In an interview with Variety released following his return to WWE at Saturday's WrestleMania 38, Cody Rhodes said that coming back after six years is "the ultimate vindication."
As has been the speculation, Rhodes was Seth Rollins' surprise opponent Saturday, complete with the entrance music he has been using for several years and "The American Nightmare" nickname. It was later revealed he has signed a multi-year deal with the company.
Rhodes said returning is a "really heavy feeling" and that while he's proud of what was accomplished in his time in AEW, "to be able to revisit the thing that I set out to do in the first place when I didn’t think I would get that chance is just heavy."
"It just seems like kind of a culmination of my whole career, but I don’t want to jinx it. I don’t want to put any hyperbole there, but it’s the biggest crowd in wrestling. It’s returning as me in something that I built and nobody else built. And that’s the ultimate vindication," he said.
Rhodes feels like he is the best wrestler in the world, telling Variety he said that to Vince McMahon, Nick Khan and Bruce Prichard. He is most excited to prove that, however.
"It’s a completely different individual returning to the game. It’s a different brand. It’s someone who’s experienced all the wonders of independent wrestling, of traveling internationally, of being able to get on the ground with the fans that make this whole ship move," later saying his goal is to get what his father never could (without mentioning it): the WWE title.
"I understand that now as an adult, but as a kid, that was the only reason I ever wanted to get in, so that I could get what he didn’t get," he said.
Rhodes said he won't talk about his reasons for leaving AEW, but debunked any "different theories" as being correct. He and wife, Brandi, announced earlier this year they would not return to AEW: a company they helped co-found. It was a surprising move to many, but Rhodes said it was simply time to do it.
"I mean, there were things about money and creative control. They were printed as fact and it’s been a very difficult two months to see that when the reality is it was just time. It was a personal matter and we couldn’t move past it," he said, adding that he has respect for the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega and is rooting for Tony Khan.
"I get an opportunity at my dream, I get another chance at it. And you really can’t leave any stone unturned with that."
Rhodes said that while WWE didn't care for him at one point, he feels satisfied in returning on what he calls his own terms.
"And it wasn’t that they didn’t have love and respect for me but as a wrestler, I wasn’t considered their most desirable. If anything, I was kind of undesirable. That’s where the whole mantra comes from, the whole promo of “desirable to undeniable,” to be able to return on your terms. It kind of feels like being in the military and having conquered something or having won this battle and being able to stand and keep your chin parallel with the floor and to be able to come in that fashion, a bit of a conquering hero. That’s how I see it in my dreams."
In the interview, Rhodes confirmed there is a Dusty Rhodes episode planned in the next round of A&E Biography episodes and that he will be an executive producer on it.
He also revealed that he has possession of the WWWF title belt and just acquired it several months ago from an unlikely source: former AEW rival Dan Lambert.
"He handed it to me for no money and said “I thought it should belong to you.”