“Meeting expectations is good. Exceeding expectations is better.”Ron Kaufman
One of the first thoughts I had when thinking about Cody Rhodes returning at the Royal Rumble, was that he was the front runner going into the match, and a number of other things as well. The other thoughts I had on the matter were that Cody Rhodes is really the perfect choice to be the man to dethrone Roman Reigns.
As I’ve discussed in multiple pieces in the past and on Wrestling Republic podcasts as well, the purpose of a long championship reign is to elevate the champion, the title and when the champion is defeated it should make or elevate the winner to the next level. Cody Rhodes wasn’t happy with the vision WWE had for him as a mid-card player and infamously did the unthinkable and quit WWE.
Cody Rhodes bet on himself, despite so many people questioning his decision to give up the guaranteed money of WWE to make significantly less money on the independent circuit. Cody Rhodes never spent any time on the indies before as he was signed at a very early age because of his last name. Both his father and brother had HOF level careers, and that was all WWE needed to justify the signing of Cody Rhodes.
Cody even recently said in an interview with Logan Paul that his mother was very worried about him when he quit WWE. The story of Cody’s excursion from WWE has been very well documented that he was angry and bitter at WWE for not seeing him as someone that could be their world champion and face of their company. He set out to prove WWE wrong and really that is the best revenge you can possibly achieve to not only prove them wrong but to get them to crawl back to you and say that you were right all along.
Cody had previously said he thought he burned his bridges with WWE especially after helping found a rival promotion in AEW and taking multiple shots at the company during his time away from the company. So, when Cody was having contractual issues with AEW and WWE came calling, he was not expecting much but as a smart businessman and due to his never-ending respect and gratitude he had for WWE for how they treated his father Dusty, in Cody’s words the “winter” of his life, he agreed to meet them.
As we all witnessed at last year’s WrestleMania, hell froze over, and the “prodigal son” returned home and completely unchanged from his indies and AEW run as WWE fully embraced the “American Nightmare” character. It is common knowledge WWE typically doesn’t like using characters created elsewhere and if they do, they always like to put their own spin on it, but they didn’t with the American Nightmare.
There was doubt amongst the fans that WWE would pull the rug out from Cody especially for the way he left the company and AEW, but they did none of those things as he is currently undefeated in WWE, and they treated his return from injury for the Rumble just like his mentor and current head of WWE creative was treated for the 2002 Rumble when he returned from injury and won the thing. They did the same type of promo packages leading up to the return that Hunter received.
As Cody Rhodes discussed the night after Mania last year, the reason for his return to WWE was because he and the Rhodes family have unfinished business in WWE. The WWE Championship, formerly the WWWF Championship when his father the legendary HOFamer, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes tried to win the championship and was denied due to a technicality. As Cody describes it despite his father being a multiple time NWA World Champion, the WWE Championship is the one that got away.
While Cody Rhodes was away from WWE, Roman Reigns, went from a member of the Shield to a completely other level performer as the Tribal Chief. Cody is a completely other level performer as well from his days as Stardust to the American Nightmare. Cody was away while Roman rose and dominated at the top of the mountain.
Cody has delivered amazing promos for years as he certainly inherited that incredible trait from his father, Dusty. One of the things that crossed my mind when Cody won the Rumble, was my genuine anticipation for the promo battle that we would see between Cody and Paul Heyman. Heyman maybe one of the greatest mic men going today and certainly a sure fire HOFamer at some point for his role with ECW and as a manager.
Not only did Cody and Heyman deliver on my already high expectations to begin with, but they exceeded it. This promo worked so well because its foundation was built on reality and realism. To me, the best stories in wrestling are built with at least elements of realism. This promo/segment was completely 100% built on it.
Paul Heyman has been in the wrestling business pretty much all his life since he was a teenager he was around the legends and greats of this industry absorbing their knowledge. Arguably there is no booker of ECW, Paul Heyman without the knowledge that he absorbed under the learning tree of Dusty Rhodes. A very young Paul Heyman detailed on his WWE Documentary years ago that he snuck into one of Dusty’s production meetings and was caught by Dusty. Paul did what he did best, he talked his way out of it. He was honest with Dusty why he snuck in because he wanted to learn booking from the best and Dusty smiled and let him stay. Paul never forgot how well Dusty treated a young Paul Heyman and he valued the friendship and mentor relationship that they had.
Dusty’s fingerprints are literally everywhere in this industry whether directly, indirectly or even unknowingly there are pieces of the American Dream everywhere and this has gone on for decades. Dusty’s booking style, concepts and knowledge continues to be a part of the wrestling industry years after his passing.
One of the biggest moments of the segment is when Cody pulled the curtain back and told a story that has never been told publicly to my knowledge. Cody proceeded to tell the story how the Rhodes family fell on some incredibly hard times legitimately as the family was pretty much broke in 2000 with very little money in the bank. Cody and his sister pretty much just kids at this point, with Cody only 14 at the time. Dusty lost his confidence and was literally doing car commercials just to keep his car, but someone that he showed kindness to so many years ago heard about it and wanted to help his old mentor.
As Cody stated in his promo, Hard Times became more than just a promo for the family in 2000. The family was financially broke and Dusty, the man who was one of the biggest names, multiple time world champion and one of the most brilliant minds in the history of the business was broke mentally too. His confidence at an all-time low as he was just doing anything he could to support his family and there has to be an insane amount of stress when you go from the highest high to the lowest low.
I want to take a look back at the Hard Times promo, as this was a man that in his words “there have only been two bad men, John Wayne, who’s dead and the other is standing right here, American Dream Dusty Rhodes”. I want to thank Wrestling Republic’s own Clark Taylor and his dad, for reminding me of this line in this promo. Dusty oozed confidence and to know that this man who was on top of the world in 1985 was broke and unconfident just 15 years later shows that hard times can hit anyone.
On a side note, John Wayne has an airport named after him in California (which I hear is very nice, although I haven’t been there), it’s a shame Dusty hasn’t gotten one especially in Florida.
Heyman reached out to Dusty and brought him into ECW insuring him a decent payoff for even just one appearance. Dusty would go on to wrestle a handful of matches for the promotion earning a great payoff and regaining his confidence according to Cody. Cody said because of what you did for my father, I will always be grateful to you Mr. Heyman.
I’m fairly certain that Paul didn’t know what Cody was going to say exactly because you could see on his face that he was incredibly choked up. You could tell when Cody was done telling the story that Heyman was legitimately for the first time ever in my knowledge speechless during a promo or segment. Those touching words from Cody, the pain that Paul felt with the loss of Dusty came flooding back and the pride he had for the caliber of performer that Cody Rhodes has become and the man he grew up to be from the young kid he met so many years ago all hit Heyman at once.
That wasn’t acting from Heyman, he was genuinely choked up and touched as evident by the tears and speechlessness connected with the audience. One of Cody’s best abilities is to tell compelling stories both on the mic and in the ring. Heyman would eventually get back on track, but that genuine moment where we saw the real Paul Heyman and not the character Paul Heyman was so real and special.
Heyman would deliver a phenomenal rebuttal saying that as much as we respect what you’ve done in winning the Rumble and especially what your father did, this isn’t about him, it is about you. Heyman would bring up something that Cody has openly talked about that Cody never got that one-on-one mentoring that “Dusty’s NXT kids” got. Dusty wanted Cody to sink or swim in the industry on his own and didn’t want any appearance of nepotism in his success in the industry.
Dusty passed on his knowledge in NXT that laid the groundwork for some of the biggest names in the industry today. There are very few talents in WWE today that didn’t go through NXT and whether they directly learned under Dusty, or his wisdom was passed down by someone that learned from him, his legacy continues to be present today. It was a sore subject for Cody as it always bothered him that he didn’t get to experience what people like Kevin Owens got to experience. Even Cody’s future wife Brandi, got to have that experience in NXT.
So, when Heyman took that deeply personal information and used it against Cody it was like a knife to the heart of Cody. It cut incredibly deep not only did he bring up that Cody didn’t get that mentorship, but his opponent did and to dare say his father’s last conversation with Paul, he told Cody that Dusty said, Cody was his favorite son, but Roman Reigns was the son he wished he had. That was such a cold-hearted line especially since Heyman delivered it sincerely before he twisted the knife in Cody’s heart.
Heyman was supremely confident with himself delivering that line followed by a mic drop until Cody moved towards him. Then he was just the messenger in his words, Cody forcibly shook Heyman’s hand because again there is that forever respect for him for what he did for Dusty, but not without a last warning that “I’m just trying to win a title, and everyone keeps making it personal and I will take it out on your boy, Roman Reigns personally”.
As I have said before, I’m very interested in this match up and unlike some that are concerned about a repeat of 2014 where the crowd turned on the Rumble winner. That situation is completely different as the winner of the Rumble that year was Batista, who they were forcing to be a face when he himself didn’t want to be. On top of that Daniel Bryan was screwed out of the title multiple times. In this current situation, yes Sami Zayn is over similar to Daniel Bryan, but Cody is insanely over as well selling merchandise out. The few boos that Cody has gotten was due to circumstances like the crowd wanting Rock at 30 and the other time it was because the crowd wanted Roman to talk about Sami because of the Bloodline stuff.
Cody Roman and Heyman will continue to build anticipation for this mania match.
Photo Credits – WWE