On May 21st, 2016 Cody Runnels asked the WWE for his release. We think when a wrestler is part of the biggest promotion in the world that they’ve reached the pinnacle of their careers. They are working for the biggest company and are presented the greatest opportunities they could ever dream of having. We want to believe that, but what can happen to an opportunity is exactly what happened to Cody. At just over 30 years of age, Rhodes had already been a part of the company for a decade. It’s incredible to think that his time with the promotion has been that long, considering how he was being used recently was a disappointment. Disappointing because for the last decade, he had been used in a number of different ways as a performer in the ring.
When he first joined the WWE’s developmental program in 2006, he knew he would be in for a long road but to see what he did shows that he’s clearly a quick study and adapts quite easily. As the younger son of the late Dusty Rhodes, Cody had to feel that he would have to overcome the belief some may have had that he would have an ‘easy ride,’ when that was anything, but the truth. When he joined Ohio Valley Wrestling his early development came under Al Snow. Then, when he came up to the WWE’s main roster he teamed with veteran Hardcore Holly. With his early training and alliance with Holly, Rhodes was quickly being surrounded with notable talent that only helped make him better early in his career.
The time, however, was right for Rhodes to flourish with other young talent, and thus he became an integral part of The Legacy alongside Ted DiBiase Jr and Randy Orton. The group was together for a couple of years and had notable feuds with the likes of Degeneration X and the McMahon family. Once again Cody was working with notable names such as Shawn Michaels, Triple H and Vince McMahon. That experience provided him growth both in and out of the ring. Whether Rhodes was victorious or not in his matches, it was irrelevant. It was all about storytelling and being able to paint a picture so that fans would either love or loathe his character. It appeared as though he was a natural on the mic and in the ring, and while many spend countless time perfecting their craft, in only a short couple of years Rhodes was competing against one of the greatest wrestlers of all time in Shawn Michaels. The company was high on Rhodes, which was justified. Legacy would only have a certain shelf life, though, and as the faction dissolved other opportunities presented themselves to help Cody develop as a performer in the company’smidcard.
After the draft between Raw and Smackdown, Rhodes developed the very self-involved and narcissistic character that asked to be referred to as “Dashing” Cody Rhodes. Vignettes went as far as to have Cody demonstrate proper grooming tips. It’s those vignettes that provided Cody the opportunity to develop as a character. Later, he transitioned to his ‘’undashing” Cody Rhodes character that acted as though he was disfigured and more beast than beauty, once again showing another side of Rhodes. It was an actual incident in which Rhodes’ nose was broken that helped further along his character’s progression.
He was put in a position to compete with other promising young talent such as Drew McIntyre, David Hart Smith, Tyson Kidd and The Usos, and his ascent to the top was further supported by his Intercontinental title reign, a reign that also saw Rhodes bring back the old Intercontinental championship that had become synonymous with former WWE legends as Randy “Macho Man” Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. If there was something Rhodes had always held close to his heart. It was nostalgia for the Intercontinental championship that was refreshing to see, especially to older fans that came to appreciate the old look and feel of the title. Rhodes was a two-time Intercontinental champion, but even greater things appeared to be on the horizon. After the title reigns had ended, Rhodes was thrust into a feud with former Legacy team member Randy Orton. With time and seasoning, Rhodes was believable as a viable challenger for Orton. However, after that, Rhodes’ run wasn’t furthered and the reasons for why that didn’t happen remain a mystery.
Did the company feel that Rhodes was going to plateau and only achieve a certain amount of success? Or did they see his value somewhere else? It appears to be the latter because Rhodes eventually formed an alliance with Damian Sandow and they were known as The Rhodes Scholars. While the team allowed the duo to demonstrate a very self-involved persona, it didn’t necessarily mean Rhodes was being pushed forward. The push alongside Sandow did allow for the duo to challenge in the tag team rankings, and showed that the company was going to put him in storylines that best suited him and his ability. The team eventually split the team, with Sandow turning on Rhodes and a feud ensuing.
Cody’s success came full circle during the initial storyline that involved his father Dusty Rhodes and The Authority. The audience had been sick of how Cody was treated, and how his brother Goldust, who tried to save his brother’s job had been treated. The Rhodes brothers initiated a feud by invading the arena whereever the WWE were running shows to attack The Authority’s henchmen at the time, The Shield. The feud culminated with the Rhodes family becoming victorious and capturing the WWE tag team championship. The spark had been rekindled, as Cody was being put into a position to succeed. Although he was working in a tag team, he was heavily involved in a storyline that included his family. Things were working out well for Cody, and he was making his father proud. One has to wonder if this was the last time Cody was truly happy with how things turned out for him. The creation of the Stardust character, while creative at first, had run its course. Cody, being the consummate professional, did what he could to make it work. However, after Dusty Rhodes passed away several fans and Cody himself wanted a change. He wanted a return to what had made him successful. He wanted to be himself. Cody had the foresight to see that fans would be less convinced of his character with no ties to anyone, and his father’s passing.
According to the Wrestling Observer, a key factor in Rhodes’ decision to leave related to plans for having Cody return to his Cody Rhodes persona. The report states that it was agreed upon months ago to have Rhodes return after Wrestlemania, but Vince McMahon changed his mind. That decision had to have left Rhodes with a feeling that if it wasn’t going to change now then it may not happen. Rhodes didn’t cast blame directly at McMahon, but rather the creative team that failed to make use of the various concepts he proposed.
Rhodes always saw himself as a main eventer, much like a number of WWE fans. It was reported that his dedication, understanding and seeking of advice of those that were main event stars what attributed to him remaining steadfast in wanting to contend in the main event. Was it his size and frame that they weren’t sold on? That couldn’t be true, as fans had seen the ascent of Daniel Bryan in the main event. Did they believe that fans wouldn’t find him believable in the main event after being on the roster for a decade? Possibly. With that said, did the company make an effort to put Rhodes in storylines with the likes of John Cena either? Feuds could have been developed with the likes of Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho or Dean Ambrose to elevate Rhodes; working with perennial main eventers could have elevated him to that level. Could you imagine if a return to “Dashing” Cody Rhodes was to face Dean Ambrose?
The storylines and the feuds wrote themselves. There didn’t appear to be any animosity leading to the decision, the consequent request and the ultimate release from the company. What went wrong? The problem is that the influx of new talent, and decisions to elevate them into the main event, sadly put Rhodes on the sidelines for no reason that we can see other than circumstance. While not everyone can be pushed in the main event, Rhodes was a tremendous talent that had to sit idle while others around him were getting opportunities. Rhodes is believable as either a face or a heel, but the company was determined to stick to a plan they believe will achieve success, rather than invest their time in someone who had earned credibility in their ring.
It’s often argued that the WWE is very big on ensuring their ‘homegrown’ talent are the ones that move up in the company. Where was that belief when it came to Cody? Dusty is looking down proudly on his son. He’s looking down proudly because much like himself, he wasn’t going to allow someone else to dictate what his career was going to be defined by. Cody will blaze his own trail and his own path, and when he does appear in a main event somewhere, the belief will develop. Not just because Cody thinks it, but because anyone that’s seen him knows it.
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