AEW Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes sat down with Chris Van Vliet for an in-depth interview just 48 hours removed from Double or Nothing at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
Cody joined his fellow EVPs Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks, along with AEW President Tony Khan and several other key talents at the WarnerMedia upfronts in New York last week to officially announce their arrival on primetime television, on TNT.
“So we’re all in the van and we’re getting pumped up to get to media. I was tying Matt Jackson’s tie, and Brandi was like, “Oh, TNT tweeted!’ It was such a good, cool thing to see that they supported it. I was excited.”
“The WarnerMedia upfronts were actually really educational. They’re talking about multi-platform use of not only your viewers directly on the network, but viewers on the streaming service, with Bleacher Report, and driving them [all]to keep the wheel going. It was really exciting and inline with what we already do as disruptors. We went from being disruptors to kind of being in the system ourselves, and it’s perfect.”
While specific details on AEW’s upcoming television slot are still scarce, the “American Nightmare” did reiterate that the show would be two hours, live every single week. He also sed some light on the touring schedule, as did Tony Khan in a separate interview, and said that we’ll have more information in the coming months.
“It’s really likely the show is gonna be two hours. That’s the sweet spot. In terms of the schedule, we’ll find out in the next few months. It’ll be in a great spot – to be in primetime on TNT, they’ve really set us up. The big thing we want to deliver is the bell-to-bell.”
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“We’ll be able to find out per market where we’re going to be. This isn’t going to be something that’s stationary. This is a touring brand. No pun intended, we’re going all-in on the concept. We’re not doing a live event system. When we come we’re bringing our absolute best from start quality to match quality.”
Cody’s reaction to finding out about Brock Lesnar’s recent Money in the Bank briefcase victory also randomly yielded some behind-the-scenes info on ladders in wrestling…
“Did Brock climb the ladder? 8-foot, 10 or 12? Just so you guys know, an 8-foot ladder in an arena looks great. In a stadium, it’s got to be 10 or 12, otherwise it looks super small.”
And… Then there’s the new WWE 24/7 Championship…
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Mick looked great…”
As for his relationship with WWE, Cody maintains that he had the time of his life working for the company, but with AEW really starting to take off, the former Intercontinental Champion is now realizing that he’s quickly becoming the “enemy”.
“I would think I do, but it’s dawning on me that I likely don’t. I would think – I learned a lot there. I had a great time. I met my wife, and I got to wrestle some of the best. I got to be in there with Undertaker when he was active, and Shawn [Michaels], and Hunter himself. I don’t know, maybe I’m not too well-received.”
“We were kind of always the enemy, me and my family. We’re the bastard family of wrestling. Dusty was always an individual, and never really fit into the corporate schedule. He did great there, and they really took care of him, but I think we were always kind of the enemy. I just caused a bit more destruction.”
This Saturday, Cody will be facing his own brother, Dustin, in a deeply personal match that has been years in the making. According to the younger brother, the artist formerly known as “Goldust” may be winding down as an in-ring competitor.
“I would think this is his has match. It’s not been stated. We’re not putting some sort of element like that on it, because that’s his decision and his world. One of the big things about this match is that it’s now or never. People wanted this match 3-4 years ago at WrestleMania, actually a lot more than I wanted it. Mainly because it was time for us to go our separate ways. We’re solo acts and we had a great run as a team – I love all that, but it was time for us to go our separate ways. And now, this kind of fell into place the way that it did. There’s so many elements of it that are real, and that’s a great thing to bring to the string. I would think this is his last match, but by no means does he have that pressure on him. He’s getting older and he’s actually said himself that he’d like to slow down. We’ll see.”
Hangman Page’s highly anticipated match against Pac was unfortunately scrapped in the days heading into Double or Nothing. Cody says the former Bullet Club star is ready to go and he’ll be at the show this weekend, although kept any potential spoilers understandably close to the vest.
“He’s still full-gear-ready. He had it in him all along. He won’t be weighing in at Starrcast. Instead we’re going to have Sammy Guevara and Kip Sabian weigh-in. I know for a fact he’ll be in Vegas. He’s doing Starrcast and he’ll be at Double or Nothing. What he does there is a mystery…”
With regard to the future of AEW, creatively, as well as the upcoming weekly television series, Cody says the team currently has about “six months to a year” mapped out. That said, as WWE fans have seen with the sudden rise of Kofi Kingston in recent months, you can’t always plan to catch lightning in a bottle.
“Actually, we got a pretty good bearing on – I’d say six months to a year. Long-form storytelling is good in every medium, whether it be in film or TV. To know and to work backwards… We’ve got a good syllabus, or outline for what we’re going to do.”
“One thing that Matt Jackson is really good at pointing out is that some stuff just catches fire. You can’t deny something when it catches. So if something catches, we’re going to push and promote that. If an individual catches, we’ll push and promote them. That all starts at Double or Nothing. There’s a lot of guys that are so, so talented. If you cover the indie scene you’ve probably seen some of them, but for people that are just jumping on board, I think they’re really going to take away some new favorites, men and women.”
Cody also took the opportunity to walk back one of the more controversial things that fans have taken away from his interviews over the past year or so. At one point he had mentioned that the concept of “babyfaces and heels” in wrestling was dead, but that’s not exactly the message he was trying to get across.
“I didn’t mean the constructs of bad guys and good guys goes away. They exist in every form of storytelling. You almost have to be a wrestler to understand, and that’s the worst thing to tell somebody. There’s this dated outlook on heels. Just heels. We can’t turn the clock back. Bully Ray is a great example of someone who really tries to be a heel, but also if I Google him, there’s an image of him holding a cat at the Humane Society, because he’s a great person who likes animals. He’s also a radio host. It was more of a play on some of these young, idiot wrestlers who don’t sign autographs because he’s a heel. You’re not a heel or a babyface until you’re into your run. Should I have tweeted that? Absolutely not. Good guys, bad guys – we’ll have all of that. I see protagonist and antagonist, but literally when I say it you can feel people rolling their eyes.”
One thing AEW has promised is that they will be taking a more sports-oriented look at the world of wrestling, collecting all kinds of data to create a unique presentation to the business – one that fans are likely going to gravitate towards.
“One of the things that Tony [Khan] really brought onboard was the analytical outlook on wrestling. Wins and loses matter in any competitive sport. What we are isn’t just sport, it’s also entertainment – it’s this whole other thing. But the concept of guys wanting to win matches, and women wanting to win matches, because that’s who gets paid more – that’s actually real. We really want to take a deep dive, and Tony does it for baseball, for football and all these sports with the analytics. I think that’s a really cool concept. It came across as something that I think people got hung up on. But really, it’s just that wins and loses matter. There’s not going to be 50/50 booking. When you commit to something, or somebody, we’re going to go forward with that.”
Finally, Rhodes discussed how filling out the roster has a unique experience, in that everyone in the locker room is “one of the boys”, stemming from the idea that the majority of people running the promotion are veteran wrestlers, and even multi-millionaire President Tony Khan is a lifelong fan of the business.
“That’s the coolest part about this. The element of recruitment isn’t like recruitment anywhere else. The locker room has now banded together more than ever, because it’s not just – and I hate saying this. It’s okay to have corporate individuals involved with wrestling. I totally understand. They bring a skillset to the business that the wrestlers, and the cowboys and pirates, that we don’t have. But when you have too many it becomes overwhelming. When they’re sitting up in first class, and Cesaro’s walking to the back of the plane – that stuff’s unacceptable.”
“What’s his name – George Barrios? He shows up at maybe two WWE events a year, and shakes your hand. You haven’t taken a single bump! How are you getting paid millions of dollars! I’m just saying, it’s great to see the locker room come together. Matt Jackson was always big on the locker room, and that was something I’ve learned from him. There is no recruitment anymore. We’re all friends, and the rising tide, and the competitive nature of this – it should be good for everybody in wrestling.”