With a shot at the Ring of Honor World Championship awaiting him at Friday’s “Best in the World” PPV against Christopher Daniels, Cody Rhodes seems relaxed but fully aware of the opportunity to put his own stamp on his family’s championship legacy.
After leaving WWE in the spring of 2016, Rhodes became pro wrestling’s hottest free agent while traveling the independent circuit and showcasing his talent against the top talent in the world before finally making ROH’s his home promotion.
But one thing has always eluded the young Rhodes throughout his career — a world title.
Perhaps it was always supposed to be this way. The quest for individual glory taking him down his newfound path, determined to get what he feels he deserves and to reach the top of the mountain with the ROH title just like his father Dusty did with NWA gold.
“It has been 31 years since Dusty [Rhodes] was world champion. In that time, my brother and myself didn’t win a world title. I don’t know if that eats at us or if we look at it differently. We all have our different journeys but the one word that comes up is…vindication,” Rhodes said. “It’s not just vindication for me when I decided to leave WWE. It’s vindication for a lot more than that. I think since his death, people have seen the significance my dad had in wrestling. But there was this period of time when so many people made so much money that he put in the game. There was this period of time when people remembered it differently. I know that’s none of my business and I wasn’t around during that period but it builds a young man, this war, this ‘Rhodes vs. all’ mentality within me. That’s why Friday is so significant. If we can get it done, I just keep thinking of that word: vindication.”
Current ROH World Champion Christopher Daniels stands in the way of this coveted moment.
Daniels, a 47-year old wrestling legend, finally captured his first career world title in March after he defeated Adam Cole. It’s dramatic storytelling at its finest: the competitor hungry to reach his dream against the man who wants to hang on to his a little longer.
“I like to think of Christopher Daniels as one of those who’s a great professional wrestler but I like to think of myself as one of those people that’s great at everything,” Rhodes said. “I think Christopher Daniels’ first championship reign with ROH is about 20 years too late and I fully embrace the role that I’ve naturally been given here, as spoiler for that reign.”
On the record books, Daniels already has a victory over Cody at “War of the Worlds” in a match that also included Jay Lethal. It was Rhodes’ first venture for the ROH World title or any world title, for that matter. The experience just made the match at “Best in the World” even more important. It’s everything to Rhodes.
“I heard a quote of Jimmy Snuka’s the other day. He was talking about his jump off of the cage at Madison Square Garden and he said, ‘That was my whole life, brother.’ There are moments when you’re lying and put hyperbole down and exaggerate and then there are things like Friday where I don’t have to lie,” Rhodes said. “It’s my whole life, brother. It’s a world title. It has been something I’ve worked for and quested for and now I have the opportunity to compete for one.”
Cody, properly coined “The American Nightmare,” has generated so much buzz after his journey over the past year thanks to more people taking notice of his incredible in-ring work against the world’s best competitors and the fact that he’s a part of the iconic Bullet Club. The decision to take that leap also brought change and affirmation within Rhodes.
“I think one of my biggest attributes as a person and a businessman in wrestling is I’m very self-aware. There’s a reason why I like all of the negative comments on social media. It’s because I’m not delusional about my skillset, about my consistency and what I have to offer,” Rhodes said. “But if this year has shown people anything, when it comes to things that I can do and the things I deserve and the things I earn and the years I’ve paid, I was absolutely right.
There was this period of time when I was incredibly humble and some of that still exist but we’re in this period now where I’ve never held my head higher and I’ve never been able to look people straight in the eye and tell them with absolutely no doubts that I feel I’m better than everybody. I feel I’m the best in the world and it’s apropos to the event on Friday ‘Best in the World.’”
Time will tell if Rhodes’ success will inspire others to make the same decision. He believes there will be a few more down the line even some that would shock us to the core if they left. It’s understandable that the temptation for talent to leave for a chance to climb the ladder instead of opting to meddle in mediocrity.
But one thing “The American Nightmare” is certain of is that the competition and the industry have never been better. That has been one of the most welcomed discoveries throughout his year wrestling in several promotions.
“It is bountiful, man, the amount of talent there and just the amount of ways to watch it and the competition that exists between us. It’s just a hell of a time,” Rhodes said. “The level of competition in the world of wrestling outside the WWE is absolutely the highest. Take a look at Christopher Daniels. Take a look at Okada, those are main eventers anywhere they want to be. When it comes to the independence, the competition is so high. Pete Dunne comes to mind. This was before he had his WWE UK Championship. There are guys like that everywhere. That’s the beauty of this period.
People keep waiting for 96 and 97 and not realizing that you’re in the middle of a boom. It’s happening now because wrestling is accessible. It’s not difficult to find what you want. If you don’t like WWE, you can turn on New Japan World. If you like WWE, you have the WWE Network. If you want to watch ROH, you watch the PPV. It’s all there.”
Cody’s star power has added even more credibility to the well-established Bullet Club, which already features The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Marty Scurll as well as Hangman Page, which Rhodes believes is “One of those guys in five years we’re going to be going, ‘Where the hell did this guy come from?’ He’s just amazing in the ring.”
“Being part of this movement; the Bullet Club movement, it’s unexpected,” Rhodes said. “You have guys like [Karl] Anderson, [Luke] Gallows and [Finn] Balor and you see the foreground set and how they’ve lined up the playing field and then you have it now where it has grown and grown. It almost scares you to the level of its reach. It’s on shelves now in retail outlets next to WWE merchandise and it’s not within the WWE circle so that’s the biggest indicator of its success.”
The Japanese fans have loved what Rhodes has brought to pro wrestling’s most esteemed faction. While working in Japan where he also caters to his fondness of Korean barbeque, (Rhodes will be the first to tell you that he rarely eats on the road but always eats too much red meat when he’s there) he discovered “The American Nightmare” persona has established a connection with the fans just like his father “The American Dream” once did.
“The Japanese fans, the Japanese culture, it kind of tickles me how much they have embraced it. They love it and I feel I’m so mean to them yet you come to the hotel after these shows and they come running and they all have the shirt on,” Rhodes said. “When we broke that merchandise record in the Tokyo Dome, it rattled me. I remember staying up that night and thinking, ‘How here? How did we do it here?’ There’s something that clicks. I’m just really flattered at the connection we’ve made.”
Living the life of an entertainer isn’t easy though especially with Rhodes’ current schedule. He went from having a 200-300 mile drive every night to get to the next show to nowadays having the first flight every morning to go to a different place every night and each time, it’s the first time they’re seeing you so he has to stay fresh.
Being the professional that he is, Rhodes stays on from the moment he gets on the plane for his first show all the way to the moment he gets off the plane to go home. He knows no other life or work ethic.
“I always take a deep breath right when I walk off the jetway and I return home. You’re not on anymore, bud,” Rhodes said. “You got a beautiful wife and a huskie at home that want to hang out with you.”
But despite the chaotic travel, Rhodes knows he signed up for this life. He’s on a mission and the lack of sleep pales in comparison to enhancing a family legacy and winning a world title cementing your spot as “the guy” in your industry. And he wants fans and detractors to be along for the ride.
“Judging by ROH’s last few PPVs, having record ticket sales, record buyrates, see what everybody is talking about. It’s not sacrilege to turn away from WWE to see what Ring of Honor is doing because if you miss it, you’re missing this movement. You’re missing what The Young Bucks have been doing. You’re missing what I’ve been doing and for someone who has followed me whether you’ve been a fan or not, this is the culmination of everything I’ve worked for and hopefully I can walk out world champion, the first time in 31 years for a Rhodes.”
Joshua Caudill is a writer for CraveOnline, a hockey fanatic, a pro wrestling connoisseur and an expert on all things Patrick Swayze. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshuaCaudill85 or “like” CraveOnline Sports on Facebook.
Photos by George Tahinos
Watch ROH “Best in the World” live 9 p.m. ET Friday, June 23 on Pay-Per-View, www.ROHWrestling.com and the Fite app.