Cody Rhodes has crossed the line back to WWE. The former AEW executive vice president and a founding member of that company made good on significant speculation, appearing on Night 1 of WrestleMania 38 as the opponent of Vince McMahon’s choosing against Seth Rollins.
Rhodes, who recently left his position as an EVP and performer for AEW, received a raucous ovation from those in attendance at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Saturday. He was welcomed with a pyro celebration in the ring, up the entrance ramp and on the stage before his signature music played and he returned to WWE for the first time since 2016.
A major storyline heading into night one of WrestleMania 38 involved a mystery opponent for Rollins chosen by McMahon, the WWE chairman. Rhodes made his triumphant return using the same theme music and elaborate entrance he used in AEW.
Rhodes and Rollins submitted an exciting, physical contest that will contend for match of the night. “The American Nightmare” wore the brunt of the damage with visible swelling on his forehead and plenty of redness around his body. Early in the contest, Rhodes briefly exhibited Stardust’s mannerisms, a figurative shedding of the skin of Rhodes’ much-maligned gimmick prior to his WWE departure.
The finishing sequence saw Rhodes land his finishing move, Cross Rhodes, twice on Rollins. He subsequently delivered the Bionic Elbow in memory of his late father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. One last Cross Rhodes capped off the former AEW star’s WWE return.
Rhodes exited WWE in 2016 following a decade in the company’s system. Burdened by a comedic, face-painted gimmick called Stardust, Rhodes first reinvented himself as a major player on the independent scene.
Working with Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson), Rhodes became a member of the infamous Bullet Club. He was then a foundational element in the eventual launch of Tony Khan’s AEW.
While a number of notable WWE veterans — including Adam Cole, Bryan Danielson, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy and Jon Moxley — have made the jump to AEW, but this marks the first time an AEW alum has signed with WWE.
Rhodes was a two-time intercontinental champion and six-time tag team champion at the time of his original WWE departure. He returns with more titles on his resume, including AEW’s TNT strap (three times), the NWA world heavyweight championship, the IWGP United States championship and the ROH world championship as title reigns under his belt.