In professional wrestling, nothing is more important than the story. And the storyline surrounding Cody Rhodes over the past eight years has been one of the most compelling and all-encompassing in wrestling history. He was raised under the shadow of his late hall-of-fame father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and the longtime WWE star long struggled to figure out how to embrace his family legacy.
After a 10-year run with the company, Rhodes shockingly walked away from WWE less than a year following his dad’s sudden death in 2015. Rhodes embarked on a six-year journey to rediscover himself, the joy of pro wrestling, and his lost connection with his dad by rejoining the independent scene. Dubbed “The American Nightmare,” Rhodes wrestled everywhere from grade school gymnasiums in Kentucky and Minnesota to a sold out Tokyo Dome in Japan. And soon, the second-generation pro wrestler parlayed his own success into forming All Elite Wrestling, the biggest WWE competitor since WCW fell in the early 2000s.
“The first thing you learn in wrestling is something that it took me a while to rediscover again: it’s very fun,” Rhodes told GQ Sports recently. “It’s very, very, very fun.” And as Rhodes’ rediscovered the “entertainment” side of what Vince McMahon famously called the “sports-entertainment” business, he perhaps unknowingly set himself up for one of wrestling’s greatest comeback stories: returning to WWE in early 2022 and proclaiming he’d come back to win the world title his dad was never able to capture. He spent the rest of the 2022 chasing down Roman Reigns to upend his record-long world title run, once wrestling through a gruesome pectoral tear, but ultimately came up inches short at WrestleMania 39 this past April.
This storyline, which has blended real-life trauma with a few sneak peaks behind the curtain in WWE, is the subject of a new documentary about Rhodes’ return to the company, The American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes, which premiered on Peacock this week. Now building himself back up again to potentially face Reigns once more at next year’s WrestleMania 40, GQ Sports caught up with Rhodes to talk about the doc, his world title chase, and his grudge match with Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam this Saturday at Ford Field in Detroit—the latest hurdle in Rhodes’ entry in pro wrestling’s history books.
GQ: Ever since you came back to WWE, you’ve said it’s your goal to “finish the story” and win the undisputed world title for your dad. So, where are we at in your story now?
Cody Rhodes: I would say we are at the most challenging part, by far. The torn pec last year at Hell in a Cell was an incredible challenge for me as an athlete and entertainer, but Brock Lesnar—three matches with Brock Lesnar—is challenging.
The other part of the challenge is growing a connection with the audience. It’s amazing and I’m so grateful to have it, but I think part of you is always scared. What if it goes? What if you lose it? Because you had this and they rode with you to WrestleMania. Can you get back there? Those two words are really the whole thing: “get back.”
Wrestling legends like Triple H, Randy Orton, and Hulk Hogan are interviewed in your new documentary, and they say you discovered a newfound confidence when you first left WWE. How much change do you feel now that you’re back?
I think the most confident you can be is when you do it all with your own hands. There are so many things that were given to me: my last name, my lineage. I love that the new documentary is subtitled “Becoming Cody Rhodes,” because I was already Cody Rhodes, but I completely get what it means. What does that role really feel like when you step into it? And I didn’t step into that role until recently. It’s all things that were built by hand in a sense of how I wanted to look, how I want to be in the ring, how the music is going to be. Every little piece of it had to come together. And for me, I’ve never been more confident in how I am in the ring.