NEW YORK, NY – The wrestling world’s most meaningful moment of 2020 belongs to Cody Rhodes.
On Wednesday night in Atlanta, Cody Rhodes came flying off the top of a steel cage, hitting a moonsault to win an emotionally charged match against Wardlow and finalize a pay-per-view date with MJF, concluding Wednesday Night Dynamite with the flair and sizzle once exclusively reserved for Monday nights.
The match was succinct—lasting just over 11 minutes—but captured the intensity and passion needed to advance the story between Rhodes and MJF. There have been other significant moments thus far in 2020, including Drew McIntyre and Charlotte Flair winning, respectively, the men’s and women’s Royal Rumble matches, as well as Will Ospreay moving to the heavyweight division. But the backdrop for Rhodes’s flight certainly enhanced the significance.
The show took place in his hometown of Atlanta, also the site of many of his father Dusty Rhodes’s signature moments. As Rhodes climbed the steel structure, on the precipice of creating an enduring memory for AEW and throughout the industry, it was as if time stood still. Rhodes was once considered too bland to star as a top-tier, elite talent. WWE believed in him, just not on the top of the card. WWE believed in him, just not on the top of the card. It treated him like a sideshow attraction, just as it had his father.
Then, suddenly, Rhodes took a leap of faith to connect on a moment he had been waiting for his entire life.
“That was a very Terry Funk style of a moonsault,” said Rhodes. “I’m a bigger guy than people think, so the moonsault doesn’t come off easily.”
Standing atop the cage, ignoring the enormity of the moment, Rhodes closed his eyes and made every effort to focus on only one element of his jump.
“The only piece of thinking in my mind was to throw my head back,” said Rhodes. “My body will go where my head will go, that’s something John Laurinaitis and Dean Malenko told me when I first started doing the moonsault. As long as I threw my head back, I knew I’d be OK.”
Rhodes’ moonsault was a spectacular sight to see, but the true meaning of the move was found in its emotion. Narrated by the iconic Jim Ross, with his southern twang bringing definition to the moment in a fashion similar to Howard Cosell, Rhodes’ move culminated a match that left him beaten, bloodied and constantly overcoming the odds.
“That’s what I bring,” said Rhodes. “Matt and Nick [Jackson] introduced a new style of tag team psychology. Kenny Omega provides an absolutely different way of doing wrestling that is really important to the evolution of wrestling. Hangman is a big run-and-gun heavyweight. My strength is plugging into the wrestling I grew up on, from the late ’80s to the early ’90s and even farther back. That style was a little bit more disciplined, a little bit more deliberate, and I complement those guys by doing that.
“I don’t really consider it a ‘territory style’ match. In this weird way, we’re in new territory. All the older wrestlers will tell you, ‘What’s old is new.’ They’ve never been more right. All these elements of magic are available to use from some of the greats, and I try to pick as much as I can from some of the best ever. And I’m not going to name names, but when you have the two greatest of all-time texting you every week critiquing your work, there is not a better pep talk than that.”
Constructing the cage before the match, which Rhodes encountered during his time on the independent circuit, can present major problems if set-up goes awry, especially in an environment as unforgiving as live television, and Rhodes was adamant that the already-constructed cage instead be lowered from the rafters.
“The cage has to be lowered, that was my rule,” said Rhodes. “So I ended up with the highest cage I could possibly get, and that cost me. I’m terrified of heights. That’s why my eyes are closed.
“I thought about it all day. Tony Khan was adamant that I didn’t do it. I’ve never seen a boss like him and how he leads, and the way he cares about his investments. Too many people were trying to talk me out of it. Typically, I’m by the ‘Go position’ during our show, but I stayed away.”
Rhodes spoke about the meaning of the moment with Sports Illustrated on Sunday during the unveiling of the new AEW action figure line by Jazwares at the New York Toy Fair.
“This is another one of those ‘They’re real’ moments for us,” said Rhodes. “I really like those ‘They’re real’ moments. I don’t like them as a way to rub it in people’s faces who disbelieved. I think it helps people who believe.
“It’s not unlike Picard. I’m watching Picard on CBS All Access right now, and if no one is talking to me about Picard, I’m not happy. It’s that weird ‘success begets success.’ For people who bought in and believe, I want them to know there is a wicked cool toy company in Jazwares. The line is amazing, they’ve blown away current wrestling figures. I’m proud to be part of the first line. They’ve set a new standard in wrestling figures.”
Rhodes continues to set a new standard in his ability to harness and evoke emotion, which has been on full display in his storyline with MJF.
“There is a pure evil to Max,” said Rhodes. “He’s unlike anyone who I’ve ever encountered in pro wrestling. I don’t think anyone knows the real Max. He lives in Long Island with his family, and I think they’re the only people, when that door closes, that know who Max really is. His commitment is incredible.”
Their program ignited in November at the Full Gear pay-per-view when MJF cost Rhodes his opportunity at the AEW title, then added an exclamation point following the match with a low blow. The ensuing three months have seen Rhodes diligently pursue MJF. After being a constant source of ridicule, taking lashes, and overcoming MJF’s bodyguard Wardlow in a steel cage, Rhodes is ready to deliver more of his old-school magic this Saturday at AEW’s Revolution pay-per-view.
For those who relish a complicated narrative, the MJF-Rhodes story has been far from linear. Rhodes has voiced his frustration that MJF cost him the title match against Jericho, while MJF’s repeated defense is that Rhodes simply used him for his own success.
“There is a deeper element at play,” said Rhodes. “That’s why I don’t like the term ‘heel.’ If you look back at Christmas night in World Class Championship Wrestling from 1982, the night Michael Hayes turned on Kerry Von Erich. That’s not what happened. He got kneed by Flair into Kerry, and then Terry defended him because he only saw the second half of the hit. There was not a plain, black-and-white heel turn.
“Max talks about how I held him down, and that genuinely hurts. Now he’s in the big spotlight, in the second main event of a show in a sold-out arena, and we’ll see what he can do.”
Before arriving at Saturday’s pay-per-view, Rhodes is again willing to put his body and soul at risk to maintain the momentum necessary to becoming the most compelling show on Wednesday nights.
“That was my favorite episode of Dynamite, from top to bottom,” said Rhodes. “The tag team battle royal, the tag team title match, Cobb was there, Nyla cut a live promo in front of a very rambunctious audience and she stepped right into the role as champion and delivered. I loved the show, it was very much a snapshot of what Dynamite is supposed to be.”
After the Dynamite cameras stopped rolling, Rhodes was just getting started. With his face still covered in blood and tears welling in his eyes, he grabbed a live microphone and revealed just how much the moment in Atlanta meant to him.
“That moment was real,” said Rhodes. “We’ll never be back in year one or year two of AEW, and I want to remember every second of it and every face. It’s the encore at a concert, and I’ll stay out there until they kick me out.”
Rhodes spoke to the significance of Baker Street, a route that runs alongside the venue.
“That street is where all the fans collect before and after the show,” said Rhodes. “When I was a kid, up until that moment, I literally didn’t have a clue how popular Dusty was. Sting was my favorite wrestler, but Dusty got a pop as big as his. That was when I started to realize his significance, and it happened right there on that street in that same spot. Getting in that building is hard and complicated and everyone is always late, but I know that Baker Street spot.”
Moving forward for Rhodes, there are no certainties when fighting against a Vince McMahon-led product. But there certainly are a load of questions.
Can AEW maintain its strong TV ratings? Could the storylines go awry? What does the competition have in store to ensure they become destination viewing?
None of that mattered as Rhodes climbed the cage last Wednesday, reaching an entirely new height in the industry.
“I didn’t have time to think too much,” said Rhodes. “As soon as my feet were planted, I knew I was going to go.”