It was almost a year in the making before Cody Rhodes decided he wanted to leave WWE, or making the “Great Escape” as he describes it.
The tipping point happened in Greensboro, North Carolina. A venue and city his legendary father, the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes left blood, sweat and tears many a nights. He took a glimpse inside his bag to see the outfit of Stardust, a persona Rhodes had taken father than anyone could have imagined. Despite the success, Rhodes wanted to move on and expand his creative horizons.
“I’m sitting in a locker room that Ric Flair dressed in right before he won the NWA championship at Starrcade 1983,” Rhodes remembered, days before he debuts for Ring of Honor at Final Battle 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 2.
“I felt like the biggest jabroni ever. I wasn’t Stardust. I know people will say, ‘Do what they tell you. It’s wrestling.’ That’s not who I am. I’m the one out there in the ring. I know there are bosses and people who oversee it, but I’m the one out there doing it. I want to at least do something that feels like me. Stardust didn’t feel like me anymore. It was fun because it was a total departure from what I was doing, but it wasn’t me anymore. I was in the dressing room and thought it was time. Ten years is a long time to work for anybody. I had the greatest experience there for the most part. I met my wife there. I traveled the globe, but it was time.”
And so Rhodes set out to begin the next chapter of his career. The WWE departure shocked many fans, left wondering what was next. The months that Rhodes began working for the top promotions around the world against quality talent. He quickly developed a solid reputation and became one of the hottest commodities in pro wrestling.
“It was a big test,” Rhodes said.
“A prominent thing in wrestling is delusions of grandeur. So many times guys think they are better than they are or think they had a more significant run than perhaps they did. The last thing I wanted to be was someone who was having delusions of grandeur. I fully admit that if I had hit the road running after leaving WWE, if I had fallen flat. I would have known I would have a lot of ground to cover. I made this big stand and went on record about why I left WWE, turning down seven figures. I wrestled a few weeks ago, I’m not going to say where, but the ring literally cracked in half in the match prior to us going out there.
“This was all a big test. I’m now going to places that are just freakin’ magical like Ring of Honor Final Battle. Final Battle, I’m not lying, is bigger than what WrestleMania was to me. Maybe because I’m out there in my own skin. Maybe it’s because I have cultivated my own brand now. Maybe it’s because the best revenge in the world is success. Maybe I want to prove naysayers and WWE wrong. I found I stopped focusing on the negative, which, especially in this modern day of social media, is hard to do. I’m driven by the positive. Almost every single show we’ve done on the independent run has had a record crowd. To me, the meet-and-greets with the fans has been very rewarding.”
Another Rhodes was motivated by his drive and determination to succeed outside WWE, wife Brandi. She was not content being a ring announcer and wanted to wrestle. Now the current TNA Knockout is getting to do just that.
“We both don’t like couples where you put it out there so much that they are a couple. We took our moment though at TNA to really present ourselves as a couple,” Rhodes.
“But I wanted to make it about her because I know what it’s like to play second to somebody. Not because you are second in reality, but the perception. I was second to my dad. I was Dusty’s kid. I never wanted Brandi to be Cody’s wife. She has a lot to offer. She was part of the master’s program at the University of Miami, graduated at the University of Michigan, almost made it to the Olympics in figure skating. She has all this stuff. I was just happy to let her go out there and shine. To see her have her first match, there is so much funny stuff that happens when you have your very first match. It’s inspiring for me to see something like hat and see somebody take a shot. Every time you go out there you shoot for something. I enjoy that a lot.”
Rhodes will make history at Final Battle, finishing an incredible trifecta. By the end of 2016, he would have also wrestled on WrestleMania and Bound for Glory. Those are the biggest shows for WWE and TNA respectively. The student of the game is excited to test his skills for the first time in ROH against Jay Lethal. He notes it’s one of what will be multiple appearances for the company moving forward.
“Jay Lethal is the franchise of Ring of Honor right now,” Rhodes said.
“If you were to walk into a WWE locker room today, you would see people watching YouTube clips of places like PWG, Rev Pro, especially like Ring of Honor. That is what you would see. I got a great history lesson of ROH product because I rode with Daniel Bryan for so long. He is so proud of his body of work there. He made me of fan in his match against Morishima when he takes his eye out and detaches his retina. It’s one of my favorite pieces of business. It was in Hammerstein Ballroom, and I’ve never stepped inside the Hammerstein. I’ve been fortunate to rub shoulders and share the ring with ROH alumni like Kevin Owens, Cesaro, Seth Rollins. I’ve called each of those guys in the last few weeks to get an idea of what to expect on Friday. I don’t walk into anything not knowing. I feel you disrespect the brand if you don’t do your homework.”
Rhodes did his homework before landing a guest role this season of Arrow. It’s a dream come true for the comic book aficionado and budding actor. Along with being a championship caliber amateur wrestler, Rhodes was a member of the drama club and the International Thespian Society in school. He developed an appreciation for Daniel-Day Lewis, Paul Giamatti and Kevin Spacey. He would later attend the Howard Fine Acting Studio.
“I wanted to make it in entertainment,” Rhodes said.
“I didn’t think I was physically big enough to be a pro wrestler. I wanted to make it in entertainment. I thought once I get famous doing this, I can go be a wrestler. It was backward ass logic. I shortly figured out where wrestling is where my heart is.”
Rhodes recently moved with the family to Los Angeles, where he is looking to build his acting resume. He liked being on the Arrow set working alongside Stephen Amell, who once wrestled against Rhodes at WWE SummerSlam.
“It was everything I had hoped for and a little more,” Rhodes said.
“I did do a guest spot on Warehouse 13 a few years back, but that was cross-promotion with SmackDown. This was something I got on my own. I was ready to be a cop in the background. I wanted to pay my dues. This was a new vocation and world for me. It ended up being the villain of the week with its own mini-origin story. I had the ability to be more than the ‘dumb wrestler.’ A lot of times when it’s a wrestler in a role it’s easy for them to be seen as the dumb jock. I’m a big fan of Derrick Sampson and allowing him to come alive on the show.”
The question remains given the positive response, is this the last we’ve seen of Rhodes on the CW series?
“You never know,” Rhodes said.
“Greg Berlanti created a real broad, universe television wise for the DC. I would be open to it. I don’t know of anything currently yet. There was some small discussion about coming back, but it was really loose. For sure, I would love the opportunity to invade Star City again. There is also Flash, Legends of Tomorrow. I’m a big fan of Legends, mainly because of Vandal Savage. I’d l love to hit those worlds too.”
Much like Oliver Queen had a list to complete; Rhodes made one of his own. Only his was of opponents the wrestler wanted to work. It was posted on social media and drew immediate buzz. He has made significant progress leading to wonder if another list is in development.
“I just feel sequels tend to suck,” Rhodes said.
“The list now, especially since I’ve been on the ground running, would be a little longer. Now that I’m saying it, maybe I should do a second. Maybe because once it’s official and full and all the boxes are checked on the first one, I think it would be appropriate. The first time was a promise to fans. An, ‘Okay, don’t worry. I’m going to do these things. This is my word to you.’ Maybe this new one could be to keep people apprised of what the year will look like.”
If you combine what he has done already with the acting work in development and a book surrounding his late father, 2017 is looking to be exciting for Cody Rhodes.