Cody Rhodes Returns to WWE After Leaving AEW, Beats Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 38

Mike Chiari@@mikechiariFeatured Columnist IVApril 3, 2022

CLEVELAND, OH - JANUARY 26: Cody Rhodes is introduced during AEW Dynamite on January 26, 2022, at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Cody Rhodes made his WWE return on Night 1 of WrestleMania 38 on Saturday after leaving All Elite Wrestling, and he picked up a huge victory as Seth Rollins' surprise opponent.

The American Nightmare hit Rollins with two straight Cross Rhodes. He teased a third before striking him with a series of punches and the Bionic Elbow in tribute to his father, Dusty Rhodes. 

Rhodes picked up The Visionary and delivered a third Cross Rhodes to get the win. 


❤️❤️❤️❤️<a href="https://twitter.com/CodyRhodes?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CodyRhodes</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WrestleMania?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WrestleMania</a> <a href="https://t.co/uyhrou8I1z">pic.twitter.com/uyhrou8I1z</a>

Rollins desperately tried to get himself added to the WrestleMania card in the weeks leading up to The Showcase of the Immortals but fell short in matches against Kevin Owens and AJ Styles.

WWE chairman Vince McMahon agreed to put him on the WrestleMania card, but he said the former universal champion wouldn't know his opponent until he was in the ring.

While there were believed to be a few potential candidates to face Rollins, Rhodes made his highly anticipated WWE return, which elicited a huge reaction from the crowd at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Along with Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Tony Khan, the 36-year-old was a driving force behind the creation of AEW and the success it has enjoyed over the past few years.

After being under contract with WWE from 2006 to 2016, Rhodes requested his release from the company because of a disagreement over how he was being utilized. That resulted in him establishing himself as a major star outside of the company.

Rhodes had stints in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Impact Wrestling. During that time, he held the ROH World Championship, IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship and NWA Worlds Championship.

He was also behind the organization of the All In pay-per-view in 2018, which was essentially the fore-runner to AEW.

When the formation of AEW was officially announced on Jan. 1, 2019, Rhodes was revealed to be one of four executive vice presidents under president Tony Khan.

He went on to be involved in countless top matches and rivalries, and he also held the TNT Championship on three separate occasions.

Given his standing in the company, all signs pointed toward Rhodes being in AEW for many years to come, but the first sign of something being amiss came in January when Fightful reported he was no longer under contract and was working on a handshake deal, which he confirmed in an interview with the AEW YouTube channel.

It was still widely assumed Rhodes and AEW would work something out, but after The American Nightmare dropped the TNT title to Sammy Guevara in a ladder match on the Jan. 26 episode of Dynamite, a bombshell was dropped.

Rhodes released a statement on Feb. 15 in which he thanked AEW and announced that he and his wife, Brandi Rhodes, were departing the company:

Cody Rhodes @CodyRhodes

<a href="https://t.co/iyKVg1nVpm">pic.twitter.com/iyKVg1nVpm</a>

Shortly thereafter, Khan released a statement thanking Cody and Brandi, and confirming their departure:

All Elite Wrestling @AEW

Thank you Cody and Brandi Rhodes <a href="https://t.co/tkDvVpnrrE">pic.twitter.com/tkDvVpnrrE</a>

That immediately led to speculation regarding what went wrong and whether Rhodes would go back to his old WWE stomping grounds.

Justin Barrasso of Sports Illustrated reported that Khan taking on full booking responsibility and Rhodes losing creative control played a significant role in the latter's decision to leave AEW.

Then, before anything was officially announced, Wade Keller of PWTorch reported that Rhodes was WWE-bound and would be in for a "big push" upon arrival (h/t Wrestling Inc's Sai Mohan).

Now that he is officially back in WWE, the focus shifts toward how he will be utilized.

During his first run with the company, Rhodes was a multi-time intercontinental and tag team champion, but he never reached the top of the card.

After making a name for himself outside WWE, though, he may be in line to take the next step, much like Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley did upon returning to the company in recent years.

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