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World Title Aside, Cody Rhodes Still Has Plenty to Accomplish in AEW

As the company approaches its third anniversary, the American Nightmare has a list of goals both in the ring and out of it.

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Cody Rhodes on impending free agency: “As of now, my future is with AEW”

Despite rumors swirling that all four of the contracts of the AEW Executive Vice Presidents are up at the end of the year, it would be hard to picture the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega and Cody Rhodes anywhere but All Elite Wrestling.

The Bucks have reportedly re-upped with AEW, and it is nearly unfathomable that Omega would exit the company after carrying it throughout the year as world champion. But Rhodes is the lone EVP with a WWE pedigree. A surprise return in the Royal Rumble match, or even a headlining match at WrestleMania, could turn the industry upside down.

Rhodes possesses the talent to carry any company as the face of its brand, including New Japan Pro-Wrestling, WWE or even AEW, where he is still tied to the stipulation that he cannot wrestle for the world title. Asked where he sees his future, Rhodes’s answer is thoughtful and articulate.

“As of now, my future is with AEW,” he says. “AEW would be very strange without the core members of the revolution. We all still talk. We all have this admiration for each other. I can’t see myself anywhere else, and I’m very optimistic about what the future holds.”

Rhodes returns home to Georgia for this week’s Dynamite, which takes place at the Gas South Arena in Duluth. He will wrestle Andrade in an Atlanta Street Fight, which provides a chance for an encore to his last match in an equally familiar neighborhood.

“The last time I was home, I jumped off that oversized cage,” Rhodes says, referring to a spectacular moment in his match against Wardlow at Atlanta’s State Farm Arena in February of 2020. “This Dynamite is a gift for me, coming home. This is my homecoming, and it’s going to be very special.”

The charismatic Rhodes is one of the most talented performers in all of professional wrestling, and he now has a new audience watching his every move. He and his wife Brandi just welcomed their daughter into the world this spring, and Rhodes is eager to add a new chapter to his career as Liberty’s dad.

“Being a parent, it’s changed my perspective,” Rhodes says. “My goal is to wrestle for this little girl. I don’t even know if we’ll have her watch wrestling when she’s so young, but there is a picture of my father and sister, and he’s bleeding but she’s giving him a kiss on his forehead. To me, that’s a reminder of why we do this. I’m doing this to take care of my daughter, and I want her to be proud.”

Wrestling is Rhodes’s life work. The proud son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes, his vision for an advanced, modern home for pro wrestling evolved into AEW, a welcomed addition to the space that has carved its place into the wrestling landscape.

“We’re essentially at the three-year point of AEW, and our stability is the tell-tale sign that our vision was the proper vision,” Rhodes says. “We have such a stable company that Bryan Danielson decided to cross that line, that CM Punk decided to join after seven years away, that Adam Cole—who was being groomed to be a massive star in WWE—decided to cross the line. And that’s not a knock on them, it just shows that we have built a very stable infrastructure.

“It’s based around a joint vision, and the vision that’s working doesn’t belong to any of us. The fans had a vision, too, one they started to invest in with Bullet Club, New Japan Pro-Wrestling and Ring of Honor, supporting the Bucks, myself and Kenny. Tony was the only one to have the foresight to bring this all together, and we’re carrying on that vision. As a founding father or founding mother of AEW, you could walk at this point and still have a great story, a legacy. But everyone wants more.”

No one quite like Rhodes exists anywhere else in the wrestling industry. His family lineage is certainly noteworthy, yet he has also built an intrinsic connection with the audience. That may mean he is hearing a smattering of boos, which he has, perhaps most noticeably in October during the Dynamite in Boston. But that was the same evening he cut a captivating promo that seized the attention of the entire crowd and turned all the boos into cheers, a remarkable credit to him as a performer.

Long an industry maverick, Rhodes remains open-minded yet steadfast with his goals. As the executive vice president of live events and talent, he has found a real passion in galvanizing AEW’s community outreach team. Rhodes even changed his Twitter page to reflect their work, seeking to grow the department and connect with even more people around the globe.

“This is the best use of my page,” Rhodes says. “I want to further develop the community outreach program, following in the footsteps of the legendary [WWE’s] Sue Aitchison. Whether the cameras are on or off, we need to hit the mark of making people’s lives better. Tony Khan has been so supportive, and we’re looking to make lives brighter and help. [Community outreach ambassador] Amanda Huber has been an absolute godsend to the department, and I can’t say enough about her contributions.”

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Rhodes has a list full of goals for the upcoming year. While becoming AEW’s world champ is not currently among them, his plans never lack ambition or imaginativeness.

“I have a lot of data-based goals,” Rhodes says. “I ask Chris Harrington, our SVP, a really good number for a demo average. I always say I want to make AEW destination programming, and that’s numbers-based to me.

“And I’ve never shared this before, but I really thought that the PWI No. 1 spot had been mine once before, and I was shocked, genuinely, that I didn’t pick it up. That may sound silly, but I care about that, and I’m willing to say I care—the people that say they don’t, they typically care a lot about it, too. The AEW world championship is out of the question for me, but there are other goals that, for now, I’ll keep close to the chest.”

Since he first dreamed of a life in pro wrestling, Rhodes has only wanted to achieve one thing, which is everything. He is putting in the work, delivering the finest in-ring and mic performance of his career, giving air to the idea that there is no ceiling for what he can accomplish, both in AEW and beyond, in 2022.

“I’m looking to move toward undiscovered terrain,” Rhodes says. “I want to create what’s never happened before, so I am going to take a different approach than any other wrestler. That’s what I am looking forward to doing.”

MJF and CM Punk deliver scintillating promo

MJF and CM Punk combined for an exceptional verbal confrontation last week on Dynamite.

There were references, both direct and indirect, to John Cena, Triple H and The Miz. While MJF is bitingly sharp on the microphone, Punk had an answer for every insult hurled at him. And there was a craft to the way Punk brought the segment back to wrestling, which was wise since this is ultimately leading to a showdown in the ring.

All of the excitement was not solely in the ring. There was a “locker room sellout” backstage behind Tony Khan at his desk monitor in the Gorilla position, Sports Illustrated learned, full of star performers eager to watch and listen to Punk go to battle with MJF.

If this program runs through the next pay-per-view, which is expected, then there should be plenty of fireworks between the two.

The (online) week in wrestling

  • There may not be a more masterful performer in pro wrestling than Edge, who did a remarkable job of highlighting The Miz—even subtly referencing that Miz was mentioned on another program in the way he owns people’s headspace. 
  • Liv Morgan was also sharp on the mic while sharing the spotlight with Becky Lynch. Here’s hoping Morgan is able to start her first title run. 
  • Seth Rollins and Kevin Owens are great choices for Big E at the opening pay-per-view of 2022. But if Owens does not sign a new deal with WWE, then he is undoubtedly taking the pin here.
  • Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s Battle of Los Angeles returns in January. Is it possible we’ll see Bryan Danielson or Adam Cole join the upcoming tournament? 
  • Swole is parting ways with AEW. 
  • Kairi Sane is opening her own gym. 
  • CM Punk vs. Lee Moriarty is reason alone to watch tonight’s Dynamite. 
  • There has to be a faceoff between Brock Lesnar and Sami Zayn on this week’s SmackDown, right?
  • This Sunday’s WarGames could be a breakout moment for Bronson Rechsteiner, whose Bron Breakker character has yet to grow on me. 
  • After a massively disappointing run in WWE, former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez returns to the wrestling ring on Saturday at Triplemanía Regia. 
  • Heartbreaking news for the McAfee family. 

AAA set to crown new champion on Saturday

AAA’s Triplemanía Regia will take place on Saturday. Airing live on FITE, a highlight will be watching a new mega champion crowned.

Kenny Omega was originally scheduled to wrestle El Hijo del Vikingo, which had the potential to be the match of the year. But due to his growing list of injuries, Omega is unable to wrestle and has vacated the title. So a new champ will be crowned in a five-way match that features Vikingo, reigning Ring of Honor champion Bandido, AEW’s Bobby Fish and Jay Lethal and former WWE star Kalisto, who is now performing as Samuray Del Sol.

AAA learned two weeks ago that Omega would be unable to perform in this match, so the decision was made to vacate the title, leading to this multi-man title match.

Once Omega was ruled out, the initial plan was to have a match for the mega championship featuring a number of his past opponents, Sports Illustrated learned. This would have included Laredo Kid, Dragon Lee and Fénix against Vikingo in a four-way. But that proved complicated because those three were already in scheduled matches, with Dragon Lee and Laredo Kid squaring off in a tag match, and Fénix teaming with Penta against FTR for the AAA tag titles. So Konnan, who is AAA’s head of creative, worked with AEW’s Tony Khan to find the best talent available. In addition to Fish and Lethal, he also brought in a world-class performer in Kalisto, while GCW played a key role in getting Bandido on the show.

All signs still point to the Vikingo-Omega match happening, just now in 2022. It would be a spectacular spotlight for Vikingo, especially if he enters that bout as mega champion. This certainly appears to be his time to seize control of AAA, beginning on Saturday at Triplemanía Regia.

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Best wishes for a speedy recovery for JR.

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