Friday, August 19, 2016

Wrestle Against the Machine

“I’m betting on myself and not the machine. Whether I succeed or fail, it’s all on me.”

Back in May, Cody Rhodes was granted his release from World Wrestling Entertainment- the only company he’s ever known. He didn’t just wrestle there for a decade- he was born into it with his father being The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes. Along with his brother, Dustin (also known as Goldust), Cody forged his own legacy in the WWE. Despite wrestling there for the better part of ten years, his exit seemed premature and far from amicable. 

Like any longtime worker leaving their employer, Rhodes is driven by his desire to test himself and a change of scenery. The grass is not guaranteed to be greener, but with Rhodes’ abilities in ring and on the mic- the sky’s the limit for the thirty-one year old.

Cody’s debut on the independent circuit has been known ever since he released this image of a wish list of matches he wants to have:

Matches would be announced not too much later after the release of the image: Zack Sabre, Jr., Chris Hero, Kurt Angle- with plenty more on the way. Ever since his departure from WWE, Rhodes has kept to himself for the most part. But now as the match is almost here, Rhodes had an extensive and impressive interview with Aubrey Sitterson:

It wasn’t just what he said- but how he said it. Rhodes’ conviction was palpable, and his confidence was very much present as well. It was a superb mix of genuine honesty that brilliantly balanced the line between modesty and arrogance. It didn’t take long for him to establish a commandment of sorts: thou shall not use insider terms. Rhodes did admit it was mostly his personal take, and not that non-wrestlers can’t use them- but don’t be surprised if he cringes when he hears them.

But how did Rhodes get to this point of self-discovery and testing his limits outside of a WWE umbrella? Over the last decade, it could have been a multitude of things that added up over time- but there are a few things that stand out. The first is false promises made to him by management in regards to winning Money in the Bank- not once, but twice. Akin to not receiving a bonus, pulling the rug out from Rhodes only hurt his relationship with WWE. The most recent instance stands out the most, thought.

“When you’re calling NXT ‘Dusty’s kids’ and his actual kid is working there- dressing up as a f*cking space clown is the last thing you want to do.”

The “space clown” Rhodes refers to is his most recent WWE vehicle- Stardust. The character was an advent of sorts for Rhodes, coyly playing off his brother’s Goldust character. It was further evidence of Rhodes making chicken salad out of chicken you-know-what. Some may have folded when given a character with limited potential- but not Rhodes.

He admits his debut seemed boring to himself, but would later find magic with “Dashing” Cody Rhodes. He’d be lumped into Legacy with fellow second and third generation stars Ted DiBiase and Randy Orton. Later after he’d suffer a broken nose from Rey Mysterio, working the real-life mask into a storylines. His evolution was fairly obvious, and a joy to watch. His work with Damien Sandow as one half of Rhodes Scholars was entertaining- but it always felt the son of The American Dream was destined for much, much more.

That brings us back to his “space clown” comment. I can only sympathize with Rhodes, as it seemed like a no-brainer to have him assume his real name and identity instead of a “Jim Carrey impression”. 

Fans in 2016 enjoy realness in their perceived “fake” sport. CM Punk introduced us to a new kind of “real” in wrestling in 2011. Daniel Bryan’s 2013-2014 meteoric rise added to it, and multiple storylines over the last few years have used real life elements to power them.

Yet WWE failed to give Cody the ball following his father’s unfortunate passing- dropping it and letting the star flounder in the midcard. Sometimes Stardust received opportunities on RAW, but was more often used to put over talent and at best take part on a preshow of a pay-per-view. Despite being stuck in the midcard, Rhodes kept plugging away. The first of two instances that led to Cody’s decision to leave was when a writer approached Cody and suggested using the Dusty Rhodes’ tag team tournament as a way to kick off a storyline. This deeply offended Rhodes, and rightfully so.

Then prior to the WWE Draft, Rhodes was told that creative had nothing planned for him.

Let me get this straight- nothing planned for THE Cody Rhodes, during a time where the likes of Rhyno, Shelton Benjamin and Curt Hawkins were being looked at as roster additions? Preposterous.

As Owen Hart was famously known for saying, “enough’s enough and it’s time for a change.”

That change is peeling away the bright lights and big stage on both USA Network and the WWE Network. That change is breaking away from the Cody Rhodes of WWE, and a new version not yet seen on the independent circuit. That change is giving Rhodes control of his future and any success or failure is placed squarely on his shoulders.

Rhodes admits not all of the blame can be placed on an employer in this situation. According to him, a wrestler isn’t just held back by the company. At times, it can be due to laziness from the perceivably-oppressed wrestler. Yet when you throw tomato after tomato at the wall and try to work with them to no positive reception- a change must be made.

Now with him dropping hints such as new ring boots for his match with Angle, or talking about a new not-yet-named finisher, Rhodes has begun to plant seeds for his evolution.

“I’m betting on myself and not the machine. Whether I succeed or fail, it’s all on me.”

Call it what you will. An evolution, a renaissance, an epiphany, a revelation, a reinvention. But whatever you call it, there’s one thing for certain: this next stage in Rhodes’ career is powered by his love of wrestling. He was offered a hefty contract to stay with WWE, but chose to do what he thinks may fulfill him. Like a professional athlete who never experienced college life, Rhodes wants to see what the noise is all about with the independent up-and-comers. Iron sharpens iron, and Rhodes will assuredly improve those he works with- but he’ll likely improve not only because of his hunger but also because of the variety of talented opponents to work with.

Evolve is a fitting name for Rhodes’ first show, as it’s exactly what he is looking to do as a wrestler. 

His first challenge is Zack Sabre, Jr. at Evolve 66 Friday night in Joppa, Maryland.

“He’s not a great technical wrestler. He’s a great wrestler,” said Cody.

With a burgeoning acting career being kicked off with an appearance on season five of Arrow, Rhodes is making the most of his opportunities. But the greatest opportunity isn’t the money and the fame. No, it’s simply for a star in his prime to prove himself on a new stage of a sport he loves.

Like it? Love it? Hate it? Let me know @SeanNeutron.

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