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USA Insider WWE Monday Night Raw

A Look At The Highs And Lows Of Cody Rhodes’ WWE Career

It’s been a rocky road to WWE dominance for the American Nightmare, Cody Rhodes.

By Chris Phelan
Cody Rhodes during the WWE Royal Rumble at the Alamodome on January 28, 2023 in San Antonio, Texas.

If there's one thing WWE fans have learned of late, it's that Cody Rhodes is rolling full-steam ahead toward a WrestleMania clash with Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship!

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Cody wasted no time in relishing his Royal Rumble victory as he gave a heartfelt speech to the WWE Universe at the top of the show. While the American Nightmare spoke truthfully and confidently, fans around the world know Cody didn’t have the easiest road to success in WWE. His debut in 2007 seems like a distant memory, and sometimes it can be hard to remember that he is a 17-year veteran of the sport. Although some fans believe he was born for greatness due to his family heritage, the Superstar's journey to the upper echelon took a lot of twists and turns — with nearly as many low points as high points.

RELATED: Cody Rhodes Reveals What's Inspiring Him To Keep Going During 'Awful' Rehab

To help those who need a refresher, USA Insider takes a look at the specific highs and lows that have defined his WWE career thus far.

HIGH POINT: Cody’s 2007 RAW Debut

One look back at his debut match against Randy Orton tells you everything you needed to about a young Cody Rhodes. Between his look, his skillset and the support of his father, Dusty Rhodes, at ringside, he became the de facto #1 rising star in the company as soon as he debuted. The crowd in the arena that night felt the same despite most having never seen Cody wrestle before. They were all universally backing the upstart rookie in his upset bid against Orton. 

Although his first-ever WWE match was unsuccessful (Cody got caught with an RKO, as is usually the case for Orton’s opponents), the fact that he already had the undying support of the WWE Universe behind him on day one can only be seen as a high point in retrospect.

LOW POINT: Losing the Tag Team Titles on the 2014 Royal Rumble Kickoff Show

No offense to the New Age Outlaws, they were as crucial to the success of D-Generation X as anybody else was in the late 90s, but their whole schtick felt antiquated by the mid-2000s, let alone in 2014. Cody and his brother were flying up the all-time tag team ranks at this point, and to lose the tag titles to a nostalgia act was an absolute low point in Cody’s career.

Losing the tag team championships to Road Dogg and Billy Gunn in 2014 is one thing, but the fact that the match took place on the Royal Rumble kickoff show rubbed salt even further into Cody’s wounds. 

Unfortunately, the lows would keep coming for Cody by this time in 2014, as he would undergo a rather unfortunate character change — but more on that later.

HIGH POINT: When Cody Became “Disfigured”

Throughout his wrestling career, Cody has shown to have a knack for reinventing himself over and over, but sometimes it doesn’t quite work (see below). Other times, he simply knocks it out of the park. In 2011, Cody was firmly entrenched in his “Dashing” persona, frequently declaring himself the best-looking Superstar in WWE. However, thanks to a timely 619 courtesy of Rey Mysterio that shattered his face, he reemerged as a diabolical and delusional madman that wore a mask to hide his newly-disfigured face.

It was like something straight out of "The Phantom of the Opera." On top of that, the WWE Universe bought into Cody becoming even more evil than before. He became somebody who used his disfigurement to reach a higher level of villain than anybody thought possible, like a comic book character come to life.

LOW POINT: A Star(dust) is Born

While Cody certainly didn’t shy away from giving this character his all, not even the incredibly-talented son of a plumber could salvage this disappointing persona. Originally intended as a play off his real-life brother Dustin’s WWE character, Goldust, it devolved into a parody of sorts and something that, over time, the WWE Universe could tell his heart just wasn’t in.

If Cody envisioned being “the next John Cena” after only two years in WWE — as he proclaimed this past Monday on RAW — then being saddled with the Stardust character after 7 years in the company had to be seen as a huge personal and professional disappointment.

Although Cody managed to put on some amazing matches as Stardust, the lack of career progression in WWE would eventually put into motion his decision to leave the company for an extended absence in 2016.

HIGH POINT: Cody’s Return to WWE at WrestleMania in 2022

At the time, Cody’s surprise appearance as Seth Rollins’ mystery opponent at WrestleMania was anything but. It seemed at the time the entire wrestling world had pegged Cody to be Rollins’ opponent weeks in advance, but that didn’t make the moment any less special when it actually happened.

After a long absence away from WWE, the wrestling world was united in welcoming one of the prodigal sons home. Cody’s presence truly felt larger than life, as the sold-out crowd in AT&T Stadium greeted the returning hero with an ovation that would’ve made The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin blush.

LOW POINT: The Cosmic Wasteland Debacle

Cody’s initial WWE run didn’t crater when he took on the Stardust persona. The absolute low point has to be his short-lived alliance with the Ascension called Cosmic Wasteland. Not only was the Ascension one of the lowest-ranked tag teams on the main roster, but it seemed like Cosmic Wasteland was only around to provide bizarre comedy in some of the most uninspiring backstage segments ever seen on WWE television.

Don’t believe us? The clip above is all the proof you need. Titled “The Cosmic Wasteland Attempts to Destroy Christmas,” it featured Cody and the Ascension doing their best impression of the villains in every corny childhood Christmas movie — forced laughter and all. It wasn’t the best look for the Superstar, whose stock even the most hardcore WWE fans had to admit had fallen immensely over the years. 

HIGH POINT: Winning the 2023 Royal Rumble

As soon as fans did the math and realized Cody would be entering the 2023 Royal Rumble from the #30 position, everyone immediately penciled him in for the main event slot at WrestleMania. When you’re lucky enough to dRAW #30, fate is definitely on your side, and Cody didn’t let that golden opportunity slip through his fingers.

The only downside to Cody’s big Rumble win was that it came at the expense of the Intercontinental Champion, Gunther, who made history by setting the iron man record during the match — leader of Imperium was in the Rumble for over 70 minutes, and there’s reason to believe that if it wasn’t for Cody’s march towards destiny, Gunther would be the one preparing to main event WrestleMania.

Nevertheless, Cody’s first step in his journey to achieve his dream has been achieved, and now all that’s left is a few months before destiny comes knocking at his door.

When the dust clears at WrestleMania, we have to wonder: will we consider Cody’s main event performance to be a high point or a low point? If Roman Reigns has anything to say about it, it’ll be a low point, but we’re hoping that the American Nightmare puts an exclamation point on his unforgettable WWE career arc in just a few months.

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