There is no escape from Cody.
The thing was, I had been digging everything Cody had done leading up to his match with Malakai Black. Sure, Black is one of my favorite performers in any company, has been since he showed up in NXT, and I watched perhaps my most dour and unemotive friend giggle like a toddler at his entrance for just a run-of-the-mill pre-Takeover match at Allstate Arena. There isn’t much one could do to not have me excited for Black’s in-ring debut in AEW.
But with limited time — only a couple of weeks from Black’s signing to last night — the two of them had nailed it. From the lights-out appearance of Black (literally), teased with a quick blackout of the lights in that evening’s first match, which was deliciously sold by the commentary team. To the simple yet wholly effective difference in suits — Cody’s white as the gates of heaven, and Black’s… well, black. The escalation of the altercations they had inside and outside the ring. The pitting of this contest as some sort of morality play. It was so well done I was even able to get past Cody positioning himself as all that is good, or perhaps I’ve just been so beaten down by him I knew there was no other way. Judging by the boos outweighing the cheers during his entrance last night, I’m not alone (I’m not alone!).
They certainly nailed Black’s entrance to the ring. The limited light, the total blackouts between. The use of silhouette. The white walker-orc lovechild look. The music. While WWE could never quite bring themselves to dive headfirst into the macabre with Black (won’t someone please think of the children?!), AEW clearly has no such concerns. Finally, here was the fully unveiled Dutch kickboxing monk of death from a monastery that very well might not be of this world. It’s certainly whichever monastery gave us beer.
And the match itself was very good to great. While there was a large part of me that wanted the bell to ring, Black to administer his finishing kick, Cody’s teeth to land somewhere near Ft. Myers, and pin, I knew that would never happen. But Black did mostly kick Cody around the ring, including Cody taking a big spot through the timekeeper’s table.
And then Cody did eat what used to be called “Black Mass,” but doesn’t seem to have a name yet (and Jim Ross completely blew the call, which didn’t ruin the moment, but also raised the question yet again of what exactly Ross is doing here and whether or not it’s time to send him to a farm upstate). And Cody was out. Black arrogantly and dominantly pinned him with just one foot on his chest.
And then AEW had another must-see star on its roster. And Cody is great at this! He has made stars out of a host of performers on the roster. Darby Allin, Brodie Lee, and Miro are just a sampling of the names he’s made look like a million bucks. And yes, you can’t just be a star-maker, because then the losses begin to lose their weight. And maybe that’s what Cody’s feud with QT Marshall was meant to do, as poorly executed as it was. To give his future losses weight again by having Cody win.
Whatever, suddenly Malakai Black was plug-and-play again. You could point him at Miro or even Kenny Omega for All Out and have pretty much every fan salivating. At the end of the show, or what should have been the end of the show, Black looked like one of the biggest stars in the world. They could do anything with him.
But it wasn’t the end of the show, because Cody gotta Cody.
You knew it was trouble as soon as Excalibur said that Tony Schiavone would be heading to the ring to talk to Cody. Who talks to the fucking loser? That never happens. But with Cody, none of the rules apply.
So Cody launched into what was, essentially, a retirement speech. And then it made sense. Black had referenced the light going out for Cody when this whole feud started, and Black was merely putting him down for his own good. And after initial defiance, one kick to the chin and Cody had seen the truth. So he was going to retire. He didn’t have it. And I was on board.
There were plenty of reasons for Cody to not want to be in-ring anymore. He’s got a new child (which according to him solved racism, but we’ll shelve that for now), and maybe he doesn’t want to risk his body anymore with that responsibility. Perhaps running the company and performing at the same time is too much of a grind. Maybe he wants to chase his outside interests more. All of them are feasible and fine. In kayfabe and out, it all scanned.
Cody’s speech made it clear that we do owe him a great deal. While his claims of being “competition” to WWE instead of “an alternative’’ are still a bit fanciful (though we’ll see if CM Punk and Daniel Bryan do show up in the next few weeks), just the accomplishment of providing the latter is momentous. This isn’t just WCW suddenly popping into life after being around for decades. Cody created AEW out of nothing. Out of a bar bet. And in just about three years it’s at this level, about to launch a second show on easily-accessed TNT television and with a growing fanbase, and the promotion is the talk of the wrestling world. And that’s with John Cena, JOHN GODDAMN CENA, returning to WWE!
I should have known better. Because just as Cody was about to leave his boots in the ring, Black came back out to attack him. Which means Cody isn’t retiring. Which means they’ll have another match, likely at All Out. And Cody will probably win, because of course, and whatever momentum and stardust Black had gotten just minutes earlier will be smothered in more Cody glorification.
So it wasn’t about Cody saying goodbye. It wasn’t about elevating Black’s character to the fucking moon. It was just about taking another moment, another story, and making it about Cody. And this has been the problem. This is the difference between the Cody that made Darby and Brodie important to this one where only Cody is important and he’s ending racism (told you I’d get back to it). As I said not so long ago, the balls on this guy. There is a place for Cody being an in-ring talent in his own company. He’s still more than capable of telling great stories and putting on great matches. The problem is he thinks that’s every place. This was Black’s moment. And then it wasn’t.
Hopefully, he gets to eat another Black Mass at All Out and get out of Black’s way. I won’t hold my breath.