When Cody Rodes departed AEW for WWE in January 2022, it marked a watershed moment in professional wrestling.
AEW had to watch one of its top stars, an Executive Vice President of the company no less, take his talents back to Titan Towers with his “indie” character largely intact – a situation made incredibly awkward given all the smack the “American Nightmare” talked on Paul “Triple H” Levesque over his six years away.
But how does Rhodes’ departure fit into the enormous history of pro wrestling? Chris Van Vliet, a wrestling historian, was asked this subject on his YouTube show and received an interesting reaction from the Wrestling Observer scribe.
“I think in some ways it was [shocking], I was a little surprised. But I mean, the one thing was when the renewal wasn’t done, because Tony had an option on Cody to renew the contract like he did with The Young Bucks and others. And when January 1 happened, and there wasn’t a renewal, and he was out of contract. I mean, to me, that was very interesting. Even then, I didn’t think he was going to WWE,” Dave Meltzer said via TJR.
“I had contact with him, and he was always like, ‘we’re we are negotiating.’ And then, you know, all of a sudden, it was kind of like, weeks are going by, I mean, mostly assumption, we’re going to work it out. And then all of a sudden I wasn’t hearing that anymore. And that’s when it was like, you know, something happened, which obviously, Vince flew down to meet him is what happened. Then it became different. And he accepted the offer, and, the benefit of hindsight, man, what a great move that was for all concerned.
“Not for AEW, but for Cody. Cody became a much bigger star than he would have been had he stayed. And WWE, I thought that, he would help them a decent amount. But it was way more than I thought. I mean, being the first guy to make that jump, and being a good talker really helped too. But you know, his right place at the right time and instinct and everything like that. I think he played it well for him, you know? If he’d stayed there, he’d been a midcard guy.”
Is Meltzer right? Would Rhodes have stayed in the midcard if he had stayed with AEW, or would he have seen the writing on the wall like many of the promotion’s fans and fully embraced working as a heel, consciously working as a heel instead of subtly hinting at it while remaining a babyface in practice? While it’s impossible to know, it’s safe to say Rhodes isn’t too upset about his decision, given that he likely worked the match of his career against Seth Rollins at Hell in a Cell just a few months after re-debuting at WrestleMania 38.
Dave Meltzer discusses how difficult it is to report on professional wrestling
In another interview with Chris Van Vliet about the inner workings of his career, Dave Meltzer discussed how difficult it is to report on professional wrestling since nothing happens until it happens, if that makes sense.
“People are spitballing back and forth,” Meltzer said via Wrestling Inc. “There’s a million ideas that get pitched that never happen. I always try to use [a] qualifier, and then people go, ‘You’re trying to qualify it.’ Yeah! In wrestling, nothing happens ’til it actually happened! That’s the nature [of the business]. It could be the plan for six months, but until it happened, it hasn’t happened.”
Professional wrestling, unlike “regular” sports, has the benefit of Kayfabe and a pre-determined script, allowing promoters like Paul “Triple H” Levesque to properly calibrate a storyline to give the right emotions. Because of this, WWE may hire a performer and not advertise it for six months, send a talent home without officially firing them, and even add time to a contract due to injury, which would be impossible in any other sport. While some reporting may appear peculiar in retrospect, as Meltzer pointed out, what was reported at the time may not have been inaccurate per se, but not something the promotion chose to pull the trigger on at the time.