How WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes Is Building His ‘Kingdom’ Brick by Brick (2024)

Imagine being the son of a lauded WWE Hall of Famer and wanting to fill his iconic wrestling boots. That was once the story for Cody Rhodes — the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes — whose gripping promos and electric matches with Ric Flair, Tully Blanchard, and Lex Luger made him the standard in pro wrestling during the 1980s. Once grappling with the legacy and shadow of his late father, Cody is no longer chasing ghosts.


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Since his return to the WWE in 2022, Rhodes is arguably the company’s top star, courtesy of his charisma, in-ring prowess and captivating entrance theme, which doubles as a rallying cry for his audience. Created by the alternative rock band Downstait in 2016 during Rhodes’ departure from the WWE, “Kingdom” tells the story of the wrestler seeking fans’ support while on his road to greatness. Though Rhodes’ journey wasn’t the most glamorous, as he wrestled in gyms for hundreds of people during the early stretches of his indie run, he pushed forward in hopes of reestablishing his name and identity in the wrestling world.

By 2019, Rhodes flourished and became a ubiquitous star in the indie circuit, wrestling for companies such as Evolve Wrestling, Ring of Honor, TNA and New Japan Wrestling. After hosting a successful pay-per-view titled All-In with acclaimed indie wrestlers in 2018, Rhodes launched a new wrestling promotion titled AEW alongside Matt and Nick Jackson of The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega to rival WWE. Though Rhodes left the company in 2022 to return to his first home, his song “Kingdom” followed him after he and the band successfully brought the song over from his previous company AEW. Today, “Kingdom” sits at a whopping 28 million plays on Spotify, and continues to be among the most popular themes in WWE, propelling Rhodes further into the hearts of the WWE Universe amid his quest for the championship.

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Billboardspoke to Rhodes about “Kingdom,” his new Peaco*ck documentary,American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes, his similarities to LeBron James and more.

When Downstait first made “Kingdom,” I read they were struggling financially and working regular jobs. How did his song eventually become a win not only for you, but for everyone involved?

It was so nice when I left WWE initially and I went into the unknown — I wanted to be prepared for it. I almost felt like I was drawing up blueprints for what I wanted my career to be like, now that I was my own boss and I was going to be in charge. And those guys, Downstait, have done music for WWE for years and they’ve done multiple themes of mine already, which I didn’t even know. There wasn’t that connection between the artists and the artists, I supposed. They were banging out banger themes left and right, but I contacted them and they were game to do it.

They put together lyrics that were kind of this rallying cry — because that’s the trick with sports entertainment and wrestling music. The song can be good, sure; it could be a good song, a good beat, a good melody, but it also has to be catchy. You gotta remember it. In the case of today, I’d say today that we have the catchiest of songs because, it creates this whole moment that happens multiple times throughout its play-through, with the “Whoas.”

But their journey, Downstait — you mentioned them going through it and the struggles — their journey mirrored my own. So for us to pair up, take it, and then for me to be so specific with everyone to the point [where] in plenty of meetings, people did not love how absolutely adamant I was about this being the song: This is the song. There’s no other song. Maybe one day, but this is the song and it goes everywhere I go. That’s just the way it gotta be — and I’m glad we stuck to our guns on that one, because those guys are great. They do music for tons of folks and they’ve made a very catchy song.

Considering you’re near the apex of your career — I say near because I know that elusive belt is something you’re still chasing — are there any lyrics from “Kingdom” that still hit home and resonate with you today?

I think probably the No. 1 [thing] in the lyrics that resonates is the part about following you til the end — in terms of, I was asking fans when I left [WWE], flat out, “Hey, will you go with me?” Doesn’t mean you don’t watch WWE still, but will you go with me to Evolve in Joppa, Maryland in front of 400 people? Will you go with me to NorthEast wrestling? Will you go with me to All-Pro Wrestling? Because as much as these independents are in high-school gyms and in myriads of places, they’re streamed. You can get them, you can see them. I wanted to have fans ride with me. That’s why I created the list of the different opponents that I would want.

I think that following me until the end has become a genuine [feeling] for those who were onboard and for those who’s just getting onboard tomorrow, or today even. I’m gonna do everything I can to get to the finish — and then of course, who knows what happens after that? Because you mentioned being near the apex of my career — there’s really this one thing that I’m looking to tackle, and what will happen if we’re able to get that chip. But that line about following you until the end sticks with me, because I’m always looking at the people when I hear it in the speakers in the ring, and it’s a very real transaction that we have.

From “undesirable to undeniable” is a quote I always hear from announcer Corey Graves when describing your journey. At what point in your journey did you hit the undeniable chapter of your life?

I think probably when you can no longer say, “OK. He was disenfranchised and he didn’t like what he was doing, so he quit.” I think when you had to turn the narrative into, “no, he had a point,” was around the first All-In. When [wrestling columnist] Dave Meltzer said we couldn’t get 10,000 people in an arena and we got 11,236 in under an hour. We shut the site down, and there’s a plaque on the side of the arena. That was the one where you could no longer be denied — and what I tried to do after that was if anyone showed up then and there like, “no, no, this is a fluke,” I kept trying to put them through the goal post.

At that point, our industry really changed. If you ever interview any of the big wigs or the top brass behind the scenes, this might be the area where they don’t love my story — because it meant everyone had to get paid a lot more. I’m so glad I had Matt, Nick, and Kenny for that — because that’s something that’s pretty cool, whenever someone comes up to you and says, “Thank you. I got the biggest deal of my life because of this silly show you guys did and this gamble that you took.” That’s a very, very rewarding feeling that I never anticipated would ever come up in my career. But I think that that point was where the whole concept of “I will not be denied further” [came from]. It emboldened me.

I see a similar storyline arc between you and LeBron in terms of starting your career at home, going elsewhere to find success and then coming back to where it all began. Am I crazy for drawing that comparison?

I can’t say that and here’s why: LeBron’s the GOAT, or if not, one of the GOATs. It’s LeBron. So I can’t just go like, “You know I see my story is a lot like LeBron James.” [Laughs.] For you to say it — I’ve thought the same thing about my time away very much. It was this needed thing where we were doing something unique and special. But then to be able to come back to what was your home and deliver. .. Not just come back for any other reason, but to come back and deliver, it’s very similar from that arc. So I’m happy to be discussed in the same vein as somebody like LeBron.

I think your finest promo was the one you cut with Paul Heyman earlier this year. Then, I think about your time at the Howard Fine acting school when you were younger. How much do you credit your skill-set in promos to your natural poise and charisma versus the acting classes you once took?

When I’m able to go out there, I always flip the mic. I flip it before I start talking. It almost feels like you’re this gun slinger when you have a mic, because that’s such a powerful thing, knowing you’re gonna tell [the fans] how you feel, why you need something and hope they’re in agreement with you. You’re gonna hope they find it entertaining or they have fun with it. All you’re doing is talking. There’s no wrestling going on in this ring, you’re talking in this ring.

I don’t know if it’s charisma. I feel like [my brother] Dustin got all my dad’s charisma. I don’t know if it’s Howard skills, because Howard skills are more about things that wouldn’t happen in your life. You’re really pretending. You’re acting — whereas what happens in the world of sports entertainment, where you’re in-between sport and entertainment, a lot of what I’m just saying is real.

The biggest part of why I’ve had success with promos and interviews is I prepare it like it’s a dissertation. I prepare that week before if I know I’m going to speak to them. [I’m] very, very in-depth about how I wanna deliver this message, because what I’m telling them is biographical. What I’m telling them is real to me.

You mentioned the Paul Heyman one, Mr. Heyman. That’s authentic. He gave my dad this job that changed the trajectory of my dad’s life. So as much as that problem with him and I exist, that is an area where I’ll always kind of nod my head and have a respect for [him]. I needed him to know it. He did not know that story until that show. I really needed him to know that this thing you did had a very, very large effect on my whole family. So to this day, I have a ton of respect for Mr. Heyman.

But I think with my promos and interviews, I think my preparations been key. I prepare heavily to speak to them. People complain sometimes that I use big words, but I never want to talk down to them. I feel like the sports entertainment wrestling audience is incredibly intelligent — and for some reason, maybe the stigma of the industry of old — some people don’t realize that, but that’s how I talk to them. We’re educated superstars and wrestlers in the ring and this is an educated audience. So I don’t dumb it down.

Your first match in the WWE was against Randy Orton. If and when the Viper returns, what would a Cody Rhodes versus Randy Orton match look like?

It almost feels like it’s a first-time-ever match, because we wrestled against one another. We tagged together, we traveled together, but Randy arrived in WWE and was ready to go right out of the box. I have taken every piece of that little broken road that I’ve been on to really build what the American Nightmare is. Who I am when I step into the ring, and having that confidence, knowing my skillset, strengths and weaknesses. That’s why it comes across to me like this match never happened before, and I can only hope that Randy gets healthy and gets back to what he does — because he’s so, so, great at it. That would be quite a match. I think that’s one people are whispering about right now, and I feel both of us would be open to it, if not very open to it.

You were an incredible heel during your first run in the WWE. Because you’re the top babyface this time around, can you ever see yourself being a bad guy again, or do you think you’re stuck in this good guy role?

At the end of my AEW run, I felt we were doing heel — but apparently it wasn’t heel enough? Apparently, you have to say you’re a heel, and when you say you’re a heel, then you’re cool? So the definition of it was “the least cool, boo this guy out of the building.” That’s what I want out of my bad guys and bad girls, so I’m not stuck in it. I’ll say there’s probably less likely a chance of it happening, only because one thing I noticed, I’m really big on making eye contact with the audience. I noticed that my audience for me in particularly when you see the Nightmare shirt and the hat, it’s a lot of kids. That’s an important thing.

I don’t know if I’m a standard for them or anything of that nature, but if I even stand a chance of being someone that inspires them, I feel like I’m careful with screwing that up and letting them down. It felt like there was a spot in WWE after John [Cena] had left that maybe nobody was really filling and I don’t know why. But the youngest of our audience has really taken into what’s going on — which is funny, because if they watch this documentary, they might not even know about any of this stuff that even happened. They might just know the guy with the robe who says “Whoa” and the fireworks go off. But with them in mind, I don’t know if turning heel is as likely as it used to be.

American Nightmare: Becoming Cody Rhodes streams now and WWE SummerSlam streams August 5, only onPeaco*ck.

How WWE Superstar Cody Rhodes Is Building His ‘Kingdom’ Brick by Brick (2024)


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