AEW has its work cut out for it. Not that there isn’t an intense hunger among fans for an alternative to WWE, which still monopolizes the industry in most regards – but all eyes will be on AEW’s product to see if it’s truly the fed that can give the giant a run for its mega-money.We spoke to Cody Rhodes – an AEW performer who also serves as one of its founders and Executive Vice Presidents – about the upcoming TV show, AEW’s competition with NXT (which will also air on Wednesday nights as of mid-September), and how his promotion intends to stand out from the pack.
AEW will kick things off in Washington D.C. for its October 2 show, then move on to Boston and Philadelphia for the next two tapings. So why the decision to hit the road with the show, instead of staying in one spot? Well, Rhodes could feel the fan fervor all over the country early on. “I think [AEW President] Tony Khan had the same ambition that we had when we envisioned this,” Rhodes explained. “When we did All In [the franchise’s recent PPV], and even before we did All In, we felt the hunger for this. And it wasn’t just in Chicago. Every place we’d visit we’d find this really strong hardcore fanbase who wanted to be part of everything we did. And we wanted them to be part of everything we did. And that was nation-wide, that feeling.”
Despite running for two hours each week, not everyone on the roster is going to be featured on each episode. “We’re going to try and present quality over quantity,” Rhodes said.”Which means that some guys are going to have some time off. Which for the life and the well-being of a wrestler is a great thing to hear; that they’re not gong to be, every week, putting themselves in a high-profile singles match. That, every week, they’re not going to be in a barn-burner tag. It’s going to be a very different show each week. We’re not going to try and cram everybody on the two-hour show. There’s no participation award here.”
That being said, Rhodes and others behind AEW are considering an extra hour of content, which more than likely won’t be televised. “It will probably live for people to stream on B/R Live,” he shared. “We have a lot of resources and we want to make sure that people can plug into the wrestlers who we signed who they’re fans of. We’re going to try and keep everybody busy.”
Check out this exclusive promo for AEW on TNT…
AEW vs. NXT
A few weeks back, WWE announced that its lauded NXT promotion would shift from streaming Wednesdays on the WWE Network to airing on USA Network in mid-September, landing in AEW’s time slot before AEW debuts. “We can’t pretend that we don’t know that’s happening,” Rhodes said, “but we were always planning our show. And have been for a long while. This isn’t a reactionary move on our part. This is what our intentions were. To be on Wednesday nights and to be on a major network with such a great partner like Warner Media and TNT. Our focus is still on providing the best AEW, providing the best alternative. We haven’t switched over to ‘Well how can we compete?’ because we already felt like we had a product that people wanted to see.”
He added, “We want to provide bell-to-bell sports-centric pro-wrestling. That’s going to mean longer matches. That’s going to mean stories being told between the ropes. That means no invisible camera backstage. That’s gonna mean more of a live-sports approach to our product. That’s 100% what we’re doing, so I want to avoid any reactionary elements. I loved the Monday Night Wars, I did. And I’m not trying to be naive and ignore a situation where it’s like ‘Hey, if this happens, we’ll have to play this card,’ but I’m just saying I want us to be more about our young and upcoming crop of talent.”
“I’ll give you a great example: the very first match you’re going to see on TNT is myself versus Sammy Guevara. I can’t sit here and tell you that Sammy Guevara’s got all the potential in the world because it makes him so angry. He’s so full of piss and vinegar and genuinely thinks he’s the best and that’s the type of thing we want to put out there. People like Jurassic Express, which is Luchasaurus and Jungle Boy. People like Sonny Kiss. Kip Sabian. Obviously, my best friend in the whole world too, Maxwell Jacob Friedman. I just want to stick to our word, that we gave fans back at the beginning.”
TOO MUCH WRESTLING?
With AEW launching its show, WWE still creating hours and hours of content each week, New Japan available on AXS TV, and ROH (Ring of Honor) in syndication, this Fall features a very crowded wrestling landscape. But Rhodes doesn’t see this as a problem at all. “As a wrestling fan you don’t have to watch every show,” he said. “You only have to watch what you like and who’s keeping your attention and who’s doing right by you, the wrestling consumer. I know the rising tide affects all ships, but at a certain point, you’re going to watch what’s better. As one of the biggest wrestling fans in the world though, there can never be too much wrestling for me. I’ll give you an example: As a huge Trekkie, I think about that Golden Era of Trek when Next Generation and Deep Space Nine and Voyager were all on and all crossing streams. That was heaven for a Star Trek fan.”
Rhodes himself is getting a shot at Chris Jericho’s AEW Championship at the Full Gear PPV, coming November 9, but, according to Rhodes, that match might not wind up being as advertised. “This is one of the positive uses of ‘card subject to change,'” he said. “I’m coming off a win over Dustin, one of the best of all time, and coming off a win over Shawn Spears, who’s an absolute stud. Those were two huge wins. So me going for the title makes all the sense in the world. But it may not end up being me versus Chris Jericho. Because Chris Jericho still has a title defense before that in Philadelphia. And it may not be me if I take a loss to Sammy Guevara on the premiere episode. I think Chris Jericho is probably going to get through his first title defense, but if he doesn’t we’re going to stick to our word about win/loss records being a deciding factor. It’s really about the data and who has the best record.”
SO, ABOUT THAT CHAMPIONSHIP…
It was a whirlwind 24 hours. Just days after Chris Jericho became the first-ever AEW Champion at the All Out PPV, the belt went missing. But it’s back now, so we’ve heard. “Yeah,” Rhodes laughed, “it’s all intact. There’s no damage to it, which was my biggest concern because myself and Matt Jackson are the ones who ordered this title – who painstakingly tried to cover as many details as we could because we wanted it to be a really special championship belt. So I was not stoked when I found out it was gone and the mystery will remain a mystery, I suppose, of what happened. Was it grand larceny? Did someone just put it on the roof? We don’t know. I’m glad it was found. Stuff happens. Jericho’s, like, a 60-year vet and one of the greatest of all time, this isn’t his first rodeo. And he did everything he could to get it back. Thankfully it’s back in the champion’s hands.”
With the first AEW Champion in place, the AEW tag team champions to be determined by a tournament, and the first AEW Women’s Champion to be crowned on October 2, are there any other championships on the way? “There’s a title we’re considering,” Rhodes stated, “and it’s something people can probably guess since we’re going to be on TV, hint hint, but there are no plans for it at the moment. Right now we revolve around the AEW Championship and in D.C. we’re going to name the first ever AEW Women’s Champion, and that’s such a beautiful belt. I don’t know if people know, up close, that rose gold is layered into it. Brandi, Kenny Omega, and Tony did a great job getting that title. There’s going to be some guidelines laid out for whoever wins that title though ,” he laughed. “Some guidelines about how they’re supposed to take care of it.”