Back at WrestleMania 30 in 2014, the talented Cody Rhodes, a hard-working wrestler with a magic touch for finding ways to connect with the audience, was relegated to a minor role in an opening multi-man match. Four years later, he's returning to New Orleans a proven main-eventer, and on Saturday, April 7 at Ring of Honor's Supercard of Honor, he'll face Kenny Omega in a dream match pro-wrestling fandom is buzzing about.
After almost a decade at WWE, Cody left in 2016 to make a living as an independent wrestler. He's not the first to try, nor the first to succeed, but as a longtime fan it's been gratifying to watch Cody's journey, first out from under the shadow of his legendary father (bleach-blonde Hall-of-Famer Dusty Rhodes, The American Dream) and then beyond the gates of WWE as an international independent star.
Cody's always had charisma. Years ago, his absurdly perfect good looks were the basis of an ultra-vain "male beauty" persona that remains dear to the hearts of many (and helped get my then-partner interested in watching wrestling). It was Cody who finally reintroduced WWE's iconic white-leather Intercontinental Title belt, and he proved capable of making all kinds of unlikely material work, including getting fans excited about something as seemingly basic as him growing a mustache.
[jump] Since leaving WWE, Cody's wrestled for a few different promotions (including his own upcoming project ALL IN), but on April 7 he'll be repping Ring of Honor at UNO Lakefront Arena, where he's facing the uncannily talented Kenny Omega for the first time ever in singles competition, a rivalry that's grown out of each man's desire to helm legendary pro-wrestling cult-faction The Bullet Club.
While WWE still dominates the pro wrestling landscape, smaller wrestling companies have in recent years found more success carving out space for themselves. This has included TV deals, their own dedicated streaming services, and just generally building hype and brand awareness for flavors of professional wrestling that differ from the genre-defining "product" WWE offers.
Chief among these successes has been a liaison between Ring of Honor, a longtime U.S. indie which made its name with a stark, almost gladiatorial aesthetic and great seriousness about the technical aspects of pro wrestling, and New Japan Pro Wrestling, a now internationally popular major Japanese promotion, which has enjoyed tremendous success across culture and language barriers by elevating timeless fundamentals of pro wrestling to their highest level - compelling characters and feuds (including many stars from outside Japan) and intense, hard-hitting matches with clearly defined personal and professional stakes for the participants.
The Ring of Honor / New Japan crossovers have been well-received, and expectations for Supercard of Honor are sky-high. I spoke to Cody, known in Ring of Honor as "The American Nightmare," about his hotly anticipated main event with New Japan's Kenny Omega, some recent developments in his presentation, what else on the show he's excited about... and a potential local rival.
Gambit: To a lot of people, your main event bout against Kenny Omega is about settling the leadership of this phenomenally popular faction or gang known as Bullet Club. Is that how you see it?
Cody: Yes, I think that that’s the implication. There’s going to be a Ring of Honor World Title Match, a Television Championship match and the Tag Championships, but the main event is for leadership of the Bullet Club. That's perhaps the most important title right now in wrestling, considering how popular the Bullet Club is.
What can people expect from this match?
I think even if this was a cold match, even if there was no tension between Kenny and myself, it'd still be one of those true blue dream matches. It's the first time we’ve stood across from each other in singles action.
It’s a match that people asked about immediately when I left WWE. Now, the moment has arrived. What it will look like, and the type of match it will be? I really don’t have any clue, but I can tell you I’m shooting for nothing short of the best thing I’ve ever done, the best match I’ve ever had. And I think it has the chance to really take [match of] the year. There will be a lot of eyes on this who’ve never seen Ring of Honor before, and this is one great jumping-in point, attending Supercard, to see all that Ring of Honor and New Japan have to offer.
Supercard of Honor was huge last year, and keeps growing, but there’s a lot of wrestling in New Orleans that weekend. If someone who's a more casual fan of pro wrestling or just curious about it is looking for a show to attend, can you sum up why Ring of Honor is such a hot ticket?
Ring of Honor skews heavily towards the sport side of the spectrum. You know, "sports-entertainment" is real. That’s what wrestling is. Pro wrestling is pro wrestling, but it’s also sports-entertainment, and Ring of Honor is the more competitive sports side of that world. I think people really crave that and look for that, that’s why we exist -- both New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor.
If you’ve been to a Ring of Honor show in the last few years, it’s not the Ring of Honor of old. And that’s not mocking the Ring of Honor of old, but this isn’t going to be 30-minute matches where you see every move in the book anymore. The show has changed dramatically.
And I’ll be honest with you- the reason Ring of Honor is such a hot ticket is because of [Youtube series] Being the Elite. It’s a monster. Being the Elite has absolutely taken off and become a show unto itself. I don’t even know what we’re going to do with it next, but its cast are all Ring of Honor contract stars. Hangman Page, Marty [Scurll], who will be wrestling for the world title at Supercard of Honor, the Young Bucks, even Flip Gordon. And Kenny Omega himself, who some consider the greatest wrestler in the world right now. It's rare that you get everybody together like this in one group. And obviously it didn’t last forever, because Kenny and me are fighting each other, but the show creates such a fun atmosphere.
As regards Being the Elite, I have to say, a big turning point for my own perception of you was a YouTube show back in WWE. It really gave me a new picture of who you were and what you could bring to the table.
The JBL and Cole Show is what you’re talking about, right?
Yeah. Did that experience shape your approach to Being the Elite?
It’s funny - I loved The JBL and Cole Show, and JBL kind of at one point just let me and Wade [Barrett] take over. We had a production meeting, and we ended up with on-air characters coming out of it. "Bad News" Barrett was 100% from the JBL and Cole Show. It makes me laugh when I think of that - I’m glad you said that, because I think of that as a nice little credential, a nice little piece of equity in my career.
When I mention that to [The Young Bucks'] Matt and Nick, they don’t even think I’m telling them the truth. They pretend that The JBL and Cole Show and Z! True Long Island Story, Zack Ryder's very successful YouTube show ... if you ask the Bucks, the very first YouTube show that ever existed was Being the Elite. And they’re being funny, but I know in my mind that it did help a lot. It helped me open up to, hey, this isn’t Wrestling 101 anymore. This is a different medium, and you can portray yourself differently and see if it works.
To me, you’ve come into your own in a new way over the last several months. I know it wasn’t because you bleached your hair, but right around that time I felt like you hit this new level as a dominant personality within pro wrestling. Has there been a transformative process for you, or is it more about others recognizing what you’ve been doing all along?
Well, I never thought much of it. I think I was always so resistant to coloring my hair because you know, when my dad was still alive, it’s so easy for a second or third generation wrestler to just copy their predecessor. The hardest thing you can do is try and carve out your own legacy. I mean, hats off to [Cody's brother] Dustin. When people online say, "Oh, he should be Dustin," I can tell you, he doesn’t want to be Dustin. For one night, yes. In honor of Pop, of course. But his career he carved out is Goldust. That’s his identity.
So I always steered away from the blond hair because you know - if I go out there and do a bionic elbow, all it means is Dusty is over, not me. But you know, there are exceptions to everything in wrestling. There’s no law. So, I did it. I haven’t felt anything from it, but people seem to really like it. Marty told me the other day, he said "Man, this change in your hair has changed everything." I just laughed. He decided to double down on it, said "Yeah, I looked at some pictures of you before, and you were kind of just boring." I don't know why that is, but now I’m pretty hell-bent on keeping it, for a while at least.
Supercard of Honor is a big card. Besides your own match, what are you most looking forward to on it?
Oh, I think Hangman Adam Page and Kota Ibushi. If the crowd is even able to breathe after that match, I’ll be lucky. Everyone loves Page, and we should because he’s a great human being- hangs out with all these nuts like me, Matt, and Nick - but look out for this guy next year. He’s making a run for best wrestler in the world. Hangman Adam Page is unbelievable in the ring. If you’re coming to the show because you’re going to see Kenny Omega vs. Cody Rhodes, that’s great, but you’ll be able to see Hangman Adam Page and walk away with a completely different perspective on what’s out there. He’s a special talent that gives you everything you could want. And Kota Ibushi is fine, too. People like Kota Ibushi. He’s kind of, you know, a shady individual ... but Hangman Adam Page is so good.
Speaking of shady individuals, at the recent 16th Anniversary Show in Las Vegas, Kenny Omega disguised himself as the positive role-model mascot Bury the Drug-Free Bear to sneak attack you. What does that tell you about Kenny Omega’s character?
Well I think Kenny- again, if you ask people today kind of who is the best wrestler in the world, especially wrestling fans, they’re very likely going to tell you you either Kenny Omega or [Kazuchika] Okada. I think Kenny is carving out a reputation as an unbelievable wrestler. But I’ve said this before - that’s easy to do when you barely ever wrestle, when you pretty much take a month off, do one match, take another month off.
I work full-time, whether it’s on ALL IN, my own show, whether it’s Ring of Honor, whether it’s New Japan, I make every show. Whereas Kenny, I was actually surprised by him even coming to Vegas. I think Kenny is now aware he can’t just be an underground band that everybody says is really good but they don’t know any of the names of the songs. He actually is going to have to deliver at the highest stage with the entire wrestling world in one spot, that being New Orleans. I think he sees that.
As for ruining Bury the Drug-Free Bear ... Hey, there goes $1,200 on a bear suit. Thing is, there’s another mascot who I’m bringing into the fold. He’s all business and I’m very excited. He’ll be appearing on Ring of Honor TV very soon, and he'll also be at SuperCard of Honor.
Do you have any special memories of New Orleans from your youth or from your career?
Well, I mean, it’s going to sound weird, but the New Orleans Arena, the one across from the Superdome, is it now the Smoothie King Arena?
Yes, the Smoothie King Center.
Well, I’ve got love for New Orleans, because that was my first job: working at Smoothie King. But I used to go to a lot of shows in New Orleans because they were somewhat in the region that I grew up in, and anything that was somewhat in the region I’d get a day off from school and get to go with Dad. The fans in New Orleans, and in other Southern cities, they have a charm. They like a traditional type of wrestling, which I feel has always been my wheelhouse, and I love that. Not knocking your Northeast, your West Coast, or your UK, but in New Orleans people are a little nicer than in New York. They’re a little bit more easygoing, how about that? And that’s the perfect type of place to host all these events that are going to be happening in New Orleans.
Ok. Speaking of easy-going Southerners, one last question. There’s a wrestler down here who's a big deal to us locally, and I’ve heard rumors - with all due respect, some people are saying you’re ducking Luke Hawx. Could you address that?
I’m ducking who? I didn’t catch the name, I’m sorry.
No! I don’t know much about Luke Hawx. I remember he was a bagger for me a couple of times on SmackDown, and I think poor Luke feels that there’s a banter between me and him on social media. I don’t think he realizes that the last thing I put out about how I’m not going to do an online angle was a very sincere statement. So now I just feel bad anytime I see him say anything. I love that he talks about his physique and stuff because he’s like five feet tall.
Look, if Luke Hawx came to Ring of Honor, I’d wrestle him in a heartbeat. People still like him. You’ve got to talk to Ring of Honor; I don’t book Ring of Honor. I remember he was a nice guy when he was doing the bag stuff, and that’s really my only experience with him.
Ok, I appreciate it. He’s our local hero, so I had to run that by you.
He’s the local hero?
Absolutely. In New Orleans, he’s the man.
Oh, you know, well, then more people should book him. That’s what Luke Hawx always complains to me about - how I only wrestle for Ring of Honor and he only wrestles for like the same three indies. He never goes anywhere. He needs to get out of the swamp and get out there in the world. I’ll give him all the contact info. Maybe we’ll start our relationship that way.
All right. Thank you so much for your time - and congratulations. It’s been so awesome as a fan of your work to see you breaking out and succeeding like you have been.
Thanks, man. Thank you very, very much.
"Supercard of Honor" will be at the UNO Lakefront Arena on Saturday, April 7, with a bell time of 7:30 p.m. For the full list of matches visit Ring of Honor's website . Tickets are available from Ticketmaster.