Cody Rhodes Talks Becoming The American Nightmare, Returning To WWE, And What Comes Next

All Cody Rhodes was looking for was closure. It had been six years since Rhodes left WWE to pave a trail all on his own, rebranding himself as the American Nightmare, becoming one of the hottest acts on the independent scene, and working in tandem with the Young Bucks to eventually launch All Elite Wrestling.

But Bruce Pritchard, Vince McMahon, and WWE knew they had a chance to bring Rhodes home. Working without a contract in AEW, Rhodes agreed to meet Pritchard and McMahon, who were on a flight the next day to see if they could convince him to return.

“Here’s a guy (Vince) who helped raise me, in an entertainment sense, two guys (Vince and Bruce). And hey, you did a good job, guys. You really did. I’m here. I got this going on. I got that going on. Thank you. And I’m sorry how I left. I’m not sorry completely for how I left, but there (were) things I did that I hope you understand why I did them. It was all on the table. Stardust, everything was discussed,” Rhodes told Uproxx Sports at a screening event for Peacock’s American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes documentary.

Rhodes says the meeting didn’t actually feel like a meeting though. They spoke about his family. Vince spoke lovingly about his daughter, what she means to him. And at the end, they asked if he was interested in wrestling Seth Rollins at WrestleMania and coming back to the WWE.

His path to WWE the first time — and eventually back — is covered in detail throughout the documentary, which airs on July 31 on Peacock. It’s an interesting position to be in for Rhodes, who has spent so much of his life being drawn back to his father’s legacy.

“In my mind, I still feel like I’m 20 years old, pulling up to 4400 Shepherdsville Road, going to go into OVW to introduce myself,” Rhodes says. “I was a producer on my dad’s documentary, and it’s funny what a creator, a director, Matt Braine being mine, the things they’ll center on, the things they’ll focus on. It may not be the thing you thought.”

One of the things that impressed Rhodes in working with Braine and WWE’s Senior Vice President & Executive Producer of Documentaries, Ben Houser, was the choices they made on what was important in documenting his story.

“There’s plenty of things that have gone wrong and bad and there’s a negativity to how I left and the things I did,” Rhodes continues. “But to not trip over anything that’s behind us. And that, I really liked as far as watching it. There’s darkness for sure in a documentary that covers the path I’ve been on.”

The common thread the documentary portrays is Rhodes’ lifelong dream to hold the one championship his father held briefly at Madison Square Garden, but never actually won. Winning that belt was one of his very first goals in life. He recalls telling Dusty of ambitions to give him the belt and that this time, no one could take it away from him.

The story takes viewers through Rhodes’ journey in high school wrestling, his relationship with Dusty, and the path he carved along the way, deviating from his father’s footsteps. He shared the challenges of hitting a glass ceiling within WWE, the organization’s refusal in allowing him to shed the Stardust gimmick, and what led to him hitting the independent scene.

Mixed in are his independent bookings, Rhodes’ matches against Kurt Angle, and how his appearance in New Japan Pro Wrestling was the lightbulb moment that blended his past experiences as ‘Dashing’ Cody Rhodes, Stardust, and eventually the American Nightmare.

There’s a surprising amount of Being The Elite and All In footage, which he says the Young Bucks signed off on. He also briefly touches on his decision to leave AEW, which he says didn’t have anything to do with money or a problem with talent.

“It’s like I knew I’d be back,” Rhodes says about returning to WWE. “When we did All In, I remember telling them I want to have signs backstage to tell you where the rooms are, and I want to have catering, and we’re going over all this. I wanted to replicate a WWE event, or at least the production side of it. Maybe had I looked further in at that point, I would have realized that I was starting on a path even then to getting back.”

When Rhodes returned to WWE, maintaining the gimmick he’d created wasn’t in question — he had trademarked everything and has the tattoo of his logo prominently placed on his neck. The only question was which music he’d use.

“The music, it wasn’t that there was any pushback, as much as it was, what does it matter? We make great music here too, and really they do,” Rhodes says. “I’ve heard a song that was a version for me here. That was an area where I was adamant, and Kevin Dunn was very generous in that he allowed that to be the case. Now I couldn’t think of the bit without it. There’s some fans who are absolutely on board and they know every part of this movie you’re going to see. And then there’s other fans who know, this is where we go, ‘whoa,’ at the show and that may be their only thing. What we’ve discovered was this rallying cry against WWE, which is what the song is, is very catchy. That was an area where I knew it was important enough to fight for it.”

When the lights went out as Seth Rollins stood in the ring at WrestleMania 38, Rhodes wasn’t sure what the reaction would be. He’d had a split crowd for much of his time in AEW, but this felt like a homecoming of sorts.

“I never underestimate our fans” Rhodes continues. “My feeling was genuinely, they get it. They get this real moment in time. They get the purpose. I didn’t even need to tell them two nights later about the title. They got it. And that was so touching.”

The documentary covers the ups and downs that have continued to follow Rhodes since his return, including how he tore his pectoral muscle, competing at Hell in a Cell with the injury, and his build to headlining WrestleMania 39 against Roman Reigns.

After losing to Reigns at WrestleMania, Rhodes has been clear that finishing the story only applies to winning the WWE Undisputed Championship. It’s an honor that’s bolstered by Reigns’ historic run at the top.

“I think whoever is in the position who pins Roman Reigns and leaves with the WWE Undisputed Championship, it’s almost a moment that I can’t tell you how that will feel or I can’t tell you how that will look until we see it, because I think it’s just starting to dawn on people how significant it could be,” Rhodes says.

“If that is Jey Uso, hats off to him, amazing. Not a shred of jealousy in my body. That is as pure and good a man as you can find. If it ended up a situation where I was able to get back and it was me, I wouldn’t be prepared for that onslaught of feeling. Because fans, we feel. I’m a fan as well, so when I’m watching him and this unbelievable reign that he’s put down, it’s like this conqueror of old. It’s now a time period. Roman has a timeline, essentially. This is the Roman era because of how long he’s held on to these things. It will be very significant and, gosh, the man who does it. That man is a special, special person in the record books.”

Despite not winning the belt, Rhodes has been blown away by the investment fans have in him “finishing the story.”

“If I knew (how to keep fans this invested), I would bottle it up, put a label on it and sell it. It’s almost a game of other people thinking, ‘Oh, there’s no way it’s going to get any hotter. There’s no way the moment’s going to stay right how it is now.’ And we’ve just been blessed that it’s gotten bigger,” Rhodes says.

“I dropped the ball in front of them at WrestleMania, but something about it they liked, or something about it spoke to them, or stoked a fire, and it’s almost scary, it’s fragile. As much as I want to appear strong, and be confident and all that stuff, I can’t take it for granted. Any minute now, it could go away. I want to keep it going as long as possible in a way that the transaction with fans is purely genuine. And I’m lucky that that’s been the case.”

That reaction continued on what Rhodes calls his first real homecoming in a return to Atlanta on July 17.

“I’ve had shows in Atlanta that were special when you hear the announcer say, ‘From Atlanta, Georgia,’ or ‘From Marietta, Georgia.’ And, the cool thing about (Raw in Atlanta) was Samantha Irvin, the ring announcer, didn’t do that. It was just already in the air, it was already known,” Rhodes continues. “For sports entertainment, or for wrestling to be sold out and be on this path, people are just really enjoying the story and they’re coming out for this person and that person and they’ve got all kinds of things they like. But it felt like the first true homecoming I’ve had in Atlanta, and no disrespect to other shows I did in Atlanta. (Raw) felt like the first true homecoming I’ve had in my own city. And that’s after having wrestled now for essentially 18 years on television, so it’s a long time coming.”

Rhodes’ journey will continue up through SummerSlam, where he’s slated to face off against Brock Lesnar, and then we’ll see where the American Nightmare lands. If he’s in title contention around WrestleMania season, maybe that’s when he finishes the story.

And if so, what happens then?

“That’s the scariest question,” Rhodes says. “The best thing I could do if I finish the story is start a brand new one right then and right there. That’s what Roman did, especially in the WrestleMania main event, there’s some disappointment. To be honest, there’s a lot of disappointment from him in terms of what happened. And now he’s made it clear we’re in this Roman era. I’d like to start a brand new path if that day came. So when the story closes here, a whole new story opens up.”