“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Enjoying the journey, ‘the getting there’, is every bit as important to me as arriving at the destination.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
August 16, 2023 – Lincoln Financial Field – Philadelphia, PA – Cody Rhodes for the first time stands in the very center of the stadium that will be the host to WrestleMania 40. There is no question that as Cody Rhodes surveys the home of the Philadelphia Eagles that his sights are 235 days away. In 235 days, will be night 2 of WrestleMania 40, where Cody Rhodes desires to once again be in the main event on the grandest stage of them all competing for the most prestigious prize in all of professional wrestling, the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship. There is no question that not only does Cody Rhodes want another opportunity for the championship, but to be in there once again with the most dominate champion of the modern era, the man who prevented Cody Rhodes from “finishing the story” at WrestleMania 39, none other than the “tribal chief” Roman Reigns.
April 2, 2023 – WrestleMania 39 Night 2 – Sofi Stadium – Inglewood, CA – 136 days ago, Cody Rhodes sits in the middle of the ring in a total sense of shock and disappointment that he was unable to “finish the story”. Cody Rhodes put on the performance of his life and gave everything he had to finish a story that started almost eight years before he was even born in 1977. On September 26, 1977, Cody Rhodes’ legendary and HOF father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes failed to win the WWWF Championship due a technicality. Despite Dusty Rhodes having one of the most illustrious and iconic careers in the history of this business, the former multiple time NWA World Heavyweight Champion was never able to win the most prestigious world championship in the business.
The Beginning of Cody Rhodes’ Journey:
As Cody told the world the night after making his return to WWE after a six-year exodus from the company, he came home to fulfill his childhood dream of winning the WWE Championship. In 1993, at eight years old, Cody Rhodes saw the now infamous photo of Dusty Rhodes proudly holding the WWWF Championship above his head in the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden, a photo that Dusty had prominently displayed and asked his father, were you WWF Champion like Hulk Hogan? Dusty explained to his young eight-year-old son that unfortunately that the decision was reversed due to a technicality to the champion’s advantage. Dusty was protecting kayfabe from his young son, but it was in that exact moment that Cody Rhodes made a personal vow to win the WWF Championship not for himself, but for his father.
This was three years before Shawn Michaels would go on to fulfill the “boyhood dream”, Cody Rhodes knew that he needed to “finish the story”. Cody Rhodes at only eight years old knew that he needed to get into the family business and win the WWF Championship and hand the title to his father. As detailed in Cody Rhodes’ incredible Peacock documentary, it was his first childhood dream and goal in this business and a driving force for him in this business. It is what made his run as Stardust and ultimately his difficult decision to leave WWE in 2016 because he knew Vince McMahon did not view Cody Rhodes as a main eventer, so it didn’t matter if he stayed or left the company, he was going to be denied his boyhood dream. Cody Rhodes now had the goal of proving Vince McMahon and everyone that doubted him that he was capable of being a main eventer and ultimately WWE Champion.
Cody Rhodes would certainly do just that during his exodus from the company and Vince McMahon personally went to Cody Rhodes to recruit him to come back home. There are very few people that can legitimately say that Vince McMahon came to them personally to recruit them as most times they have been summoned to WWE Headquarters and some to Vince’s personal home. Whatever Vince said to Cody, it was enough for the prodigal son to return home to WWE at WrestleMania 38. After an incredible trilogy of matches with Seth Rollins, it was very clear that Vince McMahon finally did see Cody Rhodes as a star he could get behind as he had Cody Rhodes go over Seth Rollins in all three matches.
However, as we all know that third match in that trilogy with Seth Rollins went from compelling to downright legendary before the bell even rang when Cody Rhodes removed his robe to reveal to the world the severity of his reported torn pec. The performance that Cody Rhodes put on in this match showed anyone that doubted Cody Rhodes that he has heart and commitment to this business like very few others. Cody Rhodes gutted through this match painting an absolute masterpiece in that ring. It was mine and many fans match of the year of 2022. We all knew this brutal match was going to be Cody’s last match for a while, but we all held out hope that he’d be healthy enough to return in time for WrestleMania 39.
Cody Rhodes’ Journey to WrestleMania 39:
January 28, 2023 – Royal Rumble – Alamodome – San Antonio, TX – Cody Rhodes makes his return from his torn pec at the enviable number 30 spot. Cody Rhodes would go on to win the Rumble becoming the first member of his legendary family to win the Royal Rumble and would become the first to be in the main event of a WrestleMania. Cody Rhodes winning the Royal Rumble was oddly a divisive decision among the fan community. Although Cody Rhodes had been absolutely beloved by the fans since his WWE return unlike how the AEW fanbase treated him when he was finishing out his run there. There were a portion of the fans that either felt that Sami Zayn should be the one to dethrone Roman Reigns or they felt Cody Rhodes should definitely be the one to end the reign at WrestleMania.
There were also fans that felt with WWE plugging the “finish the story” tagline going into WrestleMania that the result of Cody Rhodes felt rushed and too predictable. This was actually something that WR’s Clark Taylor and I debated both on and off air leading into WrestleMania. Clark felt that it was rushed and too predictable and for me I felt the story was overall there because the story was told that Cody Rhodes was doing this for Dusty. I was convinced that Cody was going to be the one to dethrone Roman at WrestleMania 39 to the point that I actually wrote a piece where I said, “will fulfill” not “likely or probably” I was that confident.
For me personally I had a very bad 2022 as I dealt with back-to-back tragedies. One of those tragedies was losing my father, which made the Cody Rhodes story of doing this for his father connect with me on a whole other personal level. When you have an incredible strong bond with your father like I did and like Cody had with Dusty, the loss of your father is absolutely gutting. It is a pain that is like no other when you lose a parent because, you feel like a part of you is missing. My father always told me, I know you are going to be sad when I’m gone, but I don’t want you to stop living your life. That has helped me get through everything and having a strong support system and for those that were there for me you know who you are, and you know how grateful I am for everything you did for me.
With this sense of personal connection to the whole Cody Rhodes finishing the story, going into WrestleMania 39 knowing that I was physically going to be there with the Wrestling Republic crew meant that much more to me. To physically be there to watch Cody Rhodes fulfill that dream and to feel that father/son connection was extra special to me. Clark Taylor knew that the Cody story went beyond just a wrestling storyline to me because what I had gone through in my personal life. He made it a point to warn me going into the match that the Vegas odds shifted to Roman being the favorite to retain. I was shocked when he told me, and I remember saying to him I so want you to be wrong.
We watched as Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes put on a match worthy of a WrestleMania main event. It had the big fight feel the entire time and no one was sitting during the entire match. We all stood in awe of the absolute classic that these men put on. There were moments that I thought the Vegas odds were going to be wrong especially when Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn chased off the Usos. However, the moment I saw Solo sneak in through the crowd and hide by the barricade waiting for his cue to interfere in the match I knew it was over. I remember pointing to Solo telling Clark, look there’s Solo it is over, Vegas is right. Soon enough Solo would interfere and Roman would hit a massive spear to end the match.
Immediately after the match, Clark looked at me knowing that the loss would hurt me on a personal level and not as a fan that just wanted to see Cody win, said, hey Rocky didn’t win the first time either. Clark knew exactly how that would connect with me as the Rocky he was referring to was Philadelphia’s patron saint of the underdogs, Rocky Balboa. That one comment by Clark immediately snapped me out of any disappoint about Cody losing and started the wheels turning in my head that they could go full Rocky Balboa with this story before it is finished. I remember replying back to Clark, what better place for them to do their version of Rocky II than in the birthplace of Rocky Balboa, Philadelphia, which also happens to be the location of WrestleMania 40.
Cody Rhodes has said in regards to his loss at WrestleMania 39: “The only thing I learned was well, I gotta get back. I gotta ger back and I gotta win. I can’t call it, I gotta win. That was bittersweet, I mean more bitter than anything.”
I wrote a piece shortly after Mania, where I said, “destiny delayed not denied“. That was where I for the first time publicly floated the idea outside of the Wrestling Republic crew there with me at WrestleMania that they could be going Rocky Balboa with this story. The piece was written before the last WWE Draft, so even though I floated the possibility that the story could be finished in Philadelphia, I had doubts how WWE creative could stretch this a whole year, but the draft separated Cody and Roman so that makes it entirely possible that WrestleMania 40 in Philadelphia is where the story will be finished.
Cody Rhodes’ Journey to WrestleMania 40:
April 3, 2023 – Raw after WrestleMania 39 – Crypto Center – Los Angeles, CA – Brock Lesnar shocked the world by turning on Cody Rhodes and absolutely destroying him. As I stood there in a luxury box inside of Crypto Center, I was stunned about the sheer brutality displayed by the beast incarnate. Weirdly enough, I remember Clark and me becoming more convinced that this was leading to Cody Rhodes becoming the beloved underdog that would go on to face Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40 and fulfill his own Rocky II moment.
All concerns that the Cody dethroning was rushed at WrestleMania 39 would be eliminated if they are able to build Cody Rhodes up as that hungry underdog that is not only pursuing the WWE Undisputed Universal Championship because it has the lineage to the championship that Dusty was denied, but because Cody Rhodes has gone through hell and back for it. There is no greater hell to go through in the wrestling business than a trilogy of matches with Brock Lesnar.
During Cody’s feud with Brock Lesnar that included Brock “breaking” Cody’s arm, it was done to further promote this underdog character that will never quit. There are lasting images when all is said and done that will define Cody Rhodes as heir apparent to John Cena’s never quit persona. The image of Cody holding the sledgehammer with the torn pec and Cody refusing to tap out to Brock Lesnar’s kimura lock and passing out due the pain will be some of those images. The one Rocky quote that immediately came to mind for me when Cody was feuding with Brock is one that I have felt a strong connection to for a while in my personal life:
“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!
Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”Rocky Balboa
Like this Rocky Balboa, quote has taken hit after hit from Brock Lesnar and refuses to stay down. That never say quit personality has connected with the audience. The crowd has been incredibly strong behind Cody since his WrestleMania 38 return and has remained just as strong if not stronger since his defeat at WrestleMania 39 and throughout his feud with Brock Lesnar. At Summerslam, Cody would pick up the win over Brock Lesnar in the rubber match to take the series win. Which wasn’t the shocking part but what happened post-match, which was not pre-planned by WWE creative, Brock Lesnar did something that he has never done and essentially endorsed Cody Rhodes.
Having the respect of the beast incarnate is a huge moment for Cody’s career and a milestone moment for his road back to the WrestleMania main event that he is pursuing. They never really did explain why Brock turned on Cody in the first place which is something that really should have been explained, but in the end, we got an absolute classic trilogy of matches and Cody got the blessing of Brock Lesnar. This is something that could have a ripple effect down the road leading into and possibly at WrestleMania 40. Maybe Brock returns leading into Mania to give Cody advice on how to beat Roman as Brock has a long history with both Roman and his “wiseman” Paul Heyman. Brock could also have Cody’s back out there to takeout anyone that tries to help Roman retain.
Philadelphia Loves Underdogs:
The birthplace of America, the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia, the place where WrestleMania 40 will take place. As someone who was born and raised in this city can tell you that the birthplace of ECW is hardcore and extreme. This is a city that loves its sports team passionately. Don’t get me wrong we will absolutely bury not only our opponents but our own team if they deserve it. The athletes that ger buried here are the ones that either don’t play with their heart or say anything negative about the fans. If an athlete plays with their hearts and shows love to the fans, you will not find a more loyal fanbase. There is a reason athlete like Chase Utley, Jason Kelce, Nick Foles, Dr. J, Wilt Chamberlin and Bryce Harper to name a few are absolutely beloved by the fans as they knew they gave it their all out there.
Bryce Haper recently said in an interview: “Everybody talks about it, right, like, ‘Oh it’s one of the hardest places to play and free agents don’t want to come here because it’s hard.’ But they just don’t understand, they don’t get it. They don’t get what it’s like to play here day in and day out, having the fan base that we do, the way they go about it. Like I said, it is hard, right? But it’s incredible. I wouldn’t want a fan base—I mean I am standing here getting chills because it’s like, I wouldn’t want a fanbase any other way. They want you to work hard, they want you to play hard, they want you to perform, they’re spending their hard-earned dollar to come watch you play each night, but they have feel. They have felt for it also. I have so much emotion toward it because it’s just—I absolutely freakin’ love it. I don’t want to play anywhere else. I wish I started my career here, just the way it is and how lucky we are to do this. Just such an incredible moment for [Trea Turner] to be able to go out there and know that the fans have his back and have our teams’ back. That should be something for us too, as a team, to take advantage of and know like, they got us. No matter what, they got us. Being able to know that on a personal level and on a team level as well, there is nothing greater. And I can go on and on, we just have such a great fanbase and I am so thankful to be here and be a part of it.”
Philly is a blue-collar city that is very much ride or die with their love of sports and professional wrestling is one of those passions. Philly has a long rich history with professional wrestling as it has been a cornerstone of WWE’s history as a part of the original WWWF territory and was arguably WWE’s second home outside of New York City. ECW and ROH’s roots were also started here as well. Day one of WrestleMania 40’s tickets going on sale set all kinds of records and take my word for it, you will see a rabid crowd like no other on April 6th and 7th 2024.
Philly will be firmly behind Cody Rhodes cheering him on as he tries to go all Rocky II against Roman Reigns. Philly is also the place where the Rock couldn’t even save Roman from being mercilessly booed out of the Wells Fargo Center when he won the 2015 Royal Rumble. Oddly enough Cody Rhodes has said in an interview that the Wells Fargo Center is his favorite arena to perform in as the Philadelphia fans were the first to get fully behind him as they supported him in the 2013 Money in the Bank ladder match when they weren’t even supposed to, and he never forgot that.
Philadelphia loved Dusty Rhodes and they will fully support Cody Rhodes as he looks to make history at the 40th edition of WrestleMania. Very few wrestlers have main evented multiple WrestleManias and even fewer have main evented back-to-back Manias. WrestleMania 40 will be historic and there is no better place for Cody Rhodes to “finish the story” in the most historic city in America. Twenty-five years ago, I was there to witness Stone Cold Steve Austin defeat The Rock for the WWF Championship and the roar of that crowd was unbelievable at WrestleMania 15, but the pop that Cody Rhodes will receive will eclipse that not only because it will be substantially more fans there, but because we fully support underdogs and people that have heart and give their all out there and the American Nightmare certainly fits that description.
Also, in Austin’s case his was the favorite going into the match and he had won the WWF Championship before, but to see Cody win his first WWE Championship and knowing that it means so much more because it isn’t just for Cody, but that it is for Dusty and he is fulfilling his childhood vow, I guarantee you that Philly will help create a WrestleMania moment that will be legendary.