Cody Rhodes re-signing with WWE also helped AEW

"The American Nightmare's" return to The Fed has benefitted his current and former employers.
Cody Rhodes Jan 2.jpg
Cody Rhodes Jan 2.jpg /

In professional sports (and increasingly so in college sports thanks to the transfer portal) fans love tracking free-agent signings and trades just as much as watching the games. The abundance of time fans and media members spend analyzing and grading these transactions is Exhibit A for how much they care about these happenings,

Professional wrestling isn't immune from this, especially since All Elite Wrestling emerged as a viable alternative to WWE. Now that there are once again two major promotions in the United States, fans speculate over these happenings. We got an early taste of this with the defection of AEW co-founder and executive vice president Cody Rhodes to WWE in early 2022.

The thought of Rhodes leaving for WWE seemed unfathomable when AEW launched became inevitable once he started getting the late-2000s John Cena treatment. But there seems to be no ill will, at least as far as The Young Bucks are concerned, and it looks like the move worked out for everyone.

What did The Young Bucks say about Cody Rhodes? And how did Rhodes rejoining WWE benefit both major promotions?

Sports Illustrated's Justin Barrasso interviewed the Bucks on Feb. 28 ahead of their massive AEW World Tag Team Championship match against Darby Allin and Sting, which doubles as Sting's retirement match. Between hyping up this seismic tag team encounter, the Jacksons raved a bit about their former co-EVP.

“Cody is the face of the WWE now, and it’s cool to see because we always knew how much of a star he was,” said Nick Jackson. “The founders of AEW will always have a lifetime bond with each other because we all know what we did for wrestling. We talk every week and in a weird way him leaving made us grow more as friends."

It's good to hear that Rhodes and the Bucks remain on great terms, and it shows much of the tribalistic discourse is the result of squabbling online fans (and the promoters that perpetuate it). It's also hard to argue with Rhodes being the face of WWE.

With Roman Reigns enjoying his part-time schedule, Rhodes has become the go-to guy on a week-to-week basis to inject any show that needs it with some star power. Whenever SmackDown needed a big name to buoy the show, Rhodes was the guy WWE called on (regardless of that pesky brand split). If the company wants to establish a new top babyface -- like Jey Uso -- they bring in Rhodes for the big endorsement.

Even if Rhodes doesn't win the Universal Championship at WrestleMania XL (though he absolutely should), the fact that he's reached this point after becoming such an afterthought in WWE just a decade prior is a testament to how good he is and how committed he was to becoming a world championship-level wrestler.

Of course, that's not an indictment of Rhodes' AEW run. Yes, things eventually devolved to the point where the fans were cheering Dan Lambert over him, but that doesn't erase the work he did building up the TNT Championship and boosting stars like Darby Allin and the late Mr. Brodie Lee. He simply reached a point where it was time for him to move on.

Now, he's in a place where his melodramatic in-ring style and clean-cut promo delivery are more welcomed by the fanbase, but that doesn't happen without becoming one of AEW's top stars. AEW's existence and early success is the difference between Rhodes returning to WWE with his "American Nightmare" gimmick and returning as Stardust. And as we've seen with Jade Cargill, it gives other AEW stars hope that they can join The Fed without fear of a drastic, career-killing repackaging (Vince McMahon resigning in disgrace also assuages those concerns).

Whether WWE wants to acknowledge AEW's viability, it has forced them to improve their creative direction. In theory, this wouldn't be good news for AEW, which built its brand around a general dissatisfaction with WWE and a frustration with a lack of alternatives.

Some of those fans will give WWE another chance, but it's also safe to say that any thoughts that Rhodes' AEW departure would hamper the young promotion are mostly exaggerated.

Yes, it's hard to replace a wrestler like Rhodes, but the signing of Will Ospreay and the expected additions of Kazuchika Okada and Mercedes Moné prove that AEW is still a destination for wrestlers looking to make a good living in the U.S. And with Rhodes fitting like a glove into the WWE system, that gives AEW the opportunity to push stars that fit their sports-centric philosophy.

In a pro wrestling industry that still has limited options for wrestlers, that opportunity is vital. Even with WWE's refreshed creative focus, the company still can't (and shouldn't) push everyone, and it takes more than an astroturfed indy fed like NXT (pre-rebranding) to give those workers and the fans somewhere to go besides the WWE main roster.

To prove that point, this "somewhere" is where Samoa Joe is thriving as world champion, Toni Storm is making fans forget about Charlotte Flair pieing her in the face with her "Timeless" gimmick, the former leader of Hit Row is on the precipice of superstardom, the former wacky Dean Ambrose is a tentpole star, a guy WWE merely saw as a coach is the Continental Classic Champion, and a "lethargic" wrestler who keeps his hands in his pockets is one of the best wrestlers in the world.

Next. AEW should really change it's packed PPV format. AEW should really change it's packed PPV format. dark

This will be as important to shaping Rhodes' legacy as any title he wins. He helped give wrestlers an additional choice that hadn't been available to them in decades, and him using that choice to "finish his story" in WWE won't change that.