“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…”
When the legendary crooner, Frank Sinatra, begins his timeless hit “My Way,” for a reason unknown to me, my mind always drifts to professional wrestling and its heroes of days past. His soothing deep voice speaks volumes about many situations in life finding a poetic end. With wrestling though, it seems additionally monumental as when a career comes to a close, a dream does as well. Many of these performers we so gleefully support week after week have pushed to live a life under the lights. Many have done so since childhood, so when that final bell rings, it hits just a little differently.
Some of them exist within their career with a finite end in mind. Some others never want to leave their boots behind. There is no perfect way to close a career, especially one so definitive to the human behind the performer. Wrestling retirements have always sat atop the mountain of emotional memories within my two decades as a fan. I can picture vividly the faces of Edge, Daniel Bryan, Ric Flair, and more as they stood in the ring and said goodbye to the only world that they ever wanted to be a part of. Tears spring still from my eyes as I attempt and fail to understand the weight of those moments that live in wrestling infamy.
So, when Cody Rhodes stood in the middle of the ring after an especially difficult loss two weeks ago on AEW Dynamite, and I saw a familiar look in his eyes, I knew something was about to happen. No, I couldn’t imagine he was about to leave his boots in the ring. But those Cody eyes – you know the ones – tell stories all their own. Filled with unbridled emotion and dedication, when Cody Rhodes has something to say, we listen. We listen because I dare say no one in the business today takes it as personally as he does. He bleeds the wrestling business. He lives it. Because of this, before he even spoke a word, my eyes filled with tears. I knew that he was about to bear his soul for us once again, something he does so very well.
Coming off a loss – the kind of beating he hadn’t absorbed since the late Brodie Lee – he spoke words of gratitude and love. Cody spoke to the business he loved. He spoke to the fans who never gave up on him. He spoke to his family who he adores more than any other. Lastly, I like to think he spoke to himself as well.
Perhaps to the little Cody, who idolized his legendary father, or to the Cody just starting on WWE television with much to learn, or to the Cody who bet it all on himself and set to forge a path with no guarantees. Perhaps it was merely just a means to an end in a feud far from over, but that’s not Cody’s style. We hang on his every word not because the stories surrounding him are just that brilliant – though they often are – we do so because he reaches through the screen and yanks us into the ring with him every single time he holds a mic or laces up his boots.
As he started to unlace his boots, Frank’s iconic ballad began to play in my mind. Before Malakai Black kicked him into oblivion, those beautiful words echoed and told a story of a man who helped change the landscape of the wrestling world during a time when it’s so desperately needed to be changed. No one thought it was possible. Fans were disappearing. Hope was evaporating for some, and it didn’t seem there would ever be anything to restore our passion for this thing of ours to the heights it once was.
I don’t think Cody necessarily planned to help create a revolution still growing today when he left WWE, but I do think he planned to chart a path his own. I do think he meant to find his smile and hold onto it through thick and thin. And I do think he planned to put in the work and find like minded people on his way. Say what you will about Cody and the Elite, but fate is a funny thing. We’re not here today without them.
When Cody left WWE, the wrestling world was far different than we know it now. He had one person to rely on. One has to work to stay relevant and highlighted in WWE. On the indies though, the game begins and ends with one person. Yourself. The hustle is real. Cody was a superstar on a national stage, but he was just one individual in the vast ocean that is independent wrestling. I cannot imagine it was a transition that was easy to navigate. Perhaps though, and this I believe to be true, it helped to show him another arena of professional wrestling. One filled with aggressive passion and commitment not necessarily always seen in the WWE bubble. Those fans became the basis for All Elite Wrestling, and Cody met them there.
Sinatra’s song is an emotional journey of ups and downs, a constant reflection of a life lived brilliantly. It reminds us that we are not immune to mistakes. We are not without doubt and regret. There is no laughter without tears. No joy without pain. No love without loss. There is no coasting through life, certainly not in a career as vicious as professional wrestling. If we allow it to blacken our hearts, it surely will. But if we face it and stand tall – if we DO THE WORK – we will have done something special. We will have lived a special life and left an indelible footprint that no one can take away.
Cody Rhodes remains a polarizing figure in today’s wrestling world. In a position of power, a very visible one at that, those jeers and general jealousies will find him. He is the first to admit that what he sees for himself, his family, and the company that he loves is nothing short of everything. Described lovingly as an egomaniac, we should all take solace that Cody loves this thing of ours as much as we do, if not more. We should applaud his sacrifices and his journey because whose hands would you rather have the future of this business in than someone who respects it as much as he does? He will never take it for granted, will never turn a blind eye to evolution, and will never stop loving it.
So, whether this is truly the end or simply just a sharp turn in more years of sacrifice ahead, I hope he walks with his head held high. I hope he’s as proud as proud can possibly be. It’s not every day, not every life, that someone who arguably already has it all, risks it all on a feeling – a wild necessary desire.
I love professional wrestling. I always have. There have been many favorite moments along the way, but within the stories and within the moments, there might not be much better than a Cody Rhodes promo. You want to know why? Because they are as real as real gets. Every time. It’s a rare gift to deliver that much emotion with such remarkable consistency. To pierce not just a television screen, not just suspended disbelief, but the souls of fans everywhere, is the mark of a man who breathes professional wrestling. The loss of such a human being to this thing of ours is a moment not to be glossed over, even if the chances are small that this was indeed the final act of the American Nightmare.
As “My Way” closes, Frank ends his storybook of a song with some magical words that seem particularly paramount considering the circumstances:
“For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
Not to say the things that he truly feels
And not the words of someone who kneels
The record shows I took all the blows
And did it my way”
Cody may or may not be finished with a wrestling ring. I don’t believe he is, but this feature isn’t about my opinion. It’s about celebrating a man who has helped to make wrestling into something we can be proud of once again. He has led with his heart, shared his unapologetic passion with us, and cried tears of all kinds during a career as uniquely wonderful as he is.
More telling than any of this though is that Cody has done it his own way. In this business, that is everything. Thank you, Cody. For showing us the way, always. You can be sure the real ones won’t soon forget.