Okay, so there are some notes worth commenting on…
- Cody is the first AEW “big name” to leave the company and, presumably, the first to leave for WWE.
- Cody was one of the company’s founders, an Executive Vice President, and a staple on the weekly programs.
- Cody remains heavily involved in other TV shows through AEW network partners, Warner Media (TBS and TNT).
- Cody had become the most polarizing character on AEW TV, with a persona that fans were happy to boo, despite it being treated like something fans were supposed to cheer for.
- Cody will be making a lot more money, assuming he goes to WWE (as is predicted) than he stood to make if he re-upped with AEW.
First of all, regardless of the circumstances of how and why it happened, it can’t be denied that it is a big deal for someone of his stature to leave for WWE only three years after the company was founded. Yes, we can easily break it down to an “all politics is local” level: When AEW started, Cody was easily one of the four biggest singles competitors on the program. The company likes to talk about their four pillars of future main-eventers, but when the show started there were only four corners of the company’s main-event foundation: Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, and Cody Rhodes (the Young Bucks’ importance can’t be understated, but we’re talking about solo players). Fast-forward three years and look at the list of names who are reliable main-event players right now: Kenny Omega, Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, Adam Page, Brian Danielson, CM Punk, Adam Cole, Christian Cage, Eddie Kingston, Sting, not to mention one of those aforementioned four pillars, MJF, plus a bevy of guys who haven’t yet main-evented but are viable on that level: Miro, Malakai Black, Keith Lee, Pac. It’s a stupidly long list and Cody’s name, while it hasn’t dropped off of it entirely, it’s probably near the bottom of that list, at least with Cody in his current “babyface, not a heel, really” form.
As a result of both the huge influx of top talent, almost all of which are guys preferred over Cody by the fans, not to mention the man hamstringing himself with a “never compete for the world title” stipulation that’s been hanging over his head for two years now, Cody’s role in AEW sort of morphed into what fans started calling “the Codyverse,” referring to those segments on AEW TV that felt completely disconnected from everything else, as though Cody and his extended “family” existed in their own separate bubble that just happened to air on Dynamite every week. Without the means to contend for a world title, and with Cody’s segments usually being bizarre and unpolished compared to the rest of the show, it’s no surprise that fans started to sour on him. The fact that he was presented as a babyface while carrying himself as a heel didn’t help: Fans had started to think that he was playing a long game, with it soon to be revealed that he was a heel all along, maybe one that would break his “never challenge for a world title” stipulation in order to defeat a babyface champion.
Had that happened, Cody likely would have rocketed back to near the top of the list of main-event players fans were eager to see. Cody has always worked better as a heel, going back to his time in WWE doing his Phantom of the Opera schtick around Mania 27. He was a heel when he left WWE and went to Ring of Honor. He was a heel with the Bullet Club. But when he came to AEW he wanted to be celebrated as the savior of pro wrestling. He wanted the adulation of ex-WWE fans for “co-creating” the company that gave them something to watch that wasn’t run by Vince McMahon. And, at first, fans were happy to oblige. But as time went on, Cody’s act started to wear thin.
Now he’s leaving and, other than the shock of the circumstances, the general consensus is “meh.”
Still, it’s the biggest news in the “war” between AEW and WWE since Dynamite put NXT out to pasture. It’s the biggest acquisition since Brian Danielson chose to leave WWE for AEW, but is anyone really going to compare “Cody to WWE” with “Daniel Bryan to AEW”? Mostly, the move feels like nothing more than an aligning of the stars that worked out favorably for all parties…
- Cody will get a big payday from Vince that he feels he deserves and, at least initially, he will get a big push too. Why? Because…
- Vince will get to brag that he stole away an EVP from his chief competitor and he will make sure the money he spent to do it is put to good use…until he gets bored.
- As for AEW, they get to take two big salaries off their books (Cody and the Chief Brand Officer, Brandi Rhodes) and get rid of the weird Codyverse segment every week, clearing up room for new talent to be featured.
So what will happen next?
For AEW…not much.
The company is swimming with hot young talent. Cody and Brandi were completely off last week’s Dynamite and the show didn’t miss a beat. In fact, it was one of the best shows in weeks. AEW will keep rolling and might even get some free interest from non-watchers curious to see what the show will be like without someone that WWE will make sure to describe as an indispensable part of the program. What they’ll find is an action-packed, fast-paced, weekly wrestling program that is more than capable of handling the loss of a performer that mostly stuck out like a sore thumb.
As for WWE…I think we can all imagine how this is going to go.
After literal decades in the spotlight, it is easy to predict someone as rigid in his thinking as Vince McMahon. He last saw Cody as a mid-carder and he’s done nothing to his physique (like Drew McIntyre did, for example) to change that impression. Is Cody a thousand times better all-around than he was when he was last in WWE, slumming it as Stardust? No question. Will everyone be able to see that except for the one man whose decisions might as well be divine decrees from the summit of Sinai? Also yes, no question. Vince will want to get his money’s worth, and he will want to give Cody a big push as a way to show other AEW talent that they can thrive in WWE, but in the end, Vince will be Vince. He can’t help himself. He will start to micromanage, to grow restless with “not understanding” what Cody is trying to do, and he will—as ever—get his way, leading to Cody withering and falling down the card as a result.
I don’t know the details of Cody’s impending deal with WWE, but if I was to guess, I would say it’s a two-year deal, running through WrestleMania 2023. In that case, I will go on record to predict that Cody has a marquee Mania match this year, wins the Universal Title sometime later this year, and starts falling down the card around the Autumn. By next Mania, he’ll be right back to where Vince believes he always should be: The mid-card.
Which, to be fair, is basically where he was when he left AEW.