Cody Rhodes sat in the backyard of his Atlanta home Wednesday afternoon, a rarity for one of professional wrestling’s biggest stars. He usually spends his days on the road, working in the industry that his family has been a part of for 50 years.

A lot has changed for Cody in the last 15 months. He was granted his release from WWE after spending a decade with the company, forced to drop his last name. The “American Nightmare” is a wrestling free agent, performing for Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro-Wrestling and smaller independent promotions.

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Cody bet on himself, leaving the world’s biggest wrestling promotion of his own accord. He hoped to prove that he’s a star in the business, one worthy of being a world champion.

In a little more than a year, he’s done just that.

Defeating Christopher Daniels at the Best in the World pay-per-view on June 23 in Lowell, Massachusetts, Cody won the Ring of Honor World Championship. Eight days later, he headlined New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s first-ever show in the United States, facing Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.

He’s one of the most popular members of Bullet Club, the biggest faction in all of pro wrestling. His Cody Bullet Club t-shirt was just named the third-best selling shirt at Hot Topic, putting him ahead of WWE stars like John Cena.

As confident as Cody was in himself, even he couldn’t have predicted this much success in such a short amount of time.

“There’s that saying, ‘Act like you’ve been in the end zone before,’ but I hadn’t been in the end zone before. So it’s very surprising,” Cody told International Business Times.

“It’s been one hell of a ride, and I’m aware that it’s kind of an abnormal amount of success outside of WWE. Winning the Ring of Honor World Title in less than a year and to headline those G1 Specials. I know my business, so I know that could fall out at any minute. There could be no one wanting to interview me. But right now, I’m trying to make it so that every day we get something special, and as ROH World Champion, I have the responsibility of captaining an entire ship. I’m looking forward to the possibilities there.”

Leaving WWE hasn’t meant less wrestling for Cody. It’s been quite the opposite. He’s working as much as he ever has before, trying to leave to his mark on the world of pro wrestling.

For Ring of Honor, he’ll be in the UK from Aug. 18-20 as part of the War of the Worlds Tour, only to return to Atlanta for a TV taping at Center Stage on Aug. 26. Still not having signed a contract with ROH or NJPW, Cody is able to wrestle at smaller shows in places like Bethany, Connecticut or Austin, Texas in between.

Cody certainly had his share of success in WWE. He had two reigns as the Intercontinental Champion, one of which lasted for 236 days, and he fought for the IC Title at WrestleMania 32 less than two months before his release. Cody was a three-time tag team champion, last holding the title as Stardust along with his brother Goldust.

But the Stardust character grew stale, and WWE wouldn’t allow Cody to return to being Cody Rhodes. In leaving the company, Cody was not only able to ditch the face paint and the gimmick, but he grew as a performer.

“I think the 2016 version of Cody Rhodes was kind of a pussy,” Cody told IBT. “I’m not trying to insult myself. I just went through a lot as a person in a short amount of time.”

Dusty Rhodes passed away a little less than a year before Cody left WWE. Cody’s father wasn’t just a wrestling legend, but he was a major part of WWE up until the day he died, working as the head writer and creative director of NXT. Dusty even made appearances on WWE TV as part of storylines involving Cody and Goldust.

“When I decided to leave WWE, I kind of lost that connection to my father,” Cody said. “That’s how I had been brought into WWE. He was ingrained in their culture. And when I left it’s almost appropriate that they took my last name, that we have this litigation over my last name. I kind of disembarked from all of that, and I had the balls to do it. But I needed the thick skin as well. I think I’ve toughened up a considerable bit, and I like that. I want to know what it takes, what it takes to sell more shirts than John Cena.

“Instead of saying, ‘I’m pretty good and you should all know it,’ I look for us to show it. And we’ve been able to showcase it with Ring of Honor, New Japan, and, the various indies. We’re growing a lot. I don’t feel bad for myself. It’s not an era of tragedy for the Rhodes Family. This is a really fun time to be a professional wrestler, and I think it’s the best time to be a pro wrestling fan.”

Cody has found ways to stay connected with his father. He says he’s the biggest proponent of the WWE Network, using it to watch old shows that Dusty produced. Fans are reminded of Dusty when Cody steps inside the ring as the “American Nightmare,” the moniker Cody has used on his way to becoming a world champion.

As a member of Bullet Club, Cody is technically a heel, and many of his promos in Ring of Honor would indicate as much. But you wouldn’t know it by listening to the live crowds and seeing the amount of Bullet Club merchandise that populates any ROH show.

In Ring of Honor, Cody is treated like a fan favorite. He arguably gets as big of a pop as any ROH wrestler when his music hits, and fans in Lowell rejoiced when he defeated Daniels to become the champion.

In New Japan, however, Cody gets a different reception. Even at the two shows in Long Beach, California, he was nearly booed out of the building as fans were thrilled to see Okada in person for the first time. Dressed in red, white and blue in the U.S., Rhodes was the villain against the Japanese champion.

Prior to his title match against Okada at the NJPW G1 Special in USA on July 1, Cody walked to the ring amidst a sea of Bullet Club shirts. He was the most hated wrestler in the building, showered with boos, and the recipient of two middle fingers by a fan wearing a Cody Bullet Club shirt.

“Today you gotta be a much better player than just a bad guy or a good guy. You gotta be a star. Those are the things my dad really harped on. Heel, babyface. He didn’t believe in it anymore. He just believed you’re a star or you’re on your way to being a star. And I had his voice in my head because I remember that fan rattled me a bit, and I tripped on my damn cape and I was like ‘Shake it off. Shake it off. You’re world champion. He’s the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Just go for it.’ And it was a real fun night.”

Other members of Bullet Club were universally cheered in Long Beach. The Young Bucks might be the most popular tag team on the planet, and Kenny Omega has risen to new heights in the last year.

In the minds of a large portion of the wrestling world, there is no better wrestler than Omega. His 45-minute war with Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in January was universally hailed as an instant classic, and he continues to raise the bar with his matches.

Cody still has his share of critics, despite being the ROH World Champion, and he’s motivated by having the opportunity to prove them wrong.

“Kenny currently has the distinction of being the best wrestler in the world, and his run is proving tons of evidence to support that. For a singles wrestler like myself, who’s the world champion, it pisses you off a little bit. But you can be pissed off and go about it the wrong way, or you can go about it the right way. And I try to go about this the right way.”

“Kenny and I are Bullet Club, and I want to outperform him, which is a tall, tall order. But if I never go out there to give it a shot, then I’m not Bullet Club material in the first place. I think it’s the same with the Bucks. I think they love Kenny to death, but the concept of The Elite is not just a concept, it’s very real. Those three guys have each other’s backs, but if the Bucks go on last, they want to blow Kenny out of the water. They want to blow me out of the water. It’s not a negative at all. It’s a positive. It’s just a really fun, competitive environment in Bullet Club.”

Cody is a veteran in the wrestling industry, having made his debut on WWE TV 10 years ago. He’s won championships and competed at WrestleManias.

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Despite all his experience, Cody is just now entering his prime at 32 years old. Considering the current state of the pro wrestling landscape, winning the Ring of Honor World Championship might just be the beginning.

“I don’t think people realize we’re in the middle of a boom,” Cody said. “This is the climb. GLOW is No.1 on Netflix, multiple scripted shows are being written about our industry. Ring of Honor is pulling talent from WWE vs. WWE pulling big talent. WWE is doing big international business. New Japan is expanding into the U.S. It’s not even a matter of competition as it is just a matter of choice. The accessibility to wrestling is at an all-time high.”