The Three-Star Saviour
Cody Rhodes has donned many-a-moniker in his wrestling career. Some have been better than others, granted. But anyone following AEW Dynamite since its debut in October will likely agree that there’s no one word more befitting for him currently than ‘Undeniable’.
Ever since Cody and The Elite went ‘All In’ it’s been non-stop for the group, going from event-to-event building up momentum leading into their TNT TV debut with events such as Fight For The Fallen, Fyter Fest, and All Out.
The official start for All Elite Wrestling emanated from Las Vegas in May with Double or Nothing. In a show that featured sensational match-ups in The Young Bucks vs Lucha Bros and Kenny Omega vs Chris Jericho. It was Cody and his brother Dustin, after shedding the Goldust character, who left the sold-out crowd in emotional awe that evening.
It was a fascinating dynamic for a wrestling company leading in to Double or Nothing. Unlike any other major promotion, at that point they lacked any TV exposure. But they did have the Buck’s YouTube show, Being The Elite, arguably the catalyst for what eventually became AEW.
From there, in support of Double or Nothing, Cody began to produce the critically-acclaimed Road To… series. It was here where they originally aired the promo package for the match and for me, it positioned the match as what could be the match of the card. Framing it as ‘Generation vs Generation’ and how Cody wanted to ‘kill’ the attitude era.
The ‘kill the attitude era’ framing of the bout was divisive, but without it I’m not sure this match would have been nearly as good as it is.
The emotion of the affair swept the arena. Inciting ‘This Is Awesome!’ chants before the pair had even locked up. Dustin having to take a second to take it all in. The sentiment of the occasion visible in the both their faces. This was special.
What followed was a 20+ minute spectacle with some of the best storytelling you can find in a wrestling ring today. Featuring everything from former character call-backs, outside interference, Earl Hebner getting in the way of the camera, a good old-fashioned blade job. It was captivating. While there’s the usual ‘blood and guts’ argument to be had, in this instance it added that layer to a match which just elevates it that much more.
The match was awarded five stars from Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer.
In a promotion with a roster that includes Kenny Omega, Pentagon, and The Young Bucks. Was the three-star saviour, Cody, the man you expected to get the first five-star match in AEW history?
What’s followed in the months previous is the true rise of the American Nightmare. Stringing together an undefeated singles streak running in to Full Gear. The only blemish following the war with Dustin, was a time-limit draw against Darby Allin at Fight For The Fallen. Wins followed against Shawn Spears at All Out, and Sammy Guevara in the first wrestling match on TNT in nearly twenty years.
I’m a big supporter of Cody. Firmly believing that much like his father under Vince, he was able to take any shite gimmick he was handed and run with it. I unashamedly loved what he did with Stardust. ‘Dashing’ Cody Rhodes was superb. His feuds as part of Legacy against DX were entertaining. There was a time where I thought he’d actually get a chance at ‘the big one’ in WWE.
Cody saw the writing on the wall whilst in WWE, and took the – at the time – unheard of step away from the company of his own volition. Fast forward some years now and he’s heavily positioned himself as the top challenger to Chris Jericho and his AEW World Championship. It would be incredibly easy to argue that it’s a simple abuse of power and while some might vehemently say that, they clearly haven’t been paying attention to Dynamite.
Seeing Cody’s crowd reactions evolve on Dynamite every week have been simply unbelievable. The man is genuinely the biggest babyface in US wrestling today. It’s a testament to what can be accomplished without the proverbial ‘shackles’ of the WWE. Each week you’ve been able to feel the crowd getting hotter and hotter for him.
Naturally, his entrance on the debut episode of Dynamite was electric. The perfect way to introduce a new wrestling show to a worldwide audience. Follow that up with his lights out appearance the next week in the midst of an all out brawl between Dustin, Hangman and Jericho’s newly formed Inner Circle. Facing off with Le Champion before being attacked by Proud n Powerful. Only for the true salt of the earth MJF to make the save, teasing a turn in the process.
The feud really began to heat up on the October 23rd episode where we saw The Inner Circle make their way to their ticketed seats in the skybox. Where Jericho would petulantly interrupt Cody’s in-ring interview with Tony Schiavone. Resulting in Cody pulling in help from his pals in MJF, Dustin and WCW Legend Diamond Dallas Page to even the odds.
The group would storm through the crowd up towards The Inner Circles skybox where they’d locked themselves in, but Cody being absolute nails wrapped his hands in MJF’s Burberry scarf and punched through the glass to unlock the door. And here I was thinking Kenny had the Terminator gimmick.
Last week on the penultimate show before Full Gear played host to the first contract signing in wrestling history that didn’t result in one of the participants going through a table. What happened instead was Jericho’s Inner Circle compatriot, Sammy Guevara, appeared on the big screen directly behind Jericho’s sensational pumpkin suit jacket. Behind Sammy is Jake Hager kneeing Dustin with a low-blow (a nicely subtle dig at the result of his Bellator fight a few nights previous) and further assault by Dustin’s limo in a segment that largely had shades of the classic Nitro angle where the nWo threw Rey Mysterio in to the side of a truck.
The go-home show to Full Gear saw what’s widely being tipped as one of the best promos in wrestling history. Being compared to his father’s legendary ‘Hard Times’ promo, as well as other iconic mic-work like CM Punk’s pipe-bomb and Austin’s 3:16 promo.
If you’re reading this and you’ve not seen it, go and find it. Immediately.
Cody starts by putting over The Inner Circle, then discusses the various attacks and brawls between the new faction and The Elite (and friends), then finally setting his sights on Chris Jericho.
“This is Ellis Island for a professional wrestler! This is freedom!”
The crowd are hanging on and reacting to Cody’s every word. Giving him a “You Deserve It” chant in the process, just before he makes the announcement that should he fail to win the AEW Championship, he will never compete for the title again.
But this was the turning point in the promo where Cody would up his tempo and delivery. Every word coming out of his mouth busting at the seams with 100% conviction.
“It’s about my mother! It’s about my sister! It’s about my wife! It’s about the 14 years it took me to go from undesirable to un-god damn-deniable”
There was a moment in the wake of the Cody vs Dustin match where Cody displayed his excellent mic-work with the now infamous ‘I need my older brother’ line. You hate to hear a voice crack. But in promos like this it adds so much. And when Cody starts screaming what this match is all about to him you cannot help but be fully invested in Cody. This is how you sell a PPV on the go-home show.
He finishes the interview by teasing the Inner Circle vs The Elite match, in no particular form. All I know is after those few minutes. I’m in. And it’s so refreshing to say that because from what we’ve seen from AEW so far as a company, I’m not concerned with how it might go unlike in WWE. It’s a shame there’s an event around the corner dedicated to the Dusty creation, War Games. Because The Inner Circle vs The Elite would make for one hell of a match in that environment.
I’m still not sure whether the stipulation that Cody has put on himself is a good idea. I love that it has the potential to shut down the abuse-of-power side of the fence. But also if he were to lose it would be a shame to have to disregard him from the main event scene completely. That being said. A main event pool of Omega, Moxley, PAC and Hangman to name but a few doesn’t sound bad.
However, this is wrestling so even if he were to lose. I don’t think it will be long until they figure out some way to write around it. Have him turn in to the heel authority figure, have The Elite compete for his right to challenge again, there are plenty of creative options. And with it being a new company, any option has a fresh feeling about it.
As for who should come out on top at Full Gear. Before Wednesday’s episode of Dynamite I’d have told you it would be silly to take the title off of Jericho now. But I’ll be honest. Before the day of All Out I was adamant that Hangman needed to win the title. So what do I know?
Jericho has been astonishing in this latest recreation of himself and the gift of Jericho has bestowed upon us instant classics in: “a Little Bit of the Bubbly”, “Le Champion” and literally LOSING THE PHYSICAL BELT. Although I’m gonna be honest, I’m really starting to think Chris has got a drinking problem.
If Cody can harness the emotional side to this story as well as he did in his match with Dustin, there’s no reason why this match can’t steal the show from under the noses of Moxley and Omega or the rest of the card.
It’s a wonderful time to be a wrestling fan.
Five Stars In The Tokyo Dome
Bojack Wasteman features on Five Stars In The Tokyo Dome. A new wrestling podcast which delves deep into each five-star classic contest to uncover the contrasting styles and stories that make each match worthy of the five-star moniker.
Listen to Episode 1 which covers Cody vs Dustin Rhodes at AEW Double or Nothing in May of this year.