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What will Vince McMahon, WWE do with former AEW star Cody Rhodes?

Chris Graham
cody rhodes aew
Cody Rhodes. Photo courtesy All Elite Wrestling.

It was a great sales job by Cody Rhodes, building the narrative in a series of interviews ahead of and right after his debut in WWE that the motivation for him to return was to right a historic wrong.

In terms of storyline, what we heard from Rhodes, in his first turn with a live mic in WWE, on “Raw” on Monday night, is that he wants to win the WWE title, something that his father, the legendary “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, was never able to do.

In terms of real life ambition, it’s not so much the WWE title, but the admission by Vince McMahon that he had undervalued Rhodes in his first run with the company, that he really seems to want.

He may have to be happy with the little bit of love he’s getting from McMahon right now, because it’s hard to imagine the WWE chairman wanting to elevate Rhodes to be his world champion, particularly now that WWE has unified its two world titles, with Roman Reigns defeating Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 38 over the weekend.

McMahon and WWE have a lot invested in Reigns, dating back to his days in NXT, when that brand was still developmental for the company, and it’s not likely that they’re going to go back on a push a decade and counting for Reigns to put Rhodes in the big spot, even for a short term.

Part of the reason for that has to be how Rhodes was booked in AEW. Even if Rhodes had left AEW after a run with its world title, McMahon and WWE don’t have a history of putting too much stock in how another company has used a particular talent in deciding on where that talent should fit in the WWE pecking order.

And Rhodes was not only never an AEW world champ, he wasn’t even in the title picture for his last 15 months in the company, after losing a match in 2020 in which the stipulation was that he could never again contend for the world title in AEW.

Rhodes, after losing his one AEW world title match, had three subsequent runs as the TNT champ, basically the AEW equivalent of WWE’s Intercontinental or United States midcard titles.

You’re deluding yourself if you think Vince McMahon is going to give another company’s midcard champ his biggest title.

That said, it’s wise, in the short term, for WWE to tease inserting Rhodes into the world title picture, with Reigns having vanquished Lesnar, and there being no one obvious as the next #1 contender.

WWE has two live national-TV shows a week and a new premium live event every month that it needs new content to fill, and Reigns needs a fresh stock of dance partners.

But you may have noticed that as Rhodes was talking himself into a title match on “Raw” on Monday, WWE was also giving itself a booking hedge, in the form of Seth Rollins, who lost by pinfall to Rhodes on Night 1 of Wrestlemania 38 this past weekend.

The insinuation in terms of storyline is that Rhodes will have to beat Rollins again to legitimize himself as a title contender.

The 30,000-foot view here is that WWE wants to use Rollins as a sort of cock block see how fans respond to Rhodes before committing to him as being a legit contender.

Remember, whatever Rhodes says about his departure from AEW, he in essence was booed out of the company by fans who decided that they didn’t like him leaving for stretches to film his reality series or his game show, for his elaborate ring entrances and attire, for him musing in interviews about workshopping his promos, for how he just didn’t seem to relate to fans the way his legendary father did.

It’s too early to tell how WWE fans are going to respond to him. Rhodes hasn’t yet been in front of a normal WWE live audience yet; Wrestlemania weekend crowds are full of diehards who want to like everything the company does.

The first tell with how over Rhodes is with the WWE audience will come in the next couple of weeks, when he next appears on “Raw” and “Smackdown,” and is either welcomed with open arms, as he was at Wrestlemania and the post-WM “Raw,” by the diehards, or maybe starts to get the reception that he was getting in the past year from AEW fans, who consistently booed his promos and cheered his heel opponents in the ring.

He has to pass this test just to continue with plans that seem to be in place to put him into the WWE world title picture.

No matter how over he might end up being, best-case scenario, the Cody Rhodes return story doesn’t end with him winning the title that eluded his father, as nice a bow to the story as that would be.

Vince McMahon buried Ric Flair, buried Sting, even made Dusty Rhodes wear polka dots.

Where this one is going for Cody Rhodes is unfortunately all too predictable.

Story by Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].