AEW’s Brandi Rhodes Launches New Initiative to Make Wrestling More Welcoming to Women

AEW is hoping to carve out a space for female fans in the male-dominated wrestling industry.
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All Elite Wrestling is providing a new platform for its female fans.

Wrestling has long been a male-dominated industry, from the performers to the crowds in attendance at events. But AEW is making strides in creating a welcoming atmosphere for females, a fan base that has not had its voice heard nearly enough in wrestling’s past or present.

“I still don’t feel comfortable in wrestling, and I’m the Chief Brand Officer of a major organization,” said AEW CBO Brandi Rhodes. “Wrestling has a really long way to go with women.”

Led by Rhodes, the company has officially launched AEW Heels, a female-focused wrestling group open to anyone who identifies as female. The goal is to create a community where people can share ideas about wrestling, as well as focus on topics like succeeding in the workplace and empowerment.

“The idea came from me watching people interact on social media,” said Rhodes. “I saw women getting bashed for having an opinion just because they were a woman having an opinion. That inspired me to create a place where female fans can voice their opinions.

“Don’t let someone take your opinion away from you. Don’t let that ever shut you down, talk about what you love. This platform is a place where women can be themselves as wrestling fans, create friendships, and learn. We can create a movement.”

Rhodes is the 37-year-old Brandi Runnels, and she brings a wealth of experience to her position as CBO. She also carries a degree from the prestigious University of Michigan, as well as a master’s degree from the University of Miami, though questions about her education are not often included when critics opine about her ascent in the wrestling business.

“I’m reminded of that every time I’m told I only have my position because I slept my way into it,” said Rhodes, whose husband is AEW Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes. “In wrestling, the man is Adam and the woman is Eve. Adam belongs and Eve does not. That’s a perception that needs to change.”

Women have played a role in wrestling, but largely over the past few decades as sex symbols and the characters responsible for driving a wedge between male performers. That has certainly changed, and a seminal moment that reverberated across the entire industry was Becky Lynch winning the main event of WrestleMania 35, but there is still immense room for growth.

“This is just the beginning,” said Rhodes, who has planned an AEW Heels event for Friday, August 7 that includes a Q&A with AEW referee Aubrey Edwards, a session on respect and empowerment in the workplace, and a social media strategizing discussion. “There is a lot more to my story than you see on the surface. People don’t see the challenges I face on a regular basis, or the ones that every woman is facing. Now, as part of this community, we can be part of that together. We’re going to be real, and I think that’s what people want these days.”

The progression of AEW’s women’s division has been a fiercely debated topic on social media, with many fans eager to see more air time and storylines. Rhodes is certainly aware of the feedback, and part of her success as an executive is her ability to listen to AEW’s passionate fans. But she also offered insight that backs up her belief that the division is making forward progress.

“I see people saying they want more for the women in AEW, and that’s where my idea for the Tag Team Cup Tournament came from,” said Rhodes. “I don’t book the women’s division, but I help out wherever I can, and I’m really excited for this tournament.”

The eight-team tag tournament kicked off last night, featuring a blend of emerging stars. Madusa, who starred in WCW, WWE, and throughout Japan, opened the tourney by showing off the trophy that will belong to the winning team, and the duo of Tony Schiavone and the vastly underrated Veda Scott, who has deserved a shot in a bigger company for years, handled commentary.

Rhodes expanded on the decision to air the tag tournament as a standalone on AEW’s YouTube channel instead of putting the matches on Dynamite or Dark.

“I hope people take their cues from the women involved, because we’re really excited about this,” said Rhodes. This exists on its own, with no restraints. I think people are going to be charmed by it, both by the production and the talent.

“Very quickly, it’s become a labor of love, with graphics, travel, filming pre-tapes, every detail. People are working really hard to create new content. And it’s not tacked onto Dark or Dynamite, this is the start of something great for the women’s division.”

Rhodes is one of the division’s strongest advocates, and she plans on offering that same support in AEW Heels.

“I’ll always fight for women,” said Rhodes. “It’s very important to me to keep forging forward, and a big part of that is building a community for women.”

Rhodes added that AEW’s talent base is eager to be part of upcoming Heels events, and she makes no secret about her desire to build the most diverse, dynamic, and compelling group of women in the wrestling business.

“The connections you’re going to make and the friendships you’re going to have, it’s going to be very powerful,” said Rhodes. “Women have been waiting for a chance to show their love for wrestling, and this is a chance to do it.

“That’s why we’re creating this platform. Women can have fulfilling experiences all year round about something they love.”

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.