The return of one of WWE’s prodigal sons, arguably one of professional wrestling’s biggest stars today, ‘The American Nightmare’ Cody Rhodes has found a much wider range of success in his 2nd tenure in the WWE after his time with All Elite Wrestling and the wider independent circuit.

Now presented as a genuine main event level competitor after his storylines with Seth Rollins, Brock Lesnar, Dominik Mysterio as well as his ongoing intertwinement within The Bloodline saga, Cody Rhodes is set to remain within the company’s most integral television for years to come. 

This is also evident by Vince McMahon’s desire to keep the presentation of the Cody Rhodes character the same as it was throughout his time outside of the WWE Universe, allowing the American Nightmare brand that Rhodes had spent years developing on screens in a move seen in rare circumstances these days, which can be seen in the recent debuts of Jade Cargill and Lexis King. 

After a crushing defeat in the main event of WrestleMania 39’s 2nd Night in a move that still divides fans today, the early teases of the reignition of this feud have been evident as his on-screen alignment with ‘Main Event’ Jey Uso has continued to develop. 

With the style of booking transitioning back into long-term storytelling rather than short-term bursts of on-screen action, the consensus has been that Cody Rhodes will challenge and dethrone Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40.

His booking since his defeat at WrestleMania 39, whilst being positioning strongly within the main event echelon of talent, has been questionable and at times criticised in the way they’ve pushed Rhodes, with comparisons being drawn to the pushes given to Reigns as well as John Cena, in an effort to be positioned as the company’s biggest babyface draw. 

There is, however, a wave of momentum being ridden by a man that didn’t even make an appearance at WrestleMania 39. Reminiscent of the build towards WrestleMania 30, a wrestler that has naturally grown into the audience’s favourite competitor due to their ability and talent regardless of their writing has arrived that could interrupt the plans of the WWE brass. 

So with ‘The Megastar’ convincing audiences around the world who’s game it is, could L.A. Knight stop Cody Rhodes from finishing his story? Or does the story have to change for Cody Rhodes to finish it?

The rise of L.A. Knight is regularly touched upon since his sudden ascent into the main event of the WWE. At the age of 40, the window of opportunity to break the glass ceiling was slim, but not non-existent, as shown by the rise of Diamond Dallas Page in WCW through the late 90’s, becoming WCW Heavyweight Champion at the age of 43. 

After a less than impressive repackage given to Knight upon his promotion from the WWE Performance Center & WWE NXT, his time as Max Dupri has been widely criticised. With the backlash received from the WWE Universe evident, Knight’s time as the head of the Maximum Male Models was short lived, reverting back to the LA Knight character that had quickly become a lauded part of NXT programming during his time on the black and gold brand.

This kind of response to Knight wasn’t unusual, as he has developed a devoted fan base prior to his time in the WWE, thanks to his successful runs in TNA Wrestling, then known as Impact Wrestling, as well as the National Wrestling Alliance. Then known as Eli Drake, his character has always retained the brash, in your face attitude and charisma that is captivating audiences today.

Cody Rhodes worked extremely hard to develop as strong of a brand as he has today, with his release from the WWE being the catalyst of Rhodes’ ascent to the top of the independent circuit.

A key player in the creation of All Elite Wrestling and in doing so proving that there is an alternative to both audiences and hopeful athletes around the world, Rhodes would become a cornerstone of All Elite Wrestling and would be presented at the top of AEW programming.

Being presented as a main event star on internationally televised screens for the first time, Rhodes’ presentation became polarising, with audiences often split with their support or criticism of his role as a white meat, squeaky clean babyface.

His transition to that of a character lacking self-awareness in regards to the reception he’d receive was often confusing, and he himself admitted that the ‘Cody-verse’ was “too meta” for audiences at times, with comparisons to the character ‘Homelander’ from ‘The Boys’ being drawn. This turn in reception from audiences surrounding his role as a wrestler with only honourable intentions was often made due to his rise through the independent circuit, one that was largely conducted as a heel that included his run with the ‘Bullet Club’ stable that catapulted the faction into the eyes of western audiences.

With the return of Rhodes to the WWE, returning to the company after 6 years, Cody Rhodes’ presentation remained unchanged from the character that departed All Elite Wrestling. Citing his desire to win the WWE World Championship that had eluded his father and to ‘finish the story’, the signs of Rhodes continuing his role as the true babyface was evident during his feud with Seth ‘Freakin’ Rollins.

Unlike his time with All Elite Wrestling, Rhodes was widely accepted in his return to the WWE by its audience , with it being most evident in his performance against Rollins at Hell in a Cell in 2022, performing with a torn pectoral muscle to the audience’s disbelief. This is why many argue that he should have defeated Reigns to secure the WWE World Championship, as the iron was at its hottest during this period for Rhodes. The injury that he performed with at Hell in a Cell 2022 is also arguably the same reason that audiences today may be turning on him.

In the feuds that have followed Rhodes since his defeat at WrestleMania 39, he has been written into 2 separate injury angles. The first was against Brock Lesnar, where he suffered a ‘broken arm’ due to a Kimura Lock from Lesnar prior to their match at Night of Champions 2023. The injury angle, and in particular the apparent ‘titanium cast’ that Rhodes wore during the match was criticised and mocked. The second is with his currently ongoing storyline with Judgement Day, with his ankle being injured on the October 23rd edition of Raw prior to his match with Jey Uso against Judgement Day for the WWE Undisputed Tag Team Championships at WWE Crown Jewel.

Once again, the decision to have Rhodes battle through injury has been criticised, which could be due to the fact that audiences have seen Rhodes battle on screen with a legitimate and severe injury, making kayfabe injury angles redundant in its efforts to present a rivalry in an intense manner.

With Rhodes’ road toward his inevitable rematch against Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40 coming closer and closer, the perception and reception to Rhodes remains strong, however rumblings of disapproval are more prevalent than they were before.

There are a lot of visible similarities that can be drawn from the storyline that shot Daniel Bryan, the man now known as Bryan Danielson, into superstardom nearly 10 years earlier at WrestleMania 30. With a main event slotted to contain Randy Orton and the returning Batista, the audience widely rejected the plans as Daniel Bryan had been building a natural connection with the WWE Universe to the point where the audience would only accept Daniel Bryan as the star of the show, rejecting all others including the returning Dave Batista.

The fallout from WWE Crown Jewel 2023’s main event between Roman Reigns and L.A. Knight could heavily impact Cody Rhodes’ rise to the WWE World Championship.

While it seems almost a given that L.A. Knight will be unable to dethrone Roman Reigns, it will be the manner in which he loses and the subsequent direction that L.A. Knight is pushed that will affect whether or not audiences will reject the positioning of Rhodes in the WWE.

If the WWE direct L.A. Knight towards Seth ‘Freakin’ Rollins and the World Heavyweight Championship, the WWE may be able to save face with its audience and avoid another takeover of their main storyline on the ‘grandest stage of them all’.

However, if the WWE decide to push L.A. Knight towards a secondary championship such as the Intercontinental or United States Championship, they run the risk of an audience that is still hot on L.A. Knight rejecting any storyline with the WWE World Championship that doesn’t involve ‘The Megastar’, including that of ‘The American Nightmare’. 

Whose story is it? L.A. Knight’s. Yeah!

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Luke Monet

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