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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: March 1, 2014 - Duality and the WWE Championship
By The Doc
Feb 2, 2014 - 10:44:59 AM

(Doc's Note - This is a continuation of the short story series that I wrote in advance of last year's WrestleMania. To read the entries in that series, please click here)

March 1, 2014

Cody Rhodes awoke in a cold sweat. A palpable aura of change engulfed his thoughts, shaking him to his core. He lay back in his bed, glancing over at his wife. For a brief moment before going back to sleep, he felt thankful that this woman had come into his life. In that period of levity, he had seemingly put the tumultuous prior year behind him.

The subconscious thrives in the dream state, however. Waves and waves of grief washed over Cody’s entire body once he drifted off.

It had been happening more frequently as of late, these powerful thoughts in his dreams that stayed with him throughout the day. The more he thought about them, consciously, the more he wondered if he would ever escape his demons. He was beginning to think it was genetic, but that was merely a defense mechanism that stripped away his need to take responsibility for his own actions. If he could simply explain away his problems to the Rhodes family tree, then Cody himself could not be held accountable. Personally, he was in a great place thanks in large part to his ever-understanding wife, whose own background gave her the ability to be as accepting and forgiving as any individual he had ever met. Professionally, however, Rhodes had inadvertently changed the business that he had once promised to never be a part of. Heels are bad guys playing a role on TV. They lose to heroes. Since Cody won the WWE Championship from CM Punk at Wrestlemania 29, no hero had emerged that could dethrone his reign.

Like it or not, fame followed the position that he had earned. Had he taken the #1 spot in the most globally visible wrestling company by conventional means? The clear answer was “No.” Choking out your mentor on a live pay-per-view and spending a night in jail while the man that once considered you a protégé and friend spent the night in the hospital was as real as it was ever going to get in the WWE; certainly not the manner in which a star traditionally rises the ranks to a main-event level. Cody had become, though, the Mike Tyson of sports entertainment. As controversial and downright cruel as his tendencies could be, nobody could deny the attention that he drew and the buyrates that he stimulated. Manipulation and near-psychotic tendencies were his methods to success, but Cody Rhodes had an undeniable magnetism that became a lightning rod. The new company line had become “good or bad is in the eye of the beholder.”

An ongoing nine month reign as the WWE Champion had been quite the roller coaster ride. During that span, he met a woman that he instantly fell for – if not for her considerable beauty than for her kind-hearted nature. She was the yin to his yang; the personification of the natural balance in life. They were engaged two weeks after meeting and married during the late summer. All the while, she helped bring out a softer side of Cody Rhodes. He sought counseling over the death of his father, which many WWE doctors had pointed to as the culprit for Cody’s unhealthy (albeit wildly successful) six months from the fall of 2012 to the spring of 2013. The fans, ever ready to change their tune, suddenly embraced the man that just months ago had connived his way to the Royal Rumble victory and the WWE Championship. The audience readily forgot that Cody had set in motion the still-impending showdown between Stone Cold Steve Austin and hero-turned-dastardly villain, CM Punk. By Summerslam, Cody was less “The WWE’s Joker,” as one publication had named him, and more the WWE’s version of “The Beast” graciously changing his ways with his real life “Beauty.”

A New Year has brought not the continuation of new beginnings, though. Rather, Cody finds himself slipping back to a place within himself that, for some reason, had lay dormant for several months. It began with a nightmare; not too dissimilar from the very nightmare that had caused him to awake from a cold sleep tonight. He was out having a drink with the boys after a house show in Asheville, North Carolina. They went to see Edge at his place in the mountains and, on the ride over, Cody aimlessly found a spot on the horizon and stared a hole through it until he dozed off. He saw himself standing on a surface and consumed with horrifying thoughts. Literally scared to near death, he looked down to see the ground beneath him shaking uncontrollably. The further into it he stared, the realization began to set in that he was standing on quick sand and he was just moments away from being swallowed up by the earth. He snapped out of it right as his head was going under, his neck arching to its peak to gasp for a final breath. He had passed it off as the by-product of several consecutive months on the road for 25 days at a time and a few too many cocktails at the bar, but ever since that night, he has been struggling to shake the feelings that came with that nightmare.

Cody’s actions with the WWE have been an exercise in contradiction for the last year. Several months of some of the most controversial happenings ever exhibited by a WWE Champion followed by several months of activity the likes of which leads to a wrestler’s peers gleefully speaking of a career turning point in a WWE-produced documentary years later. Lately, the WWE Champion has shifted paradigms on a near weekly basis. Leading up to the Royal Rumble, he inexplicably lost his cool after he and Kofi Kingston were defeated in a tag team match on Raw. He bloodied Kofi with his bare hands and had to have security pull him away from bludgeoning him with a steel chair. Considering that he was as calm as could be and appearing sincere in his apology a week later, it was wicked in its randomness (coming “literally out of nowhere” according to a columnist on LOP).

Short, some memories are, hmmm? This was the same man that once wore a mask months after a full recovery from facial reconstruction just to remind himself of the emotional scars burned into his soul from temporarily being unable to call himself “Dashing.” The same man that once locked his own mentor in Hell in a Cell, chaining the door shut from top to bottom and disconnecting the raising mechanism so that nobody could interfere with the utter destruction that he had planned for Randy Orton. A world that believes that a woman is all that it takes to change a man is a foolish universe too ready to believe in fairy tales. Well, as Don Henley once wrote, “this is the end of the innocence.” There is no doubt that Cody Rhodes is a better man because of his association with his wife, but he is not a completely changed man. The same darkness that consumed his light for so long went nowhere. His wife merely shined a battery-operated lamp his way. As we saw a few weeks ago on Raw, the batteries are dying.

Daniel Bryan presented a worthy challenge to Cody’s WWE title reign at the Royal Rumble. Two scenarios in which Cody could have tapped out and given in displayed his guts and determination. In his wherewithal, Cody displayed the very qualities that had endeared him to the WWE viewers. 30-minutes in, he dropped his challenger with a second edition of Cross Rhodes and won the match. Yet, immediately after, he showed a familiar side that made it clear that something is amiss inside his mind. He delivered another dose of Cross Rhodes, stopping his entrance theme and leaving the live crowd in stunned silence. The face of the champion showed equal parts disdain and self-righteousness, almost as if the question in his mind reflected that of the entire WWE Universe: “Who is Cody Rhodes?”

So, it’s morning, now. Cody has just kissed his wife as he has done every morning since they first spent the night together all those months ago. But something is not the same. He cannot quite put his finger on what it is, but Cody Rhodes is scared. He does not understand what he is afraid of. He is exhilarated by the nature of the journey. He is also terrified at the eerie familiarity of his thoughts.

John Cena awoke with excitement. He had always seen it as a gift that he could remember his dreams. Last night, he had imagined that he was standing on a surface and the ground beneath him began to shake. At first glance, it appeared as if the bottom was about to drop out, sending him into a horrible freefall. However, a baby appeared with angel’s wings, flew right up to his face, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. When he looked down again, he realized that he was standing not on shaky ground about to collapse, but a launching pad. The ground was vibrant as he was preparing to skyrocket to a new level of his life.

The prior year had been difficult for John Cena. He had experienced things that had fundamentally challenged who he was and what he stood for, but he had emerged from the ashes of 2012-2013 a better man who commanded the respect of nearly every human being that he encountered. Previously controversial, Cena had settled into a place that many men in their late thirties do, having lived roughly half of his expected life with the experiences that had shaped his understanding of himself. Blessings were raining upon him as frequently as ever these days. He recently found out that his girlfriend was pregnant with what would be his first child – a little girl. He assumed that it was his unborn daughter that had visited him in the dream. He told his girlfriend, Nikki, about it and she thought it was adorable.

In his career, Cena had accomplished just about everything that he could have ever dreamed. Since being the other half of the match that retired the Undertaker at Wrestlemania 29, Cena had enjoyed his new status as a feature attraction. As much of a workhorse as he was by nature, he saw an opportunity to enjoy both his life as a budding family man and his life as a legendary pro wrestler. He had a conversation about it with Shawn Michaels during the week of Summerslam. Michaels shared how fortunate he had felt to be both father/husband and wrestler. HBK had carried the burden of being the face of the WWE at one point and had successfully transitioned to a phase in his life where he did not take 100% responsibility for the WWE’s success. He had been able to allow others better suited – like Cena – to be “The Man” and it had given him the joy of being able to do what he loved and be with who he loved. “The best of both worlds,” he called it. Cena has more respect for HBK than just about anyone else in the business, despite their inherent differences. If ever there was a man built both mentally and physically to carry a global entertainment conglomerate like WWE on his shoulders, it was John Cena. It was never a burden for him to bear, being the face of the WWE, but an honor. At the same time, though, he had done his part. Only Hulk Hogan had a longer reign at the top of the wrestling world, but nobody had ever been as consistent as John Cena. Cena looked at Hogan and HBK and thought, especially after his match with Undertaker and his confession to the WWE fans the night after, “I don’t want to be forced out of the top spot like Hogan; I want to be able to do this for fun like HBK.”

The last year has been fun. Cena’s view of the wrestling world – and of the world in general – is just different, now. Challenges are not met with a personal drive forward rivaled by few in the history of the business, but with a sense of calm and perspective that only a man of his experience can achieve. He sees himself wrestling until his body says he cannot, but sees his role in the WWE as more like Undertaker’s and Shawn’s and Hunter’s. The difference is, he recently told Nikki, that he wants to make the WWE more like other professional sports. Vince McMahon shared during a conversation a month or two back that Cena has “earned the right to be a part of shaping the future of WWE” and Cena believes that wrestling would benefit from having an age limit (with rare exceptions). He does not believe that he needs to be wrestling for another decade. The older he gets, the more he realizes that we are all blessed with the opportunity to accomplish multiple dreams. He dreamed of being a wrestler, he dreamed of being a champion, he dreamed of taking the WWE to new heights, and he dreamed of helping Wrestlemania become everything that Vince had once hoped it would be. He accomplished all of those goals, in his mind. Now, he wants to accomplish other goals. He wants to teach new stars how to maximize their potential. The “doing” part may soon be over, so he wants to transition to teaching – something he feels like he could do for the rest of his life.

There will always be challenges for a man like Cena, though. He has too much inner drive not to embrace the occasional tall task. He is, after all, still in his physical prime, beloved by the WWE audience as much as he ever has been. No longer do arenas across the country fill with “Cena Sucks” chants – just the “Let’s Go Cena” chants that used to proceed them. The people are calling for his help. As Wrestlemania approaches, a new evil has emerged to which he had been oblivious when he was going through his own mental trials a year ago. Having distanced himself from the WWE Championship, he saw but one available method to answer the call of so many of his fans: The Royal Rumble match. A kid and his dad had stopped him and Nikki in a Wal-Mart during the holidays and asked him if he was ever going to challenge Cody Rhodes. The kid was in awe. He had that same twinkle in his eye that Cena once had when he saw Hulk Hogan in person. The dad, though, was apparently a local professor of social psychology (a total mark for the business notwithstanding). He said that he did not buy the new Cody and that he still saw the same instability on his face that had defined his persona up until the summer of 2013. He and Nikki had respectfully joked about the man on their way home, but that conversation was sinking in lately as Cena started paying closer attention to Cody. “Instability” was a good way to describe what he was seeing.

So, Cena entered the Royal Rumble match, intent on proving to himself that he still had the ability to be “The Man” and to see if he could answer the growing wave of support from people that wanted to see him challenge Cody for the WWE title (whatever their reasons). He figured that he could not be at peace with a new direction for his life until he felt completely secure in the man that seemingly had grabbed the reigns of the WWE’s future. Cena was not overly thrilled with his chances of winning from the #11 spot, but that was the way the ping pong balls bounced. When he last eliminated CM Punk after five grueling minutes of it being just the two of them left in the match, he was overcome with a wave of emotion. Oddly, he thought back to that dream of his. He saw his little girl with her little cupid wings kissing him on the cheek. She was not due until April. What a “birth day” present it would be for him to win the WWE Championship in her honor. He thought of how ironic it would be if she was born on the day of Wrestlemania. John Cena never thought of these things before, but he found them a unique, new form of inspiration to drive him forward.

One thing is for certain: Wrestlemania’s WWE Championship match will feature a stark contrast of two men heading in different directions.

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