Rhodes left AEW in early 2022.
It’s not as big a talking point as it was prior to and after Cody Rhodes’ return at WrestleMania 38, but we’ll still see the occasional comment wondering when WWE audiences will turn against him.
The universally loved babyface wrestler seemed to be a thing of the past for much of the 21st century. It was also because we had seen — and in many cases been a part of — Cody’s audience turn on him during his three-plus years at AEW.
A winking approach that was even dubbed a “meta heel turn” in some circles was Rhodes’ response to the increased boos he was getting on Dynamite and Rampage episodes.
Rhodes admitted he was a little too clever with his character during his last year or so in Tony Khan’s employ in an interview with Sam Roberts on NotSam Wrestling:
“I think at the end of AEW — I was talking to my students about this the other day — that’s just a case of never underestimating our audience, which is why I use so many big words in promos. There will be people who claim that he is talking down to them. It doesn’t matter whether these people are doctors, lawyers, or industrial workers. It doesn’t mean they aren’t educated. The wrestling audience is just as educated as any audience.
“But at AEW, I think trying to do what I was doing there at the end was just a bit too meta. ‘Hey, the thing we want is you to turn heel.’ So for me to do that, to turn heel, is by saying verbally out loud, ‘I’m not going to do it’ — which is being a heel. But that’s not — it didn’t work, in a sense. And it did because I had a really fun match with Ethan Page where the crowd was just going nuts, and I love the polarized crowds, the split crowds… I love the polarized, split crowds because obviously I am part of the Cena era of our industry so I loved it. But it might have just been over the heads of people, but everything was going in such a unique direction, you know, multiple shows and money was through the roof in the industry. It was really wonderful.”
Cody didn’t change much about his character when he joined WWE. But as Raw crowds cheered him and fans made his merchandise top-sellers again, he dropped the winks and doubled down on his earnestness. It made Rhodes’ quest to “Finish The Story” more authentic, which is why he thinks the response has been so different:
Because WWE fans knew what they were watching was real, I believe they took to it in a completely different way, as if they dismissed whatever was happening — and this is my hope and belief, but I may be wrong. I think they knew, ‘Oh, his return goes beyond just an individual returning.’ There’s always that gray matter and suspension of disbelief.
This is somebody who’s been away for I think six or seven years at the time. This is somebody whose song is almost a rallying cry against WWE almost, and here it is playing out loud. Maybe at its core, most people can understand a lot of what you’ll see in the doc is you can be the most talented, you can not be talented at all, all these things, but betting on yourself, and I think maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s what they saw is, ‘Yeah, he was this guy and he helped create a promotion, and yes, they did this, and yes, he smashed the throne and all this, but also bet on himself and look where it led us.’
As Rhodes & Roberts also discuss during their 40 minute conversation, the babyface has been making a huge comeback the past couple of years. That still sounds like something fans would eventually tire of if this were five or ten years ago. Cody, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens & Sami Zayn, and others are embraced in ways that few big acts were in 2013.
It will probably depend on a lot of things, but as of right now, Rhodes is still getting big pops as he chases the title his father never won.
There’s no reason to think that won’t continue… unless Cody gets too clever for his own good again.