AEW is coming at you like an elbow drop off the top rope
They’re big, they’re tough, they’re fast and they’re ready to change the game forever. It’s All Elite Wrestling, and on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the action in the squared-circle is going to be off the charts. “All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite” will debut on TNT at 8 p.m. ET with two hours of wrestling action so intense, so unique, it’s in a totally different league.
This is wrestling like you’ve never experienced: more emphasis on in-ring action and wins and losses, and less backstage soap opera drama. And the level of talent in the ring is incredible, from Cody Rhodes, to the dynamic tag team The Young Bucks, to superstar Brandi Rhodes, to Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF for short), the man who freely declares he’s “better than you and you know it.”
We sat down with Cody, who is not only a superstar in the ring, but an Executive Vice President of AEW as well (along with wife Brandi Rhodes, The Young Bucks and legendary Kenny Omega.) We discussed AEW, what makes it so unique, and what it’s like being the “son of a son of a plumber” (he’s the son of legendary wrestler Dusty Rhodes).
Thanks so much for speaking to us Cody. For the uninitiated, what is All Elite Wrestling, and how and why did it come about?
All Elite Wrestling is kind of this serendipitous, amazing thing where all the stars aligned for this to even happen. It's been two decades of wrestling on TV with just one company owning the entire industry. They’re doing a good job with it, but it’s them being the only restaurant in town. We've already showcased what it is that we are with our pay-per-view events, including "Double or Nothing", our very first pay-per-view that we were blessed to have sell out in four minutes, which is unheard of for another company, these “outlaws.”
But that's what we are in wrestling, an "outlaw" group. Matt and Nick Jackson (The Young Bucks) were an outlaw tag-team that said "Hey, we don't need a machine to market ourselves. We'll start being the elite; very hands-on, grass roots with all our fans." That is the thing that bonds us the most. Kenny Omega, myself, Matt and Nick, we don't always agree on the same types of wrestling and the flavors, but the one thing we agree on is fan service. That's what linked us and that's what created the faction All Elite Wrestling and the fact that we did only a little over a year ago, on a dare that we couldn't sell ten thousand seats. That dare brought in this godsend that was Tony Khan, who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and England’s Fulham Football Club. And here we are.
We’re only a short time away from the premiere of AEW on TNT on Oct. 2. What can fans expect from this groundbreaking show, and what can we expect moving forward as well?
I think the thing that will set All Elite Wrestling apart is that it’s sport-centric, and that’s not just a tagline, it's genuinely bell-to-bell. The matches that we have are the best matches that you can get in pro wrestling. And now that WarnerMedia is behind these matches, it's a match made in heaven, no pun intended. That's the thing that sets us apart. So many people say, “I was a fan, but I dropped off.” Somewhere, wrestling lost their attention. With the gimmicks, tricks and marketing things that other companies had done, they forgot about the number one thing: the very first part of any wrestling show is the wrestling ring sitting there in the middle of the arena, those ropes and what happens in-between them.
So much great storytelling can be told there. My sister grew up in the business herself, she'll tell you it's this weird, interactive form of American Broadway. You change the lines, you change what you're seeing because the live fan is the most important thing, they're the blood in the body.
You’re taking on multiple roles with AEW, as both an executive as well as an elite wrestler. Tell us what challenges, as well as opportunities, that has presented.
Well, you can only see us Wednesday nights. There's not a series of live events going into Wednesday nights. That's one day a week, and that's easily manageable for a pro wrestler; to train, to rest, to recover, to think about your match. Now on the flip side, that's easy for me now in this new executive role as it leaves me that time to build and create, but I've had to be very specific. My wife (Brandi Rhodes, wrestler and Chief Brand Officer) will tell you she needs her own assistant for all her duties as Chief Brand Officer, so she can't really be that person that reminds me of all these things. I've built a team around me, and it's so funny. They will literally tell me things like "Hey, in match two, you need to put your tights on because you’re in match four."
I don't want to come to a point where people are saying that being the Executive Vice President is taking away from my matches. And that's why leading with "Double or Nothing", that pay-per-view, I was so happy that we had such a great match, me and my brother, and I was able to go sit right back down after and help produce the rest of the show.
Your father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, was so incredibly successful not only as a legendary wrestler, but as a booker and a creative mind. Are there things you’ve taken from your dad that have helped you with AEW?
Oh yeah, I think that I have the best education in all of wrestling. I think I went to the best school. I was with Dusty from birth until he passed away, and we'd talk about wrestling literally every day. And then I got the opportunity to work for Vince McMahon (WWE owner) and Triple H (WWE executive) for eleven years, so I got to see both sides of this education, I got to do some away school.
I got so much from my dad and I’m so proud of that. Every year at the WWE Hall of Fame, you'll hear several different inductees say, "I really want to thank Dusty Rhodes, he gave me my first shot." That, to me, is something I was always so proud of him for. He was 39 when he had me, so I missed a great deal of his wrestling career, but I caught all of his executive career
I never could have planned it this way, but it couldn't have been more storybook, and I want to finish the story right. For him, for me, for my brother. I take his knowledge with me every day.
We’ve read a lot about AEW’s unique aspects and ideas. Can you speak to some of the things that will make AEW unique and different?
The bell-to-bell, above all, but also the fact that there are real stakes to what All Elite Wrestling is. I understand why the term "sports entertainment" got coined, I understand why it happened, but the sports aspect of that is incredibly important to the wrestling fan. You will never, ever see a backstage pre-tape done in All Elite Wrestling. You’ll only see it presented in a respectable fashion with interviews and commentary. You can still have these larger than life characters, but you don't have to treat it like a soap opera.
I understand the parallels to the soap opera, but if you start treating it like a soap opera, then you're a soap opera with a little wrestling, versus being pro wrestling that shares a little show. AEW is very much presented as a sport, and I'm looking forward to people seeing the differences.
How are you utilizing online streaming platforms, pay per view, social media and other options as ways to spread the word about AEW?
Well, I tell our guys all the time, social media muscle is in our DNA at AEW. We were talking about the TNT app, the Watch TNT app - we have to find ways to make the content accessible to the modern consumer, so that all screens will be able to access it.
We also want fans to be able to access it, put it down then access it again. We just held a meeting explaining all of the options. We want to make sure people tune in to TNT Wednesday nights to see it live, but a great thing about this huge roster we accrued is not everybody can be on the two-hour show, but we can make sure they live in a variety of media. To have a team like this at WarnerMedia, they totally understand what we're trying to do and they're part of this disruptive culture.
We want to showcase our talents, men and women, seven days a week, and we can do that. We have everything accessible to us - Twitter, Instagram, everything.
Has there been a reaction from any of the old school wrestlers with regards to what you’re doing with AEW?
If you were really good, like a Tully Blanchard type, you look at this and go, "This is good for us." The really smart guys, like Jake “The Snake” Roberts, like (veteran announcer) Jim Ross, they know the business is changing, but they see that the business was always changing.
One of the great things to see is to see a legend change their attitude about you. I'll give you an example: Road Warrior Animal was part of Starrcast in Chicago last year for our AEW All In event, and he didn't have a clue what All In was, and he didn't seem super interested in it. But when he came out there, you could see the light bulb literally go off, like "Man, this is something, this is real.”
A more specific example is my brother. My brother didn't get this at all, he didn't understand it, he was like what is All In, what is AEW? He didn't get it. He signed a contract to wrestle me but still didn't get it. So, he walks out, tights on, and you can see him like, "Oh. They like me! They're really here." You can see him completely come alive and that is an exciting thing to see with some of the older wrestlers. That's why I encourage people to watch the show and when you come to the shows, it’s so much different than any wrestling out there. It’s a damn party, man! Who knows when it'll end? For now, it's just too much fun.
What would you like to say to people who may not be wrestling fans, but are curious as to what AEW is all about – why should they jump on board and watch on October 2?
Let us paint this picture for you first, then tell us if you like what you see. I think bell to bell, with a two-hour show, I believe if you come in a fan, you will leave a bigger fan. If you come in completely casual to it, you will want to tune in next week. I’d say don’t overanalyze this interview, just watch the damn show, and I bet you’ll love it!