Cody Rhodes says wrestling needs to forget about the Attitude Era: “The product cannot be centered in nostalgia.”
Do not confuse “Double or Nothing” with redemption.
Cody Rhodes’s career needs no redeeming. Following his unexpected departure from the WWE in 2016, Rhodes immersed himself in grassroots wrestling, starting in the independent scene. In the midst of that journey, he even found an identity true to his core.
A product of the WWE system, Rhodes honed his skills under the tutelage of a rare combination of wrestling genius that included Vince McMahon, The Undertaker, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, and Shawn Michaels.
“I am grateful for my last 10 years,” said Rhodes. “Memories. Friends. Marriage. And I got to learn from some of their best when they were still in their prime.”
But no matter what he accomplished, he was always Dusty’s kid. And there are few words ever spoken that brought him more joy.
Dusty’s baby boy is now known for an entirely different reason. Cody Rhodes is an entrepreneur and a renegade.
With WWE in his rear view mirror, Rhodes is a driving force behind the creation of All Elite Wrestling. This Saturday night at Double or Nothing, Rhodes plans to take the next step toward revolutionizing professional wrestling—not by starting a war, but rather by providing an opportunity.
In mere hours, AEW ceases to be a fantasy and becomes reality. Rhodes, an AEW Executive Vice President, also wrestles his brother Dustin Rhodes—future WWE Hall of Famer Goldust—on the card. This won’t be the main event. Spot on the card is irrelevant for this battle. Rhodes is eager to spark a flame that burns throughout the entire industry.
“I’ve prepared for this like it’s the biggest night of my life,” said Rhodes. “Not biggest match. Not biggest event. I put my name on this, I said ‘Revolution.’ Wrestling needs this. I have to deliver.”
Despite warnings to the contrary, the professional wrestling business is inherently personal.
Rhodes eagerly carried his family’s legacy squarely on his broad shoulders. Far more pleasure than pain, Cody swelled with pride that he could use Rhodes as his last name during his time in WWE (the name “Cody Rhodes” is intellectual property owned by WWE, which is why Rhodes is known now solely as Cody). A combination of his size, athleticism, and willingness to work made him a top-tier WWE prospect.
So imagine the ignominy when Rhodes was told by WWE’s controlling bodies that he was good but not great. Telling a Rhodes that he didn’t quite have the goods? Words like that lead to hard times and serious consequences.
“I was arrogant,” admitted Rhodes, who became motivated instead of bitter. “I needed to be humbled. I hold no grudges against that situation.”
McMahon and Levesque did not see Rhodes as the caliber of star able to capture the attention of the masses. So Rhodes decided to leave.
“Two people didn’t see me in the main event, I can’t be angry about that,” said Rhodes. “Saturday in the MGM Grand, there will be more than two people watching.”
Thanks to a rare blend of psychology, instinct, and presence, Rhodes helped put together the match of the night against Nick Aldis at “All In”. This Saturday is different; All In was a showcase, but Double or Nothing is a statement.
“All In was a hit song,” added Rhodes. “And I want another hit.”
Dustin Rhodes received his father’s talent, but Cody was blessed with his mother’s work ethic. Just this week, the “American Nightmare” was back training at the One Fall Power Factory in Norcross, Georgia. He is prepared, field-tested, and continually pushing himself creatively and physically.
“My brother is timeless,” said Rhodes. “His work is so fluid and special. There’s a lot buried inside that exists between Dustin and I. We love each other, but genuinely don’t like each other. This fight is necessary. I need to know where I stand. Maybe I’m a slower learner, but I won’t be outworked.”
There is a tremendous amount of goodwill for All Elite Wrestling, yet there are also those who quietly wish for the company to become a spectacular failure. Rhodes has already heard all of the theories: poor buy-rates, weak ratings, and the looming specter of WWE. But he refuses to allow doubt to cripple his ability.
“I handle the doubt through self-awareness,” explained Rhodes. “That’s a big issue in wrestling. You cannot be in a bubble and you can’t be a mark just for the hand that feeds you. I’ve learned you have to explore the space and genre of this sport.
“We want to be an alternative product. Criticism and toxicity are two very different things. Social media is a wonderful tool and way to engage fans, but I’ve learned to not be swayed by its toxicity.”
Throughout the build to Double or Nothing, Rhodes has been adamant that he needs to beat his brother Dustin and conquer the remnants of WWE’s famed “Attitude Era.” That era, he noted, needs to become a permanent relic.
“The ‘Attitude Era’ is the most profitable era in this sport’s history,” said Rhodes. “It’s an amazing period, something to really learn from and study. But it’s over. It is not coming back, it’s that simple. The product cannot be centered in nostalgia.
“It can have nostalgia, but it cannot take precedent and it can never overshadow a rising male or female star breaking out on television or in front of the crowd for the first time. This show has a new cast.”
All Elite Wrestling presents its new cast this Saturday. The past, present, and future of professional wrestling will be on display. With it comes a new era in professional wrestling.
“The next era?” asked Rhodes. “On May 26th, you tell me the answer to that question.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.