May 2016 brought a moment that no fan could have expected would change wrestling. in the middle of the month, Cody Rhodes —acting as Stardust—wrestled his last match for WWE for nearly six years, losing to Zack Ryder before his release. A few years later, Rhodes would go on to co-found All Elite Wrestling, the first major alternative to WWE since Impact began in 2002.
However, prior to AEW, The American Nightmare broke out on the independent scene, where he wrestled virtually everywhere a wrestler aspired to perform, from famous indies to international institutions. Let’s take a look at Cody Rhodes’ post-WWE and pre-AEW career.
10 The list
When Cody Rhodes embarked on this new phase of his career, he laid out his intentions with a sort of manifesto in the form of a simple photo on social media. That photo featured a handwritten list of things Cody wanted to accomplish on the independent and international scene. As part of the list, Rhodes named several dream opponents, including Katsuyori Shibata and Kurt Angle, as well as developments he wanted to make with his gimmick, such as having a personal ring announcer.
9 Wrestled his first independent matches in EVOLVE
Before taking major promotions outside of WWE by storm, Cody Rhodes had his first independent matches in Gabe Sapolski’s Philadelphia-based EVOLVE four years before WWE bought him out. Rhodes’ independent career started off strong, as his first opponent in EVOLVE was UK manager and future New Japan Pro-Wrestling mainstay Zack Saber Jr. While Rhodes only wrestled four matches for EVOLVE, he had a variety impressive lineup of opponents including Chris Hero, Drew Galloway. (aka Drew McIntyre) and Ethan Page.
8 Participated in the Battle of Los Angeles
High on Cody Rhodes’ aforementioned list was “BOLA,” short for the annual Battle of Los Angeles tournament hosted by LA’s Pro Wrestling Guerrilla. With a lineup that included stars like Pentagon Jr., Matt Riddle, Will Ospreay and Jushin Thunder Liger, Rhodes defeated Sami Callihan in the first round of BOLA 2016 before falling to Marty Scurll in the second round.
BALL wasn’t the only notable tournament Rhodes participated in during his independent career. The following year, Cody traveled to Germany for Westside Xtreme Wrestling’s 16 Karat Gold Tournament, once again being eliminated in the second round.
7 bullet club member
The end of 2016 brought Cody Rhodes to Japan, where he made his New Japan debut as the latest addition to NJPW’s popular Bullet Club faction. It was during this period that BC’s popularity reached new heights thanks to The Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Cody Rhodes and other producers of the YouTube comedy series. be the elite. Eventually, his popularity drew the ire of other Bullet Club members, leading to a schism and subsequent civil war between the Club.
6 IWGP United States Champion
Cody Rhodes’ NJPW career didn’t just involve Bullet Club shenanigans. He also chased championship gold in the promotion, challenging Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega at different points for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, as well as the IWGP Tag Team Championship. While he was unsuccessful in these endeavors, Rhodes was able to capture some NJPW gold when he defeated Juice Robinson for the IWGP United States Championship. His run with the belt lasted 96 days before Robinson won it back at fight kingdom 13 in early 2019.
5 fought for impact
Shortly after making his indie debut, Cody Rhodes debuted in what was arguably the second largest promotion in the United States at the time, Impact Wrestling. He first appearing in bound for glory In 2016, Cody feuded with Mike Bennett and Maria Kanellis, leading to Cody and his wife Brandi Rhodes defeating the rival pair in a mixed tag team match. Of the four matches Cody Rhodes had during his brief and forgotten career in Impact Zone, two were world title matches: first against Eddie Edward and then against Moose.
4 formed the elite
The aforementioned Bullet Club civil war resulted in The Elite, previously just Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, becoming a full stable, with former BC members Marty Scurll, Cody Rhodes and Hangman Page leaving the Club to join the cluster. Along with them was also Kota Ibushi, who was never part of the Bullet Club but was a partner of Omega.
As fans know, The Elite carried on into past NJPW, with the group initially together (sans Scurll) in AEW, although Rhodes and Hangman ended up distancing themselves from the group over time.
3 Ring Of Honor World Champion
In December 2016, at the Ring of Honor pay-per-view Final battle, Cody Rhodes debuted in a winning effort, albeit via heelish cheating, against Jay Lethal. After feuding with Lethal, Rhodes focused on the ROH World Title, which he ultimately captured in June 2017 when he defeated champion Christopher Daniels. This win marked Cody’s first world title of his career, which he held for 175 days before dropping it off at Dalton Castle in Final battle 2017. However, that wasn’t the only title Cody won in ROH: he and The Young Bucks also enjoyed a 106-day reign with the World Six-Man Tag Team Championship.
2 all inside
It was also during Cody Rhodes’ independent run that the seeds for AEW were planted. After wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer said independent wrestling couldn’t fill a 10,000 seat venue, Cody and Elite tried to prove Meltzer wrong and put on their own independent show in one of those arenas. Held at Hoffman Estates, adjacent to Chicago, September 2018 all inside it was a sold-out show and featured The Elite, as well as stars from NJPW, Mexico, and the independent wrestling scene. Many of the wrestlers involved ended up becoming a part of All Elite Wrestling when it began the following year.
1 NWA World Heavyweight Champion
While all inside it was a landmark show that arguably changed the direction of professional wrestling, it was also a big night for Cody Rhodes in particular. It was on that show that Rhodes defeated Nick Aldis for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, thus capturing the same belt held by his father Dusty Rhodes in the 1980s. It was an emotional victory, with Rhodes’ title reign ending. it lasted 50 days before it was won back by Nick Aldis in a 2/3 falls match.