Examining Cody Rhodes' Direction, Upside and Long-Term Potential
It's time to stand back and admire the flames; Cody Rhodes has been on fire.
This isn't success that will stop any time soon, either. Rhodes is too talented of a showman and a fighter to not keep climbing, to not keep thriving. After years of being patient with him, WWE appears to be ready to send him skyward.
The company has hit consecutive bull's eyes with Rhodes as of late.
He and Damien Sandow were the story of SmackDown when they battled over their broken friendship and the Money in the Bank briefcase. This rivalry made full use of Rhodes' face turn, painting the picture of a wronged man seeking retribution.
Then came Rhodes' pink slip.
A midcarder and tag team specialist for much of his career, Rhodes showed us why he's capable of being in WWE's upper echelon. Triple H fired him after cavalierly putting his job on the line in a match against Randy Orton.
The moment became Rhodes' best work so far and his means to stride into the main event scene.
Being a man suffering a regime's injustice, a family man fighting for pride and for his livelihood is a perfect fit for him. Going forward, it will allow Rhodes to compete with the company's biggest names in a marquee storyline.
Here the former wearer of the "lovestache" will carve out his own legacy.
A Virtual Standing Ovation
The recent Rhodes family saga has forced fans, WWE alumni and writers alike to take notice and applaud Rhodes.
Sean Waltman (X-Pac) pointed out how effective Rhodes has been since becoming a fan favorite.
Happy for Sandow & impressed with Cody Rhodes' baby face fire.— Sean Waltman (@TheRealXPac) July 23, 2013
Mike Mooneyham of The Post and Courier praised Rhodes' performance during the firing angle, writing that "Rhodes' mic work was excellent, but his in-ring performance may have been even better."
Lance Storm called Rhodes the best part of the episode.
For my money Cody Rhodes was the highlight of #RAW tonight. Best match and best promo.— Lance Storm (@LanceStorm) September 3, 2013
It was Rhodes' highest-profile opportunity, and he nailed it. Praise like Mooneyham's and Storm's was commonplace, as Rhodes gave the audience a sneak preview of himself prospering in the main event.
It's not as if Rhodes learned to be a star overnight, though.
He had been shining in the ring for years, elevating his game to a new level in 2013 and needing only the spotlight to turn his way to show us his skills.
Main Event Ready
Rhodes' ring work is fluid, believable and aided by his versatility.
One of the better technical wrestlers in WWE today, Rhodes is also athletic enough to pull off a gorgeous moonsault. He has merged those two skills with excellent showmanship to produce matches worthy of the top of the card.
In June on WWE Main Event, Rhodes did more than hang with Chris Jericho.
Everything from how good he makes Jericho's chops to the chest look to pulling his hair out after failing to get a three-count is proof of Rhodes' proficiency at in-ring storytelling. Had this excellent bout followed a great buildup and had some high stakes, it'd easily be a match WWE could place near the end of a pay-per-view.
Rhodes looked equally good against Alberto Del Rio on Aug. 14.
The dramatic way he sold his injured arm is how one drags an audience into an in-ring narrative. Great timing had Rhodes know how long to milk the moment where he hits Cross Rhodes but is too drained to pin Del Rio.
Matches like these have helped Rhodes ascend WWE. He now stands ready to give similar performances with world championships on the line.
Once he's standing in the heart of the WWE spotlight, the company can confidently hand him a microphone and let him tell stories outside the ring as well.
Rhodes' approach to promos is controlled but emotive. Like Jake Roberts or Nick Bockwinkel before him, he can engage the audience without yelling or barking at the camera.
His run as Rey Mysterio's masked foe was a great example of that.
This feud showed Rhodes' ability to unsettle us. He was equal parts charming and creepy. The mic skills he showed during this time and recently with the firing angle have not only shown that he's a top-level talker but a versatile one at that.
WWE can have him play a heel or a face; he can be a demented madman, a sleazy villain or a hero to the people.
That adaptability will open doors for Rhodes. Should WWE need a villain to challenge John Cena or a fan favorite to pit against Ryback, Rhodes can step in and hit home runs. That's exactly what he did during his forced exit.
This is an example of a focused, emotional promo that sends electricity down the crowd's skin.
The pathos here is what makes pro wrestling great. Moving performances like this will keep Rhodes in contention for a top spot in WWE. Wrestlers as skilled on the mic and between the ropes as Rhodes are rare.
Rhodes' only real drawback is his normalcy.
In a world of larger-than-life characters and men who look like they have stepped out of a comic book, Rhodes hasn't stood out. That's beginning to change, though.
WWE is playing up Rhodes' commonality as being relatable. Like Daniel Bryan, Rhodes can represent the underdog, the general populace, following in the tradition of his father, who famously connected with fans when he spoke about "hard times."
Tapping into this element rather than trying to make Rhodes a superhero has been a success thus far.
Being the son of a Hall of Famer has him compared to his father often.
He's a different wrestler than his father, though. Cody is more athletic than Dusty, a better actor and charismatic in a more subtle way.
Should Rhodes reach his full potential, his career will more closely resemble Sting's.
Sting was a perennial challenger for the World Championship Wrestling World title. He was an extremely popular babyface who shifted his persona to a darker one and had just as much success.
Rhodes can follow that lead.
He can be a top championship challenger, beloved champion and has the acting chops to pull off a shift into a more sinister gimmick. The only question is, who will be his Ric Flair?
The electricity that buzzed when Flair faced Sting helped launch The Stinger's career. Rhodes needs a similarly well-matched rival to thrust him forward.
He's attracted our attention and shone so far pitted against Orton, The Shield and Triple H's regime. It's been a preview of how great he can be, of how he can wrestle his way out of his father's shadow.
At only 28, he's got a lot of WWE-style storytelling left to do.
The World Heavyweight Championship, prominent positions at pay-per-views and a ticket to join Dusty in the Hall of Fame await him.
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