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Cody: His Passion, His Fans and Changing Into The Man We Want

Will You Walk Down The Path With Cody?

Hey everybody, this is Sam. Originally, I sat down to write a review for September 30th’s AEW show. It has been a couple of weeks now and it is still not completed. I kept going back to Cody. He is one of my favorite wrestlers and I feel compelled to explain why I follow him. I finally just gave in and now you have this article!

This is not an recap of Cody’s career, but is a look at a man that was brought up by his strong mother and tried to live up to his ground-breaking dad; the man that lost his passion for the sport he loved, but found it again by traveling the world on the independent circuit to reconnect to his old-school roots and his fans. This is a Cody we are seeing change once again into the authentic man we’ve always wanted to root for.

Older Fans Remember Dusty

I had a conversation on Twitter a couple of days ago with someone older and it made me realize that there are a lot of older fans out there that do, of course, remember Dusty Rhodes, and watched him wrestling for years, but they don’t really know Cody.

Then there is this group of young fans that are setting the wrestling world on fire with their fandom. They are the ones that have followed Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Cody all over the place. These fans bought the merchandise from Hot Topic.  They’re the ones that traveled sometimes-vast distances to All In and to All Out. Chanting A-E-Dub everywhere. They’re the ones that made these wrestlers believe they could make the change happen.

Younger Fans Only Know Cody

A younger fan I was talking to on Twitter had no idea who Dusty Rhodes was. He knew he was, you know, Dustin and Cody’s dad, but not anything else. He eventually figured out that he’d been an NXT trainer from some WWE Network shows, but that was it. I think that’s why I kept struggling with writing a review article. Something more needed to be written. How can you enjoy your wrestling? How can you truly enjoy or understand Cody? If you don’t understand where he comes from, then can you understand where he is going?

Dusty Rhodes gives Cody a pep talk backstage

This isn’t one of those articles about Cody’s stats, like, “born in 1985 and married to Brandi”. Or even of a list of his championship achievements complete with dates. If you need that, then Google is your friend. Maybe this article needs some personal flavor about who Cody is, why he stands for what he stands for, and why he believes what he believes.

Cody’s Mother—Michelle Rubio Runnels

To understand Cody, you have to go back to his dad and mom. But you have to START with his mom, Michelle Rubio Runnels. She is a very, very important part of his life. I believe her parents and grandparents are of Cuban descent. She has a work ethic like you wouldn’t believe. Anytime you hear Cody talk about her, be it in a magazine article, on the internet or in a podcast, then you hear his utmost respect for his mother and her work ethic. Cody has also described how she gets up every day with certain things that she wants to accomplish. He even mentioned last year when she broke her ankle that she never stopped. Michelle brought Cody up to be almost the man he is today, especially as far as how to treat people.

Now, his dad Dusty is known as the people person, telling stories and getting people to like him. But when I say that Cody’s mom taught him how to be around people, I mean that Cody is very polite and has impeccable manners. He has a very strong sense of etiquette, especially when it comes to wrestling etiquette. Cody believes in doing the correct thing at the right times and never wanting anyone to feel offended or like they’re left out or that they are being bullied. I think that comes from his mother. 

Cody’s Mother Giving Him Confidence

Any of you who have followed Cody’s career know that Cody has a speech impediment. He has a little bit of a lisp and when he gets a little excited or he gets going, then sometimes he stutters or his lisp gets a little worse.

Now, I think the thing that caught me about his mother was hearing that she said in an interview that she always talked to Cody when he was little and told him his brain was going faster than the speed by which he could talk and get his words out. She would say he needed to slow down and that his lisp and his stutter was just one thing that made him even more special. His mom never made him feel different or that anything was wrong with him. She made him feel special. 

There’s a big difference in that, and if you’ve ever grown up feeling special because of someone in your life, then you definitely know how great that is. Cody’s mom was there all the time, supporting him by going to his matches. Cody wrestled in high school, and you’ve heard from JR that he won two state championships in Georgia. All through high school, Cody didn’t want to be a professional wrestler like his dad and brother.

What Makes a Star?

So then, why didn’t he want to be a professional wrestler? Well, let’s talk a little bit about Cody’s dad. Some people have different definitions of what a wrestler is. You know, to some people, it’s a star. It’s someone that’s bigger than life. It’s someone that captures people’s attention. Some people think a top wrestler is a money maker. Sometimes you talk to people and they say that a top wrestler is someone who knows and can execute all of the different moves, that they can grapple, that they can do high flying, that they can do strong style and quick strikes, and then there’s some that just believe that you need to be a great all-rounder.

So that’s the reason why you get so many different opinions when people ask, “who are the top five wrestlers of all time”? Well, I think you’ve got to define that. Because when people start defining it, that’s how you really know where they stand. A lot of people say, “Oh, it’s got to be The Rock. It’s got to be Hulk Hogan.” Were they top money makers? Sure. Did The Rock parlay that into a movie career? And now the owner of XFL? Definitely. Is he the best wrestler? I’m not too sure about that. Rock had, like, maybe two or three moves. Hogan, maybe three moves. Could they talk and promote themselves? Sure. But the best wrestlers all-round? I don’t know.

Telling You About Me

WCW Saturday Night advert - 6:05 PM!

I’m old school about most things. See, it wasn’t really my parents who brought me up on wrestling. They, of course, allowed me to watch it. My mom hated it but at least will listen about it some now. They put up with my obsession with it most of the time though. What got me into it was my grandmother, my dad’s mom. My granny. Anytime we went down to her house, which was frequently, wrestling happened to be on.

I know that there were many times that on a Saturday at 5:30, we would knock and walk in the door and my granny would look at my dad and say, “you know wrestling starts in about a half an hour”. He would say, “Oh, I just wanted to see you and make sure you were ok. I just want to make this real quick.” We would sit there and we would talk to her. I can remember being little and no matter what, at 6:05 pm, it was time to shut it down. Now, you could sit there and we did, but while wrestling was on, there wasn’t any talking going on by anyone, but her throwing fits at Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen. During commercials, we were allowed to talk, and we could talk about anything. But when it came back on, that was the end of the talking.

Learning History

My granny was a big Jim Crockett Promotions person, then NWA. She didn’t get into WWE. I think that’s why I don’t know a whole lot of the history of WWE because she didn’t watch it. My granny put it down. It was more of a northern promotion and she felt like the WWE took things a little too far with their gimmicks and that they always wanted to cross the line. She just didn’t like that. So that’s why, since the WWE Network has come into existence, I’ve been trying to learn my WWE history. It is one of the reasons why I did a ‘Look Back at Vivian Vachon’ article. I’m planning to do more of those because I want to get to know the old-school wrestlers and what they did and did not go through.

So, I guess what I’m telling you is that I was brought up on the Four Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes, Nikita, Krusher Khrushchev and Ivan Kolov. I even saw Paul Orndorff, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, and Lance Storm. When I would go home and watch WWE wrestling on my TV, I started to understand a little bit about what my grandmother was talking about. Hulk Hogan would come out and do the thing where he went to the four sides of the ring to listen to the crowd with his hand up to his ear then flex and rip his shirt off. 

I thought, yeah, they don’t do that in real wrestling. Because, remember, I was brought up to think Jim Crockett Promotions, NWA, and WCW were the “real wrestling,” with WWE being the fake stuff.

My Grandmother and Dusty Rhodes

My grandmother hated Ric Flair. All of us grandkids pretty much hated Ric Flair. I have one cousin, who would just want to pick a fight with my grandmother, so he professed to like Ric Flair. He was older, he would do the strut, do the WOO, and tick her off.

My grandmother’s favorite had to be “The American Dream,” Dusty Rhodes, the son of a plumber. She got into his promos and she wanted all of us grandkids to realize that even though he didn’t have the perfect body type, he was still living his dream. She made a special point of always telling us that he wasn’t doing steroids. He wasn’t taking drugs. 

Dusty’s Promos

Dusty on the mic cutting a promo at Mid-Atlantic Wrestling

Dusty always talked and did promos on hard work, being smart, and being able to figure things out and in winning the right way. So, I didn’t realize it, but through that, she and Dusty were teaching us stuff about how to be a “good” person. I didn’t understand that until later. When I was growing up, I didn’t get that people considered Dusty Rhodes to be a wrestling genius, with his creativity, the things he came up with, how he choreographed his matches, how he treated people, how he set things up. I’m only learning that now.

Wandering Away From Wrestling

You’ve heard me say on my podcast that after a while I did what a lot of you’ve done and I wandered away from wrestling. I would check back in occasionally. I knew that Vince McMahon was buying up a lot of the different territories. There wasn’t as much wrestling coming through my state and as I started to travel as I got older, I wasn’t seeing nearly the same amount of wrestling going on. Turning on TV every once in a while I would check-in, saying, “Who’s this? Who’s that? Who’s the new star?” Then I would get into it for…maybe…I don’t know, six months to a year. Then life would take me away.

Vince McMahon started taking over more and more, especially around 2000, and I didn’t know what to do. I followed the Hardy Boys, Lita, and Trish Stratus and would follow certain segments or certain people or whatever. But I didn’t get back into it until about 2002. Many of you know 2002 is when the Ruthless Aggression Era started. That’s when Batista, John Cena and Brock Lesnar were hitting WWE. I also almost hate to admit it, but I was an MTV Real World fan as well, so I was rooting for The Miz to make it to the WWE and live his dream.  

However, I didn’t follow Dustin Rhodes. I don’t know why. He was in WWE at the time, but I missed him. I guess I was doing other things. Then Cody appeared in 2006. He was 21 years old and he was sent to OVW. With OVW being close as it is to my state, we always heard about it and him.

Cody Starting Professional Wrestling

Cody didn’t stay there long. He got pulled up to the main roster probably within a year. I was fascinated with him. He didn’t look like Dusty and didn’t act like him. There were times that he sounded like Dusty. But I wanted to find out more about him. Now I’ve since found out that he wanted to be an actor. He didn’t want to be a professional wrestler. But something captured him and led him more and more into wrestling. He caught a passion for it because of the acting, creativity, and athleticism.

I didn’t realize the life of a wrestler back when I was little. I had no clue about them always being on the road, staying in fleabag motels, and then driving during the night. They were in a completely different arena every night. It’s only now that I realize all of that from listening to them talk and tell stories. I love listening to Arn Anderson’s podcast and the different stories that he tells.

The Legacy

So, when Cody came up and caught on The Legacy, I loved it. I think most of you know Randy Orton is one of my favorites too. Now, Ted DiBiase Jr., I could give or take. But Randy Orton started going more for championships, and Ted DiBiase and Cody got into a semi long-term program with Degeneration X. Triple H and Shawn Michaels had gotten back together, so I had to watch that. Afterward, I remember that the program ended, Cody came back as Dashing Cody Rhodes.

The Passion Wanes As Cody Can’t Be Creative

In real life, Rey Mysterio broke Cody’s nose during a match. He had to have surgery and he came back with the facemask and I lost interest on and off. It became awful. I didn’t realize that this might have been the most interesting part of Cody. I could have watched Cody slowly lose his passion. Many have said that, after this, Cody became a gimmick machine. It was almost like WWE kept saying, “Here, try this,” as if Cody was some kind of gimmick guinea pig. Cody would try whatever he was asked to for six months or a year and then they’d say, “Yeah, you need something else. Here’s a new gimmick, try it.” Cody would, and it really wouldn’t get over. He tried over and over and over.

WWE started NXT in 2010. Cody was on the second season, and he mentored a guy who I couldn’t stand at the time. I couldn’t see anything in him and I just couldn’t get into his character. Cody tried to help him and mentor him. I even said, “I don’t know if this guy’s ever going to get it”. Well, for those of you who don’t remember that season or you didn’t watch it, it was Husky Harris. That name ring any bells? Let me go ahead and tell you who he is. It’s Bray Wyatt. It’s The Fiend. I was totally wrong. 

The Connection Between Me and Cody

Cody continued just losing the passion and losing faith. He was struggling, not really knowing what to do or how to do it. Well, so was I in my own job. I wasn’t doing what I felt like I was meant to do. I was losing who I was and what I wanted to do. My dad died and then I definitely didn’t know what to do. No one was listening as I told them about how hard I was struggling. They told me that I was making good money and had good insurance, but I wasn’t happy. My friends didn’t understand any of it. I was lost and didn’t know what to do other than to just keep struggling. 

Cody Rhodes as Stardust on the mic

WWE put Cody in the Stardust character, and I remember thinking “what a waste. Look at that athleticism and listen to how smart he is”. But no one was listening to him. You can see how unhappy he was and how he was struggling. And then…Dusty… he died in 2015. I watched the ten bell salute at Money in the Bank and the video package. The interviews from all the people he helped were unbelievable. It hit me that Cody had had the opportunity for 8 years to work with his dad. To learn all of his ways. But I also knew that, because of that, how often he would subsequently miss turning to Dusty for answers or just to listen.

Asking For The Release

It shocked me a little because so many considered WWE the pinnacle of the profession, but Cody asked for his release from them in May 2016. I said, “Oh my gosh, Cody’s leaving WWE.” He didn’t give a whole lot of interviews when he left. The longer he was gone from WWE, the more in time he opened up and gave more and more interviews. Cody talked about losing himself and how the only thing that was on his mind was making it in the WWE. He talked about how all he wanted to be was the world champion for his dad. Cody wanted his dad to see him at the top, to win a championship, to share that with him, and for Dusty to be proud of him.

Triple H Talk

In that interview, Cody said, “Now he’s gone and he’ll never see that. Dusty will never be with me. He’ll never experience it with me.” When he said that, it was like a door closing. It was almost like I could hear, “Oh, that’s why he’s leaving the WWE. There’s nothing to stay for. It is time to make himself happy.” Then he explained how Triple H came to him. Triple H thought that Cody was asking for his release because “Well, it’s just a typical wrestler pulling a move because he wants more money or a better spot on the card.” He couldn’t believe it when Cody was like, “that’s not what I want. What I want, you guys can’t give me. I want to be me”. Cody said “I want to be creative. I want to be able to do what I want to do. I want to be able to cut promos like I want to cut them and I want to be able to take my character where I want it to go.” 

Cody Becoming Independent

I think he had to get back to the basics and he had to go find people to talk to him about the basics. When you look  from early 2016 to 2017, you see Cody at WrestleMania, Ring of Honor’s Final Battle, New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom, and then TNA’s Bound for Glory. Those are the four biggest events of the calendar year, and Cody was at all of them performing. He was on the card and he was talking to people. 

Cody was learning different styles and different ways. He was getting his excitement back and being creative. Everywhere he went, people were loving his old-style wrestling style of telling stories in and out of the ring. He believes in telling good stories, cutting good off-the-cuff promos, having long-term builds and having great matches.

Cody Finds Out What Fans Like

Cody found out that so many fans wanted wrestlers to actually win or lose. They didn’t want matches to end in disqualifications, a no-contest, or a run-in with someone interfering. I found out I enjoyed indie matches. I remember being on my grandmother’s floor actually rooting for a person to win. It never occurred to me that someone might not win. It was rare. We got a winner and we could brag or tease each other then.

Cody was being serious about exploring the wrestling scene. During mid-2016 to 2017, he was at Evolve, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG), Smash Wrestling, and House of Hardcore. Then he went to England to Defiant, Revolution Pro (Rev Pro), Southside Wrestling, IPW, Preston City Wrestling, then he went to Ireland for Over The Top, then to Germany for Westside Extreme Wrestling. Cody was also wrestling in Ring of Honor, TNA, Impact Wrestling, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. He wanted knowledge. He had seen how much his dad helped the WWE and NXT wrestlers, but I think he was shocked at how much he had affected the indie wrestlers too. 

Connecting To His Fans

Cody Rhodes addresses the AEW fans from the ring

Cody also saw the comparisons between the indies and WWE meet and greets. They weren’t WWE Axxess, where you may pay $75-$200 and you might get 2-5 minutes with a WWE Superstar. The wrestler is saying, “Hey, how are you?” And the fan,” Oh, I’m your biggest fan.” Then you get a picture or an autograph. You get a minute-long connection.

Instead, Cody saw on the indie circuit that real fan connections were being built. Cody was going to these meet and greets at the smaller promotions, like Evolve or Ring of Honor. At some of these places, people were paying $5-$20 to meet Cody and they are getting to stand there to talk to him and he’s telling stories. Cody talked about seeing some of the same people, no matter where he was, and how they always came by his table.

Sometimes the fans would go to meet and greets and they would buy a shirt or they would buy some other of his merchandise or whatever. But the same fans always walked by his table and said hi. Or said ‘hey Cody, I’m here rooting for you tonight’. He started realizing that it didn’t matter what promotion he was at that night. They were following him because they had a connection to him and his character, that Cody was making them feel something. Cody started to get his passion back.

Being Heel

In New Japan, Cody hit some low blows and pushed some rules, earning him his nickname, “The American Nickname”. In Ring of Honor, he started doing some of the same things. Then he started wearing expensive suits and the Ring of Honor ring that he got people to kiss. In 2018, Kenny Omega was a fan-favorite and they did a program where Cody didn’t like playing second fiddle in The Bullet Club, so The Bullet Club Civil War started with matches between Kenny Omega and Cody.

But the fans wouldn’t let him be a heel for long.

September 30th Episode of Dynamite

Skip forward to September of this year, and AEW. Cody has been telling this long term story since winning the TNT Championship, but many didn’t see it or want to believe it. Cody started doing an open challenge every single week. JR kept pointing out to all of us fans that Cody was getting tired and injured. Cody came out unprepared for a couple of weeks. Then came his match against Mr. Brodie Lee where he was beaten in three minutes.

Cody came out as someone different on September 30th. The stage was different. It had a red tint to it and on the video screen it looked like a river of blood was flowing. There were two doors in the middle that opened and you saw Cody in a dark suit. On the video screen, you saw the Nightmare Family emblem then blood ran over it, dripping off of it. Pyro went off.

Cody talked about how embarrassed he was that he had gone to star on a new TV show for TNT and has Snoop Dogg, Rosario Dawson, and Jennifer Nettles. On this show, no one knew him. However, when they googled him then they saw his three-minute loss on the first page. He was seen as a loser. Not as someone who has won 13 championships.

Cody was dressed in a dark suit and had a somber attitude. Is that how he normally dresses? No, we’ve seen him in pink suits before and he is always excited. Then Cody spoke about his first trainer, Al Snow, saying that you always wrestle hurt, but you never wrestle injured. Cody asked: what if you are mentally injured? Is that what Cody is…mentally injured? Is that why he accepted the dog collar match?

October 7th

The dog collar match was on October 7th. JR said, “Well, why would he do that? That’s one of the worst matches ever. That’s one of the most violent matches. I’ve only called like five in my whole entire career. It’s almost career suicide. It’s gonna be bloody and they’re going to get after it.” Jim Ross just went on and on and on. I believe that comes from Cody’s allusion to being mentally injured, just like you saw the blood coming off the Nightmare Family logo. Cody is telling you a story. He is taking you down a path, just like his dad used to.

Of course, upon winning a brutal, bloody encounter, and reclaiming the TNT Championship, Cody alluded to the fact that people were talking about his potential heel turn, stating that he can’t turn because he does this for the fans. And while there is no doubt more of the story to tell, I do believe him when he says he does it for the fans.

Cody Taking You Down The Path

You’re seeing a story now of a Cody who is mentally injured but fighting through for his pride and his fans. Fans who haven’t walked down the path that Cody’s leading us down are going to see Cody finally become the “hero” he always thought his dad was. We are going to see this 35-year old, who is in the prime of his life, do what he has always wanted to do. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Let me know what you guys think. Are you willing to walk the path with Cody? One way or another, whether you’re going to love him or whether you’re going to hate him, are you willing to walk down that path with him? 

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Written by Samantha Sayre

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