The term "sports entertainment" gets thrown around professional wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) circles as often as the grapplers toss one another around the ring in choreographed matches. It's the slice of pop-culture pomp and circumstance combining the athleticism of the sports we love with the drama, humor and theatrics we look for on our television and movie screens.
WWE's brand of pre-determined, bombastic sports entertainment remains a booming, multimillion-dollar business worldwide despite a tumultuous 2007 stemming from former champion Chris Benoit's suicide-double murder saga and steroid allegations that followed. The company makes its third Anchorage appearance in five years Thursday night at Sullivan Arena.
"We've had so much tragedy and uproar about steroids," Cody Rhodes said. "The honest truth is we're all about putting smiles on people's faces."
Rhodes, 22, is one of WWE's youthful, up-and-coming stars and is being promoted as such. He possesses the pedigree, skill and talent of a can't-miss prospect worthy of a spot in the big-league lineup. He's also got the cover-boy good looks and physique (6-foot-1, 232 pounds) of your lead-actor types, the ones fronting TMZ.com and US Weekly.
Born to wrestle, born to sports entertain, Rhodes didn't wait long to make his mark in WWE, the pinnacle of professional wrestling. He hardly waited at all.
"It's been very cool," Rhodes said during a telephone interview. "I wanted to be in WWE, in professional wrestling my whole life. I've planned for this for a long time."
Less than four years removed from graduating high school in his home state of Georgia, Rhodes entered last month's WWE Royal Rumble pay-per-view as one half of the World Tag Team champions with rugged veteran wrestler "Hardcore" Bob Holly. The duo will likely defend the tag title belts at the Anchorage show against the likes of Carlito, a Caribbean cool baddy, and Santino Marella, a broken-English-speaking, Italian dim bulb and arguably WWE's most entertaining villain or "heel."
"We've wrestled them for the world tag championship in a lot of live events the past few weeks," Rhodes said. "We'll be (backstage) when Santino is in the ring (talking), and yeah, he may be our opponent, but I often see Hardcore chuckle at what (Marella) is saying."
Rhodes spent less than a year in Ohio Valley Wrestling, one of WWE's minor-league circuits where prospects work on their craft. He first showed on WWE fans' radar at last year's WrestleMania, when he assisted in inducting Dusty Rhodes, his legendary father, into the company's Hall of Fame. Cody made his WWE television debut a few months later in July 2007. He and Holly won the tag championship in December during the 15th anniversary broadcast of "Monday Night Raw," WWE's flagship program on the USA Network.
Rhodes' ascension to wearing WWE gold can be traced to his family -- more to the point, his father. Dusty Rhodes, "The American Dream," the son of a plumber man, belongs on modern-era professional wrestling's Mount Rushmore with luminaries "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
Dusty Rhodes' common-man mentality and work ethic won over adoring fans from the time he started in the late 1960s to his current status as WWE Legend and backstage consultant. "The Dream" was a working-class hero and world-class talker worthy of the wealth and worldwide fame he captured. Put a microphone in Dusty's hand and get out of his way as he'd regale you with tales of how he "wined and dined with kings and queens and slept in alleys and dined on pork and beans."
Cody Rhodes hasn't yet gained Dusty's fan base or approached the television exposure. He doesn't dismiss his father's role in the early stages of his career. He cherishes it.
"It's always a plus, never a negative," Cody Rhodes said. "I was actually wearing the old man's boots, yellow ones when I started breaking in and was back in the locker room. Someone asked if the boots were my dad's, and then told me no question I could fill them and would always be able to fill them.
"I can't be Dusty Rhodes. But I'm comfortable being me."
Cody Rhodes, Holly and the travails of tag-team wrestling aren't currently in the WWE main-event picture. Sometimes, Rhodes won't appear on Raw or will only appear in a backstage skit and won't wrestle. He gets much of his work in at any of the hundreds of live events -- or house shows -- WWE performs during the calendar year. Wrestlers like Rhodes generally have two midweek days off before traveling to some location across the country for live events Thursdays through Sundays. The workweek ends with the production of the company's television shows: "Raw" usually on Mondays, Sci Fi Channel's "ECW -- Extreme Championship Wrestling" on Tuesdays and The CW Network's "Friday Night SmackDown."
According to WWE, the company performed 346 live events in 2006, including 61 international events. It performed a similar number of events in 2007 and will be en route to Japan and South Korea for shows when it stops in Alaska.
Rhodes and his WWE brethren will perform in Fairbanks on Wednesday before taking over the Sully on Thursday. It will be his first stop in Alaska. He looks forward to it, although he won't be here long.
"It's difficult to see a lot when you're working," Rhodes said.
It appears Alaska has made it back into some sort of regular rotation for WWE when it comes to live events.
Next week's show comes after the company performed here to capacity crowds in February 2005 and January 2003. Before that, the WWE last showed in the Last Frontier in 1992.
"For me, when we come to a town we haven't gone to often, there is a lot to learn, a lot to gauge," Rhodes said. "We go to Philadelphia or somewhere like that all the time, you can't remember the last time you were there. But I will remember Anchorage, and I'll have my ears wide open, listening for girls screaming, kids screaming and old men yelling.
"Performing in a town like Anchorage is unique."
And if Rhodes' career pans out, it won't be his only visit.
"It's nothing secret; I'll say it to anybody: In terms of 10 years from now I don't want to be competing for anything other than the WWE Championship," Rhodes said. "I'm not foolish, not in denial, but I'm in for the long run. This is my life's work and I've found it at 22.
"I don't want to be coming back to Anchorage (through the years) in anything other than the main event."
? Contact Matt Nevala at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 257-4437.
WWE Raw: Road to WrestleMania
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Where: Sullivan Arena
How much: $31.50 to $101.50, www.ticketmaster.com
For more on Cody Rhodes, visit www.myspace.com/wwecody.
By Matt Nevala