Cody Rhodes' Entire Pro Wrestling Journey Explained

A professional wrestler's journey is never a Point A to Point B affair. Twists, turns, and roadblocks litter the careers of every athlete that steps foot into the squared circle. The journey of a second generation pro wrestler and son of one of the greatest to ever lace a pair of boots, though? That's a unique one. 

Conventional wisdom says second generation talent should be ahead of the curve when it comes to the wrestling business. They've seen the business in action, lived the grinding lifestyle, and have pro wrestling blood running through their veins. Yet the journey of a second generation talent is often the opposite. Yes, they have more experience, but their involvement in the business comes at the price of high expectations and an impossible name to live up to.

Cody Rhodes is a second generation professional wrestler. His father was "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes — a multiple-time world heavyweight champion and man regarded as one of the greatest talkers in the history of the business. Rhodes wanted to walk in his father's footsteps and thus set out on a journey that led him to some deep lows and some towering highs. This is Cody Rhodes' entire pro wrestling journey, explained.

Cody Rhodes was a high school champion amateur wrestler

Cody Rhodes had the blood of a professional wrestler coursing through his body, but at a young age he laid an important foundation on his own that would help progress his pro wrestling career quickly. 

Rhodes was a championship amateur wrestler in high school. He amassed a 42-0 high school record at 189 pounds and won the Georgia State Championship at that weight. In an interview with Muscle & Fitness, Rhodes talked about the importance of his amateur career and how it set the perfect foundation for his step into the pro world. "It's very helpful to have wrestling as a background, or jiujitsu for that matter," Rhodes said. "Because a lot of pro wrestling is rooted in the idea of leveraging, and chain wrestling. When you watch guys like Verne Gagne and Billy Robinson, then you see."

Rhodes recognized that a good financial living couldn't be made in the amateur wrestling space, and he thought his freestyle skills wouldn't have worked at the college level, so hung up his singlet after his senior year. He turned down a wrestling scholarship to Penn State and instead went to the family business, following the path his father paved.

Cody planned to spend time in Hollywood before wrestling

And the Oscar goes to ... Cody Rhodes? It's hard to believe, but before jumping with two feet into the professional wrestling business, Cody Rhodes planned to spend time in the scorching bright lights of Hollywood.

The grand plan that Rhodes had for himself was to become a famous actor and then head to wrestling because he thought his size would be an attribute that would limit his wrestling success out of the gate. In an interview with Bleacher Report, Rhodes discussed the hilarious acting strategy. "My idea was to be in entertainment anyway," Rhodes said of trying Hollywood before wrestling because he felt too small. "I wanted to go to L.A. and become a famous actor. This was my legit plan. I figured if I were famous, they would have to take me. Fast-forward to now, and it's funny because I'm one of the bigger guys in the business as far as physicality. It's hilarious."

Rhodes never secured an Oscar, but was a guest star on "Arrow." He played the role of Derek Sampson in seven episodes between 2016 and 2018.

Before joining WWE and training at OVW, Rhodes was trained by his dad

Cody Rhodes received much of his training under the WWE banner with Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW). OVW wasn't the first place he was trained at, though.

Cody's first trainer was his Dad, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes said that his father trained him in a different way beginning at the age of 12. He talked about the training during a Twitter Q&A, saying "... Dusty trained me in a very different way. In the ring, he literally just gave me a bodyslam, a chop, and a hip toss when I was 12. That's it ha." He credited Al Snow, Robert Gibson, Danny Davis, and Randy Orton as the men who actually trained him.

During his time in OVW, Rhodes would cross paths with a future partner in Orton. While with the WWE training brand, Cody faced off against Shawn Spears, Paul Burchill, and more. Cody Rhodes was a multiple time OVW Southern Tag Team Champion and OVW World Heavyweight Champion.

Cody joins The Legacy faction alongside Randy Orton

Cody Rhodes got the first taste of real WWE money soon after getting the call from OVW to join the main roster. Rhodes, a second generation star, alongside Ted DiBiase Jr., also a second generation star, and Randy Orton, a third generation star, created The Legacy faction. Orton was the centerpiece and leader, and a bloodline connection to the wrestling business was the foundation.

As part of the faction, Rhodes and DiBiase won the WWE Tag Team Championships together. They also played a pivotal role in Orton's blood feud against Triple H that culminated in a match at WrestleMania 25 for the WWE Championship. The group lasted until 2010 and exploded before WrestleMania 26. At the event, The Legacy competed against each other in a triple threat match, with Randy Orton grabbing the victory.

Rhodes earned his main event stripes as part of The Legacy, but also found a lifelong friendship with Randy Orton. On "Inside The Ropes," Orton detailed that friendship: "So as much as he puts me over for taking him under my wing when he was brand new, he drove me around town to town ... Cody, probably, is responsible for getting me town to town safely for a good three years of my career. If it wasn't for him, I might not be here right now. Like, he was my babysitter after the shows."

Cody Rhodes dashes out on his own

After The Legacy exploded into tiny pieces, the group splintered off and went their own ways inside the company for individual success. Rhodes leaned into his good looks and adopted the "Dashing" Cody Rhodes gimmick. 

As "Dashing" Cody Rhodes, and amidst staring into mirrors admiring his handsomeness, Rhodes won the WWE Intercontinental Championship, his first singles title in WWE. Rhodes credited that championship run as one that helped position him as a character that could work at the top of the card. "The Intercontinental run was a massive, massive deal for me because I felt like it put me in the position to continue up the card," Rhodes told WWE UK in 2022 (h/t to Givemesport). "I think if I was to have the IC Title now, I would be less interested in my own selfish climbing up of the card and more putting the Intercontinental Title on a pedestal. That's a bit of a calling card of mine.

Rhodes won the Intercontinental Championship a second time later in his WWE career and was a multiple time tag team champion as well. 

Cody Rhodes meets Stardust

The "Dashing" Cody Rhodes gimmick ran its course in WWE, and Rhodes was unable to find a strong footing as a singles act after it. Rhodes teamed with his half brother, Goldust, with Dusty Rhodes as their manager and called themselves The Brotherhood. The pinnacle of that run was a major tag team championship win over The Shield

Once The Brotherhood's momentum slowed, Rhodes boosted his character to cosmic levels and found Stardust. Stardust was a quirky Goldust-like character with face paint and outrageous costumes. Rhodes, on the "Talk is Jericho" podcast, said he credits Stephanie McMahon for first suggesting the idea and is grateful for his time in that role. Rhodes told a fan during a Twitter Q&A that playing Stardust was invaluable to his career. "Stardust made me millions of dollars and allowed me to explore a different side of my act," Rhodes wrote. "Invaluable experience. Not what I wanted to be forever, but glad I did it when I did."

The Stardust character appeared at several WrestleMania shows and was featured in a crossover promotional match at SummerSlam with Stephen Amell of "Arrow" fame. Rhodes would adopt the Stardust persona for the rest of his initial WWE run that lasted until 2016.

The List

Feeling disappointed in his creative direction and yearning for more and chance to be a top star in pro wrestling, Rhodes asked for a release from his WWE contract on May 21, 2016. The very next day, his release was granted.

On his own and with his career solely in his hands to manage, Cody constructed The List, a now infamous to-do for his time on the independent circuit featuring matches against Adam Cole, The Young Bucks, Kurt Angle, and others on it. The List gave Rhodes immediate buzz on his own and set the tone for what his time on the indies would look like. "A lot of times, guys leave WWE or get fired by WWE, but there's always that little bit of buzz right when they get out on the scene, but like all buzz, it fades," Rhodes told Rolling Stone. "But, I feel really flattered that, for whatever reason, it seems to be trending upwards."

Rhodes worked all across the world and for indie promotions large and small including PWG, ROH, and a handful of others, which was a major factor in Rhodes taking the next big step in his career.

Rhodes becomes The American Nightmare and joins Bullet Club

Cody Rhodes capitalized on the waves The List made and finally found his voice in 2016 as The American Nightmare. He turned heel and joined Bullet Club, a rebel stable in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. 

Rhodes joined The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Adam Page, and others in the popular faction. The group saw unprecedented critical and box office success compared to any other point in his career. "I was a terrible 'leader' but damn was the show hot and tickets were moving," Rhodes said on Twitter. "Learned bunches from those men."

The relationship Rhodes cultivated with the other Bullet Club members would serve as a strong foundation on which many of his upcoming historic feats would be built. As part of Bullet Club, Rhodes wrestled at Wrestle Kingdom for the first time against Juice Robinson in 2017. His role in the stable and strong sense of self as The American Nightmare unlocked previously closed doors, including an opportunity at a world championship.

Rhodes wins first world championship

Rhodes found a near immediate home in Ring of Honor after leaving WWE in 2016. He had memorable matches against top ROH talent like Jay Lethal, Steve Corino, and The Kingdom.

In June of 2017, Rhodes challenged Christopher Daniels for the ROH World Championship at the Best in the World PPV. "The one that he (Daniels) currently holds, is as much a world title, if not the industry's true world title," Rhodes told "Ring Rust Radio." "It is up there with any world title and if you need further proof, just watch that promo. The names he lists off, guys like Samoa Joe, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, just box office cats in our industry. So, for me, this is my first time ever having that opportunity in a singles contest. To compete for a true world title, it's my whole life." 

Rhodes defeated Daniels to win the title, which was the first world title win of his career.

Rhodes makes New Japan Pro-Wrestling history

While ROH World Champion, Rhodes made history and wrestled in the main event of the first-ever independent New Japan Pro-Wrestling event in the USA.

Rhodes squared off against New Japan legend, Kazuchika Okada, for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Rhodes spoke highly to FanBuzz about Okada and called him a Japanese Randy Orton. "I hope people understand what I'm saying, but Okada is the most WWE superstar I've ever wrestled," Rhodes said. "He reminds me of a Japanese Randy Orton. He is aware of every camera that's on the floor, it's almost as if he's aware of every heartbeat that's in the building ... That is not something that was taught. That guy is just main event everywhere he goes, world champion everywhere goes."

Rhodes lost the match to Okada, but showed a different and higher level of in-ring prowess than ever before. Yes, he was working alongside one of the best in the world, but Rhodes held his own during the match.

Cody goes all-in on bet with Dave Meltzer

It took one comment from notable wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer for Cody Rhodes to kickstart a revolution in the pro wrestling industry.

Meltzer answered a fan question about the possibility of an independent wrestling event selling 10,000 tickets and flippantly disregarded the possibility as a pipe dream. Rhodes spoke up on Twitter and said, "I'll take that bet, Dave." The result would be Rhodes, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega coming together to finance and execute All In, the biggest independent wrestling event since the death of WCW. "The sentiment from my world, from the wrestling world, just blew me away in terms of getting help," Rhodes told Hollywood Life regarding the show.

All In featured Rhodes challenging Nick Aldis for the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship, a title once held by Dusty Rhodes. The crowd roared in anticipation of the bout, which ended with Rhodes winning the title in the most emotional part of the show. Per Dave Meltzer (via Deadspin), the event garnered an estimated 50,000 buys on PPV and drew 11,263 fans.

All Elite Wrestling is born

The success of All In opened the door to the possibility of an alternative national wrestling promotion to WWE. Tony Khan walked through that door. 

"A lot of what happened stemmed from me and The Young Bucks doing All In," Rhodes told ESPN on the origins of AEW. "It just seemed to be this kind of renaissance, Woodstock for wrestling, and I just had the idea of, 'What if we did this more or what if we potentially did this weekly?' Everyone said you can't do that, and I don't believe that. Tony was somebody who we discussed initially investing in a sequel show. Once I was no longer under contract to Ring of Honor ... that's when we started to get into the weeds a bit on that and talk about the opportunity that exists out there."

Stars aligned and AEW was born in 2019. The first show, Double or Nothing, took place over Memorial Day weekend. Rhodes wrestled his brother Dustin Rhodes and would go on to have feuds with MJF, Shawn Spears, Anthony Ogogo, Malaki Black, and Chris Jericho during his time with the company. Rhodes also served as an Executive Vice President of the company.

Cody Rhodes leaves AEW

As an Executive Vice President for AEW, Rhodes helped manage the company through its television launch in October of 2019, a global pandemic that would force wrestling shows to take place without fans, and an expansion, which included a second television show and a reality series starring him and his wife Brandi. He also became a father during this time as well. 

When fans returned to arenas after the pandemic, the loving adoration of Rhodes faded. Mismanaged storylines with up and coming talent like Anthony Ogogo and QT Marshall turned the tide, as did constant meta-references to behind the scenes drama. Those product issues collided head-on with Cody's contract expiring and a personal issue that Rhodes has yet to talk about, all leading to his departure from AEW in February. 

"I chose to remain silent about my departure from AEW and I'm going to keep my word on that," Rhodes told Variety. "There's no shoot interview. There's no nefarious tale that's going to be told. There were all these different theories and none of them are correct. I mean, there were things about money and creative control. They were printed as fact and it's been a very difficult two months to see that, when the reality is it was just time. It was a personal matter and we couldn't move past it."

The prodigal son returns

Rhodes became the hottest free agent in professional wrestling in 2022. Rumors swirled about where he would end up, but signs regularly pointed to his old stomping grounds of the WWE. 

Rhodes re-debuted at WrestleMania 38 in April as the mystery opponent for Seth Rollins. He received a raucous response from the fans in attendance and defeated Rollins in a memorable match. "Everyone who knows has asked me how I'm feeling about returning to WWE, if I'm really excited? The answer I kind of keep giving everybody is it's just a really heavy feeling," Rhodes said to Variety. "I was solely in the WWE system and I had that dream of getting to the top. Then dreams are like rivers, as the Garth Brooks song says, and it veered and it changed ... but to be able to revisit the thing that I set out to do in the first place when I didn't think I would get that chance is just heavy."

Rhodes continued to feud with Seth Rollins and defeated him at WrestleMania Backlash. The duo tangled again at Hell in a Cell, but in the days leading up to the match, Rhodes suffered a severe pectoral tear. He forged ahead and in a gutsy performance that featured grotesque bruising on his chest, Rhodes won the match. After, he was forced to the sidelines immediately to have surgery and recover. 

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