Amidst a whirlwind of rumour and speculation, it looks like Cody Rhodes is actually headed back to WWE.
Dear wrestling in 2022, could you please calm down just for a minute?
Having dominated wrestling news cycles to the point of parody for a month, a recent report from PWInsider seems to have finally indicated when and where ‘The American Nightmare’, one of AEW’s founding fathers and longtime anti-WWE holdout, will step back in a federation ring.
WrestleMania weekend in Texas, funnily enough the location of his last WrestleMania appearance in 2016, seems logically the time for Rhodes to be reintroduced, despite heavy speculation linking him with last week’s RAW in the All Elite stomping grounds of Jacksonville, Florida.
If the story itself isn’t crazy enough, what about the aftermath?
Three to six months down the line, where will Cody Rhodes be in the WWE pecking order? Who will face? Who should he face?
I’ve got a few ideas.
5. Seth Rollins
Let’s start obvious.
Among the speculation of a Rhodes return has been his first opponent, and there lies the one and only certainty of this entire situation. If Cody come back, he’s wrestling Seth Rollins at WrestleMania.
This is a simple yet effective choice. Rollins is a great performer and the pair have a fun history from The Shield vs Brotherhood feud in 2013, which featured arguably Cody’s best ever moment in the company by pinning Seth at Battleground that year.
Rollins’ longing for a ‘Mania 38 opponent has all but seemed to lock this in for ‘Mania, with a completely different dynamic given Cody’s growth as a performer and as a star in the last six years.
There’s no stopping this feud from going beyond Texas though.
Given how drastically different that dynamic would be and the players on the board, a one night bout would be a waste.
Pitting returning outsider Cody against militant WWE loyalist Seth would be a whole lot of fun. Throw in Seth’s NXT history with Dusty, their aforementioned tag team feuds, and potentially Seth’s penchant for fashion leading to him giving Cody a star-based makeover, and you’ve got potential for a banging first feud back for Cody as well.
Kevin Owens could even be thrown in there for some fun RAW matches to fill in the weeks and enhance the drama, so it’s no-brainer really to keep this going until at least WrestleMania Backlash.
4. Drew McIntyre
Family legacy aside, another major aspect of Cody Rhodes’ reputation is how he bet on himself when he left WWE in 2016.
The man became a self-made millionaire by plying his trade and forming legitimacy on the indies before launching AEW into the stratosphere, all before returning to WWE and trying his hand at Titan Towers once again.
It’s a formula that was uncommon before Cody, something the likes of Matt Cardona and others have taken upon themselves in indie ventures post-WWE. However, Cody wasn’t the first to do this.
Drew McIntyre himself laid the blueprint that Cody later used to map out his own journey to the top, and isn’t that a fascinating basis for a rivalry?
The two infrequently crossed paths during both their initial WWE runs (as short-lived WWE Tag Team Champions in 2010) to their respective indie resurgences, where they shared many great matches as Cody had just arrived on the scene, and as Drew was leaving it.
In the time Cody has been away, Drew has come back and has done everything Cody will look to do now. Royal Rumble winner. WrestleMania main event. WWE Champion, the whole nine yards.
Having Drew as a sort of gatekeeper of Cody’s success in WWE by playing off their similar histories could make for som solid face vs face battles at say, SummerSlam, as Cody continues his rise back up the ranks.
Would be some hella fun matches too.
3. John Cena
Speaking of gatekeepers.
What makes latter-day John Cena so good, is that he has acted as the undisputed gatekeeper of WWE’s future. “The future must go through me” wasn’t a saying gone unheard, as the likes of Roman Reigns, AJ Styles, Seth Rollins, and Kevin Owens all worked their ways through ‘Big Match John’ on their ascendance to WWE’s island of relevancy.
Others weren’t so lucky.
Looking simply at the list of opponents Cena beat in the US Open Challenge days for example, there’s a plethora of future AEW/indie names that never quite came out on top in WWE.
Moxley, PAC, Cesaro, Cardona, and most importantly, Cody.
Cody going through John Cena to legitimise himself in WWE is a WrestleMania worthy story, potentially one for Hollywood in a year’s time.
Mixing that history with their bizarre recent comparisons, with Cody’s red, white and blue babyface drawing the ire from AEW fans in a way all too similar to Cena’s ‘Hustle, Loyalty and Respect’ mantra of 2010’s, Cody looking to beat Cena to then BECOME Cena, is another fun story thread that could be played with a bunch.
This match would be a banger too if their US Open Challenge bout in 2015 is anything to go by, and couple that with the grand stage of WrestleMania for a battle of this magnitude, and I’m all there for it.
2. Randy Orton
What’s so great about Cody’s WWE return, besides the obvious chaos it has caused, is the sheer amount of story threads and history there is to pick at with his comeback. Between them all, Randy Orton provides one of the juiciest.
Almost everything Cody did in WWE in his first run revolved around Randy Orton in one way or another. From his debut, to Legacy, to Orton ending his psycho masked persona, to the Authority vs Rhodes story in 2013, Cody’s eternal battle against his mentor has been one of the longest storyline threads of his career, regardless of companies.
Returning in 2022 now a fully fledged main eventer though, and with Orton putting in career best work for the last few years, the timing couldn’t be better for this rivalry to be renewed.
Orton’s ignorance towards Cody’s outside success could of course be played up, while Cody’s overarching return story of proving himself in the one place he wasn’t wholly successful would be personified brilliantly by him having to shoot down his old mentor.
The pair’s fittingly old school styles would work to each other’s strengths, even if the bout deviates into the slightly methodical, their fun previous outings and overwhelming history would make up for it.
Also while the jury is still out on how Cody will be embraced when he comes back to WWE, if anyone can make him feel like the underdog in any scenario, it’ll be his former mentor.
1. Roman Reigns
When it comes to Cody, it always comes down to family. Like Vin Diesel. Oh and like Roman Reigns.
“Wrestling has more than one royal family” was the opening stinger of Cody’s theme song for years after his WWE departure, as he sought to prove there was more out there in the wrestling world than the McMahon monopoly, which he did.
But family has just as much to do with coming back to WWE for Cody as it did for leaving. His father and brother were never WWE mainstays and never got that main event run in the sun, and Cody has long been vocal about his desire to be WWE Champion, something nobody else in his family ever did.
So it’s fitting that the man Cody would have to go through do that is of course “The Tribal Chief” Roman Reigns.
Reigns’ ‘Head of the Table’ character is intrinsically linked to family, with his obsession to be the leader of the Samoan wrestling dynasty fueling this gimmick and his now near two-year World Title run in WWE.
Seeing these titans clash over who can best represent their royal family lineage would be appointment television, as if Cody can channel the very best of his 2019/2020 babyface run in AEW to go up against prime Roman Reigns, this is another WrestleMania main event that WWE has up their sleeve for the years to come.
Throw in that Shield/Brotherhood and WWE vs AEW history that we spoke about with the potential Seth Rollins programme, and times that by 5, as the stakes of this feud would be so much higher than that of a post-‘Mania angle.
And of course, with WWE searching for more top babyfaces for Roman to face, Cody would not only be a hell of an opponent, but potentially the man to beat the unbeatable one.
I mean, is there a better way to fulfil that World Title dream?