On August 19, 2016, on my 34th birthday, I and two of my closest wrestling buddies made a several-hour drive to Joppa Maryland for EVOLVE 66. Was EVOLVE 66 as a whole show worth a several-hour drive?
How can I honestly answer this… NO!
With that said we went out to this show several hours from home due to wanting to attend wrestling on my birthday, and because someone was wrestling in their debut independent match on this show and we were curious how it would go down. I remember attending this show for several reasons.
- Having Pit beef for the first time and falling in love with it.
- The absolute worst Wendy’s I’ve ever eaten at nearby the show’s location
- Matt Riddle and Timothy Thatcher having a pretty enjoyable match
And the fourth and main reason I write about it now, is Cody Rhodes debuted on the independents against Zach Sabre Jr. in the main event. I remember Cody Rhodes defeating him in what was an alright but nothing memorable match, on the surface that is. You see as a whole the match was good but nothing spectacular, not exactly a bang to Cody’s start outside of WWE. That is because I lacked foresight. That’s because I lacked the ability to see into the future. Sometimes I wonder if Cody had the schematics before him for what he would soon build, he probably didn’t. The man was confident, sure of himself, even then. He had made his infamous list after making a big deal of leaving WWE and had successfully gotten the wrestling word buzzing for him more than it ever had before.
Cody Rhodes had taken the first step in collecting his chips for betting on himself. That pile of chips would get miles high by the end of it. I would’ve never imagined what he would’ve accomplished at that moment.
You see, here’s what never gets brought up when people tell you to bet on yourself. You are possibly going to fail. You are probably going to fall on your face. It’s not a guaranteed path, and there’s a lot of fear and fright that goes with it. You got to be willing to not just bet but go as all in as you can realistically go. Sometimes you want to bet on yourself but you have no legit recourse into how to do it. Take me for example, I want to bet on myself and figure out how to make writing about/for wrestling a career. I have no clue how to make that happen, in a lot of ways I have fear in how to make it happen. We all have dreams, but the simple advice of “pursue them” is not always as easy as people pretend they are. Cody Rhodes had a path to bet on himself, he had the courage to do so, and he took it. He took the path less traveled at that time. Staying with WWE for most would have been appealing. To many, it still is as we’ve seen with some renewed contracts, but not Cody Rhodes. Lingering in the mid-card with a dead-end gimmick in Stardust wasn’t enough for him. He wanted more, and he knew the only way he would get more was to leave. He had hit all the deadends he could stand to hit, and he was ready to breakthrough.
If WWE wasn’t going to give him his path, he would carve his own using tools made out of his blood and his sweat.
It wasn’t going to be easy, and many scoffed at him while others cheered him on. So he put out his infamous dream list and prepared to grind. For all the faults you can throw at Cody Rhodes the man isn’t afraid to grind. And grind he did, appearing on independent after independent, making his moves, making his mark, most importantly making his connections and generating goodwill with both fans and other wrestlers. Doing the work isn’t just about the labor, it’s about making sure you appreciate and thank those that help you on your way. It’s about creating bridges that you will be able to cross over and over again. It’s about building layer upon layer of respect, dedication, strength. Success isn’t a one-component project, there’s a lot that goes into it. The self-made moniker is very rarely true, and Cody Rhodes got a lot of help and assistance on the way. That’s not to knock his work, on the contrary, he worked hard. He was always working, and if he wasn’t working he was preparing for his next endeavor. It wasn’t always his best, it wasn’t always consistent, and he had criticism both valid and venomous lobbied at him constantly, but he never stopped grinding, never stopped scheming, never stopped collecting those chips from betting on himself. More often than not he won than he lost when it came to what he set out to do. The man was a machine, and as machines do he would break down, he would have to repair here and there, but always came back ready to go to work once more. There was barely a moment the man was not working. Mentally, physically, emotionally the man put in not just the work, but the work it takes to put in the work. Obsessed could possibly be the word for it.
You probably think at this point, what a kiss-ass article, and maybe so. You got to understand from a wrestling standpoint for the longest time I wasn’t a fan of Cody Rhodes. He was not my cup of tea, and there’s very little tea I would turn down. Sure, he had some bangers with Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi, and I always enjoyed him in tag matches, but as an actual wrestler I never really clicked with him, it wasn’t until AEW that I started to really enjoy his work, and that would kick up a notch with this TNT Championship run, which in my opinion is the best work of his career. A career that you got to call a success for what he has managed to achieve. He left WWE, made his way through the independents, became ROH Champion, spent time in NJPW, became a part of The Elite, had a successful feud with Kenny Omega, and eventually was a founding member of All Elite Wrestling. He is also now a part of two reality shows, one that bears his last name, and is constantly always prepping and considering his next steps.
Perhaps his best and most significant moment of betting on himself was the success both critically and commercially of ALL IN. A big bet that paid off in so many ways. Over 10,000 fans showed up for a night very few of us would forget the experience. I was there live for this event and it’s still one of the best, most fun, and memorable shows I ever attended live. What an incredible achievement, which he had significant and important help pulling off, but make no mistake Cody Rhodes deserves all the credit and respect in the world for it. What started as a throwaway comment by Dave Meltzer, exploded into an important moment in pro wrestling when Cody Rhodes dared to take that bet once more, and he collected all the chips that came with the win. When he won the NWA Championship that night, it was magic. Perhaps one of the most magical moments of his career. I’d like to think he believes that as well. It certainly felt that way when it all went down.
The thing is, Cody Rhodes has now hit a wall.
He has achieved a lot in AEW, and that’s not disputable, but you can see it, he was starting to tread water, get lost in the shuffle, and began to get surpassed by other elements. He felt out of place and in a lot of ways, stale. At least that’s how I view it under my lenses, I can’t speak for him. What I can say is from what I do understand of Cody Rhodes, he’s not a man who is willing to tread water, to get lost in the shuffle. That’s the whole reason he left WWE, isn’t it? The man who bet on himself, who collected his chips, has every right to now cash those chips in, and maybe restart the betting process once more. Cody Rhodes has done everything he’s set out to do, what does one do when they’ve achieved what is perceived to be “it all?”… they got to know what else is out there.
Returning to WWE a bigger star than he was?
Returning to WWE after achieving his greatest and most significant fame and success out of it?
After proving he doesn’t need WWE, does he dare go to WWE and attempt to prove that he is an element they now need?
Perhaps, it’s not for me to say. I’m merely the audience, ready to gasp and applaud, hiss and boo, agree and disagree, write about and talk about the decisions he made. He’s going to cash in those chips, but leave just a few chips behind so he can place them on his next bet and build them up once again. Because that’s the thing about betting, once you get a taste of that success once, you’re going to want to do it again and again and again. It’s not enough for Cody to win once, he has to keep winning, and sure his luck might (will) run out one day, but until that day it’s going to be one hell of a ride and he has the majority of eyes looking and ears listening. More so than he ever did before he decided to venture away from WWE. Cody Rhodes is the talk of the wrestling world, and that chatter good or bad means people give a damn.
August 19, 2016, I had no idea what I was witnessing. I thought I was witnessing merely a main event match for Cody Rhodes to use to launch his independent career. I wish I had the gift of foresight. What I saw was a butterfly flapping its wings. A ripple that would become a tidal wave over professional wrestling. Cody Rhodes will probably never get the full credit he deserves from everyone. There’s too much vitriol, disrespect, and inability to admit one is wrong. He deserves his criticism, he deserves his praise, he deserves his due, he deserves his pushback. Above it all, throughout it all, he deserves recognition for not only daring to dream, but to pursue that dream and not deserve it, but earn it. He’s earned it, and now he can do whatever he wants with it. He’s done his father proud, and he may be the American Nightmare, but he’s living the dream.
You may or may not bet on yourself, but if you bet on Cody Rhodes, well, it’s never a bad one to make. He’s proven that.