The Best Cody Rhodes Matches in AEW
When All Elite Wrestling began in 2019, many fans looked at Cody Rhodes as the “face” of the promotion; the one among the company’s four EVPs (Kenny Omega, “The Young Bucks” Matt and Nick Jackson, and the aforementioned Rhodes) who had the most shine on TV as a solo act; the one who seemed to be the most vocal and proud of being the alternative. In and out of the ring, Rhodes fought with heart and with something to prove, and with 3 years worth of wrestling to ignite the revolution, “The American Nightmare” would give AEW fans scores of great matches and stories to latch onto before his departure in February 2022. In this list, we’ll be taking a look at 10 of Cody Rhodes’ best matches of this AEW run.
(10) Chris Jericho (c) v Cody Rhodes
(AEW World Championship, Full Gear 2019)
The match that gave us the infamous dive that left a scar above Rhodes’ eyebrow for most of his AEW run; the match that saw Jericho bring back the classic, expertly-executed Liontamer; and the match that, solid as it was, will, unfortunately, be remembered mostly for its build and aftermath.
Cody Rhodes and Chris Jericho had the best possible first World Championship rivalry on AEW television. From Jericho’s nonchalant jabs and parody vignettes for the challenger; to Rhodes’ impassioned promo where he laid down the bold stipulation that if he lost to Jericho at Full Gear, he would never challenge for the AEW World title again; the sarcastic champion v.s. defiant challenger dynamic made for great TV leading up to the PPV.
Apart from the Full Gear match’s aftermath serving as the launching point for MJF’s career as he unceremoniously cut ties with mentor and “best friend” Rhodes, it would also see the now-iconic stipulation followed through on. Over 2 years later, the very same promo and self-imposed stipulation that helped create the magic around the match would play a role in the former EVP’s decision to leave AEW, saying he felt he had reached a ceiling in the company and that he didn’t want to be a “15-time TNT Champ.”
(9) Cody Rhodes (c) v Brodie Lee
(TNT Championship, Dynamite 8/22/20)
In what would be the shocking conclusion to the weekly TNT Championship Open Challenge, Brodie Lee ran through the champion Cody Rhodes in 3 minutes to become the second-ever TNT Champion. With the match booked with the hope to establish Mr. Brodie Lee in the TNT title scene, and with Rhodes on the opposite corner, it meant that it was only inevitable. Even for a quick match, this was dirty and rough—as would be the case with their Dog Collar rematch less than 2 months later—but for its finish alone (at a time when matches, let alone title matches, this unpredictable barely ever took place), and for what it was set out to do, this match holds weight as one of Rhodes’ best in AEW.
(8) Cody Rhodes (c) v Eddie Kingston
(No DQ, TNT Championship, Dynamite 7/22/20)
The TNT Championship open challenge was one of the best stories of the pandemic era; and the first champion, Cody Rhodes, and challenger, 18-year-veteran Eddie Kingston, told the most intense story of all those title defenses. From Kingston’s introduction with a microphone in hand, cutting down the champion and Nightmare Family coach Arn Anderson, and managing to turn the title match into a No DQ fight, this was urgent from the get-go.
The words Kingston echoed back to the champion would be the story of this fight: he believed Rhodes could talk about outworking and outlasting him, but Rhodes could never do it. For the rest of the match, Rhodes worked to tear down Kingston’s legs, while Kingston was most comfortable brawling with the champion, even bringing out a waterfall of thumbtacks to further punish him. But in the end, Rhodes would in fact end up outlasting his opponent, after managing to lock in a figure-four on the worn down Kingston. This match was an out-of-nowhere gem that gave teeth to Rhodes’ open challenge, and gave us Eddie Kingston full-time in AEW, and just for that, it beyond-delivered.
(7) Cody Rhodes v Malakai Black
The Cody Rhodes/Malakai Black series was certainly the most intriguing rivalry of 2021. Cody Rhodes villainous arc, with live crowds no longer taking as kindly to Rhodes’ gallantry and pageantry as they once did, coinciding perfectly with the arrival of Malakai Black (and his corruptive mist) made for compelling TV. The first match of the trilogy came in the form of Black’s debut at Dynamite: Homecoming. The bout saw an uncharacteristically distraught Rhodes crash through a table within minutes, only to walk right into the spinning back kick from Black as soon as he returned to the ring, then pinned with 1 foot on his chest. In a match designed to introduce Black to the AEW audience, this tight, aggressive encounter managed to have an element of shock, serving as a testament to Rhodes’ incredible talent for making kings and queens in AEW.
(6) Brodie Lee (c) v Cody Rhodes
(Dog Collar, TNT Championship, Dynamite 10/7/20)
Preceded by the greatest promo in AEW’s short history, Brodie Lee’s third defense against Cody Rhodes in a Dog Collar match promised from the beginning it would deliver—and did it ever. Upon winning the title from Rhodes 5 weeks prior, and up until seconds before the rematch began, Brodie insisted that his challenger “wanted this” and “created this.” “This” would refer to the monster that Brodie had become at the hands of people like Rhodes—executives that rejected him and held him down. Contrast this with Brodie’s stance after being piledriven by the former champion onto a table ringside, and a most interesting story begins to unfold.
As Excalibur on commentary would notice, Brodie almost immediately goes for an urgent pinfall after hitting a signature move, and the struggle quickly builds as the champion goes instantly from ‘you wanted this’ to ‘I need to end this now.’ But the challenger is relentless, and within minutes Rhodes is wrapping the chain all over Brodie’s bloody face and mouth, and the champion eventually relinquishes advantage to the savage wielding a dog collar, as if to tell himself, “you wanted this; you created this.”
(5) Cody Rhodes and Red Velvet v Jade Cargill and Shaq
(Mixed Tag, Dynamite: “The Crossroads”)
This mixed tag anomaly may have been Cody Rhodes’ most fun match to date. And when we consider that one of these teams consists of a wrestler with 2 years of experience and a participant who isn’t a pro wrestler, we come to terms with the fact that this match had no right to be as great as it was.
Big Shaquille O’Neal would overpower his much more experienced adversary, “Cupcake” Cody Rhodes, and appear to have fun doing so, taunting Rhodes with tests-of-strength and his version of a shuffle dance. Jade Cargill would make her debut in this match and quickly display the asset that she would be in AEW, with her natural athleticism and star quality. Opposite the far smaller and quicker Red Velvet, Cargill had the perfect foil who would counter her slam-based offense with fearless high cross-bodies and moonsaults. After a tribute to the late great Brodie Lee and the biggest, most suspenseful table spot of the year, Cargill puts away Velvet for the count in one of the best non-wrestler celebrity matches ever.
(4) Cody Rhodes v Malakai Black
(Dynamite Grand Slam)
In what would be the match in the trilogy that best showcased the chemistry of the two rivals, Cody Rhodes and Malakai Black cemented their rivalry in front of AEW’s largest house thus far of about 20,000 at Dynamite Grand Slam. This match would see Rhodes at his most pompous and bombastic, with his entrance production and robe almost a green light for criticism equally as loud and overbearing. Following a rather quick loss to Black on Dynamite just a month prior, the suspense and speculation on what kind of Cody Rhodes would show up to this rematch loomed heavy over fans’ minds. In the end, what we got was the Rhodes that wrestled with his mind, attacking Black’s legs to neutralize his kick-heavy offense—which ended up working, as Black would win by debuting the “corruptive” mist that he spat in Rhodes’ eyes and face, blinding the latter and sending him down an irrecoverable path.
(3) Sammy Guevara (c) v Cody Rhodes
(TNT Championship, Rampage: Holiday Bash 2021)
Cody Rhodes had a talent for producing a compelling series of matches with just about anyone, none more so than with his opponent on the Christmas episode of Rampage in 2021, TNT Champion Sammy Guevara. Rhodes and Guevara’s chemistry has always been top notch, as we’ve seen in the first match in Dynamite history where the two first squared-off, but this intensity and quality was something perhaps few saw coming. These two men fought for their lives and gifted each other a beating that married smoothness and ferocity, keeping fans on the their toes the entire time. Rhodes would ultimately lock-in the double-underhooks into the match-winning Tiger Driver ‘98, to become the first-ever 3-time TNT Champion.
(2) Cody Rhodes (c) v Sammy Guevara
(Ladder, TNT Championship, Dynamite 1/26/22)
As exciting as the Rampage: Holiday Bash TNT Championship match was, it wouldn’t even be the pair’s best and most-acclaimed match together; that honor would go to their rematch just 1 month later, pitting champion Cody Rhodes against interim champion Sammy Guevara in a ladder match for the undisputed TNT title. If that Christmas Day classic of 2021 came out of nowhere, this ladder match to welcome the new year was ready to blow its precursor out of the water.
Preceded weeks prior by Cody Rhodes’ promo of his life; detailing his successes from when he took a chance on himself on the indies, to helping to create the revolution that is AEW; the drama of Rhodes’ uncertain future in the company hung high in the air, along with the TNT title. The match (or let’s be honest, Guevara) gave fans legitimate top-tier ladder match moments of all time, balancing out the match’s somewhat hurried pace. This was an edge-of-your-seat spectacle that crowned the new and undisputed TNT Champion in Sammy Guevara, and as we would come to find out, was Rhodes’ final match of this AEW run.
(1) Cody Rhodes v Dustin Rhodes
(Double or Nothing 2019)
When AEW’s first event, Double or Nothing 2019, was announced, nobody truly knew what kind of matches to expect to see when the Young Bucks and rising indie talent weren’t wrestling. On a card that featured Kenny Omega v Chris Jericho in the main event, some wondered how an Omega or Jericho match would translate to this audience, this new company. What kind of classic matches and main event styles awaited us?
Enter this match.
Cody v Dustin Rhodes at Double or Nothing was the heart and soul of AEW in its first year. The story of brother vs brother, and more so generation vs generation, made this match so emotionally charged and tied to AEW’s vision right from the beginning: to create the alternative built on today’s biggest stars and young talent, and using their authentic voices to tell their stories.
From Cody’s entrance breaking “the king’s throne,” to the faucet of blood spilled by Dustin and the roughness his perpetually obscured vision lent to the match, to the post-match promo with Cody telling Dustin he wished to fight alongside his older brother; this match conveyed the story perfectly of a determined and defiant younger brother that loved and revered his older brother, but needed to prove a point and establish his legacy by putting the latter down—the latter, of course, being the more experienced, the more “natural” pro wrestler of the two, equally as beloved by all, but saw deep down that maybe this would be his final ride.
Cody v Dustin was the standard for a classic match in AEW, and in many ways, it still is. No match from that first year could touch this from build to execution. It was a story told from the heart and a statement written with blood that AEW, as was the match, is for the future and for the fans of professional wrestling.