Cody and Brandi Rhodes must be insane, right? The couple integral to the founding of All Elite Wrestling, with a strong family heritage inside the squared circle, has left the upstart promotion they helped lay brick and tile for and could head back to their former employer, World Wrestling Entertainment, per multiple online reports. AEW and Cody confirmed their split on social media Tuesday morning.
The truth of the matter is Brandi and Cody are insane, especially the grandson of a plumber, but not for straightforward reasons. Without the efforts of Dusty Rhodes’ son since his WWE departure in 2016, AEW doesn’t exist. Educated wrestling fans don’t need the a history lesson. There was Dave Meltzer’s harmless tweet turning into Cody and fellow AEW EVPs The Young Bucks, organizing a show to fill a 10,000-seat Chicago arena. Tickets for All In sold out in less than a half hour, despite limited confirmed talent and a lone advertised match at the time combined with a massive public relations campaign.
That September 2018 night essentially served as show No. 0 for AEW. Plenty of future-contracted talent appeared, such as MJF in the opener and AEW Women’s World Champion Britt Baker taking part in a four-way match. More importantly, it was an undeniably, incredibly satisfying data point. A market existed in professional wrestling for a mainstream company not owned by Vince McMahon after two decades without legitimate competition. Cody is one of four people that vision doesn’t happen without, alongside the aforementioned Nick Jackson, Matt Jackson as well as AEW CEO and president Tony Khan.
Insanity is the best way to describe the kaleidoscope of events that make Cody and Brandi insane, having their blinders on and not quite seeing this now-normalized wrestling landscape. They’re both mad visionaries for getting to this point and anyone downplaying that credit is clinically insane, not creatively, like the Rhodes.
Their blazing-hot start to AEW was cooled soon after. Brandi went from bringing in the now-retired Awesome Kong at “Double or Nothing” to starting The Nightmare Collective, a massive failure of a stable from the start. At Double or Nothing 2019, the first official show under the AEW banner, Cody’s forcefully driven sledgehammer into a Triple H-designed throne became one of the early defining images of the company. His first-year run was solid. The chair shot from Shawn Spears, the feud to help amplify the career of MJF, the match with Chris Jericho in Baltimore, and launching Sammy Guevara on AEW’s TNT debut were all successful.
Somewhere along that path, Cody’s AEW journey became flat. Crowds turned on him, booing relentlessly whether or not that’s what he was going for. But he appeared to be a company guy, becoming a host on two other shows within the Turner Broadcasting family. And that’s balanced with representation on Dynamite, Dark and Rampage for him and his friends.
Regardless of your thoughts on the Rhodes family, they’re no longer tied to AEW in any way. Their contracts expired, so there isn’t a no-compete clause. They’re free to show up wherever, whenever they want. And if they’re looking for a new home, no one offers more security, limelight, and most importantly, that sweet, sweet cash, than WWE. Cody has a legacy, pun intended, with the company. It’s where he and Brandi met, and it’s where Cody spent a majority of his career. If McMahon hasn’t already personally reached out to the Rhodes pair about coming back into the company, I’d be shocked. They add a star power that WWE desperately needs right now.
WWE’s desperation for a stacked WrestleMania card after Shane McMahon’s release is the easily justifiable jolt it’s looking for. Despite any other signs, WWE basically admitted to its Hail Mary chances of engaging a larger fan base for its biggest show of the year last night on RAW in Kevin Owens’ promo on how much he hates the state of Texas. If only the most popular wrestler in the history of the industry was tied to a legends deal with the company and was from the Lone Star State. Oh wait! Stone Cold Steve Austin is, with other online reports indicating WWE is trying to coax the Texas Rattlesnake to have his first match since 2003. How dry on ideas does McMahon have to be to write a blank check to Austin? It’s a one-time fix that won’t taint his God status in wrestling, like Shawn Michaels’ horrible one-off comeback in 2018 after an eight-year absence.
Cody’s AEW departure will have repercussions throughout the industry and should be part of WWE’s long-term fix to a lack of full-time legitimate main-event-level talent. Whether he brings back Rhodes Industries, his “Dashing” gimmick, a tweaked version of his AEW persona or something completely different, the three-time and inaugural AEW TNT Champion can supply that demand now.
A big reason why so many part-timers like Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar, and Goldberg get prime spots on the biggest shows of the year is money. Both in revenue for the WWE and how those established talents line their own pockets. The over-reliance on using stars not on the road for every show makes those special appearances more lackluster with every trot to the ring. I don’t have faith that WWE can sustain Cody at the top of the card with Brandi as his valet/fixer/badass hype woman. He’d be a complete waste in the mid-card feuding with Madcap Moss or Happy Corbin, like Shinsuke Nakamura or Cesaro, who’d be top guys in any company in the world but WWE.
It’s a credit to how game-changing Rhodes leaving AEW is that there isn’t a good comparison. AEW’s closest character arc to John Cena with the card placement of a Drew McIntyre leaving the promotion with similar circumstances to 2000 Triple H. And even that gerrymandered example has holes in it. He’s the first major defector from AEW. He won’t be the last, but it’s hard to imagine one with a larger possible ripple effect, minus a completely ass-backward, bonkers, never-going-to-happen scenario.
WWE might fork over a bulldozer full of money to bring Brandi and Cody back into the fold with how much they distanced themselves from their past. The odd part about calling whatever Cody and Brandi would do a waste under McMahon’s employment is that’s how the end of his AEW career felt. They’d be stagnant again. It’d be a never-ending cycle.
The Rhodes know the risks of going back to WWE. Not coming to terms with AEW on new contracts over six weeks of negotiations, per Dave Meltzer, shows Khan has a plan and no one is worth veering off-course to disrupt it. Terms of those discussions will likely never become public. You can’t fault not giving into whatever Cody and Brandi wanted, regardless of how responsible they are for AEW’s existence.
AEW will be fine without the Rhodes’ duo, and maybe better off long-term, to have his influence elsewhere with Khan’s roster growing to what must be near-maximum capacity. Cody won’t be a free agent long, even if the no-affiliation identity did spawn some of the best work of his career, in-between his WWE exile and ROH signing. There’s no doubt wherever he signs, he’ll get a lucrative check for Brandi, too. He’s got that much deserved leverage. Now we wait and see where the dominoes fall as Tuesday morning closed one chapter of AEW history. Bring on the insanity.