AEW's Brandi Rhodes Keeps 'Heels' Planted in Support of Women and Wrestling
Brandi Rhodes is a strong female presence on All Elite Wrestling television. But outside the ring, she has been a passionate voice on the business side of the blossoming company as well. The Chief Brand Officer’s efforts led to the creation of the inaugural “Women’s Tag Team Cup Tournament: The Deadly Draw.”
The tourney, currently running on AEW’s YouTube page, sees sixteen competitors randomly picking colors to decide their partners. The winning duo will be awarded a snazzy trophy and perhaps future opportunities. Rhodes is headed into the semifinals alongside Allie, which together are named the Nightmare Sisters.
The star also proudly spearheaded the launch of “Heels,” a new annual subscription-based membership platform connecting female wrestling fans and the women of AEW. The first event on August 7 was a success in Rhodes’ eyes with long-term plans to grow the community further. With so much going on we thought there was no better time to catch up with the busy queen B of AEW.
It’s been a few days since you deactivated your Twitter. What kind of difference has it made for you mentally?
Brandi Rhodes: I just think that right now there are other things that need my attention a lot more. I’m focusing on “Heels,” which Friday we had our first members based event. It was extremely successful. It’s nice to come together in a community of women that really appreciated it and enjoyed it. We had a really great time on Friday night. It was nice to put my energy into that. My energy is also going into the “Women’s Tag Team Cup Tournament”...It has been a really nice weekend to put all my time and energy into what I want to be focusing on right now.
The first AEW action figures have hit store shelves. That also has to be exciting to see fans, especially little girls adding a Brandi action figure to their collection.
It has been a week or so seeing them because Ringside Collectibles also had their shipments going out. So you had people pre-ordering getting theirs. Now people are going into stores getting theirs. Though I do hear in Walmart, Brandi is the White Whale. She is the one you can’t find. There have been people able to find her, but I’m definitely not as easy to find as some. I really like that actually. It’s kind of fun because people then make a big deal when they do find me.
I just had flashbacks when I would search Toys “R” Us for April O’Neil after collecting all the other original Ninja Turtles. Thanks for that. On the subject of the women’s tag tournament, how long have you wanted to do this?
It has been a really fun labor of love coming together with the tournament. This is something I thought about months back. It was a good idea, but we wanted to wait until it was the right time.I saw a lot of the ladies we were bringing in for AEW Dark were really talented. They were having their time to shine. I saw a lot of independent women who weren’t doing much because of the pandemic and knowing they were dying to get back out there and start building their brands again and seeing the wrestling world again. I thought it was a good opportunity to bring these women together along with the AEW women.
We wanted to see what could happen from that. What did happen was a really fun tournament. From seeing the first screener, I was blown away by how much attention to detail we have from production, all the mutual character pieces, the draws we’ve been dropping through social media. All of those details, I was in on every single one of them, but you are still surprised when you do see the final result and it’s better than you expected with your expectations already being pretty high. I’ve been happy with it, and the women involved have been happy with it. It’s something we worked towards and feel really good about.
Why was the decision made to put it on YouTube as opposed to Dynamite ?
With YouTube, it’s its own show. That means we are trusted enough to carry our own show and don't have to be compared to men. We were also not restricted on time. So it’s really the dream scenario. Better than finding out when we are live and something went long, you may only have four minutes to put it out there. That’s really hard, especially when you are trying to introduce new women and put that kind of pressure on them. Being it’s our own show without the restraints and to be able to tell these stories how we want to is a really great situation.
Do you see this tournament parlayed into a full-on women’s tag division?
The tournament has been really well-received. When I last checked the first episode surpassed 500,000 views on YouTube, which is kind where people start paying attention and say, “This is really cool.” On a success level, I think we’re doing well. I think it opens the door to possibilities for more. As far as the when, where and why, that isn’t something we’re not in any rush to do because we’re very new. To be able to do something like this and be successful this early is a really good sign.
I know there are many fans who want to see more women’s wrestling on the flagship show. How do you channel that feedback in a constructive way where you are providing what the audience wants, but at the same time making sure it’s not just having women’s matches for the sake of it?
It’s an interesting question because I don’t feel it really applies to me considering it’s not something week-to-week I discuss or plan. I took this tournament on as a side project. Of course, in doing the tournament I know what the criticisms have been. I know what they are and thought this would be really great for that, especially those who are die-hard women’s wrestling fans. As far as the week-to-week goes, unfortunately that’s a burden that lies elsewhere. Thankfully, it’s not one I have to navigate so frequently.
Going back to the tournament, you not only had a big role in planning. You are also participating. I don’t know how you find the time to train and stay ready.
As far as the in-ring work goes, I think a lot of people have realized I’m probably one of the most improved wrestlers in existence. When I started, I was terrible. I had no idea what was going on or what to do. I had the unfortunate luck of doing it live on television, which used to be the way it was for everyone. When we were in the “Divas” era most of those girls didn’t know what was going on and were thrown on live television and made fun of. I was at the end of this era, so I was one of them. To go from that to being able to put together an entire tournament and confidently do so, it’s really a lot of work. You can’t just wish upon a star and be able to work things out in the ring. It’s just not possible. I’ve put in plenty behind the scenes work.
I obviously have access to a lot. Dustin Rhodes is my brother-in-law, so any time I need anything or want to get in the ring and train, he is there for me. Every single week, never once has Dustin ever said, “Yeah, I don’t have time for you.” That’s a huge blessing. Also, the Nightmare Factory is here. QT Marshall and my husband [Cody] kind of run it, so it’s a great resource to have literally when I want it. I’ll be done with my work day at 12 at night, then head to the Nightmare Factory and train at 1 a.m.
People may also forget you have that athletic background.
I’m an athlete. I've skated for 17 years. You want something bad enough, you go after it. I spent eight hours a day at the ice arena and still did a full day of school, so you do the math on the sleep. It’s not a lot. You have to go after it fully if you want it bad enough. You don’t cut any corners. That’s where I’m at. I’m improving and learning every single I get in the ring. I’m proud of myself. I have absolutely done a huge improvement in a short period of time. That is all due to the fact I do this and have #DoneTheWork.
When you look at your progress, I think back to your time with Awesome Kong. Any update if we’ll see her again?
She is very passionate about wrestling and this business. She is very much still a part of things behind the scenes. A lot of the women love seeing her on the “Heels' ' calls because she is one of the women that really gets on and is a big part of that. Sometimes Dustin holds virtual training sessions on the weeks we’re not all together. She is always on for those. She is ingrained in our world. We miss her right now for sure. The pandemic was a problem, but now I think her and the rest of the cast have continued production on GLOW. We will see her soon hopefully. I’m very excited to see that season of GLOW because I’ve been a really big fan of the show.
Same. You talk about “Heels” getting off on the right foot. Fans are not one to hold back on feedback. How does it affect your plans for what you want “Heels” to become?
I think the word of mouth on “Heels” is going to be the best thing for it. After the event on Friday the word about it was positive. There was not a single person of the two hundred and change people who showed up that said I did not get what I expected or asked for...We want to keep the women excited and looking forward to different things. The plans are very much laid out for “Heels.” We’ve got a course of action for an entire year here. That course of action can change a little bit as the conditions of the world improves, but I think for now we’ve got plenty of events and virtual meet-and-greets and contests and cool things for these women. Not just monthly, but weekly...It’s a cool thing to talk to each other and motivate each other and share their slices of life and just have fun, which is so much of what is missing in life. These are trying times with current events. If “Heels” can be the bright light at the end of the tunnel for them, we’re happy to do whatever it takes to make it that.
Another thing for people to know out of the gate is that “Heels” is not ever going to be something I look to as a super profitable thing. It’s not intended to be. It’s intended to be something they can count on and grow with and learn with and get something out of. In order to run a multi-faceted platform like that, it costs money. It’s not cheap by any means. This is not going to be a huge cash grab for AEW. But it’s something fans will love and appreciate, so it’s worth all the work and effort. Not everything is about a dollar. Some things are about what’s right.
AEW Dynamite, Wednesdays, 8/7c, TNT