When he asked for his release from WWE in May, Cody Rhodes surprised a lot of people. But he felt hampered by the only promotion that he’d really ever worked for, stagnating when he should be soaring, and yearned to challenge himself. And so he has over the last couple of months.

Cody Rhodes looking slick at the Legends of the Ring fan fest on Saturday, October 15, 2016. Photo by George Tahinos

This weekend sees him at two decidedly different shows — Saturday night in Las Vegas at Sinn Bodhi’s unique Freakshow Wrestling, where the poster featuring him is his head pasted on Ash from Army of Darkness, and then Sunday late afternoon in Toronto at Smash Wrestling, which is promoting it as a Legend of Zelda-type event, given Rhodes’ admitted love of the vintage video game.

“[It] is rather aggressive. There’s a red-eye that I’m taking after the Freakshow, and then the Legend of Smash, which I’m so looking forward to,” Rhodes told SLAM! Wrestling Tuesday night while on the road. “It’s exactly what I’m looking to do. I wanted to cherry pick, just cherry pick from the indies. I’m kind of throwing a dart at a map essentially, maybe I don’t have the logistical planning feel of WWE, but we’re still making all of them happen. I had to put my tights on in the car the other day to get to a show in Tennessee because a flight got cancelled. But 10 years of road experience we’ll make it, I pretty much can’t fail at getting to these events — I’ll make sure I’m there.”

The resume for the man born Cody Garrett Runnels 31 years ago has grown by leaps and bounds just since August, when his non-compete clause expired. That has meant a ton of experiences, like seminars and acting, as well as an alphabet soup of promotions, from TNA to EVOLVE. Then in December, he makes his Ring of Honor debut.

Though it’s still months away, it’s obvious that Rhodes — who technically is just “Cody” on televised shows, since WWE still owns the rights to the Rhodes last name — is pumped for ROH’s Final Battle in New York City. At the Legends of the Ring fan fest on Saturday in New Jersey, he had many fans tell him that they were going to the show and were eagerly awaiting his ROH match against a yet-to-be-named opponent at the Hammerstein Ballroom.

“I’m looking forward to that, because that’s very much a make or break evening for me as a performer,” said Rhodes. “You talk about styles, there is a Ring of Honor style, and if I’m able to adapt, and I’m able to bring my game into their world, and if it will translate. That’s a big night for me.”

If it sounds funny that a man who held the WWE Intercontinental title on two occasions, and was a world tag champ six different times, is questioning his own skills, well, it’s not exactly the case.

“There’s a side of me that’s ultra-confident and has got an ego and all that,” said Rhodes. “You ask Ric Flair and he’ll tell you he’s still, even if he’s just going out on an indy to cut a short interview and hit ‘Whoo!’, he still gets butterflies and he still gets nervous. The day that doesn’t happen for me, I just don’t know. Plus, I feel like I’ve inherited a bit of a responsibility here, because I left WWE on my own terms, and when you do that, not only do you have to show off, both to the fans, those who are paying money to see you, but make it clear to your former employer exactly why you did such. There’s got to be success on all levels, if that makes sense.”

Rhodes has definitely been successful out in indy-land, and has been the centrepiece of basically any show he has been a part of, the promotions naturally hoping his name value brings in fans. He’s been pleased so far. “It is what I expected, and that’s such a great, great thing. I was hoping that people would get behind this, and would at least look. ‘Hey, I said I want to wrestle, I want to wrestle my way.’ Hopefully you put your name on the marquee and the only thing you want is for them to show up. So it’s been really wonderful.”

He takes a moment to consider what he’s learned in his short time plying his trade in the smaller venues. “In the last two to three years, the difference between indy wrestling, in terms of style, and WWE, has essentially become null and void, because NXT is flooded with the world’s greatest indy stars, and then NXT is the brand that can do no wrong,” he began. “The different style isn’t what it used to be. I learn all kinds of little things. There’s a whole, almost carnival barker element of the indies in terms of your merch and your gimmick table, and some fun stuff like that.”

It’s not fair to say that Cody Rhodes hasn’t been a part of the indy scene, though he went from a successful high school amateur wrestling run to the WWE-affiliated Ohio Valley Wrestling right at the start, in 2006. He did do the indies, with his legendary father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. “I drove my Dad around when I was 15 until the time I was 19, on his kind of farewell tour that he did, through United States independent shows, and I got to see a lot of events.”

Instead of burned-out former WWE stars itching for a paycheque, Rhodes sees a lot of young, hungry talent out there. He recently wrestled Matt Cross (Son of Havoc on Lucha Underground) and Brian Fury. Neither were on his infamous “list” that he posted to Twitter in June, that listed a dozen or so opponents he wanted to face, such as Kurt Angle, Chris Hero, the Young Bucks and Trevor Lee, as well as possible ROH opponents like Adam Cole and Dalton Castle. He also had listed the famed multi-day Battle of Los Angeles tournament run by Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, which he got to participate in.

The former “Stardust” is a fan of the sport of professional wrestling, and knows his stuff. In Toronto at Smash, he faces Tyson Dux, who recently participated in the WWE’s Cruiserweight Classic tourney.

“I go into nothing blindly. Tyson Dux is obviously a name I’m already familiar with, and it’s a name most wrestling fans should be familiar with, and that means casual fans too,” said Rhodes. “It’s one of those guys, the List is a great example — the List only had so many names on it, but really, the List really should have been like Jericho’s list back in the Nitro days where it just was endless, and you could go through a whole commercial break, there’s so many names. Tyson Dux is one that should have been on it. I don’t go into anything blind. There’s always homework done.” (Yet how does one prepare for Funny Bone, his skeletal opponent at Freakshow?)

While he can control his preparation, the behind the scenes aspects are out of his control. Such is the case with his recent appearance in TNA, a company that appears headed for implosion, with various factions battling for ownership and headed to court to settle things.

“I keep my head way out of the political element of it. I’m not here to manage or be in control of the financial end of a company,” explained Rhodes. “I really wanted to be involved with Bound For Glory, and Bound For Glory led to four tapings for me. If TNA continues to do business, I’d absolutely love to be part of their business. I had a great experience with both Billy [Corgan] and Dixie [Carter], however it was just four tapings. So it’s always weird when I see people on social media, ‘Oh, what’s going to happen? You’re going to be out of a job.’ Or, ‘Now will you work for WWE again?’ I’m thinking, no, I work for just me.”

He has done work as a trainer too, which was not something Rhodes thought would fit well.

“It’s funny, my management, they like to make money, so whatever they hear, they field a lot of inquiries. I was actually rather concerned about the seminar because, I’ll be straight with you, I don’t feel that comfortable at 31 years old trying to dispense wisdom to the next generation of wrestlers,” he said.

“Being as young as I am, and I still feel rather green myself, it was a weird proposition. However, upon doing it, I do a different type of seminar. I get in the ring with the guys. If you’re not match-ready, you still get in the ring with me. I do the drills with the guys. We always open it up to a true Q&A, which can include anything. With the 10 years I was on the road with WWE, there’s a lot I know about the management element of it, planning involved for a job that is as commitment-filled as pro wrestling. So I found myself having a lot to share at the seminars, so I think you’ll see a lot more of those. And everyone from XWA to House of Glory, everyone has enjoyed the seminars. I think they get something different with me on them, especially considering that I get in there we actually mix it up, no matter really your skill level.”

As for training his wife, Brandi Rhodes (who was announcer Eden Stiles in NXT and WWE), to be a pro wrestler, Rhodes recalled the Dream.

“My Dad was right there for me, and I didn’t really want to access my Dad that much, and he didn’t want to get involved that much because you’re too close. It’s better to learn, I always liked to learn from his adversaries, guys that he had worked against,” said Rhodes. “When it comes to Brandi, I try as much as I can to share what I know, but it’s much better, like I got a huge kick out watching her work with Al Snow at TNA, because Al Snow trained me, and to hear him go into some of the same things. She’s advanced in a way because she’s been around me and she was around my father since she’s been married into the family. That advanced psychological element is now, her fundamental level, they’re coming more even. It’s fun to watch. I try to kind of lay back and let her figure it out as she goes.”

Rhodes has also given some thought to where the wrestling business as a whole is going.

“I think it’s kind of noticeable for fans lately. I’m not going to say it’s 1996 again, but I will say there’s definitely this huge shift happening in the industry that most of us as fans and performers can feel, and I’m really glad to be part of that, because I think you’ll see more people perhaps doing what I am doing,” said Rhodes. “I think you’re going to start seeing companies working together more freely because there really isn’t one game in town any more. If WWE’s current product can show you that, I mean, look at who’s on top on individual brands and look at where they came from — there really are so many different places to check out your favourites. I think you’re going to see a lot more cross-pollinating, if that makes any sense.”

Whether the co-operation between different promotions happens or not, Rhodes will be out there. “It’s the time to do it. I’m glad I didn’t just wait. I felt that I was devolving in my career at a point when I really should be hitting my stride. I’m glad to be out here on the road doing it.”

It’s not all rainbows and sunshine though — some of the perks of WWE are missing. “This sounds funny, but I miss there being athletic tape and baby oil at my disposal. I feel like every show I have to make a quick run to Walgreen’s. It is nice to be very much in control of everything,” he concluded. “That’s being a true independent contractor, which is great to see that actually is an honest term for me now.”