As I’m writing this, the date is March 29th, 2023. That makes today one year since WrestlePurists released my feature, ‘Cody Rhodes – A Seismic Shift In The Wrestling Landscape’, an article in which relived the career of the ‘American Nightmare’ up until that point, highlighted how integral he was in shaping the pro-wrestling world we see today, and finally discussed his expected arrival in WWE. Just four days later, Rhodes was indeed revealed as Seth Rollins’ mystery opponent during Night 1 of WrestleMania 38, with the former AEW EVP maintaining the look and presentation fans had become familiar with during his time away from the company. The WWE Universe welcomed the returning star with a thunderous ovation as soon as Downstait’s ‘Kingdom’ hit, and that match itself only increased the audience’s appetite to see what this new iteration of Cody Rhodes could bring to the company.
During the post-WrestleMania edition of Raw, Cody made his motivation for returning to WWE clear. Rhodes intended to capture the WWE Championship, a title that eluded his father Dusty Rhodes despite a Hall of Fame-worthy career. Almost immediately, Cody was presented as the company’s franchise player. A ‘Countdown to Cody’ would be shown throughout episodes of Raw, building anticipation towards his each and every appearance. Rhodes also repeatedly gestured putting a belt around his waist, further hammering home what his focus was moving forward.
Rhodes wouldn’t be able to make a claim for WWE’s top prize right away however, as despite being soundly defeated at WrestleMania 38, Seth Rollins cited not knowing his opponent’s identity as the reason behind the result, and thus challenged Cody to a rematch at WrestleMania Backlash in order to get his win back. The match itself managed to surpass their initial encounter, with the pair clearly having the chemistry necessary to produce high-quality in-ring outings, although the result on the night was ultimately the same. Rhodes once again emerged victorious, seemingly putting an end to the rivalry between the two, although it would soon become apparent that this wasn’t to be the case.
Whilst one would anticipate both men moving on to their next feud following two decisive victories for Cody, Rollins was unable to accept defeat, and therefore sought a third and final meeting with the WWE’s latest major acquisition. Rhodes, however, intended on finally pushing forward with his plan to cement his legacy and capture the title his father was enable to, and so Rollins was aware he had to make the feud increasingly personal in order to get what he wanted. Following several wars of words and brawls between the two men, Rhodes issued an ultimatum to Rollins, stating that “If Seth Rollins intends on denying me said second chance, buddy, you’re gonna have to kill me. And I’m gonna give you the chance.” And so, it was set. Rhodes vs. Rollins 3, Hell in a Cell. A structure originally known for being the go-to for ending a rivalry of this nature, this match felt like truly worthy of the stipulation, with both men looking to put an end to the other once and for all.
Rollins’ intentions were undeniably to put Rhodes out of action in this one, but that was almost achieved before a bell was even rung, as Rhodes reportedly suffered a legitimate pectoral muscle tear that had eventuated during a brawl on the prior episode of Raw. This was only further exacerbated when Rhodes tore the muscle entirely off the bone during weight training, plunging the planned main event of the Hell in a Cell premium live event into doubt. Based on the extent of the injury, no fan could’ve possibly complained had the company decided to cancel the bout at the last minute, however, Cody Rhodes wasn’t intending on pulling out, and thus he somehow soldiered on with the match. When Rhodes eventually removed his jacket ahead of the match, he revealed a massive spot of discoloured skin in what was truly a sight to behold. The bell rang, and against the insurmountable odds stacked against them, the pair delivered yet another stellar performance. Rollins continuously targeted the purple-coloured pectoral area of Rhodes, prompting both Cody and the onlooking WWE Universe to cringe in agony. This match provided the brutality that previous instalments of the Hell in a Cell stipulation had lacked, with Rollins playing his role to perfection whilst Rhodes used every fibre of his being to keep fighting.
Following a classic ‘Super Cena’ level of perseverance, Rhodes defied the odds and claimed his third successive win over the former multi-time world champion, however despite obtaining yet another victory, what came next was unfortunately an inevitability. On the Raw following the event, Rollins interrupted Rhodes during a promo segment, although this time it was to make it clear that whilst he may not like Cody, he has to respect him after his hellacious performance at that past weekend. In typical Rollins fashion however, this was all a ruse, as he would go on to viciously attack Cody at the top of the entrance ramp, targeting his torn pectoral muscle in particular, thus writing Rhodes off television for the foreseeable future.
During Rhodes’ absence, the legendary status of one Roman Reigns would grow ever stronger. The Undisputed WWE Universal champion, flanked by his ‘Wise Man’ Paul Heyman, the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Champions The Usos, Solo Sikoa, and the now-former ‘Honorary Uce’ Sami Zayn have collectively reigned over the company’s weekly programming for the majority of the 2020s thus far, with WWE looking to build Reigns as an era-defining star akin to John Cena, The Rock, Hulk Hogan, and Bruna Sammartino before him. Many have tried to bring an end to the historic reign of the ‘Tribal Chief’ including Drew McIntyre in front of a boisterous UK crowd at Clash at the Castle, social media megastar Logan Paul at Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia, and even Sami Zayn, who finally came to his senses at the Royal Rumble and turned on The Bloodline, leading to his crushing defeat at Elimination Chamber.
Speaking of the Royal Rumble premium live event however, it would be in the lead up to this event that vignettes would begin to air hyping up the imminent return of one Cody Rhodes, who officially declared himself for that year’s men’s Royal Rumble match. Anticipation for Rhodes’ return built throughout the match, and when 29 other men had already entered, the WWE Universe was all too aware of who was set to make his entrance as number 30. The countdown finally ended, the familiar sound of ‘Kingdom’ hit, and the Alamodome erupted. The closing stretch of the match was electric, with the final two of Cody and Gunther offering a hard-hitting preview of a potential World Title main event between the pair for down the line. Predictably, Rhodes punched his ticket for the main event of WrestleMania 39, and thus barring a remarkable upset from Sami Zayn at Elimination Chamber, he was set to challenge Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.
After well over half a year away from the ring, Rhodes finally had the chance to finish his story. Sami Zayn’s unfathomable rise in popularity during his time as a member of The Bloodline initially caused some concern over the planned WrestleMania 39 main event, with many feeling as though Zayn besting his former stablemate would make for the more organic story, however through several promo segments and interactions between the pair, it became clear that Rhodes was just as, if not more popular than Zayn, although it’s also worth pointing out that keeping Rhodes away from the Montreal crowd at Elimination Chamber was likely wise, as the overwhelmingly pro-Sami audience would’ve likely took their chance and booed Rhodes out of the building. Ultimately, cooler heads prevailed, and so the main event of WWE’s biggest show of the year was set in stone.
Unfortunately for Cody, the build towards the match itself has left some to be desired, with the majority of the blame for this falling upon Reigns’ infrequent TV schedule. As of writing, Reigns and Cody have yet to get physical ahead of their momentous clash at Mania, although the pair have engaged in several intense promo battles, with both men showing out on separate occasions. Thankfully for Rhodes, the remaining members of The Bloodline have adequately filled the void left by Reigns during this somewhat lacklustre build, with Paul Heyman often sent out to do the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion’s bidding, whilst the previously undefeated Solo Sikoa recently provided the latest roadblock for Rhodes on his Road to WrestleMania. Rhodes has also managed to play a significant role in constructing the anticipated demise of The Bloodline as a whole, orchestrating Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens finally reuniting as the pair look to bring an end to The Usos’ reign as the Undisputed WWE Tag Team Champions.
Regardless of your thoughts on the build, it’s hard to argue that Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship feels anything less than WrestleMania main event worthy. The former has reigned over the promotion with an iron fist since returning in mid-2020, redefining his persona and cementing himself amongst WWE’s greatest of all time, whilst the latter is undeniably everything the company could possibly ask for in terms of the archetypal ‘Franchise Player’. Rhodes carries himself like a star across both WWE’s programming and in the media, leading to him feeling just as much like “The Guy” as names such as John Cena and Hulk Hogan of eras past, whilst also delivering unquestionable results inside the ring to back up his position.
With all that being said, WWE now have the opportunity to crown what could be their next superstar this weekend in Los Angeles, California. Reigns’ eventual successor was long a mystery that WWE themselves likely didn’t have the answer to. However, when Rhodes joined the company around this time last year, the answer couldn’t have grown more obvious. An era-defining WrestleMania main event is right around the corner, all that’s left for Cody to do now is finally put an end to the ‘Head of the Table’, and whilst that’s proven to be easier said than done for each and every challenger thus far, this time truly feels like the moment for WWE to pull the trigger.