No Smoke and Mirrors About It as Cody Rhodes Returns to WWE at WrestleMania 38

Cody Rhodes Returns at WWE WrestleMania
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This past February, a huge ripple made its way through the wrestling community as Cody Rhodes announced his departure from the company he helped start. Of course, it had only been a matter of time before All Elite Wrestling would start losing wrestlers to its competition, but it’s safe to say likely no one would have imagined Rhodes would have been the first to defect back to McMahon land, WWE. But that is exactly what happened as Rhodes, without a non-compete to his name, on Night One of WrestleMania 38. The American Nightmare planted his proverbial flag, challenging Seth Rollins to a WrestleMania showdown. In short order, “Cody Rhodes returns to WWE” became the major headline of the wrestling world.

Cody Rhodes Returns to WWE

The Beginning of the American Nightmare’s Career

When news first broke that Rhodes was leaving AEW, speculation immediately began that he was headed back to the company where he spent the first 11 years of his career. In 2006, fresh off a successful high school amateur wrestling career that saw him win the Georgia state tournament twice, Rhodes followed his legendary father, Dusty Rhodes, and half-brother Dustin/Goldust, into the world of pro wrestling. He made his debut with Ohio Valley Wrestling, quickly finding success and championship glory. Rhodes won the OVW Southern Tag Team Championship twice, as well as the Heavyweight Championship and finally Television Championship to complete the promotion’s triple crown. From there, at just 21 years old, Rhodes made his Raw debut, instantly finding a spotlight as he was thrown into a feud with Randy Orton, one of the company’s hottest stars at the time. Rhodes found himself in the middle of Orton’s Legend Killer storyline as he tried to defend his father against the Apex Predator. He made a good impression on the star and the company, and years later, that paid off as Rhodes was hand-picked to join the Legacy stable. Involvement with Legacy put Rhodes right at the center of Orton’s marquee feud with the McMahon family and gave him a chance to really show off his own talent in the process.

But before Legacy, Rhodes teamed with Hardcore Holly and the two combined to win the World Tag Team Championship. It was Rhodes’ first of seven WWE main roster titles he would win in his career. While Rhodes made his mark in Legacy, he may be best known for his time in WWE by the varied gimmicks he had over the years. In just over a decade, Rhodes has been priceless, dashing, shattered, scholarly, part of a Legacy, of the cosmos, and just about everything in between. And through it all, the second-generation star made the most of what he was given, famously noting his own ability to turn “chicken s**t into chicken salad.”

Cody Rhodes Builds AEW and Returns to WWE

But that willpower and desire to continue being saddled in the midcard and with bad gimmicks could only go on so long. So in 2016, Rhodes penned his goodbye to the company that had helped raise him as a growing wrestler. Rhodes’ letter is still well-known to this day as he bet on himself and became the first wrestler in some time, to really try their hand away from wrestling’s behemoth. And he did it, before there was an AEW to go to. When Rhodes left WWE, there was no major company knocking on the doorstep. There were a lot of smaller companies, and Rhodes pretty much worked them all. Small indies as well as IMPACT Wrestling, the National Wrestling Alliance, Ring of Honor, and New Japan Pro-Wrestling all filled up Rhodes’ dance card as he regained the passion for the industry he had lost in his final months in WWE. Rhodes got experience all around the world and ultimately, he used that experience and his connections, to help found All Elite Wrestling.

Rhodes helped build AEW and stayed with the company for four years. But now, much like he struck the first domino in leaving WWE in 2016, Rhodes is once again making headlines as to what the impact of his return to the company means. Only time will tell. One thing is certain though, Cody Rhodes returns to WWE much more of a star than when he left. Both inside and outside of the ring, Rhodes’ value has increased. And for that reason, WWE really was the only possible landing spot given Rhodes’ plans to stay in wrestling for the time being. His debut on Saturday was a start, but it’s only the beginning. Because this weekend showed us that there are no smoke and mirrors here. Despite how Rhodes left and the proverbial shots he fired afterward, there rarely are unrecoverable burned bridges in wrestling. It’s all about making money and doing business and now, with time as an executive vice president and booker under his belt, no one knows this more than Cody Rhodes.

Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. You can check out an almost unlimited array of WWE content on the WWE Network and Peacock.