The Rhodes Less Traveled: Why Cody’s Title Run Is Missing the Mark

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“The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes is probably one of the best-looking, charismatic wrestlers in WWE today. He captivated his fans with his dramatic return in 2022 and quickly climbed to the top of the WWE food chain, defeating Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship at Wrestlemania 40. And with his rich legacy as a Rhodes, expectations for his title reign were sky-high; there were no limits to the greatness that he would accomplish as the new champion. However, it’s been almost two months since his Wrestlemania win and it’s become evident that his championship run hasn’t quite lived up to the hype. 

Cody Rhodes

When Rhodes appeared at Wrestlemania 38, it was transparent that he not only came to continue his mission of living up to the greatness of his late father, the American Dream Dusty Rhodes, but to also imprint his journey as the American Nightmare in the books of WWE history. With his initial feud with Seth “Freakin” Rollins, Rhodes had a point to prove; that he was bigger, better, and stronger than he was when he left WWE, six years prior. However, it was during his rivalry with Rollins that he suffered an injury, a torn pectoral muscle, that took him away from wrestling for over half a year. 

During an interview on the “The Dale Jr. Download” podcast with Dale Earnhardt Jr. and co-host Mike Davis, Rhodes revealed the severity of his injury and how he feared the potential of having other issues with his bicep.

“It was a complete tear, thing was ripped to shreds. And that bruise just kept getting bigger and bigger and it was running down. I thought I might have some other problems in my bicep and stuff because it was just getting bigger and bigger. I cramped up too, so it’s ripped off from here, but it’s still hanging up here, and all of a sudden it shot up real high. It looked like I had a giant chest.” 

– Cody Rhodes

With Rhodes out of the picture in just over two months after his long-awaited return, the fans weren’t sure when or if they would get to see some gold around his waist. We wouldn’t see him again until January 28, eight months later, at the 36th annual Royal Rumble PPV, which he won by defeating former Intercontinental champion Gunther. It would be shortly after Rhodes challenged Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. The challenge would be the catalyst of a year-long story between the American Nightmare and the Tribal Chief, stemming from Rhodes’ loss to Reigns on night two of Wrestlemania 39, with the help of Solo Sikoa. 

After his loss, Rhodes challenged Reigns for a rematch, which was declined by the former champion. Instead, a tag team match was agreed upon by the two men, with Brock Lesnar being announced as Rhodes’ tag team partner. The involvement of Lesnar ultimately led to an intense four-month feud with Rhodes, after he attacked him just moments before the match was scheduled to start. The rivalry between Lesnar and Rhodes distracted the fans and took away the potential of Rhodes getting another title shot from Reigns, who remained undefeated until the following year. 

We would not see Rhodes with any gold around his waist until his unexpected team-up with the former bloodline member, “Main Event” Jey Uso at Fastlane in October. The combining of these two men, who had their own respective storylines with the Bloodline, made fans see them as the new top babyface tag team, next to Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn. The title win against The Judgment Day’s Damian Priest and Finn Baylor would be the first time in nine years that Rhodes has held tag team gold. But despite that, Jey Uso and Rhodes would lose the titles in a rematch with The Judgment Day, ending their reign after only nine days. 

Fast forward to January 2024, Rhodes once again won the men’s Royal Rumble, out beating both Gunther and CM Punk. For the third time, he challenged Reigns to another shot at the title for the main event at the biggest stage of them all, Wrestlemania 40. While the plot of the story got derailed by the return of the “Final Boss” The Rock, Rhodes ultimately won his title and finished his story. So now we embark on a new chapter, the story of Rhodes as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion and I have to say, his reign so far has been boring—nothing that I can say is worthy of a champion, who has been through the ringer as the American Nightmare. 

After his win, Rhodes was thrown into his first title defense against AJ Styles. The feud lacked a compelling or cohesive narrative, as it came off that Styles respected Rhodes but just didn’t think he was qualified to be a champion. This rushed feud came after a much more entertaining and fulfilling one between Styles and L.A. Knight (yeah!). In my opinion, it left little to none of a satisfying storyline for Rhodes’ first match after defeating Reigns. 

Now we have Rhodes’ second title defense and this one left me perplexed, because honestly what has Logan Paul done that certifies him as a wrestler that is entitled to two Undisputed WWE Universal title shots during his two-year wrestling career? His second singles match ever was against Reigns at 2022’s Crown Jewel and yet again he skips past the likes of Bobby Lashley, Knight, Randy Orton, Owens, and so many more qualified championship competitors. This storyline mainly showcases this arrogant YouTuber, who is once again being reminded that he is an outsider—the same plot with Rollins, Reigns, Owens, Orton; and Ricochet. To be truthfully honest, the matches that champions have are supposed to either make the audience love the champion or love the challenger, and I don’t see these matches making a bit of a difference for either of these men. 

When Rhodes was the challenger, it was clear who the hero and the villain were. We wanted him to win, defeat the villain, and become the champion. Now that he is the champion, his challengers don’t seem to match up. This opinion piece isn’t about his ability to be a champion—I was one of those advocating for him to headline WrestleMania and win the title. Rather, this piece criticizes the booking decisions for Rhodes, hoping that he faces a worthy opponent like Orton, Lashley, or Knight.  Booking Rhodes against any of the three previously mentioned opponents would highlight his strengths as a wrestler, reinforce his image as a fighting champion, more than his predecessor, and demonstrate to skeptical wrestling fans that he is more than just the golden child that was handed an opportunity (their words not mines.)

It is undeniably clear that the presentation of Rhodes as champion is on the forefront of his mind as it became the focal point in his most recent “Busted Open Radio” appearance. During the 34-minute conversation with Dave LaGreca and WWE Hall of Famers Bully Ray and Mark Henry, Rhodes hinted at the fashion of the previous title reign, while revealing the tone and style he intends to set during this new wrestling era. 

“The last title reign [was] very similar to a ‘Nature Boy’ Ric Flair. Getting there to the edge of the mountain, and then the numbers, the Bloodline, the shenanigans, the Mr. Heyman’s. There was just…there was a specialness for sure, a spectacle. It was definitely an attraction. And now, looking at this title reign, I looked at it from the idea of ‘Hey, I can still wrestle at a high level. If anything, my wrestling IQ is the best its ever been.’ I want to have solid wrestling matches…And AJ Styles was the perfect individual to stand across from in Lyon, France for ‘Backlash.’ And Logan Paul— whether you like Logan Paul or you hate Logan Paul, and a lot of people hate Logan Paul, again, that’s an athlete’s athlete. I’m looking to separate this reign from previous reigns in terms of the type of matches that can be delivered and delivered by me.”

– Cody Rhodes

I truly believe Rhodes when he says he wants to separate his title reign from those before him, and I also believe without a shadow of a doubt that he will make it happen. At the end of his career, Rhodes will go down in history as one of the best wrestlers in modern times, I am stamping my approval on that belief. However, it will also be mentioned in the history books some of his matches and rivalries were duds and in my opinion, his first title defenses were as such. 

Cody Rhodes

As a fan of Cody Rhodes—admiring his wrestling, philanthropy efforts, business decisions, and his roles as a father and husband—I feel that his title reign have not hit all the right notes thus far. And I want to stress that I understand that it’s important to remember that the wrestling world is ever-changing, and champions evolve. The champion’s passion, his talent, and his ability to connect with his fans are undeniable and I have every reason to believe that with the right adjustments, his reign will be legendary. I will continue to support Rhodes as the champion and as a WWE superstar and I look forward to the moment when his title run truly shines, proving that even the Rhodes less traveled can lead to greatness.