Since leaving WWE, Cody Rhodes has been revolutionizing the business of pro wrestling in ways never before seen. By the end of 2016, Rhodes will have worked for WWE, TNA, and Ring of Honor. Since leaving WWE, Rhodes has also made an immediate presence on the independent scene, including working the vaunted PWG BOLA this past summer. He also added to his resume by acting on the television show Arrow. In his own words, Rhodes now shares who he is, where he is going, and the love he holds for his father, the legendary Dusty Rhodes.
Growing Up Dusty’s Son
Who is Cody Rhodes?
The person who last asked me that was Vince McMahon, and I stuttered. I was furious with myself for not having a quick response. However, I know now.
Cody Rhodes is someone with vindication on his mind.
I didn’t leave WWE to prove them wrong, but it sure as hell feels good when I do. I am seeking vindication. For what, you ask? Maybe I felt Stardust was beneath me. It may be because my dad, and now my brother, deserved better. There is more than one reason, but the end result is that I am seeking vindication and I’m playing to win.
I’ve had my share of bulls--- this year. I am not fully complete as a pro wrestler, and there is a lot for me left to learn, but the only way to learn is to go places in wrestling that no one has gone. I want to cross barriers and run at this like as if wrestling were the territories in the 1970s and 80s—that’s what I am trying to do. People kept telling me it can’t be done, that the business has changed, and I’m sure there were other reasons. But I just stopped listening and started believing.
Anything can be done, particularly in pro wrestling. There is an element of our business that is financial. I have to thank WWE for providing me with money and equity, but that does not change a thing regarding my plans and dreams. For a time, I had given up on my dream, but the instant I walked away from WWE was the moment I realized I was foolish to think that way.
My father waxed poetic on hard times. I’ve tasted them, and I kept that taste in my mouth.
Yes, I am my father’s son.
I’m one of four children, along with Dustin, Kristin, and Teil. The truth is, I am more my mother. I have so much Michelle Runnels in me, and the other siblings are so much more like Dusty, so maybe that is why he tried so hard with me.
My father was like a human cup of coffee. I can close my eyes and picture him behind the wheel, driving my sister and I to school. There would be a country song playing—like “The River” by Garth Brooks—and he would explain why that was significant and give us these motivational bits. Every day, when it came to my father, I saw what the people felt.
Dusty was a cowboy who lived life on the edge and protected his family, and he made it all look easy.
Right before he passed away, my mom called and I made it to the hospital. Unfortunately, as an operating room nurse, my mom knew the severity. Doctors weren’t kicking her out of the room—she knew. She understood the codes and knew the situation. My father was still cognizant and speaking, and he needed to sit up. He was in a ton of pain because of what was going on inside his body internally, and Dustin and I pulled him up together and spoke to him. I gave him a hug goodbye.
He had a very high pain tolerance. That is why he did his job for so long and never took pain medication. What other people would think of as an injury? That’s what he thought of as everyday life.
The last thing he asked for was my mom. Then he went to sleep forever.
I was there the entire time. Watching my light fade was the worst twenty hours of my life.
That is a scene I never really left. I have tried, and I do not want to stay in the past, but I still feel I am very much in that hospital room.
When I lost him, I asked myself, “Who am I?”
He really took to what I was doing in life. I really took a different route than he did. My dad was a journeyman. He had huge goals and he was not a ‘yes’ man. He would rather run his own company than work for yours, but that is not my story.
I was a product of WWE, born and bred from my dad’s No. 1 competitor in the 1980s. I was, specifically, theirs. I was the Rhodes who had black hair instead of the bleached blonde. I was the Rhodes with some abs on my tummy. I tried to do everything different, because there was no way I could be Dusty. I would only be a cheap imitation, so I tried to do everything differently—and he was a big fan of that.
He would get more frustrated about my situation in WWE than me. A couple of the higher-ups said I shouldn’t only speak to my father about my issues and concerns, and they were right. He was not an objective sounding board, he was my father. That is one of the reasons I stayed for 10 years in WWE. Ten consistent years. Not on and off. No trouble, no failed drug test, none of that. I was a company guy, and my father liked that.
The two WrestleManias I had singles matches? You would have thought it was a high school football game in Texas and I was the quarterback. My father had this beaming pride. He walked into my rehearsal—WrestleMania is the only time you ever have rehearsal in WWE—just to let his presence be known. During the WrestleMania 28 rehearsal, I was in the ring with Big Show and Mike Rotunda—and, actually, The Rock and John Cena were in the ring, too—and he was so proud of me. That is all I ever wanted.
Dusty was The King, but the kingdom is still there.
Leaving WWE was a decision I had to make. When you have problems in your personal life, you do not need them in your business life. Contrary to reports, when my father passed, I did not want to return on-screen as Cody Rhodes and rally behind the Rhodes flag. That would have been cheap, too easy, and would not have lasted. I also did not want to be Stardust, either. The fans, to this day, chant ‘Dusty!’ I just did a show for House of Glory in New York, and they were chanting ‘Dusty!’ I did another show for Smash Wrestling in Toronto, and the people were calling out my father’s name throughout my match. The fans are in on it—they are mourning, as well.
So there was a big disconnect with Stardust, no matter how hard I tried. There was a big part of me that liked Stardust. My dad hated the concept, because he didn’t want me to cover my face. He’d always say, “If I was in charge, I’d never cover your face.” But it was the first time I’d ever been lied to by WWE in terms of what I could do to better my stock.
The character had run out of time and it was time to change. That is not WWE’s fault. I take the blame as a performer. However, I knew what I had done years prior, and I knew I was losing the fans in terms of their memory of that. Wrestling is about “What have you done for me lately?” and I hadn’t done anything of significance since SummerSlam with Stardust versus Arrow in 2015. When WWE told me I was going to be Cody Rhodes again, I was very ready. That’s why, as soon I hit the indies, I already had my gear. I was long prepared for it because that was something we were supposed to do in WWE, but they didn’t see it.
I did a Raw taping in Greensboro, North Carolina, dressing in the same locker room that Ric Flair did before the 1983 Starrcade, and here I am, playing lesser than myself. That’s not for me. I knew I was playing down, and I was tired of that. At that point, there was no amount of money in the world that could have forced me to paint my face one more time.
Dusty lives on inside me. I saw this picture taken from one of the recent TNA tapings, and my face looked like my dad’s. Maybe it’s the tattoo on my chest, maybe it is the emotion or the overall support, but I’m seeing a lot of my dad in myself, which I never really did. But my job is still, even in his death, to portray another Rhodes. I cannot, and refuse to, do a Dusty tribute for the rest of my career.
I’m now my own boss and my own promoter. That’s where my father was a master—the promotional element of pro wrestling. He was a great performer, but he was a mastermind promoter—the second best of all time, but to me, the greatest. Vince ended up winning that war. WWE is still around and Jim Crockett Promotions is not. So this is me pretending to be Dusty a little.
I am incredibly grateful. Each crowd I work on the independents is bigger than the last one. I have more fan support after leaving WWE than I did working for the largest wrestling company in the world.
I’ll be at Final Battle in December for Ring of Honor, which is something I never thought I would be able to do. I am going to attempt to hit every major show in wrestling, and these opportunities are filling me with so much energy. If you’re looking to come along for the ride, there is still plenty of room to jump on board.
We are the one sport—and I know it is sports entertainment—entirely based on the fans. That is why I always prefer what we do over mixed martial arts. Wrestling is the opportunity to always live up to the hype when you have the best performers, and Dusty was one of the best.
Dusty talks about John Wayne in “Hard Times,” and he and John Wayne passed away on the same day. Dusty is out there somewhere. I feel him at every show, and I miss him—for myself, my family, the fans, and everyone in wrestling he fathered.
In the end, I’m not honoring him, I am honoring the fans. Dusty gave everything to the fans. He wrestled to make the consumer feel good, and he gave everything he had. By the end, he had nothing left to give.
I lost my dad, but the people who love Dusty lost something, too. They lost a teacher—WWE has yet to fill his place in NXT. The next generation is missing a guy who loved to teach, and the people who love this business lost a Mount Rushmore of pro wrestling. But every time I step in the ring, that’s me saying everything is going to be OK.
I still believe in my dream, the dream to reach that golden circle in pro wrestling. Not only do I believe in my dream, I believe in the American Dream.