Cody Rhodes to WWE: A return written in the Stardust

In news that sent reverberations around the wrestling world, All Elite Wrestling last week announced the departure of one of its founders, Cody Rhodes. With a homecoming to WWE the touted path, Struan Garvie reflects on the star’s career and how he ended up at this crossroads.

Cody Rhodes is set for a stunning return to WWE. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On July 16th, 2007, a young wrestler by the name of Cody Rhodes made his World Wrestling Entertainment debut in a match against Randy Orton on Monday Night Raw. Although Cody was relatively unknown to fans, his last name certainly was not. Cody is the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes, one of the most famous professional wrestlers in the history of the sport. 

Being a second-generation wrestler, it was clear that Cody had a great role model to look up to at the beginning of his career. Unfortunately, Dusty passed away in 2015. Cody’s older brother Dustin Rhodes (Goldust) is also a professional wrestler and was part of the WWE’s attitude era during the last 90s. Over the years, Cody has both teamed up with and fought against Dustin on several occasions. The two have also held tag-team championship gold together in WWE.

Cody’s time with the WWE lasted from 2007 to 2016. During this time, he held several titles, took on many different gimmicks, and had some high-profile feuds with the likes of the aforementioned Orton, Rey Mysterio, and Big Show. It was clear that Cody was very talented inside the ring and had all the tools to become one of the top stars in the company. 

In 2014, Cody adopted the persona of Stardust. At first, the gimmick seemed like a bit of fun for fans and a modern-day Goldust. After a while though, it became clear that the gimmick was not appreciated by the fans or Cody. In 2015, The Wrestling Observer Newsletter named Stardust as the worst gimmick of the year in professional wrestling.  

Despite asking the WWE writers for a gimmick change, Cody was not granted his request and thus Stardust continued to haunt fans’ screens for almost two years. After growing frustrated with the creative department and his position in the company, Cody asked for his release from the WWE which was granted in May 2016. 

Rhodes grew tired of his Stardust character, prompting him to seek his release. (Photo Credit – WWE)

Upon his release from the WWE, Cody would go into the independent scene to hone his craft and prove to the world what he could do. Cody competed for promotions such as Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and Impact Wrestling picking up multiple championships in the process. It quickly became clear that Cody was becoming a major star in professional wrestling and was named Sports Illustrated’s Wrestler of the Year for 2018. 

On January 1st 2019, a new wrestling promotion called All Elite Wrestling (AEW) was founded. Cody, along with Kenny Omega, Matt, and Nick Jackson announced that they would serve as Executive Vice Presidents of the new company. This was one of the biggest events to have occurred in professional wrestling for years. It has been argued that AEW is the biggest competitor the WWE has faced since World Championship Wrestling (WCW) in the late 90s. 

Although the WWE is seen as the flagship of professional wrestling, many stars have chosen to jump ship and sail to AEW for better opportunities. In recent years, the likes of Dean Ambrose (Jon Moxley), Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson), Big Show (Paul Wight), Chris Jericho, and Cody’s brother Dustin have all left the WWE to join AEW. 

Perhaps the most significant acquisition by AEW was the signing of CM Punk in 2021. Punk, one of the most popular stars of professional wrestling, left WWE in 2014 and although it appeared as though he would never wrestle again, AEW were able to convince him to return to the squared circle. Many have cited Punk’s return in 2021 as one of the greatest moments in the history of the sport. 

It is clear that AEW can attract the top stars of professional wrestling and are currently providing some excellent competition to the WWE. Despite this, however, Cody announced that he had left AEW on February 15th, 2022. 

Immediately, speculation began as to where Cody would go next and currently, it appears that all roads lead back to the WWE. Upon leaving WWE in 2016, Cody aimed to prove to the world how talented he was and that he was capable of being a world champion. It is safe to say he has achieved this over the past six years and has now become one of the world’s most recognisable wrestlers. 

Cody is a record three-time holder of AEW’s TNT Championship. (Photo Credit – AEW)

A few parallels can be drawn between Cody, Bobby Lashley, and Drew McIntyre. Both Lashley and McIntyre had spells with the WWE during the mid-2000s and the potential was there for everyone to see. However, like Cody, neither Lashley nor McIntyre was able to ascend to the top of the WWE and left to seek opportunities elsewhere. 

Both Lashley and McIntyre went to the independent scene and proved to the world how talented they were. Since returning to the WWE – Lashley in 2018 and McIntyre in 2017, both stars have won the WWE Championship, with McIntyre also picking up a Royal Rumble victory which allowed him to feature in the main event of Wrestlemania – an achievement that many see as the pinnacle of professional wrestling. 

At the moment, it seems most likely that Cody will return to the WWE. As Wrestlemania 38 fast approaches, many fans of the WWE are beginning to speculate whether Cody will be at the event and with whom he may feud. All of a sudden, several dream matches involving Cody could become a reality. 

Whether Cody returns to the WWE or perhaps performs a U-turn and stays at AEW, he has proven to the world he is a top star and that any professional wrestling company would be lucky to have him. Cody took a huge chance in 2016 by leaving the WWE but it has certainly paid off. The path he’s taken may well be followed in the future by other WWE stars who feel undervalued.

Still only 36 years old, Cody could still have a long and prosperous career ahead of him with multiple championships on the horizon. 

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