Cody Rhodes Left WWE To Live In Dallas and Give The Indie Circuit — And Maybe Politics — A Go.

If you caught Wrestlemania 32 this past April in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, you might remember seeing the yellow- and black-clad Stardust — a.k.a. Cody Rhodes, a.k.a. the son of the legendary wrestler and promoter Dusty Rhodes — in the night’s opening ladder match.

That’s also likely the last time you’ve seen him. Rhodes didn’t do much after that event — not in the WWE, at least. Shortly after that bout, Rhodes — fed up with his creative direction and lack of use on television and pay-per-views — quit the WWE, dropped the Stardust moniker (a role he later described in an interview as a “fucking space clown”) and is now striking out on his own, as himself, giving fans an opportunity to see what they’ve been wanting for several years now.

Dallas area wresting fans will have the chance to see that up close and in-person tomorrow at St. Jude Hall in Arlington, as the 31-year-old Rhodes, a Dallas resident himself, returns to his hometown to wrestle a match for VIP Wrestling against someone who many consider one of the best on the independent wrestling scene, Chris Hero. (Get your tickets here.)

The grandson of a plumber has much more on his table than just glory — and more than wrestling, even. Rhodes appears to be an entertainer very much on the verge of late. He’s gone from being used to doing almost nothing in the WWE to doing a little bit of everything these days. Aside from a dream wresting tour on the independent circuit in which he’s faced off against amazing wrestlers all over the country (including Kurt Angle and Zack Sabre, Jr.), Rhodes is also set to appear as a guest star on the CW television series Arrow this season. Oh, and he’s even possibly considering a run for Texas Senate in his near future.

With all of this on his plate, we sat down with Rhodes to find out a little bit more about his mindset these days, how he envisions his future in wrestling and what else he sees himself getting into down the line.

You’re a few weeks into your indie dates at this point. How’s it going so far?
With the exception of two shows I’ve been on, every show has been sold out. I guess there’s some connotations around independent wrestling that maybe I had that I don’t have anymore — because they don’t really feel like indie dates, y’know? They really feel like big special events. So they have treated me very well.

Since you were trained in the WWE system, what kind of connotations did you have about independent wrestling shows before this run?
Just growing up in the business, there was a period of time where independent shows kind of just relied on retired, broken down ex-WWF, WWE, WCW wrestlers and did a lot of hardcore stuff. I had kind of a different vision of it, until the last few years when I noticed pretty much all the best talents that were coming into WWE were from the independent world themselves.

How are the indie wrestlers and fans treating you as someone who’s always been in the WWE? Has there been any backlash from wrestlers trying to claim you’re taking a spot?
If there is, I haven’t personally seen it or known about it. And my situation is a little different. Yeah, I’m definitely a WWE-born and -bred talent, who kind of came from their machine. But, prior to that, I was working at an independent promotion with my father when I was 15 years old, trying to be his referee and, after that, taking him on his later-in-life independent shows and collecting the lay of the land then. If there’s been any backlash, it hasn’t come from the fans, and, if it has come from other wrestlers, I have yet to run into a bad apple myself.

Thursday is going to be your second match against Chris Hero. He’s kind of a revered talent on the indie circuit. How do you like wrestling him?
I think WWE probably really missed the boat on Chris Hero. Chris Hero is, like, exceptional. I watched a match he had with Jushin Liger this past Friday, and he’s very crafty, very hard-hitting, incredibly capable. And whatever it was that was in the mindset in NXT, when he was going by Kassius Ohno… I don’t know if it was the body, but that’s a situation where if you judge a book by its cover, it’s a big mistake on your part. And, honestly, I feel like most people don’t even like saying that anymore, because I feel like, for the independent crowds, they all know that he is next-level. Chris Hero is up there in the upper echelon of the best wrestlers in the world, and he just happens to not be in WWE. So it’s a big opportunity to get the chance to wrestle him.

Do you guys have anything new in store for your second match?
The last match just ended up being a damn cafeteria donnybrook. I have a photo that just makes me laugh of him falling onto the concession stand; it just ended up being quite the donnybrook. What fans can expect here is something very different. It’s one of the very first times in my career, and — yeah, I wanna say, in fairness, this is the first time — that this is like my true hometown. I live in the Dallas/Arlington area now, so to be able to just have a little hometown flair about me, it feels pretty good. Coming from Marietta, they don’t really react when you perform in Atlanta like you think they would. So I’m counting on Texans to rally behind this thing, and I’m looking forward to it.

Yeah, Dallas is obviously a Mecca of wrestling with World Class Championship Wrestling and the old Sportatorium. Did you have any experience seeing that growing up, traveling with your dad? Or were you too young at that point?
I never got to be at the world-famous Sportatorium, but the WWE network pumps out four or five episodes at a time of World Class Championship Wrestling tapings, and me and a couple of my buddies like Cesaro would always watch it. We loved World Class, just as much as we love Jim Crockett Promotions, because they’re both on the network. Also, I just bought a car down the street, and I’m buying the car, and I see all these black-and-white 8-by-10s of another wrestler. I look over, and it’s Brian Adidas from World Class Championship Wrestling, who used to tag with the Von Erichs like every friggin’ weekend. It blew my mind! I talked to him for a really long time. I thought it was just a fan, but then it was actually him! And then he stood up and had the wrestler walk to him, and I was like “Oh my gosh.” He’s fallen down a few times, but he’s in great shape, he looked like he could throw a dropkick right there.

You’re someone who’s earned a reputation as kind of a chameleon in wrestling. You’re great at adapting to characters and evolving your style to suit those characters. But this is really the first time that wrestling fans are seeing you as Cody Rhodes, the man, in a wrestling ring — at least in quite some time. Should fans coming to see your matches be expecting a new, or maybe even an evolved, Cody Rhodes?
I think that’s pretty much the perfect way to put it. As I kind of gradually went through my career with WWE, when I had grooming tips or the protective face mask or Stardust or the mustache.. At any of those points, I was never at my top game, because you never really are in wrestling. Most wrestling, you hit your prime in like your mid-30s if you look back at all the heroes and legends of wrestling, with Randy Orton being that dang exception. Evolve is the perfect word, because I don’t think it’s like a fresh coat of paint. It’s everything I’ve done up til now, all those experiences, all those characters. They add up to who’s in the ring now. I was very curious about that at the end of my run with WWE because I had learned so much competing basically under a mask — it was paint, but basically a mask. I’ve learned so much about myself and what I’m able to do, and I’ve really opened up. I’ve always wanted to be able to showcase that without the Stardust element there to protect it, and I think we’ve been able to do that these past few weeks.

Right now, you’re on kind of this independent dream match tour. How long do you see this lasting? Do you have any long-term plans, like returning to the WWE or even joining TNA? Or are you kind of playing it as it lies?
That’s a tricky question because I really don’t know. I feel like I’ll feel it when people are a bit tired of these dream match situations. But, as you probably know, there’s so many great talents that are out there that weren’t on the list. Guys like Pentagon Jr., guys like Ospreay, guys like Ricochet. There’s so many great talents, so the dream matches could go on for a while. I have a foothold with some potential roles coming up in Hollywood, and I’m more wrestler than I am an actor, but I definitely want to give both my undivided attention, because it only helps put a bigger spotlight on what I do in general. I was a guest star on Arrow this season; my episode comes out in mid-October, and hopefully the places I’m wrestling in can benefit from that. And hopefully wrestling fans, if they’re not Arrow fans, they’ll decide to tune in and check it out. That’s all ever being a promoter’s son is about, finding more ways to sell more tickets and give the consumer an experience that he or she will want to come back to.

How has preparing for a role in Arrow and performing as a character different from preparing for a wrestling match?
I definitely didn’t want to come across as unable to emote, so I kind of used the resources I had available. I had an acting coach named Howard Fine, who runs the Howard Fine Acting Studio in Los Angeles and in Australia, and I tried to dig in as much as I could. They gave me a lot more creative freedom because there’s multiple takes. It’s not live TV like Monday Night Raw — there’s multiple shots at it. You can get it as close to perfection as you want. I did kind of chuckle: I think, when they see pro wrestler on your resume, they think you know how to do stunts, and I don’t know a damn thing about throwing a stunt punch. I guess there’s plenty of similarities, but just the language stuntmen use and just the overall physical action of it is very different. I feel bad for the gentlemen I had to tussle with on the show; I’m sure I beat them up a little more than they were hoping. But I think I got better as the experience went on. The first day, I was just terrified that everything I was doing to these folks was hurting them. Because, y’know, I think they just assumed I knew how to do stunts, and now I think I kinda do.

Do you think there’s a future for you later on as an actor? Or do you want to stay with wrestling as long as you can?
I’d like to both. I have Ring of Honor’s Final Battle coming up on December 2, and I wanna say that feels like I’m getting ready for a Wrestlemania — but, to a wrestling fan, it’s Final Battle. It’s their biggest event, and I can’t divulge my opponent at the current moment, but I’m giddy about Final Battle, and Ring of Honor might be a place I’ll be able to make a home in the future. And, in that case, I’d be able to do both. It’s different being your own boss. I traveled for 10 years, every Saturday-Sunday-Monday-Tuesday, sometimes Friday-Saturday-Sunday-Monday-Tuesday, sometimes half a month at a time, and just at home in these little intervals in between. Now I can be my own boss and pick my own route, and that’s very enriching.

I saw your “Cody Rhodes for Senate 2016” tweet. How serious was that?
Somewhere between 50 and 100 percent. It might have come across with a bit of levity, but before I moved here two years ago, we lived in McKinney, Texas, back when Jim Crockett Promotions moved to Texas really briefly. And Texas has been part of my family. My dad is from Austin, and his dad was a plumber from Austin. I have this love for the charitable side of politics, if that makes any sense? The side that’s on the surface. The side that’s, “Oh, that’s someone who’s able to take the resources they have and do something good for somebody who maybe was unable to help themselves.” That may sound very Goody Two-Shoes, but, at a certain point, it became very real to me and I love doing that. I think there are a ton of issues in the State of Texas, and I also think there is a huge perception issue with the Republican Party, how all Republicans are supposed to look, talk, act. It bothers me. This political season has only amped up my fever a little bit more by talking to some real folks. I actually was approached by some real folks in the Republican Party here in Texas, and I did have a real discussion with them. Nothing is real yet, but don’t be surprised. I’m probably way too young and inexperienced, but if you surround yourself with really smart people and you have a good heart, you can get a lot accomplished.

Cropped and edited cover photo by Megan Elice Meadows, via Flickr. Cody Rhodes wrestles Chris Hero for VIP Wrestling on Thursday, September 8, at St. Jude Hall in Arlington. Head here for tickets and more information.

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