Ahead of AEW Dynamite’s Homecoming event, Cody Rhodes and AEW invited journalists to a media call to talk about Rhodes’ upcoming main event match-up with Malakai Black. While on the call, Rhodes also discussed the recent release of Bray Wyatt from WWE, COVID’s effects on AEW’s upcoming schedule, the controversy surrounding deathmatch wrestling and Chris Jericho vs Nick Gage, and the importance of bringing in legends and building young talent for AEW.
While on the topic his run-ins with Malakai Black, Rhodes was asked about the nature of their feud and Black’s apparent attempts to send Cody down a darker path. Rhodes did acknowledge the swaying crowd reaction that’s appeared in recent weeks, but he hesitated to claim that the crowd will get him to “turn” any time soon.
“I hear how the crowds currently are reacting. I’m not going to go against that wave in terms of being excited about someone being able to run free — a mustang with no saddle — like a Malakai Black. I encourage that for fans, but I won’t sacrifice who I am as a wrestler. I’m not going to do some kneejerk heel turn. There’s not a heel bone left in my body. There’s not. I did it for ten years, guys. I like hearing — believe it or not, even when it’s against me, it’s unique to hear someone be received so well. I felt similarly when Brodie [Lee] had debuted in terms of the reactions he was getting and that excitement, that energy. When it comes to this match, this thing is just so up in the air for what it could be. It’s a massive match for Dynamite; it’s a massive match for the company. I really am looking forward to it. I love the fans from all over the world; of course, I love the fans in Jacksonville. No disrespect to Daily’s Place, [but] I feel like we should rename that place the AEW Amphitheater because it’s really been home to us. So, I’m looking forward to what happens and how it sounds and how it feels. Again, I always like to be incredibly self-aware.”
“You mention Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. There’re a lot of fans who thought Luke was a whiny farm boy and thought Darth Vader was the coolest thing on Earth. I’m a Luke guy. Hopefully there’re some Luke guys in the crowd. I’m sure there will be some Darth Vader people in the crowd. That’s great. You pay your money to sit in the seats, you can do whatever it is you want to do. I’ve had some really wonderful advice from an extremely polarizing babyface in our industry that kind of helped me through this current time, and without divulging too much of that, one of the best things was, ‘I have to stay true to who I am. I really do.’ That, I look forward to doing.”
Though much speculation could made about who this “polarizing babyface” could be (and whether or not we the fans could “see” him), there were more teases and other information to dig into all throughout the media call. You can read the rest of the highlights from this media call down below:
On Malakai Black’s contract status with WWE prior to signing with AEW, Cody was asked if the 30-day no compete clause — as opposed to the standard 90 days — made AEW hurry or cancel any of their plans to accommodate Black’s arrival.
“From my understanding, no plans have been changed. Whenever there’s a free agent of that caliber — male or female — you have to jump on it. That’s not an area where I’m the one who contacted or facilitated. This is the same guy who kicked me square in the jaw on his very first night to make a statement. Tony Khan is the one responsible for bringing in Tommy End or Malakai Black — whatever he likes to go by — but no plans were changed. If anything, we were presented with something incredibly special.”
On the number of roster spots available in AEW more wrestlers become free agents, Cody says that you can’t wish away good talent, and explains that, from his perspective, there are many wrestlers that you have to sign because they move the needle just that much.
“Does that change the landscape of the show and the roster? For sure, and that is one of the areas where, as much as things can get personal, it is business, and no one is immune to that. … There’s a lot of AEW programming, so room has opened up, but to your point, there’s not incredibly that much more room.”
Rhodes does go on to say that he is personally fulfilled by the notion that, when AEW started three years ago, a lot of people didn’t believe in it, even if fans did.
“I have no bitterness in my heart over that,” Rhodes explained. “That makes me feel wonderful about a legacy in the pro wrestling industry. The table has been set. New talent can eat; young talent can eat.”
On Nick Gage vs Chris Jericho and deathmatch wrestling’s place in the mainstream, Cody says the match went on as advertised and gave kudos to both men for putting on “a great main event.”
“I, before AEW was a thing, had considered doing a match with Matt [Tremont]. I really, heavily considered it, and I never pulled the trigger on that, but that was indeed a deathmatch. I think the answer to your question about, ‘Does [deathmatch wrestling] have a place in television?’ — well, we were the number one show on cable.”
It’s not something that Cody says AEW will showcase regularly, but it can and will be brought in as part of the “wonderful buffet” that is AEW television.
On AEW Rampage and what makes it different from Dynamite, Dark, and Dark: Elevation, Cody says that the show only being one hour long means that it’s going to have to focus more on “the fight.” He also says that Mark Henry being on commentary will be a positive change for the show. And, though there will be a lot more information on Rampage coming soon, he did have one scoop for us:
“I think — so it may not be a spoiler — I think that the canvas with the logo in the center, which is one of my favorite things ever, is returning for Rampage. I think! So, you can all tweet me endlessly if I was wrong about that, but that’s as much of a spoiler as I can give you on Rampage.”
On the new community outreach team, Cody says that it’s something that he’s been planning on doing for a while and was even “banging on Tony [Khan’s] door every week” to make happen. He also says “the stars aligned” for AEW as Paul Wight is already an ambassador for the Special Olympics, and prior to the team’s creation, Cody was already talking with Mark Henry about ways to help the community. Between Thunder Rosa’s social work in the Texas area and Shawn Dean’s connections to the military, Cody has high hopes for this new department.
Cody specifically credits former WWE head of talent relations Sue Aitchison as well as Eddie Graham and Dusty Rhodes for instilling in him the idea that, “politics aside, regardless of your place on the card,” anyone can help change lives for the better.
On Bray Wyatt’s release and whether or not Cody sees a spot on the card for him in AEW, Cody recounts that he and Bray do have a history as Husky Harris was Cody’s rookie back in Season 2 of game show-era NXT.
“I can’t comment on if I see a spot for him when it comes to us, but I can tell you [Bray is] an incredibly creative individual and an incredibly creative man. Whenever I see someone like that lose their job or move into the next phase of their career, as someone who left WWE on my own — at the time, it was super unheard of to leave — I can’t be everyone’s sounding board, but I really want to be. … I never would have thought that Matt Cardona was going to end up being this GCW Champion and getting pelted with trash, but I should have thought he would be doing something. To circle back to Bray, I can’t comment on if he fits in with us, but I can say, if he has an ounce of passion for this, that guy can fit in anywhere because he is a special, special talent.”
On general improvements AEW can make, Cody says that he can’t point at any one thing that AEW needs to get better at, but he does know that, for his Nightmare Factory training school, promos in front of a crowd and reacting to their response is important for Cody’s students to learn.
“It seems like, in this day and age, everyone is incredibly athletic and can do every spot under the sun. But if you can get people to listen to you, if you can get people to love you or love to hate you, if you can truly connect with them? It should be called ‘Connection Class.’ If you can find that connection where they are talking about you, that is the gold standard. That’s like being an emotionally available actor in Hollywood.”
On CDC recommendations about wearing masks for indoor events, Cody says that AEW’s official stance is that they will be following state mandates. Though Florida doesn’t have a mask mandate going into Wednesday’s Homecoming show, AEW does still encourage fans to wear masks if it makes them feel comfortable.
“Declaring this personally, I would hope that everyone out there just does their part with COVID and the variant to get themselves vaccinated. This illness affects old people; it affects young infants. I think people should — again, personally — just get vaccinated. If they’re one of these wild people who think they’re going to be filled with nanomachines, Solid Snake is going to save us anyway.”
Finally, on keeping AEW’s momentum going after a huge July, Cody says that the key is what it’s always needed to be: building future stars. Even more than putting on great matches, Cody says AEW is set on presenting new stars both in and out of the ring.
“Take a look at Darby Allin. Really, look at him. There are kids at every crowd — that’s one thing I do at these shows. I count the shirts I see in the front row. I see the kids with the face paint on. That’s huge to put your hat on as a company is building your next golden circle. We know who the golden circle of our company is right now. Their faces are on all of the billboards; they’re in all the action figures, all of those things. That will change, and this is a company that will not make the mistake where we hang on too long. When it’s time to change, it’s time to change, and developing young talent is crucial. That’s why I love Dark and love Elevation so much: to see those challenges and see things done right, mistakes made, all that good stuff. Yes, developing new stars. That’s it. The resource for wrestling is wrestlers, so we have to make more.”
- Cody mentioned that Jake Roberts has appeared at every one of Cody’s pre-call-time training sessions with talent, and that, “If I’m being totally honest, [Jake Roberts] is a far better and far more qualified than I am, and he’s been incredibly helpful with young people — people like Brock Anderson; people like Lee Johnson, who’s wrestling Miro for the TNT Championship.”
- Cody says that there are no United Kingdom events currently in the schedule as that remains in the hands of the Delta variant and vaccination numbers, but “if you run a wrestling company and you don’t intend on going to the UK, then I don’t think you really run a wrestling company.”
- Though Cody says he is excited to wrestle in the United Center for the first time for Rampage, his heart will always be with the NOW Arena “because there’s a plaque on the side of the building with my face on it from when we were able to do All In.”
- Cody casually invited Izzy of “The Hot Tag with Izzy” (otherwise known as Bayley’s super fan Izzy from Bayley’s NXT days) to join the Nightmare Factory now that she’s been seen training to become a wrestler.
- There aren’t any formal conversations currently happening within AEW regarding future stadium shows (aside from the Arthur Ashe show coming up in September), but after the 10-minute sellout of the United Center, they are thinking about it, including conversations about what they’d put on and what the show would be called. Cody’s personal choice for an arena would be Miller Park in Wisconsin.
- Though Cody famously made an indie wrestling “to-do list” following his WWE departure in 2016 and a second one that included All In, Cody’s current to-do list is to make sure his daughter knows that Cody never gave up in an industry that can chew you up and spit you out. He wants for his daughter to see him as the best dad ever, just like he sees Dusty.
AEW Dynamite: Homecoming takes place Wednesday, Aug. 4 at 8/7c on TNT in the US and on the FITE app around the world.
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