There are times when World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) drops the ball hard with their bookings and pushing of talent. They’ll oddly break up a fan-favorite faction like The Hurt Business. Or they’ll part ways with a creative genius such as Bray Wyatt. For some reason, they’ll try to fix something that isn’t broken. On the flipside, they’ve proven they can knock it out of the park. Cody Rhodes’ return to the WWE was the latest example of them hitting a homerun.
Since Rhodes left All Elite Wrestling (AEW), many in the industry, from peers to journalists, had speculated what his next move would be. Was his departure from AEW a work? Would he begin taking independent bookings again? Would he retire altogether. Or would he do the un-thinkable and return to WWE, the very company he left on bad terms with six years ago.
After a few weeks of rumors, all signs pointed in one direction. Cody Rhodes would once again sign with WWE.
The company teased it in their own way. They dropped tea leaves here and there. Seth Rollins essentially alluded to it in a promo on Monday Night Raw. After all, many rumors pointed to Rhodes being his mystery opponent for Wrestlemania. And fellow professional wrestlers such as Chris Jericho, who wrestles for AEW (and formerly WWE) said he knew it was a done deal.
Once it became clear that Rhodes would return to the place that made him Stardust, a new question arose. How is WWE going to handle his re-debut?
And the answer is that they handled it masterfully, creating one of the most memorable Wrestlemania moments ever. Hell, I’ll go a step further. Rhodes’ return to WWE was one of the most significant moments in the company’s history. If they fail to do anything else right with Rhodes during his new multi-year deal, they executed the night of his return flawlessly.
He came out to “Kingdom” by Downstait. He had the same look and persona that made him a beloved figure on the indie circuit. And the icing on the cake? WWE pitted him against one of their biggest stars (Rollins) at its biggest event, with Rhodes taking home the victory.
What makes this return even better is the massive pop that he received when he rose from the ground onto the Wrestlemania stage. For wrestling fans, young and old, moments like that are why they started (or still) watch. It’s a level of shock and awe that the four major professional sports organizations in this country can’t always provide.
Don’t get it twisted, they do happen. But they can’t create them.
There’s one last thing that makes Rhodes’ return to WWE special. They did something that Roman Reigns asks of each crowd he steps in front of these days: they acknowledge him.
Let’s do a brief history recap.
Cody Rhodes left WWE after differences with the company and its creative direction. He became a star on the independent wrestling scene, and then helped Jacksonville Jaguars owner, Tony Khan, create AEW. He was one of the executive vice presidents. Rhodes was one of the masterminds behind WWE’s most stiff competition in decades. He then left AEW over personal differences.
Soon after, WWE Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, along with Bruce Prichard flew to Rhodes’ location and acknowledged him. They gave him “his flowers” for leaving WWE, proving that he could be a star, and hold his own.
And in Rhodes’ own words, that’s one of the many factors that led him to re-sign with WWE.
See, WWE didn’t just send Triple H or any other agent to go do the job and bring Rhodes back. That was not going to work in this case. It had to be Vince McMahon talking to Rhodes. And if anyone has read a story or watched an interview with (or about) McMahon, you’ll get the significance of him flying to Rhodes, not the other way around.
WWE treated Cody Rhodes with the respect of a mega star in the industry from its courtship to lure him to the execution of his re-debut with the company. On top of that, Rhodes is now instantly the company’s biggest babyface.
So what’s next? Who knows! Monday Night Raw and Smackdown should be interesting this week. There will be more returning stars. New storylines will develop. The possibilities are endless. End of the day, WWE regained some of the juice it lost to AEW. And now AEW’s former VP, the one who helped create the company, could be the only to end it.
Because make no mistake about it. More AEW stars will jump to WWE down the line. It just so happens the company’s ex-VP was the first to do so.
Follow Kory Woods on Twitter at KoryEWoods.