Cody Rhodes has become the wrestling hero he was destined to be after his epic showdown against Reigns at WrestleMania 40

“A true hero is not defined by their strength, but by their ability to inspire and lead others.”
– Mahatma Gandhi, 1931

Michael TaubeHeroes are few and far between. They walk among us in every facet of life, and often have admirers who respect their talents and abilities. We see them in sports, business, politics and elsewhere. They work in medicine, firefighting, police services and the military. They live in our neighbourhoods and communities and, in some instances, will only ever be known to a few select individuals.

Pro wrestling has also established its own group of heroes. Creative character development and healthy doses of short-term and long-term storytelling in this world of sports entertainment and predetermined outcomes can turn a wrestler into a superhero admired by young and old alike.

Every so often, a wrestler already embodies the very qualities and characteristics that promoters, bookers and writers actively look for. The sort of person who has wrestling knowledge, natural charisma and top-flight oratorical skills. Someone who can be the face of the promotion, a locker room leader – and build a brand with significant appeal.

Cody Rhodes just assumed that mantle in World Wrestling Entertainment this past weekend.

Cody-Rhodes wrestling WrestleMania 40

Cody Rhodes

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Rhodes defeated Roman Reigns to win the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship on the second night of WrestleMania 40 in Philadelphia. It was a match for the ages and the culmination of a nearly two-year storyline that had enthralled wrestling fans and casual observers almost every step of the way.

The backstory is equally remarkable.

Cody Rhodes is a member of wrestling royalty. He’s the son of the late great Dusty Rhodes, a three-time NWA World Champion and two-time NWA World Tag Team Champion. The “son of a plumber” was one of the industry’s greatest minds and talkers. His brilliant, off-the-cuff promos appealed directly to the common man. Fans saw him as one of their own, and cheered his every move. He connected to an audience in a way that few ever achieved. He was, as his nickname suggested, the “American Dream.”

There was one thing that Dusty never accomplished. He wanted to become a world champion in WWE – then known by its original name, World Wide Wrestling Federation (WWWF). He wrestled a few times unsuccessfully for the belt. He even briefly held it for a few minutes after a Sept. 26, 1977, match against Superstar Billy Graham in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

A photo of the moment his father held the WWWF title sat on the mantlepiece of the Rhodes family home. A young Cody often looked at it. It was the belt they took from his father in the Garden. “I was going to place it, I was going to bestow it into the hands of ‘The American Dream’ Dusty Rhodes,” he said in a 2022 promo. “And I would tell him, ‘Nobody can take it away from you now!’”

This was part of a multi-year story arc containing epic twists and turns. Could Rhodes finish the story in a heroic fashion by defeating Reigns, ending his foe’s near-four-year title reign and bringing this long-awaited championship to his family?

Reigns has been one of the most talented and dominating wrestlers of his generation. He’s one of the longest-serving WWE World Champions. He’s also the “tribal chief” of the Bloodline, a faction that has been composed of blood relatives and a few others, including Jey and Jimmy Uso, Solo Sikoa, Sami Zayn, Paul Heyman (who serves as the “Wise Man”) and, most recently, WWE legend Dwayne “The Rock” Johnston.

Reigns barely survived Rhodes’s challenge at WrestleMania 39. Winning the title a year later was no certainty, even in the world of sports entertainment. Nevertheless, they both played traditional wrestling roles. Rhodes was the sympathetic babyface (or good guy) who would fight tooth and nail for one last chance at winning the gold. Reigns was the heel (or bad guy) who seemed closer to an anti-hero than a villain but was always willing to take shortcuts to keep his championship at all costs.

This storyline energized audiences, brought fans to their feet and filled buildings and stadiums to capacity – or close to it.

The fans even played a massive role in ensuring Rhodes’s path wouldn’t be obstructed. When Rhodes-Reigns II at WrestleMania 40 was going to be shelved for a dream match-up between Reigns and The Rock, it led to a massive backlash. WWE and major executives like chief content officer Triple H and The Rock, a board member, couldn’t ignore this reaction. They called an audible and changed the card. The Rock turned heel and would team with Reigns to face Rhodes and his new ally, Rollins, on Night 1. The result would determine the type of championship match on Night 2.

Reigns and The Rock ended up winning the tag team match. This led to a Bloodline Rules, or anything goes, match between Rhodes and Reigns.

The entrances of both participants were grandiose and memorable. Rhodes was accompanied by his wife, Brandi, a talented and creative force who had met him at WWE and later became the first African American to serve in a major role at a wrestling promotion at AEW. The match was a back-and-forth contest with many near-pinfall attempts until the Bloodline Rules was activated.

Jey Uso, who had left the Bloodline and aligned with Cody, prevented his brother, Jimmy, from interfering. Sikoa, whose interference had cost Cody the title the previous year, failed twice to help Reigns end the match. This brought out WWE legend John Cena, who had lost against Sikoa at the Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia in 2023 and exacted his revenge. This led to The Rock’s arrival, an old WrestleMania foe, and Cena getting taken out.

Rollins, who was dressed as a member of The Shield, a faction he had started with Reigns and AEW’s Jon Moxley, was unsuccessful in hitting The Rock with a steel chair due to the world champion’s intervention. This was followed by an appearance by The Undertaker, another WWE legend, who choke-slammed The Rock into oblivion.

Once the dust had settled, Reigns picked up the stray steel chair in the ring. He was going to hit Rhodes but instead smashed it on Rollins’s back, the culmination of years of storyline frustration he felt in The Shield. He then tried to spear Rhodes, who stopped him and used his finishing manoeuvre, the Cross Rhodes (a variation of the popular cutter move in wrestling), on three straight occasions to knock the wind out of his sails. This led to a pinfall and the story being finished.

Rhodes embraced his wife in the ring. He was awarded the title by referee Charles Robinson, who used to be called “Little Naitch” in his days at World Championship Wrestling due to his storyline friendship with legendary wrestler “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, one of Dusty Rhodes’s greatest rivals. He embraced all the people who had been part of this storyline and opposed Reigns and the Bloodline, including Zayn, Uso, Cena, Rollins, Randy Orton, LA Knight and Kevin Owens.

Rhodes’s hand was raised by CM Punk, the legendary wrestler who had left AEW in late 2023 after a difficult couple of years (to put it mildly) and returned to WWE to massive cheers. He celebrated with his family, and gave his mother the championship he had won for his late father.

Cody Rhodes had become the hero he was destined to be. With his story finished, a new tale is about to be written. The future looks bright. And somewhere, Dusty Rhodes is looking down at his beloved son and smiling.

Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics.

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