After securing a bloody-yet-abbreviated win at Backlash over Brock Lesnar, Cody Rhodes was riding high; he was booked for the opening segment of RAW, scheduled to face off with Finn Balor and The Miz for an opening match in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament, and looked like a favorite to represent the Red Brand at Night of Champions in Saudi Arabia at the end of the month.

Walking down to the ring to address a Jacksonville crowd who know him very well from his residency in the city during the pandemic as a member of AEW, Rhodes presented himself as a returning hero for more reasons than one.

“Let’s talk about the upcoming Night of Champions. My friends in the truck, let’s go ahead and throw up that tournament bracket that begins here tonight in Jacksonville, throw it up please,” Rhodes asked. “Multiple world champions, some of the biggest Superstars on the planet, and considering I just got out of what I call the fight for survival, I intend to fight the same way in this very tournament, fight tooth and nail until Samantha over there says, ‘your winner, and NEW World Heavyweight Champion, The American Nightmare! Cody Rhodes.’ I get the honor right now to say this: Jacksonville, let the tournament begin!”

Welp, there you go, folks; Rhodes looked destined for a semi-finals match with Seth Rollins on RAW, and the rest of the WWE Universe was better off for it, but in professional wrestling, you actually have to win a match, and in WWE specifically, that’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you have a cheesed-off former UFC Heavyweight Champion with a private jet and a chip on his shoulder.

Brock Lesnar sends a message of his own to Cody Rhodes after Backlash.

Taking the ring for the second match in the WWE World Heavyweight Championship Tournament, Rhodes stood opposite Balor and Miz, two former Universal Champions with 42 combined title reigns to their credits, and unsurprisingly, looked very good indeed.

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Working the match at a bit under 100 percent as, you know, Rhodes did just spend almost 10 minutes in the ring with “The Beast Incarnate” at Backlash, “The American Nightmare” pulled many of his favorite tools out of his box, hitting Cross Rhodes, powerbombs, Cody Cutters, and even the Disaster Kick before Miz and Balor took their turns on top. Still, Rhodes found that power inside to keep going, the “Eye of the Tiger,” if you will, but in the end, it was too little too late; after hitting multiple Cross Rhodes on The Miz, who but Lesnar emerged from the back to get some “backlash” on his foe.

As Balor secured the big win in the ring, hitting a Coup de Grace on an already down Miz, Rhodes was F5-ed through the announce table before Lesnar grabbed a microphone and delivered a promo of his own disputing the declaration that he’s a coward.

“What do you want to talk about, Cody? What do you want to talk about, Cody!?,” Brock Lesnar asked. “Look at this face, look at this face, what do you want to talk about, Cody? What do you want to talk about? Me. Me, Cody, you wanna talk about me. Me! Cody Rhodes, look at my face, you want to take credit for this Cody? You lucked into this face, you lucked into the victory Saturday night. I want to talk about a fight. I want to talk about a fight. I want a fight! You, me, Night of Champions, a fight. What do you have to say about that? Who is the coward now?”

In hindsight, was it probably a bad idea for Rhodes to call Lesnar a “coward” before their match at Backlash? Yes. Should Rhodes have then not won said match at Backlash with a cradle, aka one of the most cowardly ways to win a match? Yes again. Should Rhodes have then literally run out of the ring after his victory, leaving Lesnar sitting in the ring wondering what the heck just happened as blood gushed down his forehead? Yes, again, but hey, you know what they say about hindsight: it’s always 20:20.

For better or worse, Rhodes chose the path he wanted to travel down and built the bridge he believed would “lead him to his kingdom.” Instead, Rhodes’ road path is now pointed directly to Night of Champions in Saudi Arabia, where he will have a fight, not a match, with “The Beast Incarnate” while another man is named the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion.