To say that Cody Rhodes has gotten a lot of press this year, would be a massive understatement. Having left WWE in May, the second half of 2016 has seen Cody rarely out of the news, nor far away from the critics…
Having been the first big-name WWE performer in a long time to leave on their own volition, one of Cody’s first acts as a truly independent contractor was to compile a list – and post it on Twitter. Of course, it garnered a lot of attention, and why wouldn’t it? Cody’s bucket list had him wishing for matches against Dalton Castle, Adam Cole, Kurt Angle, Chris Hero, “The Miracle”, Moose, Pat Buck, Katsuyori Shibata, the Young Bucks, Roderick Strong and an appearance in the Battle of Los Angeles.
As we head towards the end of 2016, a few of those have been ticked off. Chris Hero? In EVOLVE, and again for an indy in Arlington, TX. Kurt Angle? Twice: once for NEW in New York, and again for WhatCulture in Altrincham. “The Miracle”? A nine minute match on Impact. Pat Buck? A show for WrestlePro in Rahway, NJ.
So far from that list, Moose, Cole, Castle, Strong, Shibata and the Bucks remain unchecked. Roderick Strong’s name is probably going to be left on there for a while now he’s with NXT… and as for the trio of Adam Cole and the Young Bucks, a certain career move has iced that. At last weekend’s World Tag League finals, Cody Rhodes was announced as the latest member of the Bullet Club – a move that generates some intrigue whilst also drawing some derision at the same time.
Let’s take a step back: when Cody left WWE, his social media was all ablaze with hype for his impending independent career. Those who were cynical raised an obvious point: how on earth will Cody adjust to the independent scene when he’s never wrestled outside of the auspices of WWE or its developmental groups? Remember, Cody’s career to date had read OVW then WWE. There was no independent career before WWE, and as plenty can attest, being a successful wrestler in high school does not translate into professional wrestling megastardom.
Almost any released WWE wrestler can sleepwalk into independent bookings, especially if you’ve had any amount of TV time. For a recently-released WWE wrestler, from a Hall of Fame-bloodline… it’s safe to say that the only ways Cody wouldn’t have had work would have been if he’d been injured, or if he’d chosen retirement. Of course, at his age, the latter wasn’t exactly an option. Unfortunately, his first match post-WWE was always going to have a spotlight shone on it, regardless of opponent.
That first opponent was Zack Sabre Jr, who was about to enter the midst of a summer of spotlight himself, competing for the WWE in its first-ever Cruiserweight Classic. That first match, taking place two nights before SummerSlam, saw EVOLVE become the first promotion to capitalise on the Cody hype train… getting his first and second post-WWE matches, with the aforementioned Chris Hero match taking place the following night. Sadly, those who were expecting Cody to be unleashed as the latest coming of Kazuchika Okada were left disappointed – and perhaps deluded – as the first match ended up being, well, average.
Let’s be realistic for a moment here. Whilst Cody had good matches in WWE, even if he were the world’s greatest wrestler, it’d have been very hard for him to have upped the ante and gone from a throwaway Superstars match with Zack Ryder to a match-of-the-year against Zack Sabre Jr, even if you just took ring rust into account. Cody was always going to have an uphill struggle to his independent career, especially in a promotion that values in-ring work ahead of name value.
Since then, Cody has perhaps-unfairly garnered the nickname “Mr ***” (that’s “Mister Three-Star, as opposed to a censored swear) as fans turned a critical eye to his performances. The handful of matches we’ve seen, we’ve rated around ***½, with the same criticism to them: Cody simply hasn’t made the transition yet to the independent, workrate-heavy style. In the months since his post-WWE career began, Cody’s managed to do the impossible: work for TNA, ROH and (soon) New Japan, all at the same time. I guess having a famous father helps you get non-exclusive contracts!
The typical indie trajectory for ex-WWE wrestlers tends to be “debut on indies as a face, work for a variety of promotions OR (if you’re lucky) sign for a ROH or TNA”. Cody’s managed to buck the trend somewhat, in that despite jobbing around for over twenty different promotions, he’s managed to remain as a babyface on the local, family-friendly (and in cases, if you’re feeling particularly vicious, “money mark” promotions), whilst also dictating a complete 180-degree turn in two other promotions.
Step forward Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Debuting in ROH in December, Cody turned heel on day one, beating Jay Lethal in a match that Dave Meltzer handed out a little over three snowflakes to. Since then, Cody’s been announced as the latest member of the Bullet Club – a reveal that got more coverage and reaction outside of Japan than in it. In spite of Kenny Omega winning the G1, the Bullet Club has somehow become stale and watered down as of late, with additions like Bone Soldier making the group become more comedic than threatening.
Let’s be frank here. Cody Rhodes leaving WWE was an extremely bold move. Anyone in a position to turn down guaranteed income and virtually a job for life must have been incredibly unhappy or unfulfilled to have done so. So to do just that, and venture into a world that was alien to him… and to deliberately stay away from restrictive deals – a move that would have seen most other wrestlers lose work – has to be commended.
Yes, Cody hasn’t set the world on fire in the eyes of hardcore wrestling fans. What he has done though, is attract new eyes to a litany of promotions. Perhaps not the likes of EVOLVE, ROH or TNA, but groups like the SWA in Scotland. Groups like Dreamwave, like WrestlePro, like NEW. As much criticism as Cody has had for his in-ring performances, and for holding/defending titles that are no more than props for a forgotten venture (ahem GFW), what he’s doing is nothing short of miraculous. Would these opportunities have come his way had he not had the Rhodes surname (or Runnels, if Mr McDevitt is reading)? Who knows. What is likely though, is that the constant haranguing over “Mister Three-Star” will disappear as soon as Cody turns the inevitable corner and enters a new gear.
Then what? Will there be criticisms over “not having an original thought”, pointing to his “American Nightmare” nickname? Will there be shots taken ahead of a spoof “Afternoon Traveller” a la his father’s spell as the Midnight Rider?
What can be learned, though, is that anyone in Cody’s position should be careful on how they position themselves. Going from WWE to the indies is always a challenge, especially if your booking fee restricts your work; but there is a way to do that without painting yourself as the next best thing since sliced bread, whilst being decidedly under-baked in that particular arena.