McGuire’s Monday: If Cody Rhodes’ departure means AEW is moving further toward being a one-man show, what does it mean for his legacy and the promoter’s future?

By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)

It’s been six days since the conveniently coordinated announcement regarding Cody and Brandi Rhodes leaving AEW was made. I’ll refrain from any “it’s a work!” pontifications here because it appears as though the cool kids around the Internet Wrestling Community don’t think it’s cute or fun to speculate on the work/shoot stat because there’s just no way this isn’t 100 percent real. But, well, you know.

Anyway, there’s been a zillion things written and said about all of it since that fateful morning. If this feature was called “McGuire’s Tuesdays,” I probably would have thrown my hollow voice down that echo chamber in the immediate aftermath as well. Comments were made. Even Kenny Omega offered himself up for an interview to talk about it, among other things.

Everyone has a take. Everyone has a rumor. Everyone has a theory. None of them matter to me in particular. Why?

SILENCE IS EASY

Because we haven’t heard anything from Cody or Brandi Rhodes yet.

Or, well, anything substantial, at least. Outside of the statements everyone involved released and outside of a few tweets that Cody wrote — one about Girl Scout cookies, mind you — Brandi and Cody have kept to themselves and I love it. While a decision like that from one of the company’s EVPs felt impossible three years ago (or even three months ago), you had to know that if something like this ever happened, the immediate insatiable juices would be flowing from us wrestling fans (me included) to somehow find out what really happened behind the scenes. Not saying a word to fan any flame is either very classy or very calculated.

Or, maybe, both.

Either way, as of this writing, we don’t know. We just don’t know what happened and we just don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ll even take that a step forward and add this to it as well: We also don’t know if he’s going to WWE. Color me naive, but wrestling reporting has been incorrect before, and while all signs seem to point to him returning to the conglomerate, I’m not believing anything until I see that guy pop up on WWE television. Meanwhile, jokers like me get to sit around and wonder what exactly is happening with all of this, formulating theories that range from the absurd to the plausible to the inevitable.

But that doesn’t matter right now. Instead, what matters is …

LOOKING LONG-TERM

… What will Cody Rhodes’s legacy in professional wrestling be after it is all said and done?

The obvious criticism regarding the decision to leave AEW deals within the orbit of “lifetime employee.” If he wanted a job forever, he had a job forever. And while I encourage everybody to get behind anyone who wants to make a huge life change and bet on themselves to follow a passion or some level of sanctified greatness … well, didn’t Cody already do that? Let’s not forget about the time Cody left WWE initially. If I recall, a lot of his departure statement then was based around the notion of chasing one’s dreams, knowing there’s something better out there, etc.

Then the weird thing happened: He actually did it. He left, he reinvented himself on the independent circuit, he hit somewhat of a credibility lottery when he was embraced by the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, Tony Khan came into the picture and the wrestling business changed forever. And let’s not understate that either.

The wrestling business. Changed. Forever.

And so how does the move to leave manipulate the glasses through which we will see him after the dust has settled? Let’s pretend AEW lasts another 50 years and let’s pretend Cody actually never goes back there. Is Cody’s role in the formation of the company conveniently wiped from the history books, or at the very least, minimized in a way that will inevitably be unfair? There’s a reason Vince McMahon’s likeness is synonymous with pro wrestling in America to even non-wrestling fans while not one contestant on Family Feud could come up with a single name of any one of the old territory owners that McMahon bought out — even if they laid the groundwork for where McMahon has taken things today.

For being a guy who seems so desperately aware of his position in his profession (and, to be fair, seemingly life), the departure seems a little shortsighted. I like to think that even if you walk into a job and immediately know you’re going to hate it, you should stick it out for at least a year to see if things even out. By that metric, I’d gather that if you up and become a co-founder of a company in which you are an Executive Vice President and one of its biggest stars … maybe five years would be the threshold you’d want to reach before bailing?

But Cody didn’t even make it that far — even if he left some bread crumbs along the way.

WHAT DID THIS MEAN?

If the reporting is true, Cody’s contract ran out at the end of December. A week or two before that happened, Cody went on Sammy Guevara’s vlog and said this:

“I am thankful to the fans that cheer for me and I am thankful to the fans who boo me because both sets of fans are ready to go on a ride that is just bizarre and not … it’s not the path that you think. We’re not doing what’s been done before.”

It’s hard not to look at that now, some two months later, and wonder just what the hell he was talking about back then. Was he speaking selfishly on behalf of his own career, knowing that drastic change was imminent? Was there a wild story AEW had planned for him that straddled the heel/babyface line unlike it ever has before? Did it mean he would not re-sign with the company, sign to New Japan full-time and walk through the forbidden door from the other side?

Whatever it was, those tiny 18 seconds of monologue continue to stick with me as all this unfolds. Because, to be fair, he was right so far: Watching someone who founded a wrestling company and became a star within its universe bail on it in less than five years to allegedly re-join the often-derided Mecca that is WWE (and also happens to be the company’s biggest competition) is actually something we’ve never seen before. What specifically happens next, though, is something only he and a handful of other people in this world seem to know.

And again, that’s fine by me. Silence is the best option in these cases and it’s not like Cody didn’t hear all those boos while he was in an AEW ring the last several months. He surely knows there were just as many people saying “thank you” on the Twitter Machine as there were people posting breath-of-fresh-air gifs when he announced his departure. Plus, if we’re being honest, goodbyes and AEW haven’t seen eye to eye in the company’s short history. Imagine how much the world would have melted had Tony Khan tweeted “Cody’s out. You guys booed him and I thought his promos sucked. Refused to turn heel so I didn’t renew his contract. Don’t forget #AEWDynamite at 8 p.m. Wednesday on TBS!”

Instead, we got hugs and kisses all the way around. That is, until …

FITTING IN

The rumors trickled out that some talent in AEW were happy to see him go. More rumors surfaced that some people behind the scenes disliked Brandi. And then Kenny Omega gave an interview. And among all the things he said in the interview to WrestlingObserver.com, this is the only thing worth dissecting in my mind:

“There’s Kenny doing his thing, there’s The Bucks doing their thing, and there’s the Codyverse over there doing whatever it is that he does, and then there’s the stuff that Tony [Khan] does,” Omega said. “And then eventually, as you know, I guess probably a lot of fans know now, it’s essentially now just Tony’s show. And of course he’s always going to listen to our advice and take our suggestions to heart, but AEW is very much Tony’s thing, Tony’s baby, and we’re there to support it in any way that we can. And it’s very possible that this current version of AEW just wasn’t a good fit for Cody, to Cody.”

Well, there are two things here. One, if the company you helped co-found isn’t a good fit for you only a handful of years into its existence, it might be prudent to ask what, precisely, would be a good fit for you. Maybe Cody had some power stripped away from him and maybe he was a little annoyed with the creative options in front of him, but I don’t think anyone could ever in their wildest imagination think WWE would be the alternative to bad creative or more freedom at this point. Plans change, pal, and if Vince (or whoever is running things over there now) wakes up the day after you ink a deal and decides you’re only going to fit in on NXT LvlUp, the prospect of being a heel in AEW feels a lot more alluring.

The second thing is more interesting, though, and that’s the Tony Khan piece. Since the inception of AEW, there’s been this subliminal narrative that it will succeed if only because it markets itself as “not WWE” — and don’t think the company hasn’t leaned into that concept. But perhaps the biggest, most scrutinized element of WWE is that it has only one guy who makes the decisions and that one guy has been an egomaniacal, out of touch man-brat for decades and he has single-handedly ruined his own company.

So, what was the alternative for those who didn’t want to go to WWE? Head to AEW, where wrestlers are heard, the owner is more hands-off and everyone lives in harmony? You want to be creative? Go there. You want to never change or conform? Go there. You want to feel like you’re able to be a wrestler? Go there. You want to dedicate yourself to giving the fans what they want, rather than what you think they want? Go there.

Well, yeah, but …

THE NEXT VINCE?

… Tony Khan is currently 39 years old and let’s not forget that Vince McMahon was 39 years old once upon a time, too. You know what year it was when Vince McMahon was 39 years old? 1981. You know what he did two years later? He rattled the wrestling world by splitting from the NWA. In ’84, he landed Hulk Hogan. The rest is history. And you know what? Even though he was a polarizing figure at the time, there weren’t not people who considered him a visionary back then, and those people who did were right. But what happened over time? McMahon drifted away from the groundwork of the business. Promos became scripted. His inner circle grew. He ventured into other avenues of business. He hired teams of writers filled with people who didn’t know a wrist-lock from a wrist-watch.

And so, let’s ask: How worried should we be that in only a few short years, the consolidation of power in AEW has been distilled down, by and large, to one guy? And how dangerous is that for the future of AEW?

We can’t overlook the missteps — the weirdly confrontational Twitter interactions, the defiance when the bombs didn’t go off in that death match, the constant stream of announcements that sometimes aren’t announcements at all. And all that’s not to mention what it’s like when you go to a live AEW show and Tony Khan comes out to cosplay a scene in Succession, making sure he’s the center of attention before all his fans make their way out of the building. I wrote this about Vince McMahon a handful of months ago: No one man should have all that power. If we aren’t completely there with TK quite yet, you can’t tell me AEW isn’t slowly migrating in that direction.

So, what does that mean for Cody? Well, it means that Cody should go start his own promotion. Again. But this time, completely on his own. He probably won’t be happy unless he’s the guy calling all the shots (presumably with his wife as well), and it doesn’t sound like he’ll settle for much less than “boss” anywhere he goes. Think back to how divisive some of his AEW run was. There’s no denying that there was a period of time in the company when it certainly felt like there was one part of the show wherein the Bucks, Jon Moxley, Omega, and Adam Page dominated the screen, and then there was another part of the show, where Cody, QT Marshall, Brandi and any one of the 5,000 members of the Nightmare Factory dominated the screen. Those two worlds rarely interacted and it often felt like viewers’ tastes heavily preferred the former over the latter.

But that’s not to say Cody can’t go out on his own and be successful, should he ever want to completely go into business for himself. You don’t land a judging spot on a competition show or a reality show based on your personal life if you can’t hustle, and Cody has proven more than once he’s a low-key savage hustler. So much so that WWE seems so … impossible? Incorrect? Too obvious? Destined to implode? Take any of those and you wouldn’t be wrong. Cody is at his best when he bets on himself.

As for my unwarranted advice that doesn’t matter even the tinniest of bits? If I’m Cody, I head back back to the indies. Reunite with your pal Matt Cardona and reinvent yourself again. Shoot, give the NWA a real shot and try to bring that back to prominence. Work when you want to and not when you have to. Get back the credibility you lost during the AEW years and then see where things stand.

Or, I don’t know. Be a guest on the Broken Skull Sessions, land some cheap buzz and fall into a mid-card feud with Happy Corbin.

Whatever he ends up choosing doesn’t matter right now because right now he’s the winner. He has the entire wrestling world talking about him and his whereabouts and he has everyone on pins and needles waiting to hear the next rumor about what might happen next. Will all of this pay off in the long run? Or will that tiny white ball inevitably land on red and all those thousands of dollars you just won at the table are gone forever?

Only time will tell. For now, though, it’s just fun to watch the wheel spin.


Readers Comments (1)

  1. Vince was born in 1945, he was 39 in 1984. Fine article otherwise.

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