Has Cody Rhodes Turned into the John Cena of AEW with Fans?

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured ColumnistNovember 10, 2021

Cody Rhodes' recent reactions bear a strong resemblance to those of John Cena from years past.
Cody Rhodes' recent reactions bear a strong resemblance to those of John Cena from years past.Credit: WWE.com

From beloved babyface to polarizing tweener, Cody Rhodes' role in All Elite Wrestling has drastically shifted since the launch of the promotion two years ago.

Truth be told, he hasn't done much differently, either. In many ways, he is still the same character now that he was then, except the crowd support isn't as strong as it once was.

His falling out with the AEW faithful was only inevitable. Anyone who has followed his run since late 2019 should be aware of where he went wrong and why he hasn't exactly been a crowd favorite as of late.

The 35-year-old's constant breaks from television combined with his inconsistent storylines and lack of character development have made him an easy target for criticism. John Cena suffered from a similar issue for a good chunk of his WWE career, and now Cody is quickly becoming his AEW equivalent from that standpoint.

Prior to his recent return to WWE, Cena was renowned for receiving mixed reactions from fans. That was due to him being tailored to the younger demographic for so long and the older male segment of the audience resenting him for it.

Some of the booking decisions WWE made with The Cenation Leader during that long stretch of time weren't always the most popular, but there could be no doubt he was the franchise player.

The same can not be said for Rhodes, though. Despite being one of the founding fathers of AEW, he has been bouncing around from feud to feud with no real sense of direction for the past year and a half. Unlike with Cena, not everything involving The American Nightmare has been exactly must-see.

In addition to his rivalry with The Factory that had no business being as long as it was, Rhodes hasn't done anything of importance in ages. Per the stipulation he agreed to upon losing to Chris Jericho at Full Gear 2019, he can't contend for the AEW World Championship and that has severely limited what he can do.

Cena, on the other hand, was always chasing championship gold no matter how bad the backlash got. In fact, his constant presence at the top of the card was part of the reason why he was resented by such a noticeable portion of the audience at the peak of his popularity.

There's no telling if he would have won over those fans had he remained full-time in wrestling, but with how long he's been gone from WWE, he's had no trouble endearing himself to virtually everyone in the WWE Universe any time he's been back since 2019.

Following in Cena's footsteps may be a much tougher task for the AEW executive vice president if he sticks around and doesn't disappear for years at a time.

At the very least, one thing Cena had going for him during his time on top and Rhodes has going for him today is that they never fail to deliver when the lights are bright regardless of who they're in the ring with and how the crowd feels about them.

Cena earned his "Big Match John" nickname by showing up and showing out on countless occasions. Meanwhile, Rhodes has had multiple Match of the Year contenders in AEW and lives up to the hype when it matters most.

Better yet, both men have done an exceptional job of putting over and elevating talent when necessary. There have been a few cases here and there arguing otherwise, of course, but all in all, they haven't gotten proper recognition for doing the honors and helping push the future forward more often than not.

Perhaps what gets under the skin of fans more than anything when it comes to Rhodes is his blatant acknowledgement on TV of not wanting to turn heel. Cena was guilty of the same thing for many years and was one of the elite few to never succumb to the negativity.

The biggest difference between the two in that regard is that the AEW EVP has proved in other promotions that he can work as a viable heel in the main event scene. He has said before that becoming a villain at this point would be "too easy," but all of his efforts to turn the crowd around in his favor since then have come up unsuccessful.

Even with all the commonalities the characters share, Rhodes can't be considered a carbon copy of Cena. Both men are established but in two totally different ways and Cena was far more important to WWE's week-to-week programming than The American Nightmare currently is to AEW.

With that in mind, there are lessons AEW can learn from how WWE booked Cena when he was at his most despised. It did the right thing by eventually flipping the script with Roman Reigns, and if AEW did something similar with Rhodes down the line, he can also rejuvenate his career and embark on an epic heel run.


Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.