The hottest name on the indie scene today is also one of the most storied in wrestling history. Cody Rhodes, the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes, infamously left WWE earlier this summer, and is now ready to square off against all the best wrestlers he couldn’t face in WWE. He debuted for EVOLVE last weekend, grappling with two of the best wrestlers in the world today, Zack Sabre Jr. and Chris Hero, in back-to-back shows. As great as those matches were, they were merely a prelude to this weekend’s massive main event, when Cody Rhodes gets in the ring with Kurt Angle for the very first time. The match is set for Northeast Wrestling’s Wrestling Under the Stars show at Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, New York, on Saturday, August 27.
This is a match Rhodes never thought he’d get to have. “Kurt was [gone from WWE by] 2007 when I got there,” Rhodes says. “We were like ships in the night, passing by one another. I was young and clueless and he was frickin’ Kurt Angle.
“I honestly didn’t think [it would ever happen],” he adds. “When Mike Lombardi at Northeast Wrestling booked this match, it just… [exhales]. It grabbed hold of my heart like a person gripping it as hard as they could, and I didn’t want it to let go.”
If you somehow haven’t seen Kurt Angle’s work since leaving WWE, you’ve missed out on some of the very best wrestling matches of the last decade. Even today, at 47, and without working a regular schedule, Angle is still one of the top wrestlers in the entire world, as talented of an in-ring performer and storyteller as anybody Rhodes faced off against in WWE. “I think Kurt is a lot like Dustin [Rhodes, aka Goldust] in that Kurt is entering his prime later in life,” Cody says. “Whereas some people enter it in that 25-35 range, Kurt—I don’t know if you watched what he did with Zack Sabre Jr., or what he’s done after his body of work at WWE wrapped up—Kurt, no doubt, can still go.”
When Rhodes tweeted out what he calls “the list” after his WWE exit was official, Angle’s name was right near the top. Rhodes approaches the match as both a challenge and an opportunity, the same attitude he holds about his entire indie career so far. Rhodes wants to prove he can hang in the ring with the best in the world, both to the fans and also, it sounds, to himself.
“Kurt can still go, and I think it’s a big opportunity for me to figure out if I can go with somebody like him,” Rhodes says. “So the implications of that match, the ramifications, are just massive for me. He was on the list, and of all the people on the list, he’s a guaranteed first ballot WWE Hall of Famer, so I’m very much looking forward to it.”
Angle isn’t the only superstar that Rhodes will be appearing with on Northeast’s shows this weekend. Tonight in Pittsfield, MA, Rhodes is scheduled to face current Impact Wrestling star Michael Bennett. On Sunday he squares off against Sami Callihan, who wrestled in NXT as Solomon Crowe, in Bethany, CT. Also on tonight’s card are the Hardy Boys and Jerry “The King” Lawler, with an appearance from Mick Foley. The Saturday show in Wappingers Falls, NY, is even more stacked, with the Rhodes / Angle match, Matt Hardy facing Callihan, a multi-man match featuring Japanese sensation Kamaitachi, and an appearance from Ryan Reeves, aka the Big Guy, who was formerly known as Ryback in WWE.
Oh yeah, also on Saturday Jeff Hardy will be wrestling Jushin “Thunder” Liger.
Liger will also be appearing at tonight’s show in Pittsfield and Sunday’s show in Bethany, CT, and as Rhodes explains, getting to share a show with a legend like Liger is another huge benefit to wrestling for independent promotions. Japanese superstar Jushin Liger first came to prominence in America in the early ‘90s while working for WCW. Dusty Rhodes, of course, worked for the Atlanta-based WCW and its various antecedents for decades. If you grew up in the south in the ‘80s or ‘90s, as Cody Rhodes did, there was a good chance you got into wrestling through the NWA and WCW programming on Ted Turner’s TBS network. And if you were watching those shows in 1991 and 1992, you were probably blown away by the fantastically attired Japanese light heavyweight known as Jushin “Thunder” Liger. His matches with Brian Pillman over the WCW World Light Heavyweight Championship were revolutionary at the time, some of the first exposure American audiences had to the athletic, acrobatic, incredibly fast-paced style that would come to define WCW’s cruiserweight division later in the 1990s. If you’re having your mind blown by WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament or New Japan junior division wrestlers like Kushida, Ricochet and Will Ospreay, you have Liger in part to thank for that.
One of those fans gasping in disbelief at Liger at the Omni in Atlanta back in 1991 was a young Cody Rhodes. “He was my favorite,” Rhodes reveals. “Him and Muta. I had this really weird interest in Japanese wrestling when I was younger, even Vader, because Vader had this mystique that hailed from his Japanese career. So when I would go to the Omni shows, or the Savannah shows, or the Tennessee shows, every little area that WCW hit, I actually got an autograph from Jushin Liger on many occasions, with the Japanese characters. I never liked to do that because I didn’t want my dad to think he couldn’t trust his little boy around there, but Liger, when he was wrestling Brian Pillman in those days, whew, I didn’t want to be backstage. As cool as backstage was, I wanted to be out there watching that.”
This weekend Rhodes won’t just be watching Liger wrestle. He’ll be performing on the same shows as his childhood hero, facing off against an Olympic gold medalist and wrestling legend in Kurt Angle and two top talents that he never could’ve faced in WWE. One week into this new phase of his career, Rhodes is having no problem rising to the challenge and making the most out of his opportunities.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s wrestling, comedy and games sections. He’ll probably never be as excited to see a wrestling match live as he was when “Dr. Death” Steve Williams and Terry “Bam Bam” Gordy beat the Steiner Brothers for the WCW World Tag Team Championship at the Omni in 1992. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.