Cody Rhodes has two earliest memories of childhood — one banal, the other substantial. The 28-year-old's first memory is of being in a pool at around 4 years old. The second is of seeing his father, "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, compete at WWF WrestleMania VI at the former Toronto SkyDome during the 1990 incarnation of WWE's annual pay-per-view extravaganza. "I don't remember much about the event itself, but I remember that was the day that he put his hands under my underarms and sat on the mat in the middle of the ring," Rhodes (real name: Cody Runnels) once told WWE Magazine. His recollection of the event is limited, but the very existence of that memory indicates what kind of world he was born into — one where his intensely charismatic, blue-collar-persona-portraying dad was one of the country's premier wrestlers in the 1970s and '80s, and a crucial backstage player after that, and where his half-brother was Goldust, an outlandish, taboo-breaking, gold-paint-coated character who was a fixture of the late 1990s WWF landscape and is currently back in the company.
Cody would grow up to be a wrestler himself, joining the primary WWE roster in 2007 and having slowly worked his way up the card since. In a relatively short period, he's run through a spate of dissimilar characters, playing, at different times, a plucky good-guy rookie; an entitled heel who used his heritage to indicate his superiority; the charmingly shallow "Dashing" Cody Rhodes, who proffered grooming tips about nail, skin and nose-hair management for the unwashed masses; and an emotionally tormented, mask-wearing villain who encouraged audience members to wear paper bags to hide their hideous faces. Nowadays, he's once again on the good side in a more broadly sketched role, teaming up with his sibling and taking pride in his background without being a jerk about it. This Friday, the Marietta, Ga. native and Goldust visit Webster Bank Arena as part of a WWE event, leading us to catch up with Rhodes.
CTNow: What was it like growing up in your household? Considering you had these famous ties to the wrestling business even as a kid, was wrestling a big part of your life when you were younger?
Cody Rhodes: Well, it isn't a big part of your life, it is your life. Pro wrestling is what provided for my family. My mother stayed at home and raised me and my closest sister, and that meant that the American Dream and what he was doing on television as a character and behind the scenes as a producer was producing for us at home, so it is your life. There's no way around that. Even if you were that kid who was kind of averse to the industry, you had to respect that, that's for sure.
CTNow: You also had some time in acting school, and acting was a possible option for you at one point. What eventually got you toward wrestling? Was it your father or brother encouraging you, or you wanting to do it yourself?
CR: Dustin wrote [about it] in his book [and] misput the situation, I suppose. I never wanted to do anything but be involved with sports entertainment and pro wrestling. At 15, I refereed my first match and I was training at my dad's school even prior to that, so the only thing that I was concerned about — I guess the only thing that made me reluctant — and was the reason I was in L.A. and the reason I went to acting school was I thought maybe I wasn't big enough — physically big enough — to compete with WWE. It took that 10, 11 months that I was in Los Angeles out there on my own to really realize that this industry had room for me and that I had room for it in my heart. It didn't matter what I looked like then in there. I could grow, I could train and I could literally grow up in front of the viewer, which is kind of what I did. As far as Dustin or Dusty, neither of them contributed to me wanting to be in the industry as far as encouragement. They didn't discourage it, but I think they both were indifferent as far as it had to be my decision.
CTNow: There's higher standards, to a degree, when you're a second-generation wrestling talent. Sometimes, being a second-generation wrestler can really work out, as it did with Bret "Hitman" Hart. Others just don't work; take all the wrestling promoters' sons from the 1980s, or the 1990s WWF wrestler Scott Putski. Did you have any concerns or hesitations about going into the business considering there is sometimes that stigma attached to you as a second-generation wrestler?
CR: Eh, you know I think a lot of the multi-generational talents that didn't work out made the mistake of trying to just be their fathers' sons, and that's a fast lane to the unemployment line because it just stirs up old memories and just reminds the fans that your dad or whomever your predecessor was was one of our favorites. In my situation and Goldie's situation especially, I was told early on — [former wrestler and current WWE backstage employee] Dean Malenko told me — 'Don't do the jabs [like Dusty Rhodes]. Don't do the Bionic Elbow. Don't rhyme when you cut a promo and certainly don't bleach your hair blonde.' I needed that. And trust me, there were people going, 'Yeah, you should do this! You should do his thing,' and I'm thinking, 'No,' because it's short term and I was in this for the long term.
CTNow: Take me back to the night of WWE Battleground last October when you, your father and your brother teamed up for — and won — an important match together for the first time. That seemed like a very big moment for the Rhodes. Did it feel like a big moment at the time? Was it something you had been waiting for? Also, did you do anything special to celebrate once the night was over?
CR: It's funny: the show in Bridgeport is me and Goldie still tagging together, which is wonderful, but we never intended on tagging together in the first place. It kind of started and caught fire with the whole fall  heading into Battleground. One thing about us is that we don't necessarily all really gel. Dusty is the charismatic patriarch, Goldie is the guy that everybody likes and I was always kind of the jerk in the family. That's why I'll look back at that so fondly. I didn't even really realize at the time of Battleground how special it was. I think we were all selfishly thinking for ourselves individually. [Laughs] When I look back at it, it wasn't about any individuals, it was about the collective family, and I'm very proud of it. Sadly, as far as the end of the night goes, my dad is in his mid-sixties, so he actually had us leave the pay-per-view a little early so that he could get to bed, so there's no big tale to tell there.
CTNow: You've been through so many persona changes in a relatively short period of time compared to some other guys. I can think of at least four different versions of you. Was there any one of those personas — "Dashing" Cody Rhodes, Legacy Cody Rhodes or even the one when you first debuted with Bob Holly — that you wish you would have spent more time with, or one that was particularly your favorite? Do you ever miss things, like the mask or the mustache?
CR: I don't miss the mustache. It was a wonderful talking point at signings, and I felt very much like an '80s professional wrestler with the mustache. It was like, you'd see me in the airport and know I did something silly. I think if there's one [character] in particular that I miss — I didn't realize I was ever going to take the mask off, which was kind of stupid because I was 27 when I had it. You've got a lot of career [left]. You haven't even entered your prime yet. This may not be the endgame, but I really enjoyed being under that thing. There was this side of me that it brought out. There was also this eerie confidence I had with certain elements of my game. I say I miss it, but the truth is that mask is under the ring at every WWE show. I guess it's a bit of a spoiler, but at some point in my career, I wouldn't be surprised if I pulled the apron up and then put it on one more time, that's for sure.
CTNow: As far as the "Dashing" Cody Rhodes beauty tips go, were any of them ever actually part of your personal hygiene or beautification routine?
CR: Perhaps the Q-Tips in the ears. There were a couple [grooming tips videos] that never saw the light of day, like spray tan and then clear stick deodorant. I do use clear stick deodorant. [The tips] put an unreal amount of expectations on myself because — and people still joke about it to this day when they see me in the mirror in the locker room or something — I found myself doing all of them after I'd done them [on air]. It really became part of me, and I still do [them]. I go on media mornings — 4:30 a.m. wake-up call for Raw or Smackdown — and I've got my Eye Alert eye lotion. Just stuff like that, people laugh at. I'd say for the most part, other than the lip gloss — I never understood that one to begin with — I pretty much commit to all of 'em.
CTNow: There's a story floating around online about you paying for the Intercontinental title to be brought back in in its old form. At what point did you decide to go through with that, and what point did management start backing you and say that they'll reimburse you for it?
CR: Sometimes, stuff happens. Sometimes, there's no plan. Sometimes, you've got to be ready for that red light to turn on and have a new look or something about you. I had been going to WWE management about the Intercontinental title for five, six weeks, and I was met kind of roughly individually each time. But to me, it's because they weren't my age. It wasn't because they thought I was stupid. I think it's initially because they didn't connect with my generation because they aren't part of my generation. Three weeks in, I was very confident that I was going to get them to say yes on it out of pestering them alone, so I went ahead and followed through in getting it made for that reason. I wanted them to see it and maybe they could feel it. Sometimes, your passion isn't always there when your ideas are shared, so I went directly to them with my passion, and the rest is history. At [WWE Hell in a Cell 2011 in] New Orleans, I pulled it out of some velvet bag, and it's there forever, and I hope it stays the way that it is.
CTNow: I want to talk for a second about your big moonsault spot from Monday Night Raw a few weeks ago. What was it like doing that? What goes through your mind when you're doing something that big and there's that greater risk of injury? Did you get any feedback from management about it?
CR: Well, I did a moonsault off a less stable cage in Madison Square Garden in a really wonderful moment in my career. I had done it with Cesaro, and I was able to pin Cesaro one, two, three off of the moonsault. It gave me an unreal expectation [and] confidence as to it being a game changer, it being a home run for me. On Raw, I didn't connect with the moonsault in the fashion that I wanted to connect with the moonsault so it kind of ruled it null and void as far as me being able to win with it. The underlying question [is that] — and I'm not saying you're asking this — people look at the moonsault and think that something might have gone wrong, and that's not the case. As far as what other people thought about it, and I don't mean to sound too cool for school, but I don't care what management thought about it, and I don't care what everybody in the ring thought about it necessarily. All I cared about is what our fans thought about it, and if our fans saw me, who has a fear of heights, go to the top rope and not even look back — I even pop when I see the smile on my face right before — and give myself to them for the moment. I'm not saying you always have to put your body on the line, I'm just saying I was feeling it that night, and that's what I did, and I have no regrets about it. It seems that the fans really enjoyed it. I wish it was as successful as the one in the Garden, but I wouldn't say it was the last time you'd see it either. (See related video above.)
CTNow: Let's say you get the chance to design your own storyline. What kind of thing would you do? Is there anybody on the roster you're really itching to work with that you haven't had much interaction with yet?
CR: That's a good question because there's only so many guys who are at the top of their game. For me, I'd probably like to finish something that I left off. [At] Battleground, we got rehired, and we got right into a war with the Shield. Next thing you know, we're kind of a little new renaissance of tag team wrestling, but it all began with Triple H firing me in the first place. I've always had this goal 'cause my father a long time ago gave me this cheesy nickname, the Prince of Pro Wrestling, and I always thought, 'Well, what would it be like it if you have the Prince of Pro Wrestling versus the King of Kings, and what kind of movie-like-quality dramatics can I provide the audience?' Before he's done with the in-ring element of the career — and he's long from done — I'd like to find myself across the ring from Triple H one more time.
At the root of my professional career with my brother, I think I'm better than Goldust, and in his heart, he thinks he's better than I am. We love each other, and we're brothers, and that's great, but at the root of all that, you kind of want to find out who's right, and I certainly hope that at some point you get to see that match as well.
CTNow: I wanted to ask about the Legend of Zelda Triforce symbol that was often on your boots in the past. I don't believe the Triforce has been on your boots for a while, right?
CR: It's on there now. It's in green sharkskin on the camera side of my right boot. It doesn't pop like it did when it was gold. It's green. I thought it would be more noticeable, but it's not. The last three or four months, the Triforce has been on each pair of boots I've had.
CTNow: To go along with that, what kind of video games have you been playing, if you have been playing anything at all?
CR: Well, my wife got me an Xbox One and it hasn't seen much playtime because I've been on the road a good deal, but I guess I'm probably looking most forward to the new Metal Gear Solid as well as Titanfall. I did just play A Link Between Worlds on my 3DS. That actually was cool because I was able to play it a little bit on the road and get my mind off all the travel and such.
WWE LIVE: ROAD TO WRESTLEMANIA is March 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Webster Bank Arena, 600 Main St., Bridgeport. $15-$95. Information: websterbankarena.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun