SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
I’ve heard it all since Cody Rhodes and AEW announced that they had officially parted ways after three years, unable to agree on terms of a new contract as a talent and company EVP. “Cody is ditching the revolution he started!” “He’ll never be used properly in WWE!” “He’s been in WWE before and the creative process doesn’t match his skillset!” Catering is worse up in Connecticut!” And on and on and on those comments, complaints, and rants went, bouncing around the Internet and social media like 75 runaway Ping-Pong balls on a hardwood floor.
You’re probably waiting for me to take out a shovel and bury those prickly opinions, but I can’t do it. The depths of social media aren’t wrong. Cody is ditching his own Revolution. It’s likely – almost probable – that he won’t be used to the fullest potential in the WWE. Cody is a control freak. He wants to run his own show and history tells us that won’t happen with Vince McMahon looming around the product like a Harry Potter Dementor. And who the heck knows? Tony Khan catering just might be five stars. Angry wrestling world, you’re right, but so am I.
That stuff doesn’t mater. This is the wrestling business, folks. Let’s not forget that. It’s fun, it’s art, it’s entertaining, but it’s a business and in a business, money, ego, and power typically trump fun. Cody sees himself as a top star and like top stars have always done, he’s smart to keep the business of pro wrestling at the front of his decision-making, while giving pro wrestling a strong reminder of how stars act.
It starts with ego. Not always a positive of the wrestling business, but the top stars have one and they’re big. Massive. And if you really break it down and admit a hard truth, a massive ego is needed to become and stay a top star in any entertainment business entity. Top athletes, top actors, and top musicians all must carry a healthy opinion of themselves in order to attract the masses.
Cody sees himself in that bright light. That exact vision is what led to him to leave the WWE in the first place – the notion that he was a star and could do big things and big business elsewhere. Cody bet on himself and won. Now, like any good businessperson and star, he wants to capitalize on that win.
How? Well, the first way is money. He wanted a check with lots of zeros on it and who could blame him? Again, top athletes, top actors, top musicians get paid. Fan favorites constantly leave their home team in a quest to line their bank accounts. He gets this with a move to WWE. Right, wrong, and sometimes incorrect, money provides a hierarchy for talent and the best want to be on top.
The second way is power. Cody wanted more of it. At the start of AEW he was swimming in it. He was on the booking committee with Tony Khan, his wife Brandi was involved in booking the women’s division, and he hired many of his friends in addition to featuring the Nightmare Factory – his wrestling school. We know the story by now. Khan took the book on his own, Brandi faded out of the booking picture and lost her way as a character, and other premiere talents joined the company that had as much influence as Cody or more. By packing up and making the move to WWE, Cody gets some power back. It may be short-lived, most power grabs in WWE are, but leaving flexed Cody’s muscle in the biggest way possible.
Can we agree that wrestling lacks premiere, big name stars? And I mean true big name acts. John Cena level or better. Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar, Kazuchika Okada? I’m sure I’m missing a couple, but you get the point. There are more hours of wrestling in a week than ever before and only a handful of premiere stars to fill them. With the move to leave AEW and head to WWE, Cody just may have ignited the anti-revolution by submitting to the business of the business. Ambitious others are likely to follow because that’s how top stars think. Not only does Cody have a blueprint, but he’s also on the other side of the line to sell. The ego, money, and power in the business are strong beacons, pulsing at talent who want to chase it.
And why not? Wrestling needs more of that me first, star attitude. The last days of the old black and gold NXT would tell you otherwise, but the business isn’t a traveling theater troupe, working as one unit to put on the best show possible. The wrestling business is a star first business and in order for that to work, there has to be stars willing to optically act the part. Sometimes that means making tough, selfish business choices.
Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Roman Reigns, and Brock Lesnar have all been top draws and moneymakers. Neither of those gentlemen would have sacrificed dollars or power in an effort to be simply be a part of something special. They saw themselves as alphas and worked the business however they could to maintain that status. Cody Rhodes just did the same thing. In a world where company allegiances are talked about more than ever, he shocked things into focus with the reminder that sometimes selfish makes stars.
Is this all going to work out for Cody? Don’t know. Couldn’t tell you. Neither can he. The seven figure checks will cash nicely and that should stroke his ego for a little while. It’s the pesky power element that’s in question. In WWE it’s a one-man game with Vince McMahon holding the cards and playing them however he likes. It’s Cody’s job to prove himself out and deliver. That’s what stars do too.