Cody Rhodes on All Elite Wrestling’s Historic 2019 & What’s Next

Cody Rhodes
Lee South/AEW

Cody Rhodes will never forget 2019. In January, the pro wrestling landscape changed with the formation of All Elite Wrestling. An executive vice president and a top star for the new league, he tried to soak in every milestone. The son of the “American Dream” Dusty Rhodes goes back to the evening of the first press conference and fan rally at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville. It was at the Jaguars’ home where he met many of the staff who would join him in the trenches for what is approaching a year.

“Everyone has really grown into their roles,” Rhodes said. “That I would say is probably the best sign. Nobody was misplaced. It has been the same crew putting this together. Watching the pyro from the stadium. Having Chris [Jericho] walk out there. That was one of the last few times you could mark out to the fact it was all really happening. 

“Not that I don’t fanboy every time I go out or feel it every time I hear AEW chants. It was one of those moments where we were like, “Let’s take this in because we really have to get to work. There are a lot of people counting on us.” 

With AEW preparing to return to the site of its inception for a Homecoming New Year’s edition of ‘Dynamite,’ Rhodes takes a step back to appreciate all the company has accomplished. And to think they’re just getting started. 

It’s amazing to think what has happened since the initial AEW announcement. From producing a Pay-Per-View to weekly live TV on TNT, the planning and logistics required is, I’m sure, unimaginable. What has it been like learning as you’re going and trying to satisfy the most demanding fan base out there? What do you think were some of the biggest challenges that you overcame this year?

Cody Rhodes: We are about to sell our 100,000th ticket [AEW has since reached this milestone as of December 16]. That’s great when you add all that money up and all that generates. The idea of an upstart wrestling company, even with such heavy backing could get you 100,000 tickets when originally Dave Meltzer said we couldn’t sell 10,000. I know that’s not the only reason for AEW, but it’s special. I’m excited for that day. Taking criticism isn’t really criticism. The fan base for wrestling isn’t like the fan base for Game of Thrones or Star Wars

They remind me of Star Wars in that they are super-passionate, usually split between an old-school psychology and a modern-day meta approach to the art and the presentation. The real problem is when there is no criticism. That’s a problem. I like the passionate outlook on our business and what they thought we could do better. Things of that nature. I’ve really learned the difference between three people tweeting 300 times and 300 hundred people tweeting. There is stuff we’ve improved upon in the last few weeks in terms of character debuts and presentation and finding ways for our stars to reach across the aisle and connect with people. It has been a good year. 

You’ve been able to grow in a managerial role, as well as performer. You’ve been a wrestler for so long that the behind-the-scenes work is sort of new territory. How do you think you’ve managed the two hats?

The role of a leader in the professional wrestling business or a captain of a team, an executive, it doesn’t make you the most popular guy in the room among your peers. The main thing I’ve really tried to approach it with is a different business mindset than the power boss mindset. I’ve learned a lot watching how [AEW founder and president Tony [Khan] handles whether it be full-on with the Jags or multitude of other enterprises he has. I think that so much can get done from transparency, honesty. I actually heard Matt Jackson tell a talent once the only thing you have to do here is get over and be honest. That’s really at the heart of this, being an honest and fair leader. Hopefully, people will follow. 

That’s where both roles link up. It’s one thing to say you are calling the shots and asking for something and producing this and that. When you are also on screen, if you don’t hold the same standards to your performance you’re holding for others. And if you don’t exceed it, to be honest, nobody is going to follow that guys. Wrestling rarely has true leaders. It’s something that is rare where a locker room leader emerges. When you can do it out in the ring and with the headset on behind the curtain, you are really in a zone there. I think Matt, Nick [Jackson] and Kenny [Omega] in their respective fields have really been in zones. Tony has been in a zone. We’re going to shoulder down and keep powering through. 

One of the things that stands out in AEW is the young and relative unknown talent stepping up and running with the ball. You have a Sammy Guevara or even last week with a QT Marshall. How has it been for you to take this active role in helping take stars to the next level?

The main thing you have to do when you are giving someone the rub or the spotlight is know that there is nothing new about what I’ve been tasked to do. It’s new to me, but there is nothing new about the tradition of pro wrestling and reaching down and pulling someone up. You can’t hold that over someone’s head. They owe you nothing for that. You already selected them for that. It is my job for those who I can reach down and pull up. 

It is Jericho’s job at the tippy top to reach down and pull people up. You mention Sammy G or even QT, which was just amazing in the ring. I told those guys after our tag match with QT to never take this audience for granted. That is so magical what happened for them to be literally cheering for someone they don’t know because we are telling them who that person is at that moment. It’s all why this business has thrived for as long as it has. 

You’re currently in the middle of a heated rivalry with MJF. A young man who has made the most of the platform and vehicle to really shine AEW has provided.

Max is really a special talent. He is not the nicest guy. If you’re doing this interview with him, he always has some choice words. He is off our media list. Brandi [Rhodes] has taken him off our media list because he has upset a few folks, but he is definitely the future of pro wrestling. Now here is where push comes to shove. Here’s me who doesn’t want to give any inch on the role I’m in right now in this crazy kind of moment I’m having with these fans and supporting me. I wanted to keep that going. 

There’s him who doesn’t want to give an inch and wants to know everything and how he knows everything and has commitments to MJF. It’s the perfect match for a wrestling match. People will point things about the industry that are artificial so often that they don’t do things that are very real. The best wrestling rivalries come when things are very real. We have gotten under each other’s skin. When you are challenging each other to be better in the ring. This is his time. He does have the platform, but if he doesn’t deliver, he won’t have the platform. At the moment he is continuing to deliver. 

What you’ve been able to achieve is sure to be proud of. If your dad were here today, what do you think he’d say to you?

I wish I knew. I’m flying into Texas the other night and thinking about so many other things, but I can never not think about him when I’m around wrestling. I just think he would respect the person I’d become when people aren’t looking. It’s a weird thing to say, and I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, my dad was a good man when people weren’t looking.

This is an industry of hustlers and thieves. It’s cutthroat, but when people weren’t looking he was a good man. I’ve tried to apply this with how I manage and captain. Right now we are doing well with all that. I think he’d be proud of what we’ve done here. He would probably love to meet everyone because so many guys I’m flanked by have nothing in common other than the main thing you need to have in common when you’re a wrestler. The yearning to sell tickets and be popular with the fans. He would see that and want to know more about the guys. 

How would you sum up 2019? What are some goals you have in mind for yourself and the company heading into year two?

For sure I know this is the time of my life. Marrying my wife is the most important day of my life, but this has been the most important year of my life. Every second of it, through a lot of blood from me particularly, sweat and tears, some frustrations here and there. This has been the time of my life. Looking at 2020, we have to expand upon the missions statement. That’s always my goal when I’m out there. The mission statement that we have to be the alternative. We can get in the weeds on counter-programming on Wednesday nights and talk about ratings and use the word war and all that stuff, but we have to stick to our mission statement of being an alternative. Be sports-centric.

That’s something people have been critical of here and there. The show is a buffet and sometimes the foods are vastly different. That can be a little offensive, but I just want to make sure we key in on our mission statement. And we key in on our outreach to fans. We are in a different environment. The most over roster member at AEW isn’t Chris Jericho. It’s the audience. It’s the sixth man our audience is and we have to continue to make it a safe and fun and vibrant environment. That’s the nature of this all-inclusive brand that we have. It’s about making everyone feel comfortable. I want to key in on the things that helped build us in the first place. 

All Elite Wrestling Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TNT