It doesn’t feel right coming out of my lips, or out of my fingers as this case may be, but WWE ran a pretty enjoyable PPV Premium Live Event last night with Hell In A Cell. It didn’t hurt them to start it off with a 20+ minute, three-way banger between Asuka, Bianca Belair, and Becky Lynch, who are three of the best workers in the world. While none of the middle matches were all that consequential, they were pretty tight and ended feuds (we hope) in a tidy and zippy fashion. No dumbass endings, no bewildering booking choices, just some clean matches with quality work that (hopefully) will boost some of their biggest names onto better things.
But of course, the main headline coming out of it was in the main event, when Cody Rhodes wrestled Seth Rollins with the right half of his upper body looking like it was gradually getting possessed by a demon. Rhodes had torn his pec while working out before the show, completely off the bone as the commentary informed us as we tried not to gag up our dinner. It seemed inconceivable that the match would go on when word of his injury started to spread over Twitter in the afternoon, even less so when the details emerged.
And then it seemed completely deranged when Rhodes removed his Homelander robe to reveal what the injury actually looked like. That combination and shade of purple, red, and black made you wonder if your TV wouldn’t start beeping, warning of tornado watches in counties around your house. It was horrifying, and it was also obvious that Rhodes couldn’t really use his right arm in any meaningful fashion.
So it should be said that he and Rollins, who deserves a ton of credit for working this match around Rhodes’ limitations and making it the epic it became, are miracle workers for completing the match at all, much less making it really good. Cody’s injury became the story, and both expertly played on it.
Of course, the question is whether Rhodes should have been allowed to participate at all. Yes, it’s his body and his career. And Cody is more than enough of a vet to know what he can and can’t do, and decide what he wants to risk and what he doesn’t. A torn pectoral, especially one that’s come off the bone as Rhodes’ has, probably can’t be made any worse than it already is. I mean, it’s already completely fucked. Once something is completey fucked, that’s pretty much the drill. Whether Rhodes could have hurt something else compensating for what he didn’t have is up to him and how he handles it, and there hasn’t been any report that he did. Again, he’s a veteran and was (hopefully) acting under the advice of a doctor, so he knew precisely what the parameters were.
Still, and this admittedly comes from one of Cody’s loudest critics at the end of his AEW run, there was a desperation to his insistence on taking risks like this that fits into his character perfectly. It’s that “perfect fitting desperation” where your mileage may vary. It always seemed clawing and empty to me, but to other fans it was a dedication and emotion they couldn’t get enough of. When Cody was tumbling away from the top of the AEW card and out of more and more fans’ affections, it was in the midst of his refusal to be a heel while doing all of the heel things. Rhodes’ act seemed to be someone trying to yank the spotlight back onto him even though things had moved on. He was basically trying to “go Turbo” on AEW. His “solved racism” promo, and his baking in a fake retirement speech to steal the buzz of Malakai Black’s arrival into AEW — and make it about Cody — and his diving through a flaming table with Andrade, yet another newish arrival who needed to be the center of the feud but had it pilfered by Rhodes’ need to be in the center of things. And those are only a handful of examples.
This is what caused enough fans in AEW to turn on Rhodes even though he wouldn’t turn on them, the constant “Everyone should be saying, ‘Where’s Cody?’” booking that he put himself through when fans wanted to see others playing a more prominent role. It always felt like Cody would do anything to regain a prominent place on the card, and it only seemed more and more desperate and selfish and only moved him farther and farther away from that.
Going out there with an entire side the color of eggplant mashed with sadness and pain is only continuing that line of actions even more out into the water. It’s Cody screaming for everyone to pay attention to how much this means to him and how much he loves wrestling and how badly he needs it, when it kind of feels like he just can’t stand the thought of not being the center of attention. It’s Rich Hill in his 40s screaming and yelling to show everyone in the stadium just how much he cares for the sake of showing everyone how much he cares. Sometimes, dude, just shut the fuck up and pitch.
Which is weird, because he has been the center of attention since returning to New York. With Roman Reigns on an extended break, Rhodes is one of the biggest draws in the company right now. Last night felt like him trying to lock down a place in the company that he locked down the moment he showed up at WrestleMania. Which makes the booking even stranger, because no matter what, Rhodes is going to be gone for a while now after surgery. Five months or so. It would have been sensible for Rollins to go over with Rhodes out of the picture for a long time. Instead, Rolllins has now lost to Cody three straight times on PLEs, including when he only had one arm, and all the buzz and heat and appreciation for Cody was just in time for him to go on the shelf for up to half a year. Who got helped?
At the same time, the dude wrestled a hardcore, Hell In A Cell match with a torn pec! The cell matches have lost some luster thanks to WWE’s policy of limited violence and no bleeding on purpose. So of course Cody subverted that by just bleeding internally before it even started. These matches really only work with some level of gore, and Rhodes just brought it with him. It’s an amazing feat, whatever the context, and a great match. Rhodes’s work in the ring has never been the problem, it’s just been all that it’s been dressed with. This was no different, and perhaps all of Cody crystalized.
In that sense, it’s sad that the reward for Cody’s last act of trying to prove what he is will only be followed by an extended absence. In another, it isn’t that much of an extension of what he’d been doing that saw him slide out of AEW and back to WWE. Cody needs to be proving himself time and time again no matter the cost. Even if he’s headed out the door.