Just over three years ago, the wrestling world was turned on its head when Cody Rhodes stood next to Tony Khan and the Young Bucks to announce the launch of All Elite Wrestling. Since then, AEW has been the darling of the wrestling community as an alternative to WWE. The most vocal figure of that opposition was often Cody Rhodes.
It was Cody who called AEW the Ellis Island of professional wrestling, who parodied Triple H in matches, who cut promos on the superiority of AEW, and who had a public dispute to wrestle his own last name back from the company who tarnished his family’s legacy on multiple occasions according to him. And this week, it was Cody Rhodes who shockingly announced he was leaving AEW, with speculation being that a return to WWE is imminent. The reasons for this departure and its legitimacy are still being discussed, but if this happens, it is honestly one of the biggest moments in wrestling history. One of the pillars of WWE’s first real American competition in over 20 years could be defective.
There’s a bunch of ways this could happen, but if I were in charge, here’s how I would book the first three feuds of Cody Rhodes back in WWE.
Things to know first:
- This booking is broad strokes for Cody’s first three feuds. Not going to be word for word promos, but hopefully gives the direction this should go in for Cody.
- Cody’s wife Brandi Rhodes could be coming with, but recent reports show she may not appear on-screen at least at first with Cody.
- Cody has no non-compete clause so he could debut immediately if desired.
- Rhodes was in WWE before starting AEW, where he got his start as a lackey in the faction Legacy under Randy Orton.
- Cody was kayfabe fired at one point after losing to Orton.
- Cody left WWE after anger at being made into a joke character as Stardust, a spinoff of his brother Goldust. He then was on the Indy scene for close to ten years before the All Out Pay-Per-View and starting AEW.
- Cody has often cited Triple H as the one he had most issues with in WWE. Triple H has seemed to lose power in WWE lately after being removed from direction of NXT and suffering a health crisis.
- In this booking, I’ll only have Cody wrestle matches on PPV. This may be unrealistic, but he’s going to have the backing of Vince McMahon and should feel like a special attraction. So let his awesome promo work do the heavy lifting and save the big fight feel for as long as possible.
Cody Rhodes Fantasy Booking Chapter One: Elimination Chamber
We begin our story at the Elimination Chamber this Saturday, because why not strike while the iron is hot?
Throughout the night, we get backstage segments building up the WWE Championship Elimination Chamber match, which will go on third from last in the night. When we see Austin Theory first backstage with Vince McMahon, he talks about how excited he is to win the big one for Vince and to prove he’s retained all of his lessons. Vince starts by saying while Austin didn’t win the rumble and got laid out by Brock Lesnar last week, the important thing was that he was still in the match. And Vince says, “Because the lesson I have for you tonight, is the importance of timing…” before the door closes to his office and we continue on with the show.
Right before the match starts, we get another quick glimpse backstage and Austin Theory seems much less excited and bright than before, as we hear Vince say, “So when your pod door opens, you’ll know it’ll be time to establish your future in this company.” Theory gives a hesitant nod and heads to the ring.
Elimination Chamber and Seth Rollins
Then, for the Elimination match itself, I would have Seth Rollins start in the ring, and with everyone else in their pods, Brock Lesnar makes his appearance. Now, because I don’t want Brock to win this scenario, we’re going to have Roman Reigns attack him to try and stop him from getting his hands on another belt as Brock is entering the ring. After Reigns attacks, Rollins pounces on Brock and beats him up, giving one look and laugh at his old rival, Reigns, to keep those sparks alive.
Before long, AJ Styles and Matt Riddle enter the match to continue the beat-up on Brock. However, when Lashley enters the ring, it becomes clear Theory is entering last and there’s some commentary if McMahon had it rigged for Theory to enter last and win. As the wrestlers in the ring eye Theory’s pod and perhaps plan to take Theory out by force, Brock’s comeback stops that from happening. I don’t want to book the chamber too much more than this, but I’d have Lashley eliminate Brock to forward the storyline of Lashley still needing to prove he can beat Brock legitimately but being delusional about his wins over Brock. Then, I’d have the other three guys all team up to try and take down Lashley, with Rollins orchestrating the whole thing.
Lashley is able to take out Styles, then Riddle takes out Lashley with Rollins’ help, but Rollins then quickly takes out a distracted Riddle. We can also get Riddle vs. Lashley at Wrestlemania to give both men something to do and further their storylines. With Rollins gathering his breath, this finally sparks the countdown for Theory’s pod. When it opens, he lays out Rollins again.
Cody Rhodes’ Entrance
It looks like Theory could win. But then he looks towards the entrance ramp, and Vince McMahon comes out before new music plays. Vince walks Cody Rhodes down the ramp and announces that Austin Theory will be giving his spot in the match to Cody.
This way, we don’t see Cody just sitting in the pod the whole time, but still forward the storyline with Theory and leaving the door open for Cody to scoop up the pieces. Theory looks conflicted to be leaving his WWE title shot in the ring, but as he exits the chamber and Cody enters when Vince makes the officials open the door, Cody taps his wrist and enters. Timing is the lesson they wanted to teach Theory, and it was Cody’s timing that will win him the WWE title after all these years.
Now, at this point, Rollins has been the iron man in this match, and after coming so close, he puts up one last fight against Cody, but he’s quickly dispatched. Cody Rhodes wins the WWE Title in the Elimination Chamber. Let’s be real, Cody Rhodes would immediately be top-three for star power in WWE upon his debut, so why wait to push him all the way to the top? You’d have the biggest story in wrestling immediately, and you’d reward a defector with your top prize, thus setting the bait for future defections as well. Plus, Cody does deserve to be WWE champion after all this time. This sets him up for a Mania feud with Rollins, puts Theory in a really interesting back burner storyline, and Brock can still challenge Roman Reigns at WrestleMania by just confronting him after the main event between Roman and Goldberg.
Rhode to WrestleMania
In the weeks leading up to WrestleMania, we hear from Cody during in-ring promos, and he even does backstage segments with Vince and Theory sometimes as well. Cody Rhodes sometimes even gives tips to Theory alongside Vince and tells him that Theory will have his own run someday if he’s willing to put in the time. When Theory asks why Vince had to bring Cody back as champion, Vince said that Cody put in his time elsewhere and finally showed he had the balls to grab the brass ring. That makes him the “real American Dream” to Vince, more than worthy of being WWE champion. Theory then often accompanies Cody throughout this run, learning from him, but also slowly planting seeds of surpassing him as Vince’s favorite kid too further down the line.
In build-up promos, Cody Rhodes says that he had to leave the company to make his name and made himself so big that WWE couldn’t help but bring him back. He talks about creating his own kingdoms elsewhere, but finally, Vince said it was time for him to claim the empty throne (referencing Triple H’s absence currently).
His feud with Rollins can be built around Rollins believing he had every right to the WWE Title, and he didn’t have to leave to prove his worth. Meanwhile, Cody can talk about Rollins being lucky enough to have all the right names believe in him along the way, while he worked in a company built on the Rhodes name.
Cody had to put on makeup, journey around the world, and shake the industry to its core just to get his hands on the WWE Title. And how bad must it feel for Rollins to realize all of his hard work wasn’t enough to stop Vince from calling in the biggest name in wrestling back. Because Cody went “all-in” on himself, and the bet paid off. At WrestleMania, Cody is set on proving to Rollins that without the “house” backing him, all of his dreams will be crushed by the American Nightmare.
Rollins meanwhile is still believing that Seth “Freakin” Rollins doesn’t need the McMahon stamp of approval to win. He’s spent the last five years showing he’s his own man now. Even when his “best friend” Kevin Owens tries to help Rollins, Cody reminds him that even Triple H chose to crown Owens as a world champion once rather than give it back to Rollins.
While Owens still wants to be there for his buddy, this causes Rollins to push him away in a desperate attempt to prove he can do it all on his own. This way, Owens can pretend it doesn’t bother him to be shunned by another friend in Rollins, and have his angle with Stone Cold at WrestleMania, and gives more fuel to the fire of Rollins vs. Owens when they eventually pull that trigger. You could even have them briefly reunite and tell the story of Rollins realizing he needs help after facing Cody at Wrestlemania. But at WrestleMania, Rollins loses to Cody Rhodes thanks to the influence of Theory and Rollins’ own desperation, showing that the connections of Cody and his experience elsewhere have made him too much for Rollins here.
I’d have Cody then beat Rollins one more time at Backlash, and this time I think you could have Owens screw over Rollins to finally start that feud throughout that summer. There’s one more pay-per-view before Money in the Bank, and at that yet-to-be-announced show, I’d have Cody begin his next two feuds, first against Randy Orton, then Matt Riddle.
Cody Rhodes Fantasy Booking Chapter 2: Randy Orton
Leading up to this next PPV, Cody tells the locker room from in the ring that while the new faces here were given the stamp of approval, he was around the world scratching and clawing, and changing the wrestling world just to prove those who looked down on him wrong. One of those men fought Cody in a match just because he thought he could look down on him, and Cody was fired because of it. Then, that same man who was supposed to be a mentor to Cody never gave up his spotlight, as Cody was turned into a clown, and sent packing.
That man was Randy Orton. RK-Bro then comes out and Cody continues his promo. He tells Randy that he helped give Cody his big break. Not in the WWE, when he gave years of his career to be Orton’s lackey, but by cruelly showing Cody the door. Leaving allowed Cody to be everything Orton was afraid he’d become: better than Orton. However, what Cody can’t understand is how he tricked some other young fool into believing Randy Orton had his back. Riddle looks like he wants to defend his BFF Randy, but then Cody says that it’s just proof that even Randy Orton can get old and soft. Orton says that if Cody wants to know what’s changed after all this time, make the match, so he does… but it’s against Riddle.
Cody says that what he really wants to know is what makes Riddle so special to Randy that he’d help him, but not Cody. And, he says he wants to show Riddle that Orton can’t be happy with someone else in the spotlight for long.
Build-Up vs Riddle
This build-up plays off recent weeks leading up to Elimination Chamber where the playful nature of Riddle has caused Orton to seemingly doubt who he is, and to appear conflicted at Riddle’s chances at single’s titles. So, in the build-up to the PPV, Orton is becoming more and more unhinged as Cody Rhodes pushes his buttons and props up Riddle. This leads to Orton telling Riddle that at the PPV, he’s on his own and that it’s best for both of them.
At the PPV, Riddle tries his best but is worried about Orton and distracted. So, not only does Riddle lose, but Cody attacks him after the match with a sledgehammer and “injures” him. Cody tells Riddle in the ring that “this type of pain happens to anyone who trusts Randy Orton to help them out. But don’t worry kid, maybe in 10 years you’ll be able to break out of his shadow too.”
Money in the Bank
So, leading up to Money in the Bank, Orton is furious with Cody and wants to take revenge for himself and for Riddle. Orton says that he should have been there for Cody, and when he wasn’t, he should’ve made sure he could never come back. He tells Cody that Riddle has way more heart than Cody ever did, and at Money in the Bank, Orton will deliver the three most devastating letters in the world in honor of Riddle.
We also get an apology from Orton to Riddle via promo, because Riddle hasn’t come back yet to TV, and Orton tells Riddle that it should’ve been him to hold the title, and the least Orton can do is hold the belt for him until he gets back. Cody tells Orton that the only reason he became the legendary RKO is that the first “three most devastating letters in WWE” Triple H allowed him to. And since Orton or Triple H wasn’t willing to do the same for him, Cody has had to show that he can become the man all on his own. Orton says he can only be the man if he beats the man at Money in the Bank, and that he’s happy Cody won’t be Orton’s “Legacy.”
At Money in the Bank, Orton and Cody have a brutal match, before Cody finally wins. Cody looks to injure Orton as well with the hammer before a returning Riddle makes the save. Riddle and Randy hug to massive applause to close the show, and Riddle looks hell-bent on revenge.
Cody Rhodes Fantasy Booking Chapter 3: Riddle
With SummerSlam coming up, Riddle is set to challenge Cody for the WWE Title. But, trying to get out of this match that he barely won last time, Cody Rhodes convinces Vince to give him a special clause. Riddle only can challenge Cody at SummerSlam if Randy Orton agrees to retire if Riddle loses. Riddle is initially ready to decline the match, but Orton convinces him to accept. Orton says that he’s already had a great career, so what he wants now is Riddle to start focusing on his own dreams.
This infuriates Cody in the build-up because after all he had to do just because Randy Orton wouldn’t give him the big push, and after forcing him to leave WWE, Cody still has to prove he’s worth it to Orton. And if Orton thinks Riddle is worth that shot, then Orton’s last moment in WWE will be realizing he backed the wrong horse.
To Riddle, Cody would point out that he had his own failure first in MMA, and he went to the same Indy shows Cody did to pick up the pieces. The difference? Cody kept reaching for new heights while Riddle just got high and waited for others to give him the right breaks. Riddle could be the man, an MMA killer, but he’s too busy being a joke for the audience and his “best friend.” Cody is more than happy to teach the lesson he had to learn the hard way, there’s always someone holding the spotlight hostage, and Cody will be damned if he waited this long just to give it up to Riddle.
SummerSlam vs Riddle
Leading up to SummerSlam, Orton also tells Riddle that he helped make Cody, so he can help Riddle destroy him. The week before the show, Riddle says that Randy has been a “Bro” when he needed him most, and at SummerSlam, Cody will see what happens when somebody messes with his best friend. Randy Orton finally says thanks… “Bro.”
Then, at SummerSlam, I’d have Riddle win against Cody. It puts Riddle on a pedestal and Orton can stop any funny business from interfering as well. Think of the awesome moment when Orton hands Riddle the belt in a genuine moment, the crowd cheering as Cody looks on at the passing of the torch he didn’t get. It also gives Cody a great run with the belt but leaves him with unfinished business. If he really wants to prove his worth in WWE, it’s him who has to leave the past behind.
I’d have him do a slow-face turn against Vince next with Theory replacing him, showing that WWE always has someone to replace Cody and making him a real-anti establishment babyface finally. After that period of time, perhaps Triple could be healthy enough to confront Cody himself for one last match. Riddle can defend against Lashley, Brock and eventually have the greed of Orton turn him on his best friend.
Fantasy Wrestling Booking for Cody Rhodes
So, that’s how I would return Cody Rhodes. A monster WWE created before it got so big that they had no choice but to bring him back. It also tells the story of Cody becoming everything he set out to destroy in creating AEW, which is how the public kind of feels about Cody currently anyway.
Rhodes will get cheered when he comes back, but he can still act like a heel because his character is the delusional hero of pro-wrestling, so he thinks he’s always the good guy. Eventually, he can be a true babyface for the same reasons, but right now, ride on the coattails of Cody jumping ship from AEW and the fans being mad about that.
Now, you have a champion Riddle, Austin Theory actually gets over, and Cody gets to tell stories 10 years in the making. That’s how I would book it anyway, how about you?