Let’s address the immediate criticism this article is going to get right here upfront: Cody Rhodes is obviously a fantastic businessman. He will go down in wrestling history, not only as maybe the greatest independent wrestler of the 2010s (Pre-Bullet Club Cody and early “American Nightmare” Cody was a must-see. Watch his WCPW/Defiant matches from this era for free here) but one of the most influential voices and personalities in wrestling history.
At the absolute least, with reports circulating that NXT is changing over to Tuesday nights, Cody Rhodes and AEW have beaten WWE and the Mcmahons in the “Wednesday Night Wars” which is an unbelievable feat that many said was impossible. Cody is a huge part of TBS’s new variety talent show, “Go Big Show” and has managed to get Shaquille O’Neal into the wrestling ring, something WWE has tried and failed to do for almost a decade now. The American Nightmare has already elevated himself in wrestling history above Eric Bischoff and he has only been doing this wrestling business thing for a bit over a year.
Anything AEW does is a must-watch, and that is in large part thanks to Cody Rhodes’s work as a businessman. However, that begs the question, is his work in the squared circle nearly as impactful?
The obvious answer: No.
Cody can wrestle; he showed that with his time in the Indies and Japan. Even the first few months of AEW were filled with great matches that told beautiful stories against Shawn Spears, Dustin Rhodes, Chris Jericho, and MJF. Since then? Not nearly as many. Cody’s most memorable match since his rivalry with MJF ended was a squash match against the late, great, Brodie Lee for the TNT Championship (which was not even an original idea, but a direct parallel to Vader and Inoki’s squash match in the early NJPW days).
This match’s impact was immediately softened when, less than a month later, Cody Rhodes pinned Brodie Lee to take his TNT Championship right back. As a matter of fact, since that loss almost seven months ago, Cody Rhodes has only lost one singles match (TNT title match against Darby Allin at Full Gear). In the last year, Cody has only lost five matches total, three of which are title matches.
Some of the most egregious victories in this span are against Jimmy Havoc, Lance Archer (who was in the midst of a dominant win streak), Jake Hager, Pentagon El Zero Meurtes, Rey Fenix, and The Butcher and the Blade (who were in the midst of a dominant win streak and had also beaten him just a week earlier). No matter who you are, no matter what your status is, if you see your name across from Cody Rhodes on the marquee, you are taking an L.
In AEW, wins and losses matter; it is why wrestlers’ records get displayed on their nameplates. Brodie Lee (before his injury and then untimely passing) was immediately removed from any title picture after taking a loss from Cody, and so was Lance Archer (zero title matches or number one contender opportunities since) and Jake Hager (zero title matches since) and Orange Cassidy (zero TNT championship opportunities). A loss to Cody not only means putting another loss on your record but also derailing any momentum or plans you have moving forward.
This is devastating for the main show staple but is even worse for the brands’ up-and-comers.
Cody Rhodes is regularly being fed squash matches against new talent or talent with lesser recognition. Why in the world did Cody Rhodes have two matches against Peter Avalon in 2021 already? Why did Cody Rhodes get a spot on AEW’s New Year’s Smash event just for squashing Matt Sydal? Cody Rhodes often gets fed one-half of a tag team (Anjelico, Scorpio Sky, Jungle Boy), which achieves what exactly?
Sure, maybe this match is giving this talent a bigger platform than they have had before, but that implies that the platform is at all flattering. Cody Rhodes matches are quickly becoming the lowest part of any AEW show, between the shameless advertising, predictable outcomes, and poor performances.
Whenever Cody comes to the ring (with the most over-the-top, eye-roll-inducing entrance, mind you), you are immediately reminded of everything that Cody Rhodes does outside of the ring. His entrance theme was changed from the fantastic “Kingdom” by Downstrait to a Snoop Dogg cover to promote their partnership on the “Go Big Show.” Then, the moment his feet touch the mat and the music ends, the commentary begins endlessly promoting his endeavors for him, going on and on about “Go Big Show”.
These are not matches to highlight Cody’s opponents, they are matches for and about Cody. This keeps AEW from developing young or homegrown talent, something that Cody has said multiple times is a passion of his.
However, you can not just have Cody Rhodes constantly taking losses. That lessens any victory over him and hurts any wrestler who has lost to him. It also lessens Cody’s purpose on the show, which is already a problem.
So what is the solution? How do you fix this issue without creating multiple issues in the process?
Well firstly, you need to limit the shameless plugging. We get it, Cody is doing things outside of wrestling, but we as viewers do not need to be reminded of that with his entrance, the commentary, and the commercials during his matches. Let the commercials do the advertising and let the wrestlers do the wrestling. If you feel like that will not draw enough attention, promise that the commercials you are showing are going to reveal clips they have never seen before.
Next, we have to get Cody fewer solo matches. This can be done one of two ways: give Cody an on-screen management position (which could be used in very creative ways where he often has to choose between his real-life friends in the Elite and keeping the locker room happy, and could be a long term story that could have a great pay off) or give him a tag partner. As a manager, he could support young stars on the show, often hyping them up for weeks before they premiere on Dynamite. As a tag team, he could focus on the tag team division, which is deep in AEW.
Overall, if Cody Rhodes continues to operate as he does now, AEW is going to start to struggle with some of the same problems that WWE has struggled with in the near past. This is especially upsetting for what has otherwise been one of the greatest promotions in wrestling history.