Ring of Honor's "American Nightmare" Cody and Dalton Castle sit on opposite ends of the spectrum of personalities in pro wrestling. On one side there's Cody, the cocky, patronizing, self-absorbed villain who rubs his success in other people's faces. On the other end of the spectrum -- the way other end -- sits Castle, a character whose jubilant personality, unorthodox in-ring style, and vivacious exterior have endeared him to ROH fans.
Cody is well-known to even casual followers of professional wrestling, whether it's through his decadelong stint in the WWE system, him being Dusty Rhodes' son, or for his most recent efforts toward trying to take over the world with the Bullet Club. Since leaving the WWE, Cody has established himself across, and even beyond the wrestling scene with all of the biggest promotions outside the WWE's walls.
Castle, Cody's opponent for his ROH world title at Friday's Final Battle pay-per-view at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom, is just starting to make a name for himself after years of wrestling on undercards and in matches that didn't even appear on TV. For those who have never seen the "Party Peacock" at work, it might be best to let the man himself tell you what to expect.
"[Dalton Castle is] a charismatic milkshake with glitter," Castle said in a recent interview with ESPN.com. "I'm the Lady Gaga of pro wrestling."
The "Lady Gaga of Pro Wrestling" vs. "The American Nightmare" is a dream matchup fans never knew they wanted to see until it materialized before their very eyes. Cody hasn't wrestled Castle before, but he knows a thing or two about bizarre characters.
"Dalton reminds me a lot of my brother. A lot of my brother," Cody told ESPN.com, comparing Castle to Goldust. "He has this enigmatic charm, but also this unhinged look in his eye. I feel like he elevates his level of charisma and silliness and flamboyance because he's also elevated his game when it comes to violence. You look in that dude's eyes and know that's not an easy fight."
Despite the rivals seeming vastly different on the surface, Castle in his own unique way sees the opposite.
"I don't think we're very different at all," Castle said. "I think we are both well-dressed men. Our styles might be a little different -- he enjoys a nice three-piece suit with two buttons, while I like to keep the whole body covered with a sparkly fabric accented by feathers. Where we also see common ground is, I think we both take this very serious. He's seems like somebody who absolutely loves pro wrestling, and this is his first and foremost thought. As am I."
Cody has been something of a divisive figure since he left WWE in May 2016. Initially, many people had their doubts that a former WWE product, especially one with the history of the business embedded in his blood, could transition from the "big leagues" to the indies and set his ego aside. So far, Cody has done just that, though there will always be detractors who say he's "too WWE."
"I'm pretty self-aware at this point in my life," Cody said. "I had a brush with fame with WWE, and I think everyone's always terribly behaved in their first brush with fame. But I'm over that. I don't have a messiah complex. I know exactly what I do for Ring of Honor."
Castle had his doubts about Cody's motives in the beginning, but those feelings went away once Cody arrived at ROH.
"When he initially came into Ring of Honor, there's always the excitement, [but] everyone's a little skeptical at first of a guy leaving a big company," Castle said. "You don't know what kind of attitude you're going to get from somebody when they come in. Are they going to think they're above us? Are they going to think that they are better in some way or don't need to work as hard as the rest of us because they've built this name value for the last 10 years? It didn't seem like that when Cody came over at all. It seemed like he absolutely was all in."
Cody's commitment to the independent scene was never more apparent than when Castle saw him in a wrestling ring for the first time at PWG's Battle of Los Angeles in 2016. Cody was forced to wrestle in one boot after Marty Scurll in his villainous ways stole it from him. Cody wrestled the rest of the match with only a sock to protect his right foot.
"That stuck with me and I thought, 'There's a guy who came to work,'" Castle said. "'He looks like he's going to put in the effort that the rest of us are.'"
Even when slipping deeper into the characters each man represents on Ring of Honor television, there's a genuine mix of respect and competitiveness that shines through.
"I see the value in him being here. I know the eyes he brought with him to the product and I'm thankful for that, but I don't think he represents what Ring of Honor is as a champion just yet," Castle said. "He's pompous. He's got an attitude towards the fans. He doesn't embrace them as much as he should. He still is so very much all about Cody and less about Ring of Honor as a whole."
"I think Dalton, like a lot of the guys in the Ring of Honor locker room, they may appreciate what I've done for them, but they sure as hell don't appreciate how much I talk about it," Cody said after hearing Castle's comments. "They sure as hell don't appreciate me having a private dressing room or filming 'Being the Elite' while they're trying to get dressed. I honestly think he's focused on the wrong thing. I think he's focused on beating me because of what I've done for ROH.
"When it comes world title time, I believe you need to be focused on you," Cody continued. "Dalton Castle's extremely popular. He's one of the most popular wrestlers in Ring of Honor, but let's not be fooled here -- he's getting a huge rub being in the ring with me. This is either the beginning of something for him or this is his first and last night on the marquee."
Final Battle's main event would not be possible if not for the long-term commitments both participants have made to ROH in recent months. Castle proved his loyalty to ROH when he signed his first exclusive contract with the company in June despite interest from other companies. There are many reasons why he decided to stay with ROH, but the key for Castle was a feeling he hasn't been able to shake since he attended his first Final Battle as a fan years ago.
"Going to a Final Battle event as just a friend of Bobby Fish, watching his performance and just sitting in the wings and watching the entire show is really what lit a fire under my ass to get working hard, to become a better performer and get an opportunity in Ring of Honor," Castle reflected. "Once I got a shot, I couldn't stop. I just remember it really motivated me to do better because I saw a goal. I saw Final Battle at the Hammerstein and I knew that's where I needed to be -- and I [was] going to do everything I [could] to start myself on the path to get there. I've done Final Battle at the Hammerstein, and now I'm on my way to main-eventing it."
Cody, after wrestling for seemingly every independent promotion around the world in addition to Impact Wrestling and New Japan in over a year after leaving WWE, agreed to "the most generous offer" in ROH history in September. Cody's decision to become exclusive with ROH came down to particular moments, with one of them, like his opponent, taking place in the same venue as Final Battle on Friday.
"I think it's a culmination of many events and particularly how much faith Ring of Honor was willing to put in me," Cody said. "It was these little moments like walking into Hammerstein Ballroom for the very first time last year and Gary Juster [ROH VP of Operations], who I've known since I was a little kid, who handed me my first Ring of Honor check. There's these little moments like that. The fact that Ring of Honor wanted to make me the face of their company. This has been the most profitable time for them. I'm excited at how much faith they've put in me, and I return my faith back in them."
While Cody, with his poster-boy looks and wrestling pedigree, fits the mold of what many promotions would want as the face of their company, Castle represents something entirely different.
Characters like Dalton Castle aren't supposed to win world titles. Characters like Dalton Castle, by his own admission, would've been portrayed as the bad guy a decade ago. But on the cusp of 2018, characters like Dalton Castle, with his over-the-top, unlike-anything-you've-seen-before persona, are what make Ring of Honor different from any other promotion -- and that's what makes him the perfect adversary for Cody at Final Battle.
"I think Dalton has earned this spot," Cody said. "He's across from me, and I don't think anyone right now at Ring of Honor is at his level to be in that position. He's earned his favor with Ring of Honor, he's earned his favor with the fans, which is the most important part of what we do, being able to make them happy. He's earned his position."