As reported by Last Word on Pro Wrestling, weeks of speculation about Cody Rhodes’s destination culminated in his return to World Wrestling Entertainment on WrestleMania Saturday. Cody Rhodes claimed victory over Seth Rollins in a non-title match bristling with the beginning of what could be an intriguing feud based on a battle of wills.
Cody Rhodes vs Seth Rollins
After requesting his release from WWE in 2016, Rhodes began a sojourn throughout the worlds of independent and international pro wrestling. He wrestled for the now-defunct EVOLVE and What Culture Pro Wrestling. He entered Pro Wrestling Guerrilla’s annual Battle of Los Angeles. Eventually, Rhodes made his way back to televised pro wrestling by way of stints with TNA/IMPACT! and Ring of Honor, before expanding his reach globally by joining the New Japan Pro-Wrestling roster as a member of the long-running BULLET CLUB stable. The rest is pro wrestling history: Rhodes’s wife, Brandi Rhodes, and BULLET CLUB stablemates Kenny Omega and Nick and Matt Jackson (The Young Bucks), departed NJPW to play an integral role in the founding of pro wrestling wunderkind Tony Khan’s brainchild, All Elite Wrestling.
The former EVP of AEW, the mastermind of its charitable wing, and 3x TNT Champion departed the company abruptly in February 2022.
The ‘Road to WrestleMania’ prior to WrestleMania 38 was a rocky one for Seth Rollins. His pursuit of the WWE Championship at the inaugural Day 1 event was not successful, nor was a bid to compete for the Monday Night Raw tag team titles. His tenuous partnership with Kevin Owens dissolved after this defeat. The ever more erratic and bombastic Rollins finally found a spot on the WrestleMania 38 card after an emergency meeting with Vince McMahon. A match was set… But Rollins’s opponent was of Mr. McMahon’s choosing and was not to be known until the night itself on April 2 in Dallas, Texas.
The moment arrived, and even Rollins himself was captive in suspense before the Dallas crowd of thousands. “The Visionary” hurled frantic urgings at the empty space at the head of the ramp where his opponent should be. Finally, the lights of the arena dimmed. When the lights returned, Rhodes’s theme, Kingdom, blared and “The American Nightmare” was clearly in sight, headed towards Rollins in his, Rhodes’s, first WWE appearance since 2016.
A Battle of Wills
What followed was a bout that, despite a shaky start, evolved into an engaging contest of veteran performers. Rhodes was victorious, and the feud is sure to be reprised on Monday Night Raw. There was no title at stake, but Rollins’s rantings in the middle of the brawl give a clue as to the bedrock of the storyline between himself and Rhodes. “This is my company! My industry!” Rollins screamed furiously.
In his career following The Shield, Rollins’s characters have grown ever more grandiose, narcissistic, delusional, and dangerous. Although tongue in cheek, his “Monday Night Messiah” and “Visionary” characters are also vicious and brutal, plus dangerously erratic. In short, Rollins has transformed himself into the ultimate heel, with a massive entitlement streak. He repeatedly covets championships that are not within clear sight, on the pretext that he once held them and they should be his.
Enter Rhodes. Rhodes’s determination to portray a heroic babyface was notoriously at odds with the AEW audience’s collective desire for him to turn heel. This, Rhodes refused to do, and by late 2021 a chorus of ‘boos’ was a regular welcome for Rhodes during his AEW appearances.
However, he has now returned to WWE-where pro wrestlers like John Cena, Hulk Hogan, and Bret Hart captained the brand for many years apiece with broadly drawn babyface personas. This is the kind of character Rhodes is determined to play. His initial WWE run floundered, but during his time away, Rhodes has honed his “American Nightmare” character into one with the celebrity gloss of The Miz but the never-say-die earnestness of Cena. At AEW, Rhodes attempted to showcase his character’s heart and heroism in his latter feuds with Anthony Ogogo and Malakai Black, with shaky results.
In Rollins, Rhodes finally gets the sharp contrast to himself he has been seeking, an artist as committed to being a villain as Rhodes is to being a hero. Rollins, onscreen and off, is also committed to WWE-which casts Rhodes as the prodigal son whose motives for coming home are being tested. Rollins’s proclamation hung in the air between them, now a question both were fighting to be the answer to: “Whose company is it?” The optics of a former prominent AEW star battling one of WWE’s top superstars is emblematic of the feud between the two top tier promotions and visually asks, “Whose industry is it?”
Cody Rhodes vs Seth Rollins – In Conclusion:
Cody Rhodes has so far stubbornly cast himself as a babyface. Rollins has built his “Visionary” character into the consummate heel. Their face-off is a layered battle of wills that mirrors the rivalry between AEW and WWE itself.
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