Cody Rhodes shocked the pro wrestling world on the August 4 edition of AEW Dynamite when he teased a possible retirement from the ring. The tease came after Rhodes lost his main event match against the debuting Malakai Black. Black recently signed with the company after spending nearly five years with WWE, where he performed as Aleister Black.
Black won the match against Cody in convincing fashion, establishing himself as a top player in AEW. After the pinfall, Rhodes took the mic and made a short tearful speech, after which he began to remove his boots. But before he could complete the act, Black reentered the ring and attacked him from behind. So what does all of this mean for AEW?
The Founder & The Face
As the co-founder of All Elite Wrestling, Cody has been doing his part as the face of the brand since the company’s beginning in 2019. He’s been a top star and regularly featured as such throughout AEW’s short existence.
Rhodes has also branched out into Hollywood. Much of that is thanks to relationships built with TNT, the network that carries Dynamite and will also carry the upcoming Rampage. Cody has built himself and his company along the way, helping AEW to become the success that it is today.
However none of that seemed to suggest that Rhodes was on his way out of the pro wrestling business. Indeed, fans were caught completely unaware during his August 4 promo. Cody’s words were met with surprise from the Jacksonville crowd, who did not expect the night to end on such a bizarre note.
While it’s too early to know what all of this means, the truth is that two different scenarios could be in play here. The first is the most obvious one and it’s the one that would surely make even the most jaded fan roll his eyes in response. Perhaps all of this was nothing more than to just get Cody over.
Good Old-Fashioned Storytelling
The fact is that over the past several weeks, Rhodes has been hearing the boos from the live audience. That audience only just returned to the arenas, while AEW spent the bulk of 2020 airing shows with very few people in attendance due to the COVID pandemic. This made Rhodes’ recent crowd reactions all the more surprising.
Who would have expected that coming out of lockdown that The American Nightmare would suddenly be Public Enemy No.1? While Rhodes hasn’t made a lot of friends online due to some of his politics, his character is still a babyface. He’s continued to play his part on TV without the sold-out crowds. So why turn on him now?
Is Cody’s “retirement” promo simply a way to get sympathy back on his side? The crowd was in Black’s corner for the majority of the match, but when he attacked Rhodes after the bell? He was booed. If the plan was to rebalance the scales, then the plan worked brilliantly. But was that the idea behind the attack?
It’s a pro wrestling move that’s been used more times than the headlock over the years, but it’s also one that works pretty effectively. If the crowd isn’t doing what you want them to do, then give them something that will change their minds. If it works, great and if not, then try something else. Maybe it is just that simple.
Cody can now take a break from TV, while the diabolical Malakai Black begins his path of destruction in AEW. Black can build off his win over Cody, while the company consistently reminds the fans that Malakai’s AEW career began with a cheap-shot. Then, when the time is right, Cody returns like a man possessed and tears Black apart. The two go on to have a major feud and the fans, excited to see Cody again, go along for the thrill-ride.
But the second scenario that could play out here is Rhodes actually walking away from active competition. He is indeed much busier with commitments outside of AEW now than at any point before. Cody is a new father as well, which means his personal time is extremely more valuable to him now. It’s plausible that Rhodes will take a step back and it’s possible that step back will include a retirement from the ring.
It’s well documented that Cody, along with Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks, are all Executive Vice Presidents of AEW. They’re heavily involved behind the scenes and they all have a great deal to do with the company’s current success. But as time goes on and AEW continues to sign big name talent, it’s clear that there’s only so much spotlight to go around.
At some point, the four men will likely all step back from TV. It may not happen anytime soon, but it’s likely to happen eventually. This may not mean retirement for all four, but it could. As EVP’s, the quartet is committed to the continued growth and future prosperity of AEW. This means that the needs of the company should always be taken into consideration before their needs as individual talents.
If that is indeed the case, then the day will come that All Elite Wrestling will operate without the four founders at the helm. Cody Rhodes could be the first one to go. If that’s true, then what happened on August 4 could be a preview of what’s to come.
Cody Rhodes is an asset to AEW, both behind a desk and in the ring. If his promo on Dynamite was sincere, then fans could see him begin to transition out of the ring sooner rather than later. But if it was all done merely to get him over as a babyface while setting Malakai Black’s AEW run into motion, then it was a success. Either way, Cody Rhodes definitely seems to be on the right track.
Tom Clark is a Senior Pro Wrestling Analyst and Featured Columnist for Wrestling Rumors. His podcast, Tom Clark’s Main Event, is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Amazon Music, Audible, Spotify, YouTube and live every Friday at 12pm EST on Wrestling Rumors Facebook Live