“Too many kings can ruin an army.” – Homer
For the third time in its history, Cody Rhodes captured the AEW TNT Championship on Saturday night. His victory over the rising (and popular) Sammy Guevara was mostly met with a chorus of ‘boos’ as he celebrated in-ring with the Rhodes family as Dynamite went off the air.
Naturally, this upset many AEW fans, who are seemingly growing tired of Cody’s perceived dominance in the promotion. While Cody has his fair share of supporters, the detractors have been growing in numbers over the last few months – notably in his recent feud with Malakai Black.
Many AEW naysayers are accusing Cody of doing what many lead bookers, or talents with creative pull, have done for decades – protecting his spot while putting himself over younger talent. We’ve seen this before across multiple promotions:
An Abuse of Power
Most infamous is Triple H, who has been accused by some fans as the man to bury such names as Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho, CM Punk, and of course, Booker T (that entire Wrestlemania feud is still cringy as hell). But wrestling history is ripe with this type of behavior.
Jeff Jarrett kept himself in the main event picture for TNA while continually passing over names like A.J. Styles, Samoa Joe, Christopher Daniels, and even Monty Brown at the height of his popularity. In WCW it was Kevin Nash and Hulk Hogan who did nothing for rising stars like Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit and Booker T, as they booked themselves to stay over as much as humanly possible – as uninspiring and boring as that was.
Ric Flair did much of the same on the WCW booking committee in the late 80s/early 90s. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Vince Russo and Vince McMahon, who both booked themselves to become world champions of their respective companies at one point or another.
So when it comes to Cody Rhodes, I get it, it’s a bad look for those who have seen this all before. But what if I told you the ongoing Cody Rhodes storyline is a bit different than what you may think?
Let’s Go Cody/Cody Sucks!
Now Cody is NOT on the same levels as John Cena was during the height of his 50/50 status with fans – you know, where every match he was in was met with combating “Let’s Go Cena”/”Cena Sucks” chants. But the sentiment is similar, albeit one difference.
John Cena was never a booker.
While Tony Khan has final creative say, we know as an EVP, Rhodes likely has SOME input on the direction of his on-screen character. But this Cody Rhodes storyline just could be that – a meta narrative on what happens when a known franchise player is booked in constant success at the disapproval of the many fans he serves – even though he actually may deserve the spot.
This storyline serves two layers:
-In kayfabe, a man who has notable pull within the company he works for, but continues to achieve success because he truly is that talented; even though fans are growing tired of his success. He understands this, and may start resenting the fans for hating him, leading him down a darker character arc.
-Beyond kayfabe, a man who has notable pull within the company who knows he’s good enough to be booked strongly in any other promotion in the world; but knows that some fans are simply bored of him – so he “books himself” over anyway as a very subtle heel.
Cody and Khan knew 100% that the in-ring celebration post-win on Dynamite would reign in the jeers over the cheers. But who is booing, and why? Is it because of the kayfabe storyline, the ‘smarky’ storyline, or a little bit of both?
This is where the genius of this storyline comes into play.
A Subtle Villain
When Dan Lambert, Scorpio Sky and Ethan Page were out essentially accusing Rhodes of a type of nepotism and abuse of power to get his title shot against Sammy, it set the stage of what this storyline could ultimately become.
Cody is the same man that took a sledgehammer to Triple H’s symbolic throne at Double or Nothing two years ago. A man who professes to listen to the fans, and helped create a company unlike the competition where talent doesn’t get perceivably buried in the same way McMahon and HHH have done in the past.
But this is a man who will internally struggle with the notion that he shouldn’t be booked strong simply because the smarks want exciting new talent featured over the tried-and-true veterans.
Ultimately, Cody Rhodes’ internal conflict is to not become the thing he hates so much in the wrestling industry – and this will play out in and out of kayfabe.
And what would you do if you were him?
In kayfabe, Cody has already declared he would never challenge for the AEW World Championship. In kayfabe, Cody is considered (rightfully so) one of the best wrestlers on the AEW roster – so naturally, you go for what gold you can (you play to win the game!). But with this comes the knowledge that fans will hate you for the success you attain, and is the price paid for every victory.
Out of kayfabe, you want to highlight/put over the next generation of AEW talent as to avoid a TNA-like scenario – but unlike Jeff Jarrett (sorry, he was slightly above-average at best), you’re actually a really damn good wrestler. You can have great matches and have a lot left in the tank. Shouldn’t you be booked as strong as other high-performing names and work with the best in AEW at every chance?
This storyline has a lot of potential life, and a lot of questions left unanswered…
-How many successful title defenses will it take for most of the AEW fanbase to finally turn on Cody?
-Will he resort to subtle ‘heelish’ tactics to hold on to said TNT title?
-How far does he go and how many friendships might he ruin in this process?
-Who will finally dethrone him from the TNT championship? Hook? Brain Pillman Jr.? Jungle Boy? Or perhaps a ‘anti-hero’ type like Eddie Kingston, Malakai Black, or CM Punk?
But as with many wrestling storylines, speculation sometimes doesn’t live to expectations. In the end, this could have been a quick title swap to let Sammy and Tay breathe a little from the public eye due to treatment from pathetic internet trolls – and nothing more.
But I don’t think this will be that simple. If done right, this could even lead to Cody turning full-fledged heel, going back on his word on never competing for the AEW Championship, and defeating “Hangman” Adam Page in the most dastardly, heelish way possible to become AEW World Champion. Cody has said many times that he would never turn heel – so what better way to become the biggest heel in the industry than to straight up lie to your own fanbase?
The bigger question is if Cody turns heel, is it worth it? Can he become a heel on the same level as an MJF, or will fans always cast him to be the guy who helped build AEW — but is now time to take a backseat forever?
But I am only letting my imagination get the best of me. Either way, wrestling fans, buckle up. This Cody storyline could be much bigger than we all think.