Cody Rhodes left AEW in 2022 in one of the most shocking releases of all time. Along with his wife, Brandi, The American Nightmare walked out of the company he helped create and decided to go back to the WWE.
Cody was an Executive Vice President in AEW, while Brandi Rhodes held the role of Chief Branding Officer. However, their power behind the scenes had waned over the years, and they were effectively just on-screen characters by the end of 2021.
After wrestling a five-star match against Sammy Guevara at Bash at the Beach 2022, Cody Rhodes left AEW and was never seen again. Contract negotiations with Tony Khan fell apart, costing him the chance of the Cody Rhodes vs Sting match that he dreamt about since he was a small child.
Cody Rhodes wrestled his last AEW match without a contract, wrestling on a pay-per-appearance deal (something Jon Moxley did while he was the AEW Champion in 2022). This showed his loyalty toward AEW, despite the numerous reasons for him leaving that have been detailed in this article.
After leaving AEW, it seemed obvious where Cody Rhodes would go next. There was only one other big company in the United States, and one where Cody Rhodes had unfinished business. Signing for WWE was a no-brainer, as it offered Cody more money, a bigger audience and the chance to “finish the story” by winning the WWE Championship – something his father never managed.
Why Did Cody Rhodes Leave AEW?
One of the biggest reasons why Cody Rhodes left AEW for the WWE was money. At the formation of All Elite Wrestling, Cody Rhodes was one of the biggest stars in the company, alongside the likes of Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega. Due to his popularity from his time in WWE, NJPW and ROH, he was well-known to the fans, and one of the top babyfaces in the company.
As such, he was paid accordingly. Cody Rhodes was only behind Chris Jericho as the second-highest paid wrestler in AEW (which made sense, as Jericho was the biggest star AEW signed in 2019). However, as time went on, he became lower and lower on the totem pole (partially due to his own booking, which we will get to later on).
Reports stated that Cody Rhodes left AEW due to CM Punk being paid more than him, after the former WWE Champion joined the company in August 2021. CM Punk was allegedly being paid $3 million during his AEW run, making him one of the highest paid wrestlers in the world.
Despite his huge impact on forming the company and carrying it in the early days, Cody Rhodes was simply not as valuable to AEW as CM Punk was. Similarly, WWE saying they “stole” one of the EVP’s from AEW was not worth Tony Khan paying Cody Rhodes millions more dollars, so he let him go without giving Rhodes the pay rise that he desired.
Dave Meltzer, on Wrestling Observer Radio, claimed there were two reasons why Cody Rhodes left AEW. The first he claimed was money, saying “Money’s always a big part of this, and he probably felt that for whatever reason in AEW”. The second, however, was based on the reaction of the fans and how they treated Cody Rhodes in AEW.
The fans were another reason why Cody Rhodes left AEW, according to The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. Speaking on Wrestling Observer Radio, Meltzer revealed that he spoke to Cody after he signed for the WWE, with The American Nightmare claiming “there’s a reason”why he left AEW in 2022.
Meltzer revealed that one aspect of this was the crowd reaction. The AEW fans had grown tidy of Cody Rhodes’ character. He had become an all-American hero, a boring persona that looked even worse when going up against fan-favorite heels like Andrade El Idolo and Malakai Black.
Fans had started booing Cody, starting with his awful feud with Anthony Ogogo. Cody Rhodes vs Anthony Ogogo was one of the worst rivalries in AEW history, with Cody coming across as incredibly tone-deaf as he lectured the mixed-raced Briton about racism and the American Dream (not his dad).
Fans began to boo Cody, and simply never stopped. By the end of his run in AEW, the crowd booed him over Dan Lambert, as the hated managed spat sexist and misogynistic comments towards his wife, Brandi Rhodes. That was the death knell in Cody’s run as a good guy in AEW, and his options were either turn heel, or leave.
He chose the latter.
“I mean, with Cody, look, when I asked him, he just said – there’s a reason.”
“He gave his word about not going to say why. But it was just time to go. I don’t really think Punk had a lot to do with it. I do think that his wanting to be a babyface and the crowd not letting him – and I’m not saying that’s the reason – but that had to be frustration.”
“And money. Money’s always a big part of this and he probably felt that for whatever reason in AEW he wasn’t – he was getting weird reactions. He was over to more people than he was not but it was not that giant thing and he guessed that if he went back to WWE in this situation that he would get a great reaction and he did.”
Booking & Personal Issues
In his documentary “”American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes”, Cody Rhodes spoke briefly about why he left AEW, trying to quash some rumors about his shocking departure in January 2022. He revealed that there was one personal issue that was the reason he left AEW, although he neglected to actually tell the fans what those reasons were.
Reportedly, the discussions between Tony Khan and Cody Rhodes about his exit have been sealed, with nobody knowing what the pair spoke about in Khan’s office before his exit. Cody’s admittance of their being “personal issues” was the firs time he spoke about leaving, and denied that money and other wrestlers were not a factor in his decision.
“I can’t tell you why I left AEW, I can’t and I won’t,” Rhodes said. “But I can tell you the reasons that were said – that didn’t actually matter. I didn’t leave AEW because of money, and I didn’t leave AEW because of other talents.
The former TNT Champion claimed he left AEW “because of a personal issue”. While there have been many rumors about what that entail, there have been a few different “personal issues” that have been suggested as his reason for leaving.
“I left AEW because of a personal issue. That’s it. The byproduct of leaving AEW is the opportunity to go for the biggest dream I ever had and the first dream I had in my life.” Cody Rhodes said.
One of the issues is CM Punk, which we will talk about later on in the article. The other is in the direction AEW went between 2019 and 2022, which betrayed Cody’s vision for the product when he and The Elite helped create All Elite Wrestling.
Allegedly, Cody Rhodes and Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks had a much different vision for what AEW should have been. Cody was said to have wanted to model the show on the old Jim Crockett Promotions events, that saw his father Dusty Rhodes become the world champion and the biggest star in wrestling. However, Omega and The Young Bucks sought to create their own version of PWG, mimicking the “super indie” feel of the California-based promotion.
As it turned out, Tony Khan agreed with the majority. Cody Rhodes saw his power in the company lessening by the day, with it almost completely gone by the start of 2020. In the early days of AEW, there were three separate divisions, with three men heading their booking (but all answering to Tony Khan’s final say).
Kenny Omega booked the women’s division, the Young Bucks were in charge of the tag team division, and Cody Rhodes was head of the men’s division. Neither of the men wanted to be seen as handing themselves the titles early on, which explains why we didn’t see any of The Elite hold gold until 2020.
However, in early 2020, Tony Khan took booking powers away from the EVPs, taking complete control over the booking of AEW. This came after some poor decisions (such as Cody Rhodes deciding that he must never challenge for the AEW Championship ever again) forced his hand, and demanded a unifying force over all facets of booking AEW shows.
Finishing His Story In The WWE
Aside from his personal issues in AEW, Cody Rhodes wanted to go back to the WWE in order to “finish the story”. This is the phrase that has been used by Cody and the WWE when talking about his long-held desire to win the WWE Championship, a quest that has taken him into the main event of WrestleMania.
Speaking in the “”American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes” documentary, Cody spoke about how he wanted to win the WWE Championship for his father (The late WWE Hall of Famer, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes), as it was one of the few titles he came close to winning, but ultimately failed.
Dusty Rhodes won the WWE Championship in a match in 1977, but the result was quickly revoked because he won the match via count out. This was the closest he came to winning the title from Billy Graham, and this near-miss was something that always bothered Cody. The photo of Dusty with the WWE Championship sat on the mantelpiece of their family home, so was something he saw every day.
“As I got hip to the industry I worked up a little courage, I asked him ‘I didn’t know you were champion like Hulk Hogan!’ He looked at me with the same eyes that Liberty (Cody Rhodes’ young daughter) has, and he said very stern and very patiently.”
“He explained to me that due to champions advantage (in a match against Billy Graham in 1977) he had won the match, but he did not take home the championship belt. So, I’m 8 years old. What’s a boy to do? Right then and there at 8 years old, I knew not what I wanted to do, but what I needed to do. I was going to win the WWE Championship belt.”
“I was going to bestow it into the hands of the American Dream Dusty Rhodes and say nobody can take it away from you now.”
Tony Khan Saw CM Punk As A Bigger Star Than Him
One of the final reason why Cody Rhodes is said to have left AEW is how Tony Khan saw his role after the signing of CM Punk. Rightly or wrongly, Rhodes’ star dropped significantly after Punk joined the company. This made total sense, however. CM Punk is one of the all-time greatest wrestlers, spent over a year as WWE Champion and wrestled stars like John Cena and The Rock numerous times.
CM Punk’s AEW debut was one of the biggest debuts of all time. Over 15,000 fans crammed into Chicago’s United Center on just a rumor that Punk could be coming back to wrestling. It was seven years in the making, and he immediately made himself the biggest star in wrestling today (behind only Roman Reigns).
However, one more man in the main event meant one man was being pushed out of it. Even though he hadn’t been a main event wrestler in AEW since Cody Rhodes forced himself to never challenge for the AEW Championship (you can read about why Cody Rhodes was never AEW Champion here), he seemed to have felt slighted by being usurped by a much more popular star in Tony Khan’s estimations.
If this is the case, then his issue isn’t with Punk, but AEW boss Tony Khan. Cody said as much on Twitter, claiming “I didn’t leave because of/or have issues with Punk. We got along.”
I didn’t leave because of the Bucks/Kenny. I’m forever bonded to those men over what we created and I remain very proud of it, and I didn’t leave because of/or have issues with Punk. We got along. Not money, not booking, just a personal issue and my wanting to go for the big one.
While this showed that CM Punk did not force Cody Rhodes out of AEW, it does not absolve Tony Khan for his reason in the departure. In fact, Cody never seems to reject the idea that Tony Khan was the reason for him leaving AEW in 2022. This forces us to consider the idea that Tony Khan was the reason Cody Rhodes left AEW, for all the reason mentioned in this article.
However, in a reply to that same Tweet, Cody Rhodes revealed that he didn’t leave because of fans booing him. He claimed he was a heel (despite Arn Anderson claiming Cody refused to turn heel) and that “the fans were amazing” for booing him constantly.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.