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By Mike Johnson on 2021-10-22 10:38:00

AEW kicks off another busy weekend of TV on TNT tonight with the return of Rampage.  Tomorrow, however, AEW Saturday Night Dynamite will feature the third match in the Malakai Black vs. Cody Rhodes trilogy, followed by the season finale of the "Rhodes to the Top" reality series starring Cody and Brandi Rhodes.  Yesterday, Cody sat down with to take it all in and discuss a number of different topics before he headed to Orlando for Dynamite.

Mike Johnson: So sir, first of all, how are you and how's life?

Cody Rhodes: Oh life, it couldn't be better. The baby is doing so well and Brandi's cruising, she's training right now. So I mean, we're in the season. I try to be real aware of what's a high and what's a low, and we've definitely been riding on a high for some time. So I guess the term people use now, very blessed. A blessed time.

Mike Johnson: Let's talk about Rhodes to the Top because the season finale, the sixth episode is going to air this Saturday. What were your expectations going? Let me preface this, obviously being a professional wrestler and growing up in a professional wrestling family, you're no stranger to having your family be in the fishbowl where everybody's sort of aware of who you are when you're out in public and being a public persona. But reality TV is a bit of a different animal in terms of the production. What were your expectations going into the show versus what they actually ended up being?  How different is the final product from what you remember in the moment?

Cody Rhodes: Well, I think expectations wise, I really didn't have any because I'm not a reality connoisseur whereas Brandi watches a lot more reality TV and things of that nature. But instead of expectations, I kind of had guidelines in place whereas I knew it's a reality show and if you're going to peel back the curtain, if you try to set up more curtains beyond the curtain, you're actually insulting the audience further. So I knew we were going to be opening up an area that used to be very taboo and I was trained old school so that was the biggest thing I had to live with and come to terms with is they're going to see it all, good, bad, ugly, they're going to see this management side, they're going to see how Tony runs the ship, they're going to see how Brandi is in her personal life.  They're going to see it all and I had to basically just own that and live with it. And I am happy as far as I looked at the episodes in advance, but I really kudos to our friends at Warner Media and that's Jenny and then our friends at Shed Media, Sam the show runner, they did justice to my guidelines in terms of they didn't frame it up like a everyday reality show. They got so much behind the scenes which is really a reward for fans and they really dove into my personal life in a raw way during a raw time. And I watched that back and appreciate it because it's authentic.

Mike Johnson: I don't know if you've gone back and watched the episodes yet, but how did you feel watching them and seeing yourself as a third person watching yourself, because that has to be a different experience than going back and watching tapes of your matches?

Cody Rhodes: Ultimately, it comes down to there's really three point points of the show that resonated with me. For one, I'm so happy that I'll forever have this home movie of Liberty being born. Two, I have my sister blossoming on television and into this role that she was almost made for because she inherited more from Dusty than perhaps me or Dustin combined. And the big piece of it is what's happening right now between me and the fans. The fifth and this season finale Saturday night, those topics weren't shied away from, they were covered and I don't know any time in any wrestler's career had they hit right on that note right as it was happening and I don't mean to talk vaguely, I'm specifically referencing that we have a lot of the audience that is on board and they're part of this Nightmare Family. And then we also have a lot of the audience that's like okay, enough Cody, please enough, enough. And to see that juxtaposition and see it in real time and see how it actually affects me, not just as a performer but as a human, that's a part of watching those episodes back that's hardest, but also I'm so glad it happened when it did.

Mike Johnson: I was going to ask you about the fans, I was there at the Grand Slam show in New York City obviously, because it's where I live.  You come out, Brandi's back with you for the first time within the confines of the storylines, it's the big rematch with Malakai Black and a good portion of my hometown doesn't really take to you. When you're in that moment walking to the ring and it's not what you might expect, how much does that throw you off as a performer when you're about to go out there and be live on television?

Cody Rhodes: Well for New York City, it was what I expected. I had no qualms at all about what we were going to be presented with and I think in terms of what I was preparing for that night, it was designed around the idea that perhaps a shiny new toy is the one that they cheer and perhaps this is a night to be the aggressor in this match. But for me, I just need...Tully Blanchard's rule is they got to be loud and it's got to be long, the loudest, the longness. So I really love it. I know that's wild. I love it if it's one way, I love it if it's another, I especially love it if it's split down the middle, because that creates really fun component of your match but it creates a ton of speculation and so many people have been educated to just our competition's product for so long. I think they have an idea where it's going and I'm really the first to tell them this is going somewhere that's never been gone before. I mean, that's the story of AEW is this is a different frontier we're on. So for me, I think all my experience leading up to this point having done this since I was 15 and having been born into it, I'm ready for any type of crowd reaction. The only type of crowd reaction that would scare me is as you know, the non reaction.

Mike Johnson: The last thing you want is to be out there and not having the crowd care about what you do so I totally understand where you're coming from. You mentioned the new frontier with AEW. To me, part of the story of AEW is trying to foster and create this new culture, not just for the fans, but also behind the scenes in terms of how wrestlers are treated, what the locker room is like, collaboration. Obviously you lived in a different realm in your entire career pretty much was in a different realm until you left that company. How hard has it been or how easy has it been maintaining that sort of collaborative atmosphere and maintaining sort of new realm and that sort of new backstage environment for the company as it's grown older and people kind of grow into their roles?

Cody Rhodes: Well, I think it's stayed a winning, I always like to tell people it's a winning culture and more than anything, it's a team culture. And the reason I say teams because the other wrestling companies I worked for, it's not that they weren't a team, but the AEW environment is extremely community. That hasn't changed at all in the past three years. I think more than anything, we've opened our gates up and more free agents have come in and big free agents at that. Then you have young up and coming type free agents. And even with those threats to people's individual spots, to those threats, most of the wrestlers, the larger percentage of our roster is aware, okay, that motivates me. That doesn't discourage me, that motivates me and that's young and old. and also there's this undercurrent. And again, I hate speaking vaguely but it's just how I speak. There's this undercurrent of maturity say AEW that you've been backstage and you might have sense it. When you have some of these professionals who have been doing this for over a decade who genuinely know what they're doing in terms of how to lead and listening to a crowd and have parallels and comparisons and frames of reference, that creates a really good structure. And I'm actually going to use my opponent who I have nothing in common with, nothing at all, and really barely know Malakai Black, Tommy and barely know him, but he has a presence about him that there is a group of young wrestlers who kind of follow him around and he's got that type of leadership role without having this say I'm a leader.  That's the quickest way to spot a false leader in wrestling is if they're the ones that say hey, I'm the locker room leader. We have just a lot of veteran talents. Mark Henry is another example. To have Bryan [Danielson] here, to have [CM] Punk here, we have these veteran talents and there hasn't been that type of mentorship and that type of genuine kind fostering since way back in the day when guys would get in the car with the veteran wrestler and they'd talk all the way to the town about hey, what I did wrong, what I did right. Hey, did you see this match? Here's what they did. That is happening backstage here and now and I love it. I love it with my own kids because I have a plethora and myriad of young people in my own umbrella. I love it with them and I love seeing it in the other circles, because it's all about making a better show and being better professionals.

Mike Johnson: Speaking of Malakai Black, we've seen two matches thus far and third match this Saturday. Thoughts on what fans can expect from the third go around between the two of you and this rivalry?

Cody Rhodes: What I hope they would expect is an actual match. Not that the other two were not actual matches, but I mean I was squashed in the initial outing completely under prepared and that's what I got squashed, and then New York City, the black mist, and there's all the connotations and kind of chicanery that go with that. But I think looking at this, you have two guys, two men who bell the bell, possess some skills that haven't been on display in the first two matches and I would hope they're on display here.  It definitely gets the sense, no matter who wins, Malakai wins or if I win, it gets the sense that I don't think either of us want to fight each other again, because it's an in incredibly violent guy and if you know anything about me behind the scenes or on the scenes, I'm a very stiff, gritty wrestler, especially by today's standards. And that makes for very violent matches, matches that you walk away from going, okay, I could take a break from that guy. So if anything, for them looking forward to this huge Dynamite we have Saturday, it's a very bell the bell gritty, I want to see the match that I perhaps haven't seen yet.

Mike Johnson: I wanted to ask you about the other match at Dynamite that I'm very intrigued by, Dustin Rhodes against Bryan Danielson. Obviously Dustin has found the fountain of youth in AEW, he's always been a great entering competitor.   He and Danielson I feel like it is like a cross-generational meeting of two great in-ring generals. Obviously you know Dustin very well, you know Bryan very well. I know you've got your eye set on Malakai Black, but when the dust is settled from that, what do you think fans can expect from Dustin versus Bryan? And how much are you looking forward to seeing Dustin spotlighted in such a high profile match?

Cody Rhodes: For fans of the Rhodes family, it's a pretty Rhodes heavy evening. You've got Dynamite with that match, my match, and you've got Rhodes to the Top finale right after. It's like you said, it's a contrast of generations and styles and two things happen when you have those type of matches, it's either a dud, which I know people are going to be shocked that I'm saying, it's either a dud or it's either absolutely unreal, unbelievable. And I don't think either of them are capable of the former. I think it's going to be very special and maybe there's more to it. Bryan right now, I mean, I'm not going to pick a winner over my brother, but Bryan right now is really cruising and I mean, he looks the best he's ever looked just in his face and the glow in his skin, he's the healthiest he's ever been.  He seems so motivated and happy and I think that's a very dangerous Bryan, but people don't forget Dustin's faster than half our roster even though he's triple their age and he's a genuine throwback wrestler who's over 6'5. So there's a huge David Goliath aspect of this too that people will see when they actually see them framed up in the rings. A really intrigued game matchup, really. I'm so selfish, I didn't think you would ask me about it and now I'm like, ha ha, that's going to be so good because it's just two of the best. I mean, Tony Khans like the true matchmaker. That's a fantasy booking that's on someone's fantasy card somewhere, maybe even his and now it's been brought to life. So I'm glad people get to see it.

Mike Johnson: I wanted to ask you about the TBS tournament brackets, they're going to be announced this Friday on Rampage. Obviously TBS and the Rhodes family go back many, many decades, and even now you have a relationship with them even beyond AEW with the Go Big show. Thoughts on AEW bringing a TBS championship into the fold?

Cody Rhodes: It's so special. If I ever write a book, and I really don't think I will, but what's synergy? I move here to Atlanta in the nineties because my dad's the executive vice president and producer at WCW and then fast forward, we're back in the Warner Media family and I'm on four different shows in that family. Stranger than fiction how destiny works. With the TBS title I think you're going to find a situation for the women just like happen with TNT title. People who are used to the WWE product will consider it a secondary title until they get a champion. And when that champion's not a secondary performer, they're going to go, oh my gosh, I want this title, this title matters, and I think that's going to be a fun thing to kind of retool the audience with is that we don't have secondary titles, this TBS title is going to mean a great deal. And you're going to see a full fledged tournament with people who have stacked up the wins to get in that tournament.  I am very, very excited to have and to have that synergy with the TBS title, just to add another title to it creates more panache for both the Rampage and for Dynamite moving forward. I jokingly keep texting various members of the women's roster and saying, can you believe this? I can't believe Tony wants this girl in the tournament, this is the girl that everyone's talking about.  Then all of them will say who or a question mark or an exclamation point and then I just send pictures of Liberty. I've gotten like over 30 people with the same gag, everybody, including some people who didn't respond and then they'll get back to me the next day and I'll be like, oh man, the joke is, I don't know if it'll work anymore if it'll land, but yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited to see the bracket announced this Friday on Rampage.

Mike Johnson: You are getting heat for your daughter already, look at that. [Laughs]

Cody Rhodes: Oh, a hundred percent because I said this in a couple interviews for Rhodes to the Top Media, I said, my dad stepped away, he got off the writing team, he told Arn to be specifically really hard on me. He let me get in into a lot of trouble, he let me make a lot of mistakes. He detached himself and it still didn't stop people from crying nepotism and crying foul. So in this case, I'm not going to detach myself at all from this little girl. Whatever she decides to do I'm going to be the biggest stage dad imaginable. So just because that's how I want to do it.

Mike Johnson: Last question as we're coming to the end of the first season of Rhodes to the Top here, would you like to do more? Are you open to doing more? And how do you think the show would evolve if you had a say in a second season the way you did on the first?

Cody Rhodes: Well, if things turn out to have a second season and the show has really superseded its current expectations, so that that's a possibility. If that happens, I'd actually probably have less guidelines and less involvement because the crew really did justice by AEW and by Brandi and I and my legacy and my dad's name, they really did. They were authentic and then my mother and my sister are on the show, my brother. So I'd probably have less headaches and less opinions and just let them lead. Sometimes in AEW Billy told me, this it's the best thing he ever told me, he said, sometimes you just got to let talented people be talented. And I would really look forward to that. I do a lot of projects Mike, and I don't think people understand so many of those projects are, I hope they take the minute to understand so many of those projects are related to AEW. and they're meant to drive towards AEW.  I'm always the wrestler. That's my first priority other than my family, that's my first priority. But with shows like this, if we're talking realistically, I don't want to continue to compete full time after 40 and I would love a second season of Rhodes to the Top and I would love if that led to more opportunities. I don't want Arn to shoot me, but more opportunities out in Hollywood for me just so that I can make that transition and not be an old man wrestler. And that's not because I don't love and respect old man wrestlers, it's because I had one, I had a father who did this all the way to the end and I want a different life and it wasn't that it was bad, it wasn't that it was good, he always gave us everything he had, but I thought he had earned enough that he didn't have to do that, and I mean equity, not finance. I thought he had earned enough. So when I look at my future, I want to secure everything in that place where I can step away gracefully and you've got Dante Martin, ypu've got Lee Moriarty, you've got Lee Johnson, you have Julia Hart, Anna Jay, you have these young, next generation of wrestlers that can step into their roles and keep our business moving and the wheel and the sky turning.

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