On January 17, 2022, Sean Ross Sapp from Fightful Wrestling uploaded a post on his Fightful Select subscription service saying Cody Rhodes was a free agent.
Yes, Cody Rhodes had been working without a contract and for 17 days he had been a free agent. The same Cody Rhodes who was an Executive Vice President with All Elite Wrestling. The same Cody Rhodes who co-founded All Elite Wrestling. The same Cody Rhodes who took a challenge from Dave Meltzer on Twitter once of filling up a 10,000-seater arena, put it on a pay-per-view, called it All In, and kickstarted a revolution that today is known as All Elite Wrestling.
But somehow, someway, in January 2022, Cody Rhodes became a free agent while still holding the TNT title. Dave Meltzer of the Observer blamed it on COVID-19 and logistics and mentioned how Cody has not been there in person to sign the deal and it was only a matter of days until he puts pen to paper.
What should have been red flag #1 is the fact that AEW was not using Cody anymore in their marketing material to promote Dynamite or Rampage live events. His face vanished from the posters where as before he was always part of the line up.
Cody was supposed to defend that title at Battle of the Belts against Sammy Guevara, the man who he took the title from on the Christmas Day episode of Rampage. As luck would have it, someone from Cody’s family got coronavirus and he had to self isolate at his home, missing the TNT special. Up until that time, no one knew that Cody was a free agent.
Then AEW did something that should have been red flag #2. Instead of postponing the match, they had Sammy Guevara against Dustin Rhodes for an interim TNT title. Yes, AEW created an interim title because their champion was unavailable…for two weeks.
Who does that anyway?
Where they already thinking that Cody would not return on television? Why create an interim title when he was only going to be out for two weeks?
The day after word came out that Cody was a free agent, AEW promoted Rhodes’ return on Dynamite. On the show, Rhodes, dressed as a professional as always, and standing in front of a gigantic ladder, dropped what should have been red flag #3.
“Someone told me to save this promo but I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance so I’m going to do it now,” Cody said.
If he’ll ever get the chance? Hello? Alarm bells, anyone? No? Okay…
Briefly interrupted by “Royal Rumble” chants, Rhodes talked extensively about CM Punk’s pipe bomb from several years ago on WWE television. He said in Punk’s absence, someone did all the things Punk said he wanted to do in the pipe bomb segment.
“I did them,” Cody said emphatically as he turned around to face the hard camera. “I carried every ounce of anti-monopoly sentiment on my shoulders. I held every grade of the revolution in my hand and each and every one of you cheered.”
He then continued, “People talk about the forbidden door. It’s a proper noun. It’s vernacular. But if you’re an industry journalist who covers what we do and you disagree with anything that I say here tonight, then you’re not a journalist. As this generation likes to say, check the receipts, check the dates. Before there was a forbidden door, I was the one who built it!”
That was the last time Cody Rhodes spoke to the AEW audience. Fast forward a week later and on Beach Break themed episode of Dynamite, Cody and Sammy had a banger of a match and Cody dropped the TNT title a month after regaining it. That was the last time Cody Rhodes wrestled in front of an AEW audience, and the last time Cody appeared on AEW television.
No, Cody did not show up at the Royal Rumble and only those who had some wild fantasies in their head thought he was going to be one of the 30 entrants.
On Friday, February 11, different insiders began getting weird messages about something big that was going to happen. Funny enough, it came from the WWE side so naturally, everyone thought something WWE-related was blowing up. It didn’t take long for them to realize that it wasn’t WWE-related, but it was Cody and Brandi Rhodes leaving All Elite Wrestling.
According to different sources, all parties and their respective lawyers held crunch meetings during the weekend. Cody wanted money, the same kind of money that Khan was splashing on the likes of CM Punk, Jon Moxley, and Bryan Danielson. Khan, for whatever reason, didn’t think Cody was worth that money and held his ground.
At 10AM on Tuesday, a trio of statements were released: one from Cody, one from Brandi, and one from Tony Khan. All three played nice, thanking each other, and acknowledging the contributions they made. Cody even called Tony a “beautiful soul.”
And just like that, it was over. Just over three years after it was officially founded, Cody Rhodes was out of All Elite Wrestling.
Leaving with Cody was his wife, Brandi, who has also been part of the AEW family since day one. Like her husband, Brandi’s deal expired at the end of 2021. She held the role of Chief Brand Officer and was also an on-air character. Just a few weeks ago, Brandi was involved in a segment with Dan Lambert of American Top Team and as always, the crowd did not appreciate her presence.
“Shut the f*ck up, shut the f*ck up,” chanted the Chicago crowd. Lambert, who’s usually the anti-AEW heel, found himself as the face in the segment. Brandi, for whatever reason, heeled on the crowd from the first minute by naming a different city. MMA star Paige VanZant then proceeded to beat her up, with the two seemingly in a start of a program which would lead to a match down the road.
The rumors of disagreements between Cody and Tony Khan had been brewing for around a year. Cody, an integral part of the AEW inner circle, had most of his powers stripped, powers that eventually were taken over by Khan himself. Booking was a major sticking point as Khan – and he boasts this every time he can – is the sole person who makes decisions and writes the shows. That did not sit well with Cody and his EVP status was quickly being eroded.
Cody’s relationship with The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega did not help either. At one point last year, Cody did not speak with the trio and vice versa. Matt and Nick Jackson and Kenny Omega are super tight and it became a one vs three affair with Cody being the odd one out. There was no way he was going to win that war although the icy relationship got better over time, but nowhere near what it used to be.
As Andrew Zarian of Mat Men Podcast put it, WWE was waiving the victory flag when all this blew over during the weekend. It turns out that Cody and his camp were already in discussions with WWE and that’s the only way WWE would have known that Cody and Brandi were exiting AEW stage left.
If Cody does end up going to WWE, and for all intents and purposes, this is where it’s heading, it will be a major victory for WWE and a major loss for AEW. Now, this is the wrestling industry, and anything can happen, and Cody might change his mind and not go to WWE at all, but when you do all this and reach this point, you’re basically at a point of nearly no return.
Why a major loss for AEW? Here, you have your former Executive Vice President, one of the founders of the company, who at every opportunity took a shot at his former employer on national television – be it on the mic or smashing a throne with a sledgehammer in a direct shot at Triple H – on your airtime, who is now leaving the promotion which he helped create and going back to the very same company which gave him his start and the very same company which he bashed for the past three years.
Fans might say that the mass exodus from WWE to AEW shows how bad it is over at WWE. And they’re probably right. But when you have the above scenario it looks just as bad, if not worse. Public perception is everything. For them, it’s Cody who quit the greener pastures of AEW to go back to devil, WWE. For that scenario to happen, how bad was it for Cody in AEW?
The flow of stars crossing over from WWE to AEW has been steady. Jon Moxley, Malakai Black, Andrade, Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, Kyle O’Reilly, Christian Cage, Paul “Big Show” Wight, Mark Henry, and the list goes on and on. These are only people who either their contract expired or who requested their release, and we’re not even counting those who were fired and moved over, such as the likes of Miro, Bobby Fish, Ruby Soho, Shawn Spears, FTR, etc.
There has not been one AEW star who went the other way. And as things stand, there’s no bigger star than Cody Rhodes who WWE would want to be the first one. Their co-founder. Their EVP.
Cody had a pretty secure job, an office job and an on-screen role. He’s part of the TNT Go Big Show series and also had an offer for a second season of his own reality TV show Rhodes To The Top. Go Big Show is already airing on TNT and you can bet there’s no season two of Rhodes To The Top coming. Besides, WarnerMedia never officially announced a season two pick up.
But you don’t quit just because of money. Problems have to run way deeper than that to bolt to your prior job, a job which made you wear a costume and makeup and called you Stardust and a job which you requested to leave back in 2016.
But as things stand, that’s the road Cody is willing to walk. There are rumors that Cody will be at the Performance Center as early as this weekend to start filming promotional material. Those remain rumors as there’s no word that he’s officially signed to a WWE deal. With his contract expired, there is no no-compete clause so technically, he can appear anywhere at any time.
Will Cody be a success in WWE? There’s no reason to believe not to. Vince is not paying someone a truckload of money to have him chase the 24/7 title. The Cody that left in 2016 is not the Cody of 2022. People like Drew McIntyre and Bobby Lashley left WWE after being booked poorly, made an even bigger name for themselves without the WWE marketing machine behind them, came back, and took the fed by storm.
Time will tell if Cody will follow the same path. Cody is now 36 years old and over the next few years he can make millions of dollars that otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to make in AEW. You have to strike the iron while it’s hot, and if you want to make quick money, WWE is the place to be right now.
One thing is for sure, you better buckle up, because we’re in for a ride…
…actually, two things are for sure: No matter how bad you diss them, at the end of the day, everyone goes back to WWE.