Within a matter of months, Cody Rhodes has become All Elite Wrestling's biggest breakout babyface, one he could have been in WWE but never was.
Genuine good guys are hard to come by in wrestling nowadays. The business has evolved so much that it's difficult to define what makes for an effective babyface, and as a result, there aren't many compelling characters out there worth cheering for.
Cody, on the other hand, has been the epitome of what a face should be since AEW's launch earlier this year. Aside from his occasional (and arguably unnecessary) shots at the opposition from time to time, there doesn't seem to be anything truly unlikable about The American Nightmare.
Interestingly enough, Cody actually debuted on WWE's main roster as a babyface in the summer of 2007. However, he was as bland as could be, and despite Hardcore Holly's guidance, he failed to stand out in a major way.
It wasn't until he flipped the switch and went rogue the following year alongside Ted DiBiase Jr. that he finally started to show some personality. That continued well after his alliance with The Legacy ended when he branched off into singles competition and found success on SmackDown.
Years passed before WWE tested the waters with Cody as a fan favorite again. Following the raucous reaction he received at 2013's Money in the Bank pay-per-view for nearly capturing the contract, a hot babyface run seemed academic.
His feud with former friend Damien Sandow coming out of that event wasn't what it could and should have been, but his questionable booking as a babyface wasn't enough to stall his momentum. In fact, he emerged from his outing with then-WWE champion Randy Orton on the Labor Day edition of Raw more over with the audience than he was before.
Even at that point, Cody was rarely regarded as an exceptional technician between the ropes. Rather, he was known for being a skilled storyteller, and with the right opponent, he was able to capture a crowd's attention and have them rallying behind him by the end.
That was especially evident during his tenure in the tag team division with his brother, Goldust. Few tandems at the time jelled better than they did, resulting in the unforgettable moment of them beating The Shield to earn their jobs back at Battleground 2013 and celebrating with their father, Dusty.
In typical WWE fashion, the company cooled off on Cody at the turn of the year, and instead of allowing him to grow into the top babyface he had the potential to be, he remained paired with Goldust and was eventually repackaged as Stardust.
While the second-generation star did everything imaginable to make the gimmick work, it wasn't world championship material. Fans were ready for the return of Cody Rhodes by 2015, but because the company wasn't, he decided to leave and pursue other endeavors.
Although Cody was a babyface once more upon hitting the independent scene in the summer of 2016, it was short-lived. He turned heel at Ring of Honor's Final Battle pay-per-view and joined Bullet Club immediately afterward, ironically becoming more popular than at any other point in his career.
Cody worked a majority of his matches as a heel over the next two years but was beloved by the masses, anyway. He settled into a babyface role in AEW when the cheers he was getting became too loud to ignore, specifically at Double or Nothing when he and Dustin Rhodes emotionally embraced.
Of course, there will always be a contingent of the AEW audience that will forever worship the former intercontinental champion because of how he brought his vision for the company to life, but his babyface brilliance goes far beyond that.
A true face forces fans to believe in what they're fighting for. The passion in the promos Cody cuts is undeniable, and after what he had to say on the final episode of AEW Dynamite before Full Gear on November 9, viewers wanted nothing more than to see him achieve his dream of winning the world title.
More importantly, Cody hasn't been booked to look like a loser thus far. He's won more often than not, and even when he has lost, it's been in matches where he had such a hard-fought performance that the outcome was almost irrelevant.
Cody doesn't deliver false promises unless his trust his compromised, much like it was at Full Gear when MJF betrayed him. The goodwill he's built up with his faithful fans led to the nuclear heat MJF generated that night, and as their rivalry progresses, Cody will become only more revered than he already is.
With his fanfare through the roof at the moment, his body of work in the ring on the whole has been stronger in AEW than anywhere else he's been, including WWE and ROH.
The higher his stock rises in AEW, the more apparent it is that WWE dropped the ball big time on not capitalizing on Cody's babyface upside when it had the chance.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.