4 Big Moments in Cody Rhodes’ Journey to Become WWE’s Biggest Star

Eight years ago, Cody Rhodes left WWE after becoming frustrated with his creative direction and a lack of opportunities. He knew his worth, bet on himself and came up trumps.

He became the biggest star on the indie circuit and founded All Elite Wrestling alongside the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Tony Khan. Then, two years ago, he shocked the wrestling world as he returned to the company, becoming the first to walk through the “Forbidden Door” and left the company that he founded.

Over the course of his two years back in the Big W, no one could have predicted just how big of a star he would become. As the company gears up for WrestleMania 40, the American Nightmare is the biggest babyface that the company has since John Cena over a decade ago.

He recently upstaged both Hollywood megastar Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and his real-life cousin, the man who has been the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion for over 1,263 days, Roman Reigns.

But just how did this come to be? Let’s take a look at Cody’s four most pivotal moments en route to becoming the industry’s biggest star.

Three Straight Wins Against Seth Rollins

When Cody Rhodes made his triumphant return home, he did so as a “surprise” opponent for Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 38. And even though the surprise was somewhat expected, the 65,000+ fans in attendance at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas lost their collective mind.

The Visionary proved to be the perfect dance partner. The two combined to put on a 20+ minute classic that the recently returning star would win with three unanswered Cross Roads finishing moves.

But unsatisfied with that, the two squared off again at Backlash and again, it was Rhodes who got the victory. Back-to-back defeats left Rollins riled up and the pair squared off one final time inside Hell in a Cell. But the former Architect of the Shield was unable to change things, losing for a third straight time and cementing Rhodes’ legacy as a genuine superstar, much different to the man who left the company years prior.

Injury and Return

In the days prior to that third confrontation inside the Devil’s Playground, Rhodes legitimately tore his pectoral muscle clean off the bone. But with his advertised contest set to be the main event, he insisted that he compete against the advice of doctors. The graphic of him removing his robe with a gruesome black and blue upper body will live long in the memory, and even though he got the victory, it was clear that he would require months away from the ring in order to have surgery and rehabilitation.

It took four months for the American Nightmare to recover and when he did, he made yet another return in the 2023 Royal Rumble match. He was the 30th and final entrant and he went on to secure the victory, eliminating Intercontinental Champion Gunther to punch his ticket to his first WrestleMania main event and his first encounter with WWE’s undisputed top draw, Roman Reigns.

Losing to Roman Reigns

Heading into WrestleMania 39 at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, the bookies had made the challenger for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship a heavy betting favourite. Many thought that with the Reign of the Tribal Chief approaching 1,000 days and with him scheduled to take some time off, it was the perfect time to crown a new champion. Rhodes was the man who was primed and ready to win the championship and lead WWE into a prosperous new future with a fighting champion.

In a shocking swerve however, Rhodes was defeated courtesy of outside interference from the Bloodline, leaving Reigns to walk out of California victorious, his third straight successful defence of the title on the Grandest Stage of Them All. But the defeat simply left fans wanting more of the beaten American Nightmare.

Winning Back-to-Back Royal Rumble Matches

In the months following that defeat – his first since his return to WWE a year prior – Rhodes had to overcome adversity. And plenty of it. He went head-to-head with Brock Lesnar at three straight pay-per-views, winning the series 2-1.

He also beat Dominik Mysterio in London as well as defeating the Judgement Day in a War Games match at Survivor Series. But it was the man who returned after that matchup, a certain CM Punk, that threw a spanner in the works of Rhodes vs Reigns II.

While competing in the Octagon, MMA odds made Punk a +265 betting underdog for his bout with fellow 0-1 fighter Mike Jackson. He was anything but an outsider in the 2024 Royal Rumble match, with those same bookies making him an odds-on favourite. Had he won, he would have had the choice between facing either champion – namely Roman Reigns or Seth Rollins – and main-eventing WrestleMania 40.

He went the distance as did Rhodes, and the two former AEW stars battled it out as the final two men competing for victory. But shockingly it was the +700 outsider American Nightmare who eliminated Punk much to the delight of the 45,000 fans in attendance inside Tropicana Field in Florida.

His victory made him the first man since Stone Cold Steve Austin 23 years ago to win back-to-back Rumble matches and he immediately set his sights on Reigns – and after a minor detour – set up the rematch of all rematches, Reigns vs Rhodes II in the main event of WrestleMania 40.

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