2019 will be a pivotal year in Cody Rhodes’s wrestling career.
Wrestling’s most fascinating man is in the midst of doing what he does best: generating nonstop speculation.
Cody Rhodes, who challenges Jay Lethal this Friday night for the Ring of Honor world title on pay per view, did not have much time to rest at home this week after returning from a trip overseas to England, Scotland and Ireland. Even battling jet lag and a bruised knee, Rhodes continues to pique people’s interest each and every week and entice with visions of a potential new promotion in 2019 that would set the wrestling world aflame.
An active force on social media, Rhodes embraces the positivity and attacks the toxicity, but even he was taken aback—perplexed may be a more apt description—by the New York Post headline of a Jay Lethal interview earlier this week: “The man trying to save Ring of Honor from Cody Rhodes mess.”
The grandson of a plumber touched upon the allegation.
“The ‘mess’ I created was a 40 percent net gross increase for Ring of Honor that I feel had a great deal to do with the Bullet Club and their success this past year,” said Rhodes, who was breaking a sweat on his treadmill. “Sounds silly, but there are plenty of people at ROH, and I think Jay is one of them, that are afraid of their own success. They don’t want to leave the bubble. They think I’m genuinely insane for attempting to do the things I dream of.”
Seldom does anyone seize the moment quite like Rhodes has done in his post-WWE expedition. And he is only getting started.
Ever since the conclusion of the revolutionary All In show in September, the buzz traveling underground in wrestling has focused on the potential of a new promotion financed by Tony Khan and featuring Rhodes and the Young Bucks. Social media was abuzz when Rhodes, dapper as ever, sat in the owner’s box at a recent Jacksonville Jaguars game as a guest of the Khan family, who own the team.
Rhodes was asked to reveal his 2019 plans, which he declined, but he did address where to eventually learn what is in store over the next 12 months.
“Watch ‘Being The Elite’,” Rhodes recommended.
On the subject of “Being The Elite”, Rhodes connects with his fellow Elite brethren in the Bucks, Kenny Omega, Marty Scurll, and a host of others to deliver some of the best 15 minutes in pro wrestling, without even wrestling, every Monday.
“I’ve never had more fun in wrestling than this very moment,” said Rhodes, whose body of work over the past two years has flushed those days languishing in the WWE midcard out of his soul. “My favorite episode? Probably the ‘money shakes’ exorcism.”
In addition to a wildly compelling IWGP heavyweight title match this past summer against Kenny Omega, Rhodes’ year has included his current run as IWGP U.S. champion, as well as reigns with the NWA world’s heavyweight title and Ring of Honor’s six man tag titles. But championship titles do not singularly define Rhodes.
“I don’t know what defines me as a wrestler,” said Rhodes, who will work a match with Juice Robinson at New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4. “It would be rather pretentious to define myself this early in my career. What I pride myself on, however, is not taking ‘no’ for an answer. And for believing that wrestling can change. The world we live in can change. And it’s even more possible with teammates like I have in The Elite.”
Naturally, with wrestling running through Rhodes’ veins, gold around his waist still matters. And he plans to add to his collection this Friday at Final Battle.
“I’ve been around wrestling since I opened my eyes for the first time,” said Rhodes. “I know the difference between a title that matters and one that we have to pretend matters. The ROH title is validated by the soldiers who’ve carried it. It will be an honor to wear it a second time. And of course, I will break all the rules just as I have done the past two years. It’ll go everywhere.”
An interesting set of circumstances will occur if Rhodes defeats Lethal for the ROH belt. He has been working on a handshake agreement with ROH COO Joe Koff, but he claims that this Friday will mark an end to his time with the promotion, regardless of whether or not he wins the title—even if that means missing the upcoming Madison Square Garden show cohosted by ROH and New Japan this April.
“It would take a lot for me to be part of the Garden show,” said Rhodes. “I’ve had some special moments in the Garden. Survivor Series was a highlight of my career, my first Rumble, moonsaulting off the cage onto Cesaro.
“I have a massive amount of respect for Joe Koff and [GM] Greg Gilleland. My exclusivity with Ring of Honor ended a while back and they’ve maintained everything on a handshake deal. I think Greg is a revolutionary in how he allows talent to play with without overproducing.
“But I can’t imagine me being on that particular show. After two ‘supercards’ and breaking my back essentially against Kenny last year, it still can’t change the fact that people are in town for WWE.”
The beauty of pro wrestling is the middle ground between fact and fiction. A pro wrestler needs to keep the audience guessing, which is an area where legends like John Cena and Chris Jericho thrive. Rhodes is also on the threshold of greatness in that particular department.
So, for now, Rhodes is currently content leaving WrestleMania weekend to WrestleMania.
“ROH and NJPW sold that building out and that is massive and special and I love that they did it, but had they did it on another weekend, I’d be more likely to be featured on it,” said Rhodes. “After 10 years with WWE doing ’Mania weekend and two more with ROH, I am leaving that weekend for the boys and girls of the WWE.”
The only present certainty is that Rhodes will keep his audience guessing.
As a disciple of “Diamond” Dallas Page, who credits Dusty Rhodes for his success in wrestling, Cody is ready to make the next leap in wrestling. In what would be a poetic nod to his family history, Rhodes may even challenge Vince McMahon and WWE in the process. And just like his original list of dream matches that made waves throughout the industry upon his entering free agency in 2016, Rhodes has a new list of wrestlers he plans to face in 2019.
“I always have a list,” said Rhodes. “DDP makes you write your goals down.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.