suppose my unhealthy obsession with Cody Rhodes started with his introduction speech at the 2007 WWE Hall of Fame when he and his brother, Goldust inducted their father "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. A babyfaced Cody spoke with the passion and fire of a top-tier superstar as he took the fans on an emotional roller-coaster detailing life with his father. The only thing I could compare the moment to in regards to impact would be the speech then Senator Barack Obama gave at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Obama was a relative unknown, but at that moment his soaring cadence caught wind of the rest of the world and made him a figure to watch. Rhodes came in as "Goldust's baby brother" and "Dusty's son" but once he had inducted his father, I was convinced that he was auditioning for a spot for Vince McMahon and he knocked it out of the park. SIGN THIS KID, NOW! If he could do good work in the ring, this guy could end up as a god.
After some time at Ohio Valley Wrestling, Rhodes made his official WWE debut in the summer of that same year and immediately made an impact with the performer I feel is his natural rival, Randy Orton. Rhodes was a fresh-faced rookie with Dusty Rhodes, who was introduced to The Viper. Orton responded with a gesture that Cody would get all too familiar with: a slap to the face of his father, implying his disrespect. Days later, Cody responded in kind, leading to a match between the two on the July 16th episode of RAW, eventually losing his debut match. Rhodes later would make his first PPV appearance at The Great American Bash to prevent Orton from causing further damage to The Dream. Rhodes lost the rematch, but he showed a promise and an untapped potential as someone who could keep up with the main eventers at the time. Take into account that Cody was a mere 22 years old at the time. Cody's pedigree as a second-generation superstar is something that has helped parlay him into the upper-echelon of talent, and being on the main roster at such a young age has opened doors of opportunity for Cody that older performers may not have perhaps the most important opportunity: Time to grow. Cody has since been given various characters, storylines and feuds and because of his age, he has been afforded time to develop and run with each of these. Each character has a different nuance, and each nuance adds a new dimension to the Cody Rhodes personality. Each new dimension gives the fans a reason to care about him and as the years have progressed, Cody has progressed with it, slowly and patiently.
Cody's next major storyline found him on the end of a three-week beating to Hardcore Holly, eventually gaining the stiff veteran's respect with his perseverance. The two formed a tag-team and under the age old wrestling archetype of "the veteran and his rookie apprentice", began a satisfying narrative that culminated in not only Cody finally besting his mentor in a one on one match, but also aligning to win the WWE Tag Team title. During this run, Cody showed flashes of brilliance in the ring and impressed fans with how quickly he could grow as an in-ring performer despite his youth.
In the spring of 2008, Ted DiBiase Jr. arrived on the scene and began feuding with the tag champs with ominous threats to seize their titles in his first match. This was a major turning point in the career of Cody Rhodes as (even if basically everyone called it) he turned on his mentor and formed an alliance with DiBiase, keeping his tag-team gold and turning heel in the process. Even though Cody was serviceable as a goody-goody babyface, the moment he embraced his dark side was when he began to excel. DiBiase's and Rhodes' first promo as heel champions was superb, explaining their lineage but it was Cody who stood out with a more confident stance, shit-eating grin and a catchphrase that under normal circumstances would have gotten him over, proclaiming that he and DiBiase were just "Born better." It was the first "Ah-ha!" moment for Cody within the confines of the WWE Universe that showed a performer who could be a major player in the future.
of course, as it is written in the holy book of WWE Logic, the newfound group and their heat was quickly diminished by John Cena as he and Batista easily defeated Rhodes and DiBiase for the tag-team straps. The mini-feud lasted just long enough (a week) for the young duo to gain the titles back before losing them once again to CM Punk and Kofi Kingston. A series of losses seemed to place both Cody and DiBiase in the midcard, but little did they know, a familiar Viper was waiting in the wings and would give the young duo a taste of main event status.
Randy Orton would become a thorn in the sides of DiBiase, Rhodes and their newest ally, Manu and Sim Snuka. Rhodes' first major breakthrough in-ring performance came at the 2007 Survivor Series as he wound up being one of the sole survivors of his team, interestingly enough - alongside Randy Orton. Rhodes had already improved by leaps and bounds as a competent worker, but walking out as a "sole survivor" came as a shock for most. Rhodes and Orton, along with DiBiase, Manu and Snuka would form "The Legacy", as each performer came from a bloodline of wrestling royalty. Rhodes had proven his capabilities in the ring now it was time to see how well he could perform as a defined character.
After kicking Sim Snuka out, the remaining members of The Legacy ran roughshod over most of the roster, culminating in being the catalyst for the end of CM Punk's first World Title reign. Throughout this, Rhodes played in the background, but his mannerisms and grasp on the "little things" to tell a story in the ring became apparent. The story of Orton making his fellow stablemates lives hell through "tests" to prove their worth was one of the few PG-era storylines to embody "shades of grey" as all involved were clearly heels, but each showed moments of being able to muster up crowd support. This was none more apparent than during a RAW episode where Dusty Rhodes was unceremoniously RKO'd by Randy Orton in front of his son.
It was the first moment that the crowd frothed at the mouth to see Cody finally gain retribution on Orton who had since made his life miserable ever since he became part of the main roster. The look on Orton's face, daring Cody to retaliate, the mix of anger and anguish on Rhodes' sneer as he got in Orton's face and the loud chants of "CODY! CODY! CODY!" to the whole scene was a must-see moment and convinced several that Rhodes would be capable of selling an emotional storyline and play the role of a babyface the audience could get behind. Once Cody relented, submitted and pledged his allegiance to Orton and the rest of Legacy, one could feel the crowd deflate. If there was a moment to pull the trigger on a major singles push for Rhodes, that was it. We would have to wait.
Cody would insert himself in late 2008 and much of 2009 in the WWE's main storyline leading up to WrestleMania 25: Orton's newfound "voices" and subsequent feud with the McMahon family. As Orton's ally, Cody was one of the driving forces during the 2009 Royal Rumble, lasting an impressive 37 minutes and survived as one of the final three combatants before helping Orton win the event. At this time, it became very clear that even though Ted DiBiase Jr. was being groomed for a more prominent main event role (since he had more of the prototypical "look" and was being primed for a movie role as John Cena's replacement in The Marine franchise) that Cody Rhodes was the one with more upside as an overall talent. Even with a lisp, Cody cut a better and more emotional promo than DiBiase. Cody had a more well-rounded in-ring moveset and could adjust his style better with various opponents than DiBiase. And because we saw his growth as a performer before our eyes, compared to DiBiase just showing up on the scene, it was easier for fans to be emotionally invested in Cody.
As Legacy moved up the card and worked with the main event heavyweights such as Batista, Triple H, John Cena and the McMahon family, it was Cody Rhodes who brought excitement to his opponents. While DiBiase was serviceable, it was not uncommon to see him turn in an uninspiring performance in the ring. Cody's involvement in a match nearly virtually guaranteed that the fans would see something different and inspired from his efforts even when he lost - which was a lot during the spring and summer of 2009 as he and DiBiase feuded with a reformed D-Generation X. The Legacy found themselves in several main events before making their biggest impact as they main evented SummerSlam 2009 against D-X (and a tank) and winning a Submissions Count Anywhere match at Breaking Point 2009 a month later. A sledgehammer to the face of Cody Rhodes one month later at Hell in a Cell 2009 from Triple H would end the long standing feud.
Once again, Cody would cross paths with Randy Orton as he and DiBiase grew tired of Orton's bullying. This feud that pitted the young performers against the Apex Predator became a test of meddle for both. After costing Orton the WWE title on several occasions, they culminated their feud at WrestleMania XXVI in a triple threat match. Cody and DiBiase imploded, distracted by their blind hatred for Orton and the Viper pulled out the victory. A loss of this magnitude to a top-level star at the biggest show of the year usually does one of two things to a performer: they slowly fade into obscurity or they return invigorated. Take a guess who fell into each category between Rhodes and DiBiase.
While DiBiase tried to find some footing and a character that he could gravitate towards, Cody quickly rebounded and found himself in the first phase in a shift of characters who were each their own persona but was still Cody Rhodes himself. After being drafted to SmackDown in 2010, Rhodes re-christened himself "Dashing" Cody Rhodes a narcissist convinced of his looks after being voted the best looking superstar from the WWE Divas. Rhodes showcased an entertaining side of himself, giving grooming tips in creepy how-to vignettes, and causing fits and checking his ringside mirror whenever he was hit in the face (take notes, Miz.) As the prototypical metrosexual, Rhodes sported a nosering, and entered the ring with the slimiest grin one could sport to show off his "Dashing" smile.
All that changed in the ring, though as seemingly his past battles ignited a newfound aggression to his offense. He was hitting moves crisper and was capable of giving just enough to play off the crowd but not make them cheer his persona. This led to Rhodes and Drew McIntyre winning the tag-team titles in September. Rhodes was proven to be a tag-team specialist by this time and in his short stint in the WWE was already being considered a "veteran", even guiding Husky Harris on the first season of NXT as the future Bray Wyatt's mentor (now I can see where Bray could have received some sound advice about bringing a character to life.)
Cody's next major singles feud and the next shift in his evolution - revolved around Rey Mysterio. During a match in January of 2011, Mysterio caught Rhodes square in the face with a 6-1-9 (and an exposed kneebrace), resulting in breaking Cody's nose. This violent act pushed Rhodes over the edge, as he proclaimed that Mysterio destroyed his "Dashing" looks as he now needed reconstructive surgery. After a brief hiatus, Rhodes returned a changed man in every way.
Cody's infatuation with his own vanity became his downfall, and re-emerged as a man obsessed with his deformities. He wore a clear protective mask that was both creepy and compelling. He now brooded to the ring, wearing a hood to shield his face from the crowd. He did his promos in and out of the ring shrouded in darkness so the public could not get a clear glimpse of his blemishes. His in-ring style became more methodical even making a point to add a snap to his punches to the face of his opponents, with the unspoken psychology that he would disfigure them much like he was. He added headbutts to his arsenal to sell the mask as a weapon of advantage. UnDashing Cody Rhodes became a fully realized comic-book super-villain, speaking in parables about the ugliness of human nature, complete with distributing paper bags to the crowd so they could hide their ugliness from him.
When I used to write for 411 then, I literally begged for the WWE to pull the trigger on a Cody Rhodes/CM Punk feud because it would have become a graphic novel come to life as the two most fully realized characters at the time would have clashed. Alas, it never happened but Rhodes was given a gift as he walked away from WrestleMania XXVII with a win over Mysterio and wound up winning the feud. Cody's gifts at the time in the ring and on the mic were becoming undeniable, and if CM Punk and the Summer of Punk II did not exist, 2011 just may have been the year that Rhodes broke out. But he had unfinished business.
Rhodes defeated Ezekiel Jackson that same summer to win his first singles title: the Intercontinental Championship and immediately butted heads with his former stablemates, Ted DiBiase Jr. and of course Randy Orton. As Rhodes would successfully defend his title to all comers, (and handily winning his feud with DiBiase to show exactly where in the pecking order the two were at the time) he would also constantly cross paths with The Viper and engage in heated, wild brawls. It is not very often the WWE allows a performer to be involved with multiple storylines at once, but they must have been confident in Rhodes' ability to tell the story of a man obsessed with both keeping his title and gaining a measure of revenge on the one performer who would never leave him in peace. The culmination of the next chapter in the Rhodes/Orton feud was the catalyst for the next shift in Cody Rhodes' growth as a performer. Rhodes debuted the new "classic" white Intercontinental title that we all see today but that aesthetic victory was short lived as a match with Randy Orton ended with a bell-shot, a busted face and nine-staples. Randy Orton ended the next chapter of this rivalry with Rhodes, defeating him in a very good streetfight at Vengeance 2011 and breaking Cody's mask.
Near the end of 2011, Rhodes re-emerged sans mask, declaring that Orton's viciousness "set him free". Once again Rhodes put in a solid performance at the 2011 Survivor Series and was one of the sole survivors for his team with Wade Barrett. It was another moment where it seemed as if Rhodes (and Barrett) were being primed for greatness, as he defeated Booker T for his Intercontinental title to finish the year. The 2012 Royal Rumble saw Cody emerge as the iron man, lasting 40 minutes and eliminated the most wrestlers (6) before being eliminated by his next major singles rival, The Big Show. Cody Rhodes was no longer the rookie, by this time he was considered one of the most dependable performers in the WWE. He had not even reached his 27th birthday, yet.
Rhodes' feud with The Big Show over the Intercontinental title was more about The Big Show than Rhodes, as the largest athlete in the world was continually teased by the champion for always coming up short and being involved in some of the more embarrassing moments at WrestleMania. Rhodes lasted a whopping 236 days as Intercontinental Champion before losing the title to The Big Show at WrestleMania XXVIII. He quickly regained the title back four weeks later at Extreme Rules 2012 (still my favorite PPV of the new decade) and was involved in perhaps the most underrated moment of the event.
After Big Show lost the title in a Tables Match where a Rhodes' hit a dropkick at Show's leg that nudged him enough for the big man to step on a table at ringside and break it, he attacked Rhodes. Big Show brought the hurt to Rhodes, chokeslamming the new champ through a table set up in the ring, and then LAUNCHING Rhodes into a table at ringside in one of the more inspired bumps of the PG Era. A funny thing happened, though. Eerily reminiscent of a super-resilient babyface, the WWE kept the focus on Rhodes for minutes after the match as the Chicago crowd erupted in a "CODY!" chant. Rhodes would end his night up standing on his own power, refusing help from officials as he raised his newly won title to the cheers of the crowd. Once again, Rhodes was tested this time through how much punishment he could endure, and again Rhodes showcased that he could bring the goods and have the crowd on his side. And again I thought this was the starting point of a rocket being strapped to Dusty's boy.
And again that momentum was squandered. Rhodes lost the Intercontinental title to a returning Christian and found himself floundering in a short-lived feud with Sin Cara even though Rhodes once again showed he was perhaps the only performer evolving as that rivalry was based on Rhodes' obsession with unmasking Cara. Why? Because he was "ugly" and he wanted nothing more than to expose the luchador. Continuity! Rhodes was seemingly the only one who had the freedom to show it.
Rhodes' next phase started out innocently enough as he formed a bond with Damien Sandow. The two named themselves the Rhodes Scholars and began running through the competition, ultimately meeting the champs at the time, Team Hell No. When Rhodes and Bryan were in the ring together, we were shown more glimpses of a future main event program and once again Rhodes proved he could hang with anyone in the ring regardless of their style. The two complimented each other so well that I've been awaiting a Rhodes/Bryan 30 minute mat classic because I know they both have it in them to deliver. Rhodes went out with a concussion and returned sporting another new look.
The mustache. Ah, yes who else could get a MUSTACHE chant in professional wrestling? Rhodes had shown he could make drastic changes in his persona and make it work now he was exploring quieter nuances and still gaining crowd reactions from it. The Rhodes Scholars were becoming fan favorites in spite of their heelish nature and like most good to great teams in the modern WWE, had to be broken up abruptly, leading to an on-again, off-again alliance that ended when Sandow turned on his "best friend" to win the 2013 Money in the Bank briefcase. I had expected one of the two to win and in hindsight I am happy that it was Sandow because he still has never recovered from winning the briefcase and being the first to cash in and lose decisively.
Instead, Rhodes found himself embroiled in the most emotional storyline of 2013. After having some harsh words for the Authority, Cody was forced to compete in a match and put his job on the line against yep Randy Orton, which he lost. Cody showed more flashes of greatness and cut a brief but memorable promo diverting his frustrations on the McMahon family.
His brother, an unemployed Goldust entered the storyline and wrestled in a series of matches to try and gain his and his sibling's employment. After failed attempts, and a knockout punch to Dusty Rhodes from The Big Show after pleading to help get his sons back in the WWE, Cody and Goldust took matters into their own hands when they crashed an episode of Raw and attacked The Shield.
Battleground 2013 saw the culmination of this story as the Rhodes Brothers defeated The Shield to a raucous ovation to win their jobs back. In what was easily one of the best matches of 2013, The Brotherhood was the center of a truly cathartic moment for fans and tempered through Cody's newfound fire and Goldust's rejuvenated career (CODE RED!), the duo added another layer to connect with Cody and his family. The Brotherhood would go on to win the WWE Tag Team titles and have a brief, but successful run with the belts, and was usually involved in the best match of the nights they competed in.
And now we find ourselves in the present: after a series of events where Cody grew frustrated with himself for losing matches with his brother, and after failed attempts to find a suitable replacement for Goldust, StarDust has emerged. Once again, Rhodes has taken a bizarre character one that probably should not work and absolutely owns it. StarDust moves completely different from any incarnation of Cody Rhodes we have witnessed. His in ring style is littered with more showmanship (curtsies and sneers) than ever before. He slithers in the ring like a man possessed, unlike any variation of the Cody Rhodes persona. From his weirded-out red eyes to his even more wacked-out promos searching for the "Cosmic Key" that makes Bray Wyatt scratch his head, to his half-star gloves and random blowing of golden stars from them, Cody has once again proven that he can literally take anything he is given and run with it to the end zone. Now that he and his brother have turned to the dark side with intents to gun for The Uso's tag-team gold, it feels like a now-or-never moment for Cody to find his footing.
Is StarDust a World Champion character? Probably not, but that does not mean the man behind the makeup is not, as he has shown time and again that Rhodes is up for anything and is ready for anything. And he is still only 29 years old. The only things I want Cody to do before he is put in the spotlight I feel he deserves is to finally best his main rival, Randy Orton in a main event one on one program and to form a two man power trip with Dean Ambrose called "AmbRhrodes" and dominate the tag team scene before the two implode and have a star-making rivalry for both of them.
There used to be a tradition in professional wrestling where promotions would build their talent slowly having them start from literally jobber status and would methodically work their way up the card. This was a sure fire way for the performer to not only find their footing in the ring and have ample time to gravitate to a personality that fits, but also for the fans to gain a level of trust and emotional connection. Rhodes perfectly encompasses a talent who is taking the "slow burn" path to a World Title, winning lower-level feuds, tag-team and second-tier titles and briefly rubbing elbows with main eventers. This was the way Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Edge took, nudging them closer and closer to main event status without overpushing them and putting that talent in a position to fail simply because they are not ready to succeed. Since making his debut in 2007, Cody Rhodes has taken his natural abilities and expanded them at a greater clip than most superstars, proving he can mesh his style with any opponent, work as a face and a heel naturally and evolve his persona believably over the years. Since adopting the "Dashing" gimmick, Rhodes has not looked back, and has been the constant, consistent performer that gives his all every night and has shown that even in moments where he can be met with apathy from the crowd, can quickly win them back. Even though my unadulterated man-crush has not dissipated, I understand realism and that realism is that Rhodes will probably not touch World Championship gold for at least another two years unless something drastic happens with some of WWE's top tier performers. But I am certain it is going to happen, and because of the (rare) patient road WWE has taken with him, I believe it is going to pay off in spades when Cody finally (FINALLY) has his moment in the sun.
Len Archibald is the former Executive Director of the Northwest Ohio Independent Film Festival, and is a current movie reviewer for WLIO in Lima, Ohio.