Cody Rhodes didn’t think AEW needed him anymore.

Cody Rhodes shocked the wrestling world, last month when he appeared at WrestleMania 38 to make his first WWE appearance in over seven years. ‘The American Nightmare’ made his return to the company after being one of the original founders of AEW and being a staple of All Elite Wrestling, being the company’s lone three-time TNT Champion. The decision to leave his ‘baby’ to return to right the Rhodes family wrong of never winning the WWE Championship was a decision, according to Cody was an easy one because AEW simply didn’t need him anymore.

“The bottom line was it [AEW] was my baby… and it’s growing up and people are having fun and it doesn’t need me, if that makes any sense,” Cody explained while appearing on Steve Austin’s: The Broken Skull Sessions. “Why I thought it didn’t need me was… okay, I’m not being totally honest, maybe it did need me, but here’s what I needed. I didn’t want to be a gatekeeper wrestler, I did not want to be ‘oh, this is Cody’s thing, AEW,’ and some people look at it that way, not everybody does… ’oh first program, they wrestle Cody Rhodes, then they do Chris’ [Jericho] podcast’ [laughs]. There’s a whole meme about it and I just didn’t want to be a gatekeeper, at the time we were getting these kind of, split reactions which was very fun and fun to experiment with because I had worked with [John] Cena on live events and to see how he did it and go ‘okay, alright’. It takes a lot of discipline, I feel like to know when you can, kind of, give them a little something or when you got to stick to who you are and go, hey, you go do that, I’m going to stick to who I am.

“I just didn’t want to be a gatekeeper and I’ll put it in the most simple of terms…it’s right there [points to the WWE Championship], that’s it. You have the Winged Eagle, which is the ultimate one but I grew up in the business wanting to be the WWE Champion, because it’s the one that got away, right? We’ve spent a lot of time talking today about Dusty [Rhodes] and I can’t let that escape me, it’ll never escape me. The good, the bad, that’s Dusty, he was a massive person in our industry and I want to round it totally out. This one got away from you [Dusty], but I don’t want it to get away from me.”

Circling back to his time in AEW, Cody delved into the difficult transition from being strictly an in-ring performer compared to balancing his new-found career as both a wrestler and an executive, something Cody still struggles with even though he’s no longer with the company.

“I think it’s still a difficult transition and I’m not the EVP anymore,” admitted Cody. “I’m not anyone’s boss but to a degree I would’ve been their boss for that period of time when I was at AEW. So, when I cross paths with them now or I check in on what they’re doing, we still talk that way. That’s just the way it is, I don’t think I can turn the clock back and go ‘hey, I’m just one of the boys.’ I always feel like I am because I like telling stories and I like taking bumps and I like violence and I like blood, that part of me is always be one of the boys but it doesn’t feel like I can turn the clock back on the three years as EVP because I was so active, man. I wanted my hands in everything and Tony [Khan] did as well, ya know, Tony was really active but as far as an EVP goes, I was really on the surface, just waving the flag for the brand at the time. Going to every meeting, talking to sales consultants, teaching people how to sell the product to investors, it was good education…not useful, now that I’m not an EVP anymore, it’s more of this piece of history.

“It would’ve been a better job for me at 45, not at 35. Anyone who has any issues with I was their boss, there’s not really any heat that’s exists. I always tried to do everything I could to give and I was overly generous. I was overly generous in my run. I know like, had Dusty [Rhodes] been here, that’s one of the things he would’ve told me for sure because Arn [Anderson] was on the side telling me, like, ‘hey, man, get some for you here.’”

Another struggle for Cody was his own on-screen booking. ‘The American Nightmare’ pointed to the difficult balance between properly pushing himself while being over with the fans but not overdoing it to cause heat in the locker room.

“I did everything that I could possibly do diplomatically to approach it,” Cody stated. “A lot of it was trepidation based on the fact that I already had seen this happen to Dusty. I already had seen it…so, okay, I’m gonna be different. I’m hindsight, it was the completely wrong concept. Dusty was on top because he was over, he was not on top because he was the booker. Now, is there synergy? Sure. But he was over. Now, I’m the beginning of this company, there’s not that many guys who have this connection with the fans? Now, this is on me. This isn’t on Tony [Khan], Matt [Jackson], Nick [Jackson] or Kenny [Omega], these were my decisions. It was very hard for me to figure out.

“I needed somebody in my life to say ‘hey, am I doing the right thing, is this right? Is this the guy or girl that we need to push forward?’ I didn’t have anyone, the closest I had was Arn [Anderson] at ringside but I didn’t wanna bother him with such a deep question or make him overthink because it was a train that was flying through and we were having so much fun, it was a different environment and you [Steve Austin] might understand, especially after WCW for you when you go to ECW and you’re playing and you’re having fun and you’re around that, more punk rock scene. That scene is amazing and so you want to start playing something else and I just got there where I had the potency of doing the honors to just doing the job. I’ve done plenty, Stardust happened, man, I’ve done it and as Arn pointed out, I had to get some for me. He wouldn’t chew me out because technically I was his boss but he would pretty much let me know, he really helped me out. And Arn’s always right [laughs] and I probably should’ve listened to him more when I was there.”

Cody Rhodes is set to face Seth Rollins in a WrestleMania 38 rematch at WrestleMania Backlash.

Wrestling Inc. will have full coverage of WrestleMania Backlash on Sunday, May 8, beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET/4:00 p.m. PT.

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Steve Austin’s: The Broken Skull Sessions with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.

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