November 30, 2016 10:53 am ET
When you see Cody Rhodes wrestle – no matter where – he always kneels and kisses the mat.
It’s a tribute to a special bond he will always share with his late father, the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. The wrestling ring is where each made his living.
“I don’t know if it’s true, but it feels true to me, there is just this really strong connection when I’m in the ring,” Cody said. “If I was to go where we scattered my dad’s ashes, I would feel him less than I do when I’m in a wrestling ring. I lay my face into the mat and stay there for a while. It’s emotional to me.”
Rhodes died in June 2015 at age 69 – a shocker to his family and the wrestling world that loved him.
“I know some fans are probably saying, ‘Dude, get over it,’ but it’s not their dad,” Cody said. “I know you can’t make an entire career out of this story. But for me, now, it’s still the grieving process. It’s been 17 months. It was a complete surprise. I wasn’t ready for it — I don’t think anybody is ready for it — but I really wasn’t. It fell into my lap and came along.
“Now I am feeling closer to him than I did in WWE.”
And that takes us to the journey of Cody Rhodes, one that has seen him travel the world in the last four months.
Rhodes asked for his WWE release in May after he and the company had creative differences. He wanted to prove he could make an impact as Cody Rhodes; the company wanted him to continue as the character Stardust, a cosmic-themed takeoff on the Goldust character played by his half-brother Dustin complete with sparkly bodysuit and facepaint.
Working as Cody – no last name (more on that later) – Rhodes has performed for independent promotions virtually everywhere since his WWE no-compete clause ran out in August.
Rhodes will make his debut for Ring of Honor on Friday as part of Final Battle, ROH’s biggest show of the year. He will face Jay Lethal at the famed Hammerstein Ballroom in New York. The show is sold out but can be seen on pay-per-view (9 p.m. ET). In the main event, Adam Cole defends the ROH World title against Kyle O’Reilly in a long-standing grudge match. The card features four title matches.
Final Battle will help Rhodes complete a unique grand slam. He will have appeared in the biggest event for arguably, the four biggest promotions in the nation – WWE’s Wrestlemania, TNA’s Bound for Glory, EVOLVE 66 and Final Battle.
That is not lost on Rhodes. Asked him if the motivation is to prove that Cody Rhodes can continue to be a star in the wrestling world without the giant machine of WWE behind him and he says, “100 percent.”
But Rhodes also recognizes without a decade of exposure in the world’s biggest promotion, he wouldn’t be able to generate the interest from these other promotions.
“I would not have been able to do this had I not been with WWE for almost 10 years and not been afforded the chance to be on the road every week wrestling five nights a week and being paid very well by a very generous company,” he said. “So I appreciate it when people say that walking away took (courage). I appreciate it when they think I’m bucking the system. There is a rebellious element to this.
“But the truth is, WWE gave me the platform and spotlight for my name to exist in the first place. I’m very grateful to them for that. Money wasn’t the thing that was serving me anymore. I wasn’t doing it for the money and I don’t think I was ever doing it for the money. That’s why the place with most money didn’t appeal to me.”
Rhodes also will be appearing with Ring of Honor on Sunday at Final Battle Aftermath in Philadelphia, the Jan. 14 event in his hometown of Atlanta and potentially other ROH dates.
Rhodes spoke with For The Win about Final Battle, his legendary father, his wife being in the wrestling business and more.
Let’s start with Final Battle against Jay Lethal at one of the more famous places for wrestling and how this came together.
For me, this was a road that I wasn’t planning on traveling at all. I had been with WWE for so long, and I always thought I would end with WWE. The situation being what it was, a whole new world has opened up to me. This is the top of that world. The ballroom is not a place I’ve ever set my feet in before. That is nerve-wracking in itself and then facing Jay Lethal, who is the franchise of Ring of Honor.
I’ve talked to Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan, Cesaro — my friends who are Honor alumni about what to expect. I’m very, very excited. People don’t understand: I’ve been to Wrestlemania; I’ve had a few singles matches at Wrestlemania, but this is a whole new thing for me. This is the biggest thing I’ve done to date. There’s a lot of new eyes for Ring of Honor and a lot of eyes from Ring of Honor that don’t know what to expect from me. This is my opportunity to stand out.
When you left WWE, you tweeted a list of potential opponents, including Adam Cole, Dalton Castle and the Young Bucks from Ring of Honor and Kurt Angle among others. Did you expect “The List” would take off the way it did? It almost became like fantasy booking.
Fantasy booking is a good term. I didn’t think of it at the time like that. Now it’s exactly what it was. It was the little boy of inside of me, saying, “I’d like to see this match and I’d like to see this match, and I want to cover the globe.” I didn’t expect it to take off. There are so many parody lists that I’ve been sent, and I didn’t expect so many people to be irritated that they weren’t on the list.
I wanted the fans to know my intentions after leaving WWE were pure. I was going to continue wrestling. That was my proof that I mean what I say and that I’m a man of my word or hope to be.
You are being billed with just your first name. Can you explain why?
It’s an ongoing situation. … I like going by my first name sometimes because it’s so silly. They know what my last name is. They know where I came from … It’s silly that in the same period that (WWE will) promote a tag team tournament in honor of my dad, that you disallow me to use my last name. But please, please let me say, I’m not mad at anybody and it will work itself out without any type of lawsuit. It will take some time. But in the meantime, I’ll use the one thing they can’t take from me and that’s Cody.
You mentioned the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. Last year, you were with the company at the time and you and Dustin and your mom and sisters were part of the presentation. This year, Dustin handled it. Given the situation, were you invited? And if you had been, would you have gone?
It’s a great question. I was aware and kept in the loop that they were doing the tournament. I wish there had been more communication about whether we were going to be part of the finals, not so much for me. You don’t have to call and invite me. I understand I walked away from the company. It would have been nice to put in the call to my mother, though. That was something a little irritating.
Dustin was there to represent the family and the brand. The Dusty tag team classic itself is meant to highlight my father. The only people in the ring should be the teams competing. I’ve got no issue with it. Had they called me, I wouldn’t have known what my response would have been. Maybe it’s a blessing they didn’t. I can assure you that I wasn’t at home throwing a fit. I am pretty sure I was working somewhere.
One of the neat things about this journey has been that your wife Brandi has been more involved after she also left WWE in her role as a ring announcer. You were part of a mixed tag team match at Bound for Glory. What has her involvement meant to you?
Specifically, the mixed tag, it was really fun to see. It was her very first match and you never get your first match back. To be in the ring for that — my dad was out there for mine – was really, really cool. It was almost an out of body experience. I almost forgot I was in the dang match myself because I was watching her. It was very special.
I like her getting her own spotlight reason. At TNA , the reason she walked in front of me to the ring was for her to lead the charge. I wanted it to be about her. I played second fiddle to somebody my whole life, and I’m not mad about that. I was Dusty’s kid. I don’t want her to be Cody’s wife. I want her to find her way. She’s doing a really good job so I dig it.
It seems every wrestler anywhere and every fan has a Dusty story and they also do the lisp when they tell it. I won’t ask if you do the impression, but it has to be a unique experience to have people come up and do the impression for you.
I will fully say I don’t think people realize how much I hate when they do the voice and so many people do the voice to me. I always have to remind myself it’s endearing. I knew how he sounded, like how he really sounded. I have that in my mind and I have yet to hear one that is even close. Most of them go along the lines of like the “Ladies Man” on Saturday Night Live. It’s fun to pick apart the different good impressions and the bad impressions.
As for the wrestlers, he had a way of speaking to the guys. All of them remember that moment and that’s why they do the impressions. That’s cool to hear for me.
TLC on tap
Just two weeks after the Survivor Series, WWE has a Smackdown-brand event — Tables, Ladders and Chairs — set for Sunday ( 8 p.m. ET, WWE Network; preshow at 7).
A.J. Styles defends the WWE World title against Dean Ambrose in a tables, ladders and chairs match at the top of the card. The Miz defends the Intercontinental title in a ladder match against Dolph Ziggler. Becky Lynch defends the Smackdown women’s title against Alexa Bliss. Heath Slater and Rhyno put the Smackdown tag team title at stake against Randy Orton and Bray Wyatt.
Around the ring
• Charlotte won the RAW women’s title from Sasha Banks in Banks’ hometown of Boston; Banks took it back Monday night in Charlotte’s hometown in North Carolina. That is now three title reigns for Banks – all won on RAW — to three for Charlotte (although her first title reign was more than a year if you include the Divas title). Hopefully, we see a longer run for Banks this time.
• Being the presenting sponsor for Wrestlemania has become a big deal as the brand name continues to grow. Snickers will serve in that role again. WWE performers will take part in Snickers’ ‘You’re Not You When You’re Hungry’ campaign that will appear on RAW, Smackdown, WWE Network and social platforms.
• “205 Live,” the new WWE Network show devoted to cruiserweights made its debut Tuesday. Rich Swann beat Brian Kendrick to win the Cruiserweight title. Great move to start the show by introducing the entire roster of 16. Like any new show, knowing who’s in the cast helps.
• Roman Reigns earned a WWE Universal title match against champion Kevin Owens at the Roadblock pay-per-view on Dec. 18 by beating Owens on RAW this week. Reigns’ United States title is not expected to be at stake so Reigns could leave with both belts.