Cody Rhodes Ready to Make History in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling

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It has been a little over a year since Cody Rhodes made the difficult decision to depart from WWE and jump into a pool of uncertainty.

The risky move has appeared to pay off as the son of the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes gears up to compete for the top titles in Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, headlining two big events over the course of eight days. First, the “American Nightmare” challenges ROH World Champion Christopher Daniels at the Best in the World Pay-Per-View on June 23. Then Rhodes faces Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship during the NJPW G1 Special in USA airing live on AXS TV on July 1.

“This past year has been really flattering,” he said. “I was under the impression that the bloom would be off the rose at some point and the hype would fizzle. I feel I’ve been really luck, and it’s really flattering that I have more fans now than ever. I’m in the highest point in my career and it’s not with WWE. I didn’t know that was possible.”

The former WWE Superstar’s reasons for leaving the company are well documented. He wanted to move past Stardust while they weren’t quite ready to let that happen. Despite the creative differences, he is quick to defend his former employer when fans argue WWE held him back.

“They put me in the position I am in right now,” Rhodes said. “If they had held me back they wouldn’t have granted me my release. They allowed me to go in the wild and do what I’m doing now. My wife [Brandi] didn’t have the best WWE experience, but she always says that she is very thankful for having been there because she met her husband. For me, I met my wife, was in two singles matches at WrestleMania. I even got to rebrand the Intercontinental title. I did it all in the early parts of my career. It’s on record how I feel things should have gone in the end, but I don’t want to live in the past. You got to move forward.”

And move forward he did, traveling the world working against some of the top talents from a number of reputable wrestling promotions. Rhodes has embraced the journeyman lifestyle, which in many ways is a throwback to the territory days.

“It has been essentially the type of wrestling I grew up on,” Rhodes said. “As a professional wrestler, I like to think of my ideas and what I do in the cars and on the plane or over a cup of coffee. I like to essentially take those thoughts and play my song, play my music. I forgot what that was like. It reminded me of my dad’s wrestling. It has made me very happy because it’s what I enjoy the most. It’s cool to know that your idea is good. It’s also cool to know when it’s not because that is how you grow.

“Shawn Michaels told me once that when someone asked, ‘Hey, how was my match?’ He answered them, but then said to me, ‘You know how your match was when you walk through the curtain. You know if it was awesome or if it wasn’t. You know because of how the audience reacted.’ It’s more about asking what you could have done differently. It’s made me really happy to play my music my way.”

Rhodes is getting the opportunity to flex his creative muscle as a member of Bullet Club. The group’s popularity continues to grow with branded t-shirts now on sale at Hot Topic stores.

“Bullet Club has become even more worldwide,” he said. “It was already worldwide with Finn [Bálor] and AJ Styles, Bullet Club OG’s Karl Anderson and Gallows. They set the playing field. Now to walk out on it and it really is worldwide. The addition of Marty Scurll is very significant. I don’t know if people are giving him the credit they should. He represents an entirely different demographic.

“Kenny Omega is out there turning out hits and hitting his stride. He is just entering the prime of his career with these performances he is delivering for the fans. He has put such a spotlight on New Japan Pro Wrestling. My mom, I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that seen in Despicable Me where Gru is showing his mom all the rockets and all the things he can do, and the mom could care less. My mom is like that. Then the first thing she thought was cool in the last 10 years was that my shirts are at malls, actual malls she can find my shirt. That’s cool because if you can get her than we are definitely doing something right.”

Despite all Rhodes has done and accomplished, many pundits believe matches against Daniels and Okada is a proving ground. The driven competitor thrives on a challenge.

“I’m preparing in unison for both opponents. I haven’t gone back into a wrestling school in a long time until a few weeks ago I went into AR Fox’s school in Atlanta. To be able to roll around and try some new things and new counters… My wife has made it easier for me. She made it so all I have to do is eat, sleep and watch wrestling. Watch both these guys on a loop and do it all the next day.

“It’s really nice to treat pro wrestling matches like a true training camp. There is your diet, workout leading up to the matches. That is part of being a pro wrestler and being a pro athlete. The most I have ever felt like a pro athlete gearing up for a big fight like a [Floyd] Mayweather or a [Conor] McGregor with these two matches.”

Adding more pressure for Rhodes is knowing the main event against Okada is on NJPW’s first big real solo show in the United States. Chances are good that certain viewers will tune in to watch the product for the very first time. Needless to say there is a lot riding on this event.

“I think New Japan Pro Wrestling is so polished and has been so polished. You can see that for sure by how many talents have been moved on to WWE,” Rhodes said. “You can see how their production has been copied on occasion. I feel like I’m up to the task of being in the main event of their very first event on U.S. soil. I would be pissed if it was anybody but me. I’m the ‘American Nightmare,’ and you are coming to America. Sometimes it writes itself. I’m very glad to be part of it.”

The 31-year-old takes pride in all he has accomplished thus far. Given his success, it’s no surprise there is the chatter of Rhodes potentially going back to WWE. Right now, it’s just talk because the fact is he isn’t ready to give up what he has built away from the sports entertainment juggernaut.

“Somebody asked me about some of the people who returned to WWE recently like Drew [McIntyre] for example. That was his path and his journey,” Rhodes said. “I don’t want to sound negative but being part of history right now and this new era and new boom. I didn’t get that while in WWE. So currently there is no incentive for me to return to WWE. I’m making more money than I was with WWE.

“I’ve been in some unbelievable matchups. Two are coming up. I love WWE. Just currently there is no incentive. There are some things I would love to be a part of. I would love to be part of the Dusty tag team tournament. At the same time I don’t think I’m playing a revenge song here. I don’t think I’m ready to move out of the spot of where I’m at.”

Outside the ring Rhodes is also adding acting credits to his impressive resume with appearances on Arrow under his belt. Will we see Derek Sampson again?

“For a fan form the start, the Arrow season finale was so satisfying. I’m looking forward to what’s next,” Rhodes said. “There was discussions for me to come back. Although I’m not privy to any behind the scenes discussions of Arrow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Derek Sampson returns in some fashion. I think they were very happy with me. I know I was happy. What a team with Greg Berlanti

Marc Guggenheim and everyone else there. Stephen Amell works so hard. He and I have built a friendship based on Stardust. So I hope to return. I took it very seriously and tried my best and hope people enjoyed it.”

With Amell known to have attended multiple WWE shows, will we ever see the actor ringside at a ROH event?

“He always asks about dates,” Rhodes said. “He is starting to become Reese Bobby, Ricky Bobby’s dad in Talladega Nights: [The Ballad of Ricky Bobby]. I feel like I leave a ticket at every show, and every show he doesn’t come. He is my Reese Bobby. He’ll make it eventually.”

Watch ROH Best in the World live 9 p.m. ET Sunday, June 23 on Pay-Per-View, and the Fite app.

Ring of Honor TV can be seen in syndication through Sinclair Broadcast Group affiliates, online and Wednesdays, 12am/11c, Comet TV.

Watch NJPW G1 Special in the USA live 8 p.m. ET Saturday, July 1 on AXS TV and NJPW World.