This was always how it would end.
By now, you’ve heard the news. Cody Rhodes has left All Elite Wrestling, a company he helped build from the ground up, and served as an Executive Vice President. This coming after weeks of contract negotiations with CEO Tony Khan, which many fans – myself included – assumed would result in a deal being struck and business carrying on as usual.
Ultimately, that didn’t happen. And if the rumors are true, Cody Rhodes will soon show up inside a WWE ring.
The announcement of Cody’s departure from AEW left many fans speculating what happened. Was the final straw over money? More creative control? Frustration over the direction of the company? All of the above?
Neither Cody nor Tony Khan has given fans anything definitive about what caused the split. The only person with any (presumably) insider information to speak on the situation has been Kenny Omega. In an interview with Dave Meltzer, Omega claimed Cody’s vision for the future of AEW didn’t align with what other decision-makers within the company had in mind, and because of this, he believed Cody felt like it was time to move on.
Which makes sense. Because despite being presented as the face of the company, Cody Rhodes was an outsider. He was the sports entertainer playing in a professional wrestling sandbox. And no matter how hard he tried – and he literally set himself on fire – that was never going to change.
There’s a word that gets thrown around quite a bit on AEW programming. It’s used in media interviews. It’s said in promos, often delivered with such fire and passion that one begins to suspect not only do the on-screen characters believe it, but the real-life men and women behind those characters believe it, too. It’s even the name of one of the company’s big four PPVs. To borrow a term from the wrestling business, it’s a shoot.
AEW has staked its claim as the flag bearers of a pro wrestling revolution since its inception. They’ve stood in direct opposition to WWE’s brand of sports entertainment, attempting to appeal to the mass of wrestling fans who’ve become disillusioned with Vince McMahon’s bland, PG product, desperately craving a more authentic and raw representation of the artform.
But despite AEW’s lofty ambitions and sense of higher purpose, creating a wrestling company in today’s modern era was a gamble. What AEW was attempting to do hadn’t been tried in over 30 years. And the last company that did, World Championship Wrestling, enjoyed a brief run of success, beating out the then WWF in the television ratings for 83 straight weeks. Ultimately, though, Vince McMahon got the last laugh, putting his most significant rival to date out of business and emerging from the Monday Night Wars the victor in what many fans consider to be the height of wrestling’s artistic and commercial appeal.
To put it plainly, this was a crazy idea.
But here’s the thing about revolutionaries: you have to be crazy to even try.
AEW’s revolution got underway in 2019. And leading the charge was none other than Cody himself, whose bloody bout with his brother Dustin at the very first AEW PPV would become cemented as the promotion’s first classic match. Not only that, it served as a beacon of hope. If Cody vs. Dustin was any indicator of where AEW was headed, wrestling fans were in for something special.
Fellow EVPs The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega also put on classic matches in the company’s early going. We were introduced to bright, young stars like Hangman Page, MJF, Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, Britt Baker, and countless others. Even accomplished names like Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho came on board this professional wrestling uprising AEW had set in motion.
The momentum grew, the buzz grew, the ratings grew. The revolution was gaining steam.
And then, in August 2021, CM Punk walked through AEW’s door and announced his return to professional wrestling.
Still being this close to the moment, it’s hard to tell just how monumental Punk’s debut in AEW will end up becoming. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a massive deal even now. But despite all the praise it’s received, I don’t think we can fully wrap our heads around it. Not yet.
As revolutions go, Punk’s debut was the wrestling equivalent of Yorktown. A rag-tag group of indy wrestlers many believed would fail had somehow managed to convince arguably the biggest star of his generation to return to the squared circle after a 7-year absence. Because he believed in their cause. He believed in their mission.
He believed in the revolution.
That night, everything changed. Now came the question: what comes next?
The answer to that question was an influx of even more star power with Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole – two men who had been recently featured in prominent positions on WWE television – jumping ship to AEW. And they wouldn’t be the last. Weeks ago, Keith Lee – a man many feel never got a fair shake in WWE – became all-elite in what was undoubtedly one of the best in-ring debuts in years.
Still, though, another question lingered out there for fans. With so much main-event level talent now occupying the top of the card, where did this leave Cody Rhodes?
Cody – the man who was the biggest torchbearer for the revolution, who took potshots at WWE whenever he could, who was always quick to remind fans that AEW was the true home of professional wrestling – that man now found himself getting booed out of the building.
In a way, there’s something Shakespearean about all this.
The revolting mob of rabid wrestling fans Cody once led had now come for him, and he found his head on the proverbial chopping block.
Over time, the non-sensical, rambling, self-indulgent promos, the pretentious, agonizingly slow entrance, and the uninteresting, disjointed booking of his programs finally wore on the crowd, and they turned. All of the excellent television Cody had done – and let’s be fair, there was plenty, from his feud with MJF to the TNT Open Challenge – none of that mattered anymore. The crowd was out for blood.
However, there was one last card Cody could have played that would have made a difference: turning heel. And whether he was unwilling or unable to play that card doesn’t matter now. He’s gone.
AEW’s revolution claimed its final victim.
This brings us to where we are now, with Rhodes rumored to be returning to the WWE, a place he spent the first nine years of his career. How he is presented to the WWE universe upon his debut remains to be seen, but if Vince McMahon is willing, there’s quite an exciting story to tell there. And Cody immediately infuses the WWE with a sense of star power the company desperately needs right now.
But while all that is still up in the air, one thing is for sure. This isn’t the last time we’ll see Cody Rhodes in AEW.
He’ll be back. After all, this is wrestling. No one stays gone forever.
And when that day comes, and his music hits, and the spotlight beams down on the center of the ramp to find Cody rising up through the floor, smoke filling up the entranceway, the crowd won’t be booing – they’ll be cheering.
And rightfully so. Because by then, enough time will have passed that Cody will be remembered as he should.
As the man who started the revolution and paid the price because of it.