Cody Rhodes: Reflections On The American Nightmare

The American Nightmare has a tale to tell.

Amidst the dazzling lights, thunderous pyrotechnics, and the grandest stage of them all, Cody Rhodes is poised to finish his unforgettable story.

With WrestleMania 39 on the horizon, fans are eagerly anticipating the main event: Cody Rhodes versus Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship. This match marks the peak of a years-long quest for Cody, from his days as Stardust, to embarking on a journey to find his own identity, creating the American Nightmare, igniting a spark that saw the wrestling world go All In on a revolution, changing the world by helping form a whole new wrestling promotion, before finally returning to where it all began.

In an exclusive interview with WrestleJoy, Cody delved into his extraordinary journey from being the son of the esteemed Dusty Rhodes to becoming one of the biggest names in professional wrestling. He discussed his singular career trajectory and what capturing the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship would mean to him.

The Tale of The American Nightmare

Courtesy of WWE

Cody’s story, rife with twists and turns, possesses a unique quality: no writers were ever present to craft it. It is entirely his own, starting with his humble beginnings as a plumber’s grandson and culminating with his rise as the American Nightmare, standing tall by his own merit.

Cody confessed, “I didn’t notice the grandeur of this story until I examined every part of it in the last few months in terms of really looking at every piece of it. For a long time, I was unhappy, so I left, bet on myself, found amazing partners, bet on myself again, and managed to create magic. Then the story added up to being so much more.”

His journey began with his father Dusty Rhodes, a wrestling legend who won the matches but not the WWF/WWE title. As a child, Cody saw this and wanted to bring the championship to his father, sparking an intense desire in the young Cody Rhodes to devote his life to professional wrestling.

Sharing the impact of that moment in the late 1970s, Cody recalled, “Not being able to leave with the physical title belt and then seeing that at 8 years old, I wanted to bring it to him and give it to him. And now, the idea that the biggest event by every measurable standard gets to be headlined by me is where I put it all together and I’m just thinking, this has really been an absolutely unparalleled hell of a ride.”

As Cody’s story has evolved through his career, the idea of “finishing the story” has also changed. Now, headlining the biggest event in sports entertainment history, he realizes that “finishing the story means something different for everyone.”

“What does finishing the story really mean? Does it mean winning the title? Does it mean what happens potentially if I do win the title? Does it mean not winning? What does finishing the story mean? I know how many years are on my contract, and I know how many years I want to do this. That’s why I wanted to pass it to Sami [Zayn] in Barclays. I am so glad that finish the story exists, because it’s not just descriptive of me.”

Cody explained that he hopes his story inspires other wrestlers who feel stuck in their careers. He wants them to see that if they put in the work, they can achieve great things, regardless of their background. As his story has evolved, his thoughts have as well, “I have thought a lot about some of my peers in the WWE locker room, or wrestlers all across the industry, who are in the middle of their journey, and they’re at that point where they don’t think they can go further, where they feel like they are absolutely handcuffed, and where they feel like they’ve reached a ceiling. They can look at me and not just say, ‘oh, he was Dusty’s son. That’s why it worked out.’ Because if you really look at what I know, that’s not true.”

“The biggest event is being headlined by a guy who used to wear a bodysuit and paint his face. You won’t see that guy out there, but that’s who it is, and anyone can do it if they do the work.”

The Trial of Cody Rhodes

Courtesy of WWE

Professional wrestling and sports entertainment are a realm where stories can be told through the art of fighting. As with all art forms, these stories too are up for interpretation. Where one may see Cody’s story through a lens of perseverance, others may look at it as running away from challenges. Indeed, Roman Reigns brought his shortcomings to a focus when he accused Cody Rhodes of running away when things get hard.

Speaking of his story being put on trial, Cody remarked, “I’ve been on trial my whole career. Everything has been on trial, from the time you’re judged so early because you’re a multi-generational and the perks that come with that. From the positions you’re put in, is that too much for a person? Or when you’re sitting there as Stardust, so low, does a person deserve that? Everything is always on trial, and the greatest thing about it is that the verdict is not decided by anyone other than fans. That is why social media is fun, but also can be a little intimidating. There are fans that will try to tell you things as if they are facts. They’ll use numbers, that’s a huge thing I was a part of that I regret so bad. Talking about demographics and things like that. The main thing we do, the lifeblood of it is the consumer, and the feeling. You can’t put a number on a feeling.”

Remarking on Roman Reigns bringing up his story through a “cut and run” lens, Cody said, “I love that Roman brought it up in terms of running. I have to own it. I did meet adversity and I did not say, you know what, I’m gonna put my feet in the sand and stay. I didn’t put my flag here. I’m not gonna get back to the campus. I’m gonna find a different campus. I hate the expression ‘trust the process’ with all my life. Why not create the process? Why do I have to trust the process? I’d rather create the process. Roman isn’t wrong that the business stung me, and I had to move away from where I got stung. I couldn’t just continue to get stung”

Courtesy of WWE

However, Cody acknowledged the irony in what the Tribal Chief had to say. “With all of that said, it’s ironic coming from Roman, who is a lifelong investment by WWE. That investment is absolutely paying off. But it just started paying off. I’ve talked about him with the greatest of reverence and respect, because I know how absolutely dang special he is in our world. But if you’re gonna get low brow with his comments like that, just remember that if me meeting adversity and changing my ways, going out and betting on myself, is that less valuable than meeting adversity and just pretending it doesn’t exist?”

“Either way, it really shouldn’t matter because you’re absolutely, as champion proving to everyone that you are everything you say you are as champion. I feel I’m everything I say I am as the American Nightmare. So it is up to the fans to decide the verdict on these trials, on my story, and the journey. I’ve had things I’ve done that weren’t great, but I do all of them as well as the things I’ve done that were absolutely special and helped create magic.”

A Story of Pain and Triumph

Cody’s path demonstrates his resilience and determination, which is ever present in some of his greatest challenges. Pitting himself against Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship will be no small feat, and the main event marquee will surely put Rhodes to the test like never before. However, Rhodes is no stranger to persevering against all odds. He’s been dealt punishing blows at the hands of MJF’s ruthless belt beating, crashed through flaming tables, and wrestled Seth Rollins with a brutally ruptured pectoral muscle.

Courtesy of WWE

When asked what helps keep his focus during these battles of pain and will, he looks to the fans who fuel his inner fire, as well as the four women around him that lift him up as his pillars of strength. Using an analogy from the Rocky movies, Cody says, “You know Rocky Balboa, he hits the canvas and he starts to get these pictures of Adrian and Mickey in his head. I like the word violent, it’s not WWE’s favorite word. I understand that, and I respect that. Let’s say aggressive. I wrestle aggressively. I love that. I even said it on Raw, I love the taste of blood in my mouth. So strange, but I do. When you’re having to push through and you’re tested by physicality, I have those pictures that pop up in my head. But they’re not what people think, they’re not Dusty.”

“You know, Dusty is so centered in so much of these things. Sometimes I have to tell him, even though he is not here, ‘Hey, get out of the picture.’ It’s my mom. It’s my mom, it’s my sister, my wife, and my daughter. They’re the things that pop up, and the things that help me. Those four really, those four women, they helped me through it.”

Thinking back on his Hell in a Cell match with Seth Rollins, he spoke about how he was feeling in the moment. “Everyone wants this story on the Pec match and I’ve had the worst answers every time. This is just me finally kind of being honest. I was in the most pain I have ever been in my life. I couldn’t bend over because it would re-cramp. I couldn’t lean back. The jacket weighs so dang much in the first place, and every movement, every little step hurt.

Walking out into Allstate Arena, this arena that I consider a second home town, and the reaction from the fans before they saw how bad it was, it literally filled me up. I could have fought two Seth Rollins’. I really could have. I don’t know how I could even jump to the height I was going. That’s why I’m in this business, because I love it. But you’re not thinking, I hope I win the belt, or I hope I get paid more money. For me, it’s my women. That’s always been the case. That’s how I knew Brandi was the deal. She wasn’t just someone I was dating, she was the one.”

On Giving Back To His Fans

Courtesy of WWE

The connection Cody Rhodes has fostered with the people around him has created a foundation that not only helps him persist through his own challenges, but helps his fans climb their own rocky mountains as well. Whether he’s throwing his weight belt to fans in the crowd, creating special moments for kids backstage, or taking time to reach out to someone directly in their time of need, community outreach has long held a special place in the heart of Rhodes.

This was something that was instilled while he was young, taking the influences of the people around him to do good in the world. Cody reflects, “With my upbringing in the business, I was tutored by Eddie Graham to utilize the community in a genuine way, but it would help in a business way. He would reach out to the Boys and Girls Club, sheriff’s departments, the Rotary Club, and to the military activations throughout, and that’s what created their ability to use the Armory as far as one of the Tampa mainstays for wrestling in Florida.”

Speaking on his father’s impact, Cody said, “I was mentored in that sense, but I think it’s less to do with that and more to do with the fact that my dad was the most generous, to the point of too generous. But he wouldn’t have changed how he went about paying people, and the opportunities he afforded them. I heard Vince describe him once as a generous spirit and I think I just got some of that.”

Cody has stated that at his core, he wants to do good when the cameras aren’t on. He explains, “There are places where you have to film every 20 seconds of when you’re ‘instagramming’, and you’re giving food to the needy, and yeah they got the food, but did you have to film it? That’s really my outlook on it. I understand if it’s going to be out front, it’s seen, maybe it will inspire more people to do it, but I’m fine with it not being seen. My song says ‘Wrestling is more than one royal family’, everyone in a frickin’ seat is family. Even if they are mad at me. People don’t realize, I love handing the weight belt out to the young kids at ringside. I also loved it when it was thrown back into the ring. Loved it. As long as we are vibin’. As long as we are connected. You’re not watching something that is 2 dimensional, it’s 3 dimensional, and you’re involved.”

Sue Aitchison HOF induction courtesy WWE

Cody spent much of his time in AEW with his own mission of building a community outreach program. He spoke on his origins of the program within AEW, “When I knew I was going to be leaving AEW, that was a secret mission of mine. I am going to build a Community Outreach department, and I’m going try and borrow from a lot from the legendary Sue Aitchison who helped create WWE’s community, who fostered these relationships with Make-a-Wish, Stella’s wish, the Special Olympics, and I’m going to find like minded people who are fine if the cameras on, but will do these things with the cameras off. [AEW’s] Amanda Huber has all of those faculties. Just the other night I was working with Stella’s wish for WWE, and no matter the locker room, it’s a privilege to do these things.”

Emphasizing his passion for community outreach and giving back to those who supported him, Cody says “Wrestling is a silly vocation. It’s real as hell to me, but it’s silly. But I’m out there half-naked, covered in baby oil, throwing men around, hitting Cody Cutters, firing up, getting my chest ripped open for the whole world to see, experiencing pain, administering pain. It’s kind of a silly gig if you really look at it, but if it can make us famous and penetrate worldwide, I feel like we owe it to pay it back. Even the collectors at the airport, which there’s a difference between fans and collectors, and even though they aren’t fans, even with them I’ll sign for them. Because this is silly. If this helps you in any way, this thing that I do. Absolutely, while I’m still living, and while I still matter, let me see if I can help you.”

This is something that holds true to the ethos of Cody Rhodes, whether the cameras are rolling or not. Indeed, there have been countless times when he’s reached out to someone in need, or brought fans backstage for wonderful, memorable moments, and fans would be none the wiser were it not for social media to share these stories. For Cody Rhodes, the fans are the lifeblood of professional wrestling, and whether they’re in his corner or not, he makes sure to never take that relationship for granted, and to give back in kind.

Courtesy of Warner Bros

On The Importance of Brandi Rhodes

Cody is emphatic to point out that there is no American Nightmare without Brandi Rhodes. Time and again, in or out of the ring, she has been a pillar of strength that stands by his side. Brandi has been there every step of the way through his career, even embarking on her own path at the onset of AEW, taking on the role of Chief Brand Officer. Cody has often spoken of Brandi’s selflessness when it came to supporting his career, especially as he walked the road back to where it all began, “I always run the risk of saying too much, and I try to be careful when I say things like this, but I don’t get the opportunity to be a free agent unless Brandi Rhodes makes a certain decision that she made. That was a selfless decision. So when you see me out there, and I say I can’t do it without Brandi, I ain’t lying. That’s one hundred percent.”

Cody spoke at length about the contributions Brandi Rhodes had made to AEW, especially in the early years. Much of which, he says, is not often attributed to her, “I don’t want to say it makes me mad when I see a lack of acknowledgement. It doesn’t make me mad, because then you’ll see that acknowledgement and that flutters you up. But the amount of people that Brandi recruited, she brought them to the dance, she vouched for them. They’re active and on TV currently. The medical program, the sensory inclusion… I’m gonna go back to the medical program cause that’s a huge part of having a sports entertainment and wrestling company. I mean, there’s so many things that she contributed to.”

“And because she was this striking, funny, and divisive character on television, she has never remotely seen the credit that she should. Hell. I’ve gotten credit for things that she did, and that’s why I am always quick to point out that nothing could have happened without her, me, Matt, Nick, Kenny, Tony, Bernie [Cahill].”

“That’s it. Those are the names. Everyone’s [AEW] origin story is B.S. unless it’s those names. I can’t wait to see her out, she hasn’t been to a wrestling show since she left [AEW], I’m excited for her to get her moment in a sense.”

Cody’s love and appreciation for Brandi is something he wears proudly on his sleeve. Indeed, he began to grow quite emotional when speaking about how supportive she’s been, as well as how supportive he is of her, how much he admires her, and his happiness for her as she embarks on her own endeavors.

Having Brandi by his side on the biggest stage of them all will certainly be a fitting mark on their story together, as well as his story as The American Nightmare. While he’s quick to clarify that her presence at WrestleMania is not indicative of a return to wrestling at the moment, he does speak to how the relationship with fans and his wife culminates in this intricate experience that they both share together. “I’m not talking about anything specific, but just to have her be out there because one of the things is, when you feel like you have a perception of something, sometimes you don’t understand that that’s really not the case. With being around the fans, whether in sports entertainment or wrestling, it’s worth it. Because they’re the best fans in the world. I know sometimes it’s easy for us to look at social media and say they’re not, but they really are.”

“You guys are the best fans in the world, and I just am excited to see her kind of rubbing shoulders with them all. Going to Hollywood and taking in the experience of what it’s like to not just be at a WrestleMania, but to take the walk, you know? And I want to be clear, she’s not doing anything at WrestleMania. I’m just saying I’m so excited for her to be there. I literally couldn’t be there without her. I’m not lying. So it’s as much her moment as it is mine. I will always be in love with her, and be in her debt.”

As for whether the rest of the Rhodes family will be joining him at WrestleMania 39, Cody says, “I’m trying to get the whole family together. The last time the whole family was together was in 2007 for Dusty’s Hall of Fame induction. Even if we just get one dinner together, I’d like them all to be together, win lose or draw. It’s a testament to the team. Your career grows so big it’s definitely not your own anymore. I have a great team, and they will all be there, and that’s very exciting.”

Courtesy of WWE

The Magic of The WrestleMania Moment

For Cody Rhodes and the story of The American Nightmare, the main event at WrestleMania 39 transcends a championship title. The theme, “finish the story,” has acquired a deeper meaning for him. This event marks one year since his return to WWE, where the crowd came alive in deafening chants and cheers as Cody was revealed to be the surprise opponent for Seth Rollins. One year later, arenas still echo with chants for his name, and the crowd has begun singing his song during his entrance, filling stadiums with the thunderous cries of, “Adrenaline, in my soul…”

When asked about his expectations for this new WrestleMania moment, Cody had this to say, “I don’t really have any expectations in the sense that, you never know what’s happened in the night. Who’s been out there, what they’ve seen, and what their energy levels are like. And then you start taking in factors like, Edge is always so great to point out: the building, the acoustics, the cavernous nature of it. It may be up, it may be down, it may be delayed.”

While Cody’s story has been punctuated with grand moments and fortuitous decisions at the crossroads of his life, he reflects on the importance of this WrestleMania moment for The American Nightmare, “This is a first for me. I’ve been in a stadium before and I’ve taken this walk, but this is a first, to be able to take us home, to be going on last. That’s where I’m at a disadvantage because for Roman, it’s not. This is number seven for him, I believe.”

“I don’t want to give myself any expectations and I’m gonna do everything I can not to look at the crowd before I go out. Because we waited so long, guys, I’m talking specifically to the crew that’s on board, right? We waited so long, let’s just enjoy it. Let’s not think about what it will be and what it won’t be.”

He reflects on his WWE return at WrestleMania 38, “And that energy in AT&T stadium last year, that’s what that was. I had to catch myself up. I think Mike Rome literally caught me up, giving me one of the most amazing introductions ever. It literally is kind of what brought me back to, ‘oh, I gotta wrestle this guy and I gotta beat him up. I gotta wrestle this guy and I gotta perform at a high level, and I haven’t wrestled in months.’ You know that that was such a special moment, and I want to experience it all in real time.”

Throughout the last year, Cody’s entrance theme, Downstait’s “Kingdom”, has reverberated through the crowds, “You know, now they’re singing the song, which I never thought would happen, because I always thought the lyrics were difficult, but my God, they just wrapped themselves around singing the song. And we try now, I very much need to give kudos to Kevin Dunn, he likes to wait for them to say the ‘whoa’ and let them have their moments and give it to ’em twice. And we’ll be ready to do all that. Give them something that is literally happening in a way that I don’t know how it’s gonna feel.” 

“And again, everyone out there, if you’re a fan and you’re gonna be there in attendance, wonderful. If you’re someone at home, grab a friend and show ’em this thing that you’re watching. Have them grab a friend, let ’em ask you questions. What do you like about this? Do you not? Bring them into our world. Because if you’re ever wondering, and you know this, it gets in your blood and it doesn’t get out. It gets in your blood, and it doesn’t get out whether you were born into it or not. And I just want us to be absolutely at a fever pitch, have that connection that I’ve been missing for so long and I’ve had in my latest run with WWE.”

Courtesy of WWE

Finish The Story

WrestleMania is known for great fanfare, epic presentation, and the creation of legendary moments that will be long remembered in the annals of time. To that end, the pyro for Cody Rhodes’ WrestleMania moment will surely be as memorable as the match itself. When asked whether we should expect great pyro, or the greatest pyro, Cody said,

“Oh my gosh. I would have to say, you want to go with the latter, go with the greatest. At this point, I’m gonna be honest, I never asked anybody for pyro. Even in AEW when I was running things, I never asked anybody for pyro, and then it became like a running gag, the amount of pyro, and now it’s not even that, it’s just part of the experience.”

“It’s like the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. You know, this happens at this time and they legit blow up the sky. I think with a WrestleMania on the west coast, in Hollywood, it’s the biggest display that’s ever been done involving a ring. I don’t think greatest can even cover it. I really don’t.”

“I think you’re looking at a record setting amount of pyro.”  

The American Nightmare is set to fulfill his own dream at WrestleMania 39. It’s fitting that Wrestlemania takes place in Hollywood this year, as the riveting story of Cody Rhodes could take place on any silver screen. Closing the show on the grandest stage of all, Cody Rhodes and Roman Reigns is set to be one of the most anticipated in recent memory. Will Cody finish his story and claim the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship? Or will Roman Reigns emerge victorious? Regardless of the outcome, this match promises to be both undeniable and unforgettable, as Cody’s journey to this point is a testament to the heart and soul of professional wrestling.