Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania 38 Is Exactly What WWE and Wrestling NeededApril 3, 2022
As most internet-savvy fans expected, Cody Rhodes was indeed the mystery opponent for Seth Rollins on Saturday night at WWE WrestleMania 38.
One classic show-stealing match later, it's clear he's back where he belongs and WWE might have a long-sought-after solution to issues assaulting its main event scene.
The rumor mill endlessly churning out speculation about Rhodes—a founding father of All Elite Wrestling—dipping out to rejoin WWE might have made things predictable, but it was once again a lesson that in WWE, predictable can be amazing regardless.
That's the general vibe for where things go from here.
By most metrics, Rhodes hasn't changed too much since leaving WWE the first time. Yet cliches about absence and fondness abound and, if nothing else, the proper, megastar presentation sells him as a serious main event threat.
The man who left as a pseudo midcarder who often wore facepaint and didn't use his own name is back and looking like a main event star.
It sure doesn't hurt that he was working with Rollins, of course. As most well-versed fans could've predicted, the match will flirt with five-star status. There was fun trash talk, like The Visionary audibly welcoming him back to the big leagues, with some funny NSFW-language in the mix. There was Rhodes looking every bit the part of a big-leaguer, even shrugging off a Pedigree. He was the guy who left for the indies, Rollins was the former indie guy who became the face of the company.
If The American Nightmare gets presented in this fashion beyond Saturday night, he's undoubtedly going to look right at home in the spotlight with the likes of Roman Reigns and even Brock Lesnar, provided the journey takes him there.
Granted, the reception for Rhodes won't always be as hot. Most nights aren't broadcasting from Texas. Few are 'Mania. Only one is the big return. But there's a snowball-down-mountain bit of momentum for WWE to lean on right now, even if fans have every right to raise an eyebrow and express some skepticism that this will continue.
To WWE's credit, there's one major parallel worth drawing: Drew McIntyre. It wasn't too long ago that the Scot, despite even boasting a gimmick as Vince McMahon's "Chosen One," departed WWE and, while remaking his body and look, worked at various promotions for years before a comeback. Eventually, he was the guy to dethrone Lesnar, carry the company on his back amid the pandemic in front of audience-less arenas and emerge as a top guy for life.
Rhodes, to say the very least, could enjoy a similar trajectory, especially when weaving in the family history. It sure doesn't hurt that the storylines write themselves. If he wants to be a babyface, he'll lean into that and the usual trappings of that style of character. If he wants to be a heel, it'd be all too easy to lean into the character who has returned to save a company, etc. Eventually, maybe there's a Triple H-styled bad guy in there somewhere.
There is a conversation worth having about how this makes AEW look great, too. Yes, Rhodes is the one Superstar amid what feels like thousands of defections lately to swim against the tide and go back to WWE. The fact that an AEW star who never won a main event title there just went and took down a modern legend like Rollins at a WrestleMania re-debut is a pretty sweet deal for AEW.
Overall, though, it feels like WWE would have to work really hard to mess this up. And the company better not botch it—this moment was nice, but rest assured, other AEW Superstars and beyond will keep a keen eye on Rhodes' post-return booking while thinking about when their contracts expire, too.
In the immediate aftermath, it's fair to suggest Rhodes' character and style just works better in WWE. There's nothing wrong with that, and the match with Rollins proved it. Where things go from here is hard to project, especially with the men's main event scene getting unified titles of some sort in the near future.
But Rhodes' journey from here is something even fans with a rudimentary understanding of his history should want to see unfold. To leave his father's stomping grounds, do some genuine, unabashed good in the industry and eventually return to chase his dream of being at the top of said stomping grounds is a borderline once-in-a-lifetime saga.
Which, written a different way, is simply a bona fide can't-miss situation that should have more eyeballs on WWE than in recent memory. It's a big shift in momentum, and oddly enough, qualifies as a win for the entire industry, and most importantly, the fans.