Brandi Rhodes on AEW Trying to Changing the Pro Wrestling Landscape on TNT

AEW_DoN__2019-05-25 17-29-01__photo by Tom Donoghue
AEW/Tom Donoghue

The months have become days until All Elite Wrestling brings its new series Dynamite to TNT. The company was no more than a vision at the start of 2019, and development of the show has been a labor of love for a tight-knit group looking to shake up the industry’s landscape.

Among these game-changers is Brandi Rhodes. AEW’s Chief Brand Officer is settling in for the wild ride ahead. Just this past week alone has seen flights from her home in Atlanta to Los Angeles three times to attend meetings and take care of business.

“This is our baby,” Rhodes said of the new buzzworthy promotion. “We’re going to do everything we can to make it as phenomenal as it can be.”

Despite the hectic schedule, Rhodes believes in work-life balance and is an advocate for self-care. This means whenever she and husband Cody, a top AEW star and an executive vice president, squeeze in as much quality time as they can get.

“We want to make sure we are mentally feeling great as well as physically. Sometimes you have to do those things to feed your soul a little bit. It’s great that we are both really big theme park fans. We do Disney and were lucky to get Halloween Horror Nights in this year.

“You’re only going to perform better for you and everyone else when you’re taking care of yourself. So if we get that time where we need to go see a movie or go to one of our favorite places for dinner, we’ll definitely do it. That doesn’t mean we aren’t working while doing it. We’ve walked around Disney plenty of times, sitting down and plugging in at a restaurant for an hour or so to make sure something that needs to be done is done. We enjoy work as much as we enjoy play.”

The college educated exec may be found in the boardroom, but that doesn’t mean she has left the ring behind. For Rhodes, daughter-in-law of the late “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, wrestling will always be in her heart.

“It was a three-year journey to get me where I wanted to be as far as a competitor goes. I’m really enjoying it, so why stop? If I’m not doing it onscreen, I’m training so I can be prepared for the next match I do have onscreen,” Rhodes said.

“It’s not something I ever see putting away. It’s a good form of exercise, for one thing, but it’s so much fun to learn. I feel like everyone can learn something new about wrestling. You could be doing it for 20 years and still learn something new. I try to learn something new every time I get to the ring.”

One of the priorities for AEW has been building a strong women’s division. When it came to recruiting Rhodes wanted Awesome Kong to help bring legitimacy to her efforts. She felt a connection to the GLOW star from early after breaking into WWE developmental after finding success in broadcast journalism and modeling.

“Awesome Kong was the first person I got into a wrestling ring with,” Rhodes recalled. “She was in FCW [Florida Championship Wrestling] when I first started. She was who she was, and I found it really intriguing that nobody was engaging her. I talked to her. One day she said, ‘Hey, you want to get in the ring and learn something?’ She was the first person to teach me anything.

“Then there was a plan for her and I to work together. It was a big Dusty mind production, so it was going to be fantastic. Things changed for her and her plan and her career. It never got to happen, but I’ve always wanted to have my time with her and have moments with her.

“This is a dream come true…It’s really delightful she is continuing on with her despite a busy schedule with GLOW, and she is this very successful actress. It means so much and gives me so much confidence to have someone with such tenure really excited about wrestling again. She is so helpful to our women, and it’s great to have a female coach onboard. So, I’m delighted for everything Awesome Kong.”

Rhodes felt it was imperative to establish women on their broadcasts to the point viewers know who they are. Especially, since for a lot of them it’s their first taste of wrestling for a national TV audience. Rhodes says about 16 have been signed to one contract or another, teasing some we haven’t seen yet.

“You’re going to see in the first few weeks of TV a heavy focus on the familiar names,” she added. “There will probably be some you haven’t seen before, but they were actually signed for some period of time. So, it’s going to be new to you, but we’ve been planning to use them for a long time.

“We want to get them established and get the audience aware of what they are capable of. Then the sky is the limit as far as the women’s division goes. We did have a ton of really great competitors in that Casino Battle Royale. I was really excited for and impressed with a lot of the girls. I think the fans were too. Just wait and see. You will probably see some of those involved in there again.”

AEW has rocketed out of securing a cable TV deal with TNT, which last aired pro wrestling with WCW before that group closed in 2001. Fans are hoping this alternative to WWE succeeds and ignites a “Wednesday Night War” against NXT. Rhodes believes there is a clear picture from the beginning with everyone on the same page that has led to the upward trajectory.

“It’s not going to change. We’ve had these four Pay-Per-Views leading up to TV,” she said. “People have been so happy with them. And that’s us being true to us. If anything, we’ve learned we have to continue being true to us, and we’re gaining new fans. We have been able to maintain our current fanbase. It has been really fantastic. We’re going to focus on us and do what we do best.”

Another element helping AEW standout is its partnership with Kulture City, an organization that looks to make the world more sensory inclusive. Rhodes, who sits on the board, believes in the cause. The first three arenas hosting TV are currently planned to welcome those with sensory needs with more looking to be added.

“They are currently in about 260 venues worldwide providing this service where people can attend things that they never thought they could attend. Go to events, museums, zoos, concerts, all these things they never thought they could go to,” she said. “That work is extremely important and making a big difference, so we are very excited and fortunate to be part of that movement. They are fantastic people.”

Another job function for Rhodes is getting the AEW name out there. This means having a strong presence on social media, which can be filled with negativity and misinformation. It’s a storm that has to be weathered fairly often.

“Even if I wasn’t in my role, when there is a story that is not my business to talk about, I will never talk about it. When it’s someone else’s story, that is a hundred percent theirs,” Rhodes said.

“A lot of times too you see things I’m not privy to. A lot of times I’ll see things and take it for a grain of salt. People are just guessing about different things because they want some sort of answer. Unfortunately, I don’t have one for them, so we just keep moving. One thing is we see three or four negative comments about something, and it seems like so much more than it is. Then when you actually trace it back and look into it, you find out its three people out of 10 million that feel that way and are just vocal. That’s that. When you look at it in that sense, a lot of these things are as big as things as we think they are.

“Fans also tend to vocalize their fears. If they’re afraid something might happen or afraid something may happen to lose their trust or make them unhappy, they will create it like it’s already happening and real. The best thing I can say for people like that is just be patient. Don’t do things like that. We aren’t even on television yet.

“I saw a lot of people at one point that were very scared I was going to win the first women’s world championship, and I’m not in the title match. How that happens, I’m really not sure. But that was a nod to remind people to stop worrying about things you don’t have to worry about.”

All Elite Wrestling: Dynamite, Wednesdays beginning October 2, 8/7c, TNT