What kind of a world is this where Cody Rhodes gets more press than Stone Cold Steve Austin? Amid rumors of Austin’s expected return at WrestleMania, Cody Rhodes’ exit from All Elite Wrestling has dominated the news cycle. It’s a shocking development that could favor WWE just in time for WrestleMania.
I waited until after last Wednesday’s AEW Dynamite in case Cody’s departure was a work. There was no mention of Cody save for a brief nod to Cody’s chain match with Brodie Lee on commentary. Sports Illustrated reported that Cody could start with WWE soon.
Over the past year, many of the high-profile talents released by WWE have signed with AEW. This has created a narrative of AEW, good. WWE, bad. While it’s been fun to see AEW bolster their ranks, the tide was eventually going to turn the other way.
No one thought it would be one of AEW’s founders and an executive vice president of the promotion. It’s even more shocking since Cody started the trend of wrestlers asking for their release when he departed WWE in 2016, citing frustration over creative underutilization.
Here is a snippet of Cody’s lengthy personal statement from 2016.
“For a decade I tried to convince both Vince and Hunter that I could be their star player, but it seems we have reached the point where neither saw that in me. I sincerely appreciate Hunter’s unflinching respect for my father, and how he has acted as a custodian of history in honoring him since his passing.
One of the last discussions we had included him telling me that ‘WWE is a play, and everybody has their role and needs to act it their best.’ All I can think of to say is that is, ‘The best actors don’t want the lesser roles.'” And concluded with, “As far as the future is concerned, though, I’m a wrestler. So that’s what I’ll do…wrestle.”
Many of the wrestlers who left or were released by WWE since Cody’s exit have echoed similar sentiments. Cody leaving AEW is a head-scratcher, and his return to WWE is even a bigger head-scratcher. So, why is this happening?
It all started when Tony Kahn took over.
Reportedly, Tony Kahn took away booking power from all of the EVP’s The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, and Cody Rhodes, and became the sole booker at the beginning of 2020. The EVP’s still had a voice, but it waned as time went on.
Cody, who fancies himself as a creative in the same vein as his father, wanted to remain a booker and wanted a considerable increase of his rumored 2 million dollar contract if he couldn’t have creative control. Tony Kahn wouldn’t meet the price tag citing “We’re sticking to a budget,” and Cody and his wife Brandi Rhodes are gone.
Despite not having booking power, he was still an influential figure backstage who helmed several community outreach projects, a reality show on TNT, and a game show on TBS. Coupled with his salary, he had a job for life, but now he’s leaving the revolution he started to return to the dictatorship where he began.
Again, it’s all highly shocking, which is why many believed it was all a work. However, history reveals that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Cody’s father, Dusty Rhodes, was considered a genius booker (Dusty finish anyone?) for the NWA/Jim Crockett Promotions, WWE’s main competition in the ’80s.
In 1989, Ted Turner bought the promotion while Dusty and Ric Flair were in a backstage political battle to control the book. Without Flair, Turner wouldn’t buy the company, and Flair wouldn’t stay unless he head was the booker.
Dusty lost the book and stayed on as a talent for a few months before getting what some people say purposely fired for going against a Turner directive of drawing blood in an angle. Dusty eventually went to WWE with no creative control, no booking power, and was enshrined in polka dot infamy.
If WWE plans on or has already signed Cody Rhodes, odds are they didn’t just match his 2 million contract from AEW but exceeded it. While history tells us that Cody will have no booking power in WWE, a big pay increase would quell Rhodes’ desire for creative control.
Why would Cody go back to WWE if his grievances are still present? Cody is a star now while helping shape and change the business. Vince made this a wrestling war when he put NXT head to head with AEW. NXT lost, and Vince is all for the optics of an AEW founder not just joining signing with WWE but coming back to WWE.
There is a lot of talk about Cody getting a big push from the jump in WWE not only because it’s the smart thing to do, but it’s a must if he’s getting paid millions of dollars. The logic in that is sound; however, it depends on how Vince McMahon sees Cody Rhodes in 2022.
Remember, Vince McMahon always favors his creations over those made elsewhere. Does he see Cody Rhodes as the same dashing stardust he was in 2016 or the star he is today? If Vince sees him as a star, does he book Cody as a big-time player who can add to the show? Or does Vince book him to show the world that AEW can’t compete in WWE?
Looking at the other side of things, does Cody not care how he’s used as long as the money’s good, or is his ego into the CodyVerse not seeing the forest thru the trees? Hopefully, both sides can put aside their egos and do what’s right for business. While Cody probably signed an NDA as an EVP of AEW, he’s a resource that can help WWE attract younger viewers, which is something they need a lot of help with.
However, is Cody a booking genius?
For all the good things Cody did in AEW, there were also a lot of cringe-inducing horrors. Being a good booker with other people’s storylines doesn’t mean you can book yourself well. AEW’s booking has improved since Tony Kahn took the reins as the fans utterly turned on Cody. Some would say Tony Kahn was wise not to conceede to Cody’s demands.
I’ll bet the farm that someone in WWE has come to this conclusion. If so, why pay Cody more if he’s not as over as presumed. This could mean WWE is paying for the optics that come with signing Cody Rhodes instead of the wrestler and his talent.
Despite the Steve Austin rumors, Elimination Chamber, Hard to Kill, and Lashley’s injury, Cody Rhodes is still the talk of the wrestling business one week later. Without a non-compete clause, he could show up in WWE at any time. If Cody signs, the smart play is to book him in a feature match at WrestleMania.
Between the celebrity involvement, the title for title main event, and Austin, WWE is looking to make this year’s “Showcase of the Immortals” one of the biggest of all time. Adding Cody Rhodes to the mix makes that endeavor closer to reality.