I swore I wasn’t going to watch Wrestlemania 38 this year.
In the chat group I share with BBP!’s Sachin Hingoo and Jeffery X Martin, we constantly discussed our lack of interest in the big show, but when the day finally arrived I found myself subscribing to WWE Network for a month.
I did it with some shame, mind you. Here I was, going back on my constant declaration that there’s no way I was going to sit through Wrestlemania, even the supposed return of Cody Rhodes to the company he’s spent the last six years removing himself from wasn’t going to do it.
At the end of the day, I was full of crap, because come the first night of the “most stupendous” Wrestlemania, I DID want to see Cody Rhodes in a WWE ring again, mainly to see how he would be treated by the company and how the large gathering of fans would respond to him.
Though I’ve been watching professional wrestling for almost forty years (shudder), I’d say I’ve been a more passive fan for the last decade, if not a little longer. I haven’t watched WWE programming regularly, and I only really commit to watching the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemanias. My interest in the backstage side of the business has never wavered though, which is why I’ve maintained a subscription with PWInsiderElite.com, even when I haven’t cared to consume the actual WWE product.
My love for actually watching pro wrestling was reignited last summer when CM Punk returned to the wrestling world; not with WWE, though, but with Tony Khan’s All Elite Wrestling. While Punk was the bait, it was AEW’s incredible roster of talent and in-ring presentation that really hooked me in. Each week on Dynamite, AEW was and is putting on what I feel are pay-per-view quality shows, complete with stories that make sense and don’t insult my intelligence. I love that Khan and company treat wrestling with the respect of a genuine sport in its presentation. They even have win-loss records, which in theory would seem silly since said records are predetermined, but damn it if I don’t actually check to see who’s in the top five every week.
I find myself so committed to AEW as a fan that when it was announced earlier this year that Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes was leaving the company he helped put on the map, I actually felt disappointed and even a little betrayed. Cody had just had a fantastic match with the young Sammy Guevara; in the time that I’d been watching AEW, Cody always delivered in the ring. The issues many had with him seemed to come from backstage stories rather than in-ring ability; the AEW audience had turned on Cody, booing him every time he was out there, and rather than lean in to that reception, Cody refused to turn heel; he even said as much on tv. Throw in multiple stories as to why he left, including money and creative control, and I just felt let down by the situation. When rumours suggested Cody was coming back to WWE and would be Seth Rollins’ mystery opponent, I dug my heels in.
That didn’t last long, and I’m glad I changed my tune.
From the moment his AEW music hit, “The American Nightmare” Cody Rhodes looked like a real star on the grandest stage of them all. The announcers put his return to WWE over as a massive deal, and in the ring against Seth Rollins he delivered. The WWE Universe also responded positively to Rhodes, cheering for him in a way he hadn’t heard in a long time. His match with Rollins was my favourite of the first night of Wrestlemania 38, and I think many fans probably had the same reaction.
What comes next for Cody Rhodes will prove to be extremely interesting. In an article with Variety, published immediately following his match and a clear indication that WWE is actually willing to treat him like a star, at least for now, Cody alludes to his desire to win the WWE Heavyweight Championship, something that eluded his legendary father, Dusty Rhodes. In the same article, Rhodes suggests that WWE’s Vince McMahon, Bruce Pritchard, and Nick Khan have brought him in for who he’s become, not to change him into a new or different character. In this instance, Cody is probably saying all the right things, but anybody who knows anything about WWE and pro wrestling is that promises and commitments can change on a dime. If in six months time, he’s back in his old Stardust getup, I don’t think anybody will be shocked.
In the meantime, though, following his first match back, I was left thinking that Cody Rhodes does have a lot to offer WWE. From an in-ring standpoint, he’s outstanding and, if he can find a way to connect with the fans, he gives the company a high profile babyface, one who can also be trusted to make the company look good with personal appearances, etc. While AEW hasn’t missed a single step since he left, it seems to me that WWE needs a character like the one they let Cody Rhodes be last night at Wrestlemania 38.
Is all of this enough to get me to tune into WWE Monday Night Raw? I’ve learned my lesson, I hope, about making blanket statements so I’ll just say…maybe?