Born into what can only be described as pro wrestling royalty, one would assume Cody Rhodes — son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes and half-brother of Dustin (Goldust) Runnels — knew a lot about the business at a very young age.
Yes and no, the eloquent World Wrestling Entertainment superstar said over the phone recently.
“I knew a lot about pro wrestling at a very young age, but I didn’t know that I knew a lot about pro wrestling, if that makes any sense,” Rhodes said. “It was something we talked about at the dinner table, it was something we watched on television. It was always in our house. There were meetings downstairs in my dad’s office. I skipped school on a regular basis to go every show I could in the local area with my dad, so I knew a lot about it before I knew a lot about it.” Rhodes and his brother and tag-team partner Goldust will be crossing the border into Toronto on Dec. 30 as part of WWE’s Live tour.
While most kids with that kind of unfettered access to pro wrestling, and all that it encompasses, might lunge at every opportunity to rub elbows, pick brains and just be in the presence of all that greatness, that wasn’t young Cody Rhodes’ thing.
“I look back on it, and I think, as a kid — not that I consciously knew this — but I made the right decision as far as I didn’t care so much for the backstage environment, which a lot of people would be very curious about — what such and such is getting paid or what’s this argument about?
“For me, as soon as my dad got me there, I got my backstage pass from Doug Dillinger and I would just go in between different seats, open seats, and I’d watch the show. I was a fan, and my dad wasn’t performing at the time, so I was a fan of the product they were putting on and you couldn’t pull me backstage no matter what. There were only a few things that really interested me backstage. Other than that, I was out front and centre, screaming and yelling and kinda hoping that nobody who knew me saw me.”
Rhodes was born into wrestling. It was all around him as he grew up, from childhood through adolescence. In many ways, wrestling was his life. Was there, he was asked, ever a consideration not to follow in the shoes of his legendary father and groundbreaking brother?
“Yeah, real briefly when I was 19 years old,” Rhodes said. “I kind of thought that I was too small to be in sports entertainment. I didn’t know if I was going to have the size, so I thought, ‘Well if I can’t be in sports entertainment, I’ll be in entertainment’ … movies and such.” So Rhodes set out for Tinseltown.
“I went to Hollywood and I got myself into an acting studio out there,” he said, adding he took a job as a stage manager to make ends meet. “But the whole time I was out there — everybody day dreams and has goals — I was thinking, ‘Well as soon as I hit it big here, it won’t matter if I don’t have the size or not, I can go to the WWE.’ ” Admittedly, Rhodes said, it wasn’t his best planning.
“It was the absolute backward way of thinking,” he said. “(After) 10 months of that, I realized that, watching different second- and third-generation (wrestlers), specifically Randy Orton, on TV, I thought, ‘He had a father who really made a mark for himself and he has no fear of that and I shouldn’t either.’ ”
Rhodes would then set out to fulfil what can only be described as his destiny … his birthright … and follow in the legendary footsteps of his father and brother.
And what shoes to fill.
Dusty Rhodes, affectionately known as the American Dream, is a three-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion and is one of only six men inducted into each of the WWE, WCW, Professional Wrestling, and Wrestling Observer Newsletter halls of fame.
His half-brother Dustin, known the world over as the bizarre and controversial Goldust, has officially won 19 championships while working for either WWE or WCW. His character is one of the most recognizable and well-known in wrestling history.
Cody Rhodes speaks with passion, love and admiration when asked about the legacies his father and brother have carved into wrestling immortality.
“I think my dad is a pro wrestler,” Rhodes said. “And he’s one of the, in my mind — and I’m very non-biased of my family; he wasn’t my favourite because I wasn’t his audience — but as far as looking back on it, he’s a top-five professional wrestler for me.
“And he was one of the guys, one of THE visionaries, like Vince (McMahon), like Eric Bischoff, like Bill Watts. He was one of those visionaries who saw wrestling bigger than wrestling. Yeah, they were still a part of the sport, but they saw the entertainment value, the big-show value, like Starrcade. As much as he gets credit for being a performer, I think he should be given as much credit though for how him and Vince, going head to head, with the big show, for as long as they were … that’s helped us get to the point today where we’re doing the WrestleMania 31 press conference before we’re doing WrestleMania 30. It’s such an event.”
Without stopping, Rhodes steers the discussion to his big brother.
“If you look at Dustin’s situation now, I think it’s an open book,” Rhodes said. “There’s more left to give, as Dustin has found out. And the audience has more to give him. I don’t know, really, Dustin’s personal issues and his personal struggles and the triumphs he’s made over them if his career would have been different, but I know that he’s not leaving it up to a ‘what if?’ Because here he is with this character that he built that was ahead of its time that was part of a great generation of sports entertainment and he’s presenting it to a new audience, in a PG fashion, which is difficult enough, and I’m not trying to be an a–hole here, but him and I have the best matches of the show. We have ever since we’ve been together. And that’s a huge honour, that’s a huge responsibility and it’s a huge honour. You can say what you want about the future of the industry, he’s helping out the future by being there with me. He’s got a place in it right now just as much as they do and I really like that.”
His father, it was pointed out, gets the same kind of love from today’s six-year-old fans that he did 20 years ago, when he was still an active wrestler.
“He has an instant connection with people who want to have fun,” Rhodes said. “He has an instant connection with them even if they don’t know him. It may take them hearing two things he said. And like you said, little kids who don’t know who Dusty Rhodes is, they laugh, they laugh at how he’s talking, they laugh at how he’s carrying himself … that instant connection, that side of the industry that ‘this is supposed to be fun,’ I don’t know anybody who can do it better.”
Emerging from behind the massive shadows of his father and brother should have been next to impossible for Cody Rhodes. It would have been much easier to simply hide behind their legacies. Easy, however, is not in Cody Rhodes’ vocabulary.
“It’s extremely difficult, but I like difficult,” he answered when asked how challenging it has been for him to distinguish himself from his legendary family members. “My mother, I tried to mention her recently in a promo because she’s so important to who I am, because she’s got this die-hard work ethic and it’s been plugged into me and I have this attitude of the business that very few people have: I really do think the business is more fair than people give it credit. I think the guys who work harder end up rising to the top, and it’s not right away, but they end up getting there.
“For me, it’s really difficult, but I like difficult. Every time Dustin is down and has been beaten up lately, and the crowd has wanted to see a tag, and they’ve wanted to see a tag and they’ve wanted to see the tide turn in the match … every time I’ve gotten that tag, that is so much pressure it’s unreal. But I love that pressure because I’ve also only been a guy the audience has been cheering for as opposed to cheering against for a short amount of time so I’m earning this audience over every single night like they’d never seen me before. Even though I’ve laid out a chunk of work for them, a body of work already over the last six years, but every night, that’s the goal. And I really do like that. I will never complain about the difficulty of being in this family.”
At just 28 years of age, and closing in on a decade in the business, Rhodes admits he’s grown a lot in his still young career.
“I think one of the biggest things about the character I’ve been on television, and they may not realize it’s cool right now but hopefully they will … they’ve watched me grow up. I was 20 pounds lighter and couldn’t even purchase alcohol basically when I debuted on television and they’ve literally watched me grow up on TV. They’ve watched me make mistakes like an adolescent child. That’s huge. When I say grow up, I mean they’ve seen a mistake, like the moustache, and they’ve seen an attempt to step outside myself, like Dashing Cody Rhodes, and they’ve seen an attempt to break that mould so far off the Rhodes name like when I wore the mask. These are all growing pains that the audience has experienced and hopefully has been entertained by.”
Rhodes is already a two-time WWE Intercontinental champion (and the guy responsible for restoring the white title belt), a two-time WWE tag-team champion, a three-time World tag-team champion and a two-time Slammy winner.
From his part, Rhodes says there’s still plenty for him to accomplish.
“I’m obsessed with my industry and I don’t treat it like a job, so very much at the end of the day, the goals are very simple, it’s the WWE championship or the World Heavyweight championship and if it’s just one championship, then it’s that. It’s that position.”
WWE brass last week unified the WWE and World Heavyweight titles into the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
“With them unifying the titles, then it’s that single title<” Rhodes said. “It’s the main event. Talking about this Toronto live event, we’re kind of the second main event with the steel cage match with The Real Americans, which is so exciting because how frequently do you get a steel cage match on a live event? And then there’s the main event with Randy Orton and John Cena. I watch those guys and as much as respect and as many questions as I’ll ask them, I’m also sitting there telling myself, ‘I want your spot because I want to do it better.’ And I hope I know how to do it better when I get there. And I mean that with utmost respect. I don’t mean it with any negativity or negative connotation. That for me is the end game.”
Rhodes refuses to rest on his laurels, or his family name.
“I would be so disappointed with myself if I looked up on my wall after my career and I didn’t see a picture of me holding the WWE title. It would be a failure and I don’t want that.”
More immediately is the looming Toronto show, at the Ricoh Coliseum, where Rhodes and his brother will take on Zeb Coulter and The Real Americans, comprised of Jack Swagger and Antonio Cesaro.
Rhodes describes his relationship with Canadian fans as one of mutual respect.
“I’ve been really fortunate with my audience in Canada,” he said. “I don’t know what it is about Canadians in general, as far as they don’t always cheer for those they’re supposed to cheer for and they don’t always cheer against those they’re supposed to cheer against. Canadians have this sense of hard work. I think it might come from the fact that Bret Hart was the Canadian pro wrestler for so long and the story of Bret Hart is just the story of hard work. They have this sense. They could tell when I was wearing the mask, or like the last time, when I was wrestling against Sin Cara, they have this sense. I’ve always really had such a good time performing in Canada. When the guys look at the cards and they look at what’s coming up and they see Toronto, they see Barrie, they see Montreal, they Calgary, when they see these places, those are like big events for us. Not that we’re downplaying the other events, but Canadian audiences always, from the beginning of the show to the end of the show, just vibrant. And I’ve been very fortunate that they’ve always been able to get a sense that I work very hard. And I don’t mean to sound self-righteous and smug, but I would rather sound self-righteous and smug and tell you the truth and that’s the truth.”
One thing Rhodes is hoping to avoid while in Canada is Cesaro’s patented Cesaro Swing, in which he swings his opponents around in circles by their legs and ankles, sometimes more than 20 times.
Rhodes has had two separate experiences with the Cesaro Swing, with mixed results.
“I’ve been swung twice and the first time, this was the honest feeling, I was looking up at the ceiling in Tampa Bay, and I thought to myself that I was really cold because he was swinging me and I could feel the breeze on my back and I thought, ‘I’m really cold,’ but this isn’t near as bad as I thought. I actually thought, ‘This is kind of pointless, it seems like it’s harder on him than it is on me.’
“The second time he swung me was in Atlanta and I was so sick, so sick, that I should’ve never been in that ring, that I said to myself, and I’ve said this once before when Sheamus was pounding on my chest, I said to myself that if he does it five more times, my heart’s going to stop. He let me go and I literally just rolled to the floor. It’s weird because now I’m terrified of it, but the first time it was no problem. It’s an amazing feat of strength from an amazing performer … kind of a d–k, but an amazing performer nonetheless. I’ll be honest, I don’t want to disappoint any Canadian fans, but if he’s swinging anybody in Toronto, he’ll be swinging Goldie. It’s not going to be me.”
Following the Toronto show, Rhodes will be setting his sights on earning a coveted spot in the Royal Rumble, one of WWE’s signature pay-per-views, with the Rumble winner automatically earning a spot in the main event at WrestleMania.
Like everyone who ever laces up a pair of wrestling boots, Rhodes has his eye on that prize.
Even, he admits, if it meant tossing his own flesh and blood over the top rope. Asked what would happen if the only thing standing between him and WrestleMania immortality was his brother Goldust, Rhodes didn’t hesitate.
“I’d throw him out,” he answered, matter of factly. “I’d throw him out. I’ve thrown him out twice before, I’d make the hat trick, I’d throw him out a third (time). If that situation arose, I guarantee you’d get the same answer from him. You throw the guy out. Winning the Rumble changes your life, whether you look at this from, ‘Oh, it’s strictly entertainment,’ or if you look at this from, ‘Everything they do is as real as real gets.’ Regardless of how you look at it, winning the Rumble changes your life so if it came down to that, he’s getting thrown out.” The well-spoken Rhodes offered one more thought before ending the conversation.
“You talk about the Rumble, and every year I do my dangdest to have a really great Rumble outing. At some point in my career, I’m going to win the thing. At some point. Just hang onto that. Just hang onto this interview.”
Given the blood that courses through his veins, don’t bet against him.
WWE presents Raw Live
What: WWE presents Raw Live.
Where: Ricoh Coliseum, Toronto.
When: Monday, Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m.
Card: John Cena, Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, Goldust, Big Show, Kane and others. Subject to change.
On the web: www.wwe.com