It seems inevitable that Cody Rhodes will collide with Roman Reigns on his quest to finally win the WWE Universal Championship, but there’s another essential name that the “American Nightmare” must prove himself against before he’s ready for the “Tribal Chief”. Despite winning back-to-back victories over Seth Rollins at both WrestleMania 38 and WrestleMania Backlash, Cody is officially slotted in to face Rollins once more—this time inside the confines of WWE’s most brutal match type, Hell in a Cell. Given Rhodes’ penchant for bloodying his signature, platinum blonde hair in big marquee matches, his finale with Rollins is likely to be a gruesome show-stealer when the two collide on Sunday, June 5 at WWE’s eponymous Hell in a Cell event.
Assuming Cody Rhodes is able to move on from Seth Rollins after their next encounter, the immediate focus will be on WWE’s July Money in the Bank special. Cody is all over the branding for the show, so a featured spot in the annual Money in the Bank ladder match is likely. The build to that show generally stands on its own, however, with each qualifying competitor focused on taking home the coveted Money in the Bank briefcase. Keeping that in mind, it’s likely that Cody’s next major singles rivalry will culminate with an important match on July 30 at SummerSlam, and there’s one important name that would be perfect as Cody Rhodes’ SummerSlam opponent: the 16-time world champion John Cena.
John Cena is the perfect SummerSlam opponent for Cody Rhodes because, in addition to the history between them and a built-in narrative that would make the story incredibly easy to tell, a monumental victory over one of WWE’s all-time pillars would immediately legitimize Rhodes on a number of levels. Cena is currently filming an action movie alongside Alison Brie called Freelance, for Taken director Pierre Morel, but it does not appear that his 2022 summer schedule is busy enough to keep him from wrestling a match.
Cody Rhodes vs Roman Reigns Is Inevitable—But Can’t Happen Yet
Cody Rhodes has explicitly stated that his return to WWE was inspired, at least in part, by his need to win their world championship—although the small fortune offered by the company probably didn’t hurt. “My father Dusty, my brother Dustin, they’re both legends, but they never held the WWE title,” Rhodes told Sports Illustrated. “This is my path and my burden. Whether or not it is unobtainable, it is mine to seek.”
Currently, WWE has two world titles—the WWE Universal Championship to represent Friday Night Smackdown and the WWE Championship to represent Monday Night Raw. At press time, both are around the waist of Roman Reigns. He has amassed a 630-day reign (and counting) with the former and took the latter from Brock Lesnar in a unification match at WrestleMania 38. While he is technically recognized as the “undisputed” champion, it’s unclear what WWE’s plans are for the two championship belts, which remain separate entities on the company’s official website.
Should Cody Rhodes continue his winning ways and ultimately earn himself a world title opportunity, it is inevitable that he will clash with Roman Reigns at some point. It is possible that Reigns could drop the belt(s) before that collision takes place, but given the trail of bodies the “Tribal Chief” has left in his wake so far, that seems incredibly unlikely. Reigns has already put down names like Drew McIntyre, Kevin Owens, Daniel Bryan, Edge, Goldberg, Rey Mysterio, and Finn Balor, just to name a few. While Cody’s return to WWE has shaken up the wrestling world, a string of victories over Seth Rollins may not be enough to convince fans that he has what it takes to succeed where so many others have failed. Enter Cody Rhodes’ perfect SummerSlam opponent: John Cena.
WWE SummerSlam Needs a Truly Blockbuster Match
SummerSlam has been one of WWE’s most important annual events since its inception in 1988, with the very first SummerSlam main event—The Mega Powers vs. The Mega Bucks at Madison Square Garden—immediately highlighting its significance. Indoor, multi-purpose arenas such as the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the Staples Center in Los Angles have traditionally housed the “hottest party of the summer”, but WWE began upgrading to much larger outdoor (or domed) venues in 2021, starting with the brand new Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. This has more than doubled the number of tickets the company is able to sell for SummerSlam, and with the 2022 event coming to Nissan Stadium in Nashville, it is even more important that WWE secures multiple marquee main events suitable for the occasion.
Roman Reigns, as the undisputed world champion, will of course be slotted into one of those matches, as will Bianca Belair and Ronda Rousey, the current Raw and Smackdown Women’s Champions, should they both retain through July 30. In 2021, SummerSlam featured Reigns defending his title against John Cena in a match billed as “the greatest of this time vs. the greatest of all-time”. While some may disagree with those specific sentiments, it was easily the biggest match not involving Dwayne Johnson that WWE could have put together for the show, and they’ll need to capture that magic again in 2022 if they want to continue running large outdoor stadium shows every summer going forward. Currently, Cody Rhodes is the hottest star the company has—there was a literal “countdown to Cody” clock on Monday Night Raw following his WrestleMania Backlash victory, if there was any doubt. Giving the “American Nightmare” the biggest opponent possible on the biggest stage possible, outside of WrestleMania, would go a long way in showing that he’s ready for the world title.
John Cena is Cody Rhodes’ Perfect SummerSlam Opponent
Cody Rhodes came up through former WWE developmental promotion Ohio Championship Wrestling in 2006, just four years after John Cena was called up as a part of OVW’s hugely influential class of 2002. By the time Cody had his first wrestling match on WWE television Cena was already the company’s biggest star, and “Big Match John” didn’t begin to slow things down as an in-ring performer until right around the time Cody left the company a decade later. In a promo after his WrestleMania Backlash victory, Cody referred to Seth Rollins as the man who proved there was a glass ceiling for skeptics like himself, and then subsequently broke it. But narratively, John Cena is the physical embodiment of that glass ceiling—one that loomed heavily over every single day that Cody was signed to a WWE contract.
Cody Rhodes and John Cena have locked up on a number of occasions, with most of their matches coming early in Rhodes’ career as a member of Randy Orton’s Legacy stable. Unfortunately, due to his relative inexperience at the time, Cody was never really expected to win any of these exchanges of his own merit and was never positioned or depicted as being on the same level as “the champ”. In fact, during a 2008 program with the villainous Triple H, both Cena and Orton were booked in a 17-on-2 handicap match against most of the Monday Night Raw roster, including a young Rhodes. Despite the insurmountable deficit, the two not only pinned and eliminated Cody, but actually won the match (albeit via disqualification), showcasing just how much value WWE saw in their talent as compared to a small handful of top Superstars. This mentality largely defined an era of WWE programming, creating an easy narrative for someone like Cody—who already has something of a chip permanently attached to his shoulder—to take advantage of.
John Cena is Cody Rhodes’ perfect SummerSlam match because, outside of Roman Reigns, there is no bigger name for the “American Nightmare” to take down that would instantly establish him as not only a top star, but the top star in the company in 2022. A victory over Cena at SummerSlam would do for Cody exactly what it did for Reigns in 2021, while also turning the former dichotomy between the two stars on its head. Cody Rhodes’ SummerSlam opponent also needs to be someone who can fill a role and tell a great story in a shorter amount of time, as there will be limited room to roll out a brand new program following Money in the Bank in June. Cena is perfect for this, as he has proven he can show up completely unannounced and still be the hottest thing on the show. Even if the DCEU’s Peacemaker can’t find the time in his schedule for a proper television build, Cody could spend four weeks calling him out to no response, and the hype of Cena showing up at SummerSlam would still be enough to sell the fight.
Beating John Cena Fully Legitimizes Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes is already a legitimate world champion, having defeated Nick Aldis to win the NWA Worlds Heavyweight title at a show he helped create, ALL IN, in addition to his entertaining and memorable reign as Ring of Honor World Champion. During his post-WWE independent run across the globe, Cody was consistently treated as a main event star, wrestling some of the greatest names of this generation for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, including Kenny Omega, Kazuchika Okada, and Kota Ibushi. None of that, however, guarantees that WWE audiences—or more importantly, Vince McMahon—see him as WWE World Champion material in an era where Roman Reigns is viewed as virtually unstoppable. The electricity created between Rhodes and John Cena at SummerSlam could be enough to change that perception permanently.
Another factor to consider is that while in All Elite Wrestling, Cody either booked himself into a creative corner or allowed himself to be booked into one by losing a match that guaranteed he would never be able to challenge for the AEW World Championship again. While these kinds of things are easily navigated in professional wrestling—a hybrid entertainment business where virtually anything is possible—Cody and AEW both took this stipulation seriously, and it had important effects on his long-term trajectory there. While this decision did help AEW establish the TNT Championship, their secondary belt, as a result Cody spent a lot of his time in AEW giving back to the people he brought into the company rather than being its top star. Many of the individuals he worked with were people he either helped sign or went to bat for behind-the-scenes.
While Cody’s attitude towards the business in recent years is admirable, AEW’s creative decision-making has resulted in the “American Nightmare” going without a world title opportunity since November 2019, which he decidedly lost. In fact, he is currently 0-5 in his most recent championship matches, and four of those bouts actually saw him lose the titles he was holding. While that early post-WWE run immediately solidified Cody as a star who could headline major events, and who could be counted on as a top star and world champion, his track record over the last three years hasn’t been quite as glowing on paper. While his return to WWE and victories over Seth Rollins have proven the company’s interest in utilizing him to the best of their ability, a victory over John Cena at SummerSlam would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that not only are the fans ready, but WWE itself is ready for Cody Rhodes to challenge Roman Reigns.
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