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What I Learned – Wrestling news: AEW’s Cody Rhodes explains reason for open challenge

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SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.Cody Rhodes: ‘The one thing Chris Jericho and I can agree on is that there is nobody greater than Rey Mysterio. That’s someone that is really special.’An hour and a half before Wednesday night’s Dynamite, Cody Runnels will begin his transition into Cody Rhodes.The shirt and tie will give way to boots and tights. Business meetings and calls about acting opportunities—Rhodes has vowed to have a scripted role in a television series or film by the end of 2021—no longer possess real estate in his mind, and his Star Wars notepad is gently put aside. By 6:30 p.m. in Jacksonville, the sole focus on Rhodes’s mind will be pro wrestling.“That’s when I kick everyone out,” says Rhodes. “Everyone is kicked out but Arn Anderson, who makes a point to excuse himself. I need that time. My wife even got so tired of me being so stoic that she left for a new locker room away from me.”Unlike Clark Kent, Rhodes has no use for a phone booth. But he does have a use for a neck traction machine as part of his elaborate stretching routine.“I used to just get to the building and I was ready to walk out to the ring, but now I need time before my match,” says Rhodes. “I’m 35, and nothing works quite like it used to. But I’ve never had any major injuries, and I want to keep that going.”Stretching routines and Diamond Dallas Page’s DDP Yoga program occupy Rhodes’s time as showtime approaches, with his mind fixated on cutting a promo that will connect with viewers and delivering a match that people feel when they see it take place. “For me, it is all about giving the best content,” says Rhodes. “I hope that’s everyone else’s goal, too. I’m doing everything I can to function at the highest of levels.”Rhodes is All Elite Wrestling’s TNT champion, and his weekly open challenges are laying a foundation for the new title. He has already had back-and-forth matches with Jungle Boy, Private Party’s Marq Quen and last week with Sonny Kiss, but this week’s opponent is someone new to the AEW roster.“I don’t think Wednesday’s opponent comes from our locker room,” says Rhodes. “That’s a big goal for us, spontaneity from our locker room and from outside it, too.”As champion, Rhodes is no longer the underdog in his matches, which frames up a different type of performance for him. But he would quickly revert back to that long-shot position if a mystery opponent ever was revealed as Rey Mysterio, who is working in WWE without a contract.But Mysterio, whose gimmicky “eye-for-an-eye” match Sunday was the opposite of what Rhodes’s TNT championship bouts typically are, is expected to reup with WWE and will not be on tonight’s Dynamite. Nevertheless, Rhodes has immense respect for the legendary luchador.“The one thing Chris Jericho and I can agree on is that there is nobody greater than Rey Mysterio,” said Rhodes, who wrestled Mysterio at one of the most meaningful matches of his career nine years ago at WrestleMania 27 in the Georgia Dome. “That’s someone that is really special.“There are people I give a lot of credit for helping me build my career, and they’re not always the obvious ones. Dusty and Dustin, of course they were involved, but they’re family. Rey Mysterio, I don’t even know if he remembers, but he changed my whole career. Rey, Randy Orton and Big Show are three people that put a great deal of work into carving out my skills as a wrestler. I didn’t know nearly as much as they did, and I still don’t. They were very important to me.”In addition to Mysterio, three other names suggested to Rhodes as possible opponents were Zack Ryder, Fred Yehi and Warhorse, all of whom would create quality content while sharing the ring with him on Dynamite.“It’s important we access those opponents, the ones that do not work for AEW,” says Rhodes, who did not reveal this week’s opponent. “We need to always be aware of the world around us. One of the charming things about what we’ve been doing is we’ve been real and we’ve been transparent. Wrestling exists outside of AEW, we are aware of that. We try to be the best wrestling, and I really think we are, but there is great wrestling outside of us, too. It’s important for us to acknowledge that.“I love seeing when people that don’t work here put in an effort to try to get some notice or acknowledgement for the TNT Championship. That’s wonderful. When we say it’s an open challenge, I think you’ll see in the next few weeks that we mean open.”Success in wrestling extends beyond victory and defeat, though that certainly plays a role in a wrestler’s status in the industry. But Rhodes has his own definition of success. And on the nights he believes exceeds his admittedly high standards, he celebrates in a style that would make Red Auerbach smile.“I’ll have a cigar on a successful night,” says Rhodes, who will light up an Arturo Fuente 858 Maduro following Dynamite if the situation calls for it. “But I’m my own biggest critic, so I don’t always consider my work successful.”Articulate and educated, Rhodes’s eloquence masks his burning desire to reach the pinnacle of the wrestling business. If you watch his matches closely, you will see the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes feverishly seeking to create his legacy. WWE ratings continue to dip, and Rhodes, as one of WWE’s homegrown talents, would have eagerly embraced the chance to hoist the company atop his shoulders and carry them into a new era. That opportunity never truly took place, and Rhodes now embarks on a journey in the uncharted grounds of AEW.“I love the spirit of competition,” says Rhodes. “That’s less to do with pro wrestling and more to do with my internal makeup. I look around at our roster, and I want nothing more than to be more talented than them.“I don’t mean that in a mean-spirited way. All I ever wanted was to be at the absolute top of this business. I’ve learned it’s important to accomplish that with a moral compass. I want to do this honestly, and I will work, train, and will myself to be the best.”For Drew McIntyre and Jon Moxley, it’s more about the chase than the championshipTwo of the most prominent wrestlers in the world are Drew McIntyre and Jon Moxley.McIntyre is WWE Champion, while Moxley holds the AEW title. And both have had the unenviable task of representing their companies throughout the empty-arena era of pro wrestling.They are two of wrestling’s most exciting talents. Both have established, signature finishing moves (Moxley’s Paradigm Shift and McIntyre’s Claymore), and although their style is very different, both cut extremely effective promos. But unfortunately for both champs, neither has main-evented a pay-per-view during their current title reign.There are caveats, of course. Moxley has only had one pay-per-view defense as champ, and it was only natural that the Stadium Stampede match was going on last at Double or Nothing. McIntyre hasn’t headlined any of WWE’s past three pay-per-views, but his matches were all very good at those shows. His Money in the Bank match with Seth Rollins was outstanding, and though the finish was not entirely clean, his work with Bobby Lashley at Backlash was so physical and snug that it made the match extremely compelling.Despite being portrayed as the top stars of their respective companies, the presentation of McIntyre and Moxley has been very different.As evidenced again this past Sunday against Dolph Ziggler at Extreme Rules, McIntyre has been built as a champion who constantly overcomes odds. That is a nonstop battle due to his massive size, and Ziggler and Rollins do not match up physically with McIntyre in the same manner as the monstrous Lashley. But WWE’s goal is clear, and establishing McIntyre as a babyface able to overcome insurmountable odds has been a success.Moxley has also been in a tough spot, primarily due to his opponents. He wrestled the undefeated Brodie Lee for the title at Double or Nothing in Lee’s first major match for AEW. A clean loss would have severely hurt Lee’s chances of building momentum as a top heel in the company, and the match ended with a Moxley victory following a referee stoppage. Moxley also defended the belt against the undefeated Brian Cage last week at The Fight for the Fallen special on last week’s Dynamite, and that match ended when Taz threw the towel in before Cage submitted to Moxley’s armbreaker submission hold.Why put Moxley in the ring with opponents he can’t definitively defeat? Especially with the buildup to his run with the belt, which was executed in extraordinary fashion, Moxley needs a title reign that captures his brilliance. There are few personalities in wrestling with his charisma, in-ring style, and believability. But presentation is reality. Moxley needs opponents he can defeat cleanly after physically gripping encounters, similar to his program with Jake Hager. Though he is currently involved in a tag team program, Pentagon would be an ideal opponent for Moxley, as would Lance Archer, who shares history with Moxley from their time in New Japan.Representing a company as its babyface champion is one of wrestling’s most challenging roles. It could be wise for both WWE and AEW to go the “Stone Cold” Steve Austin route with McIntyre and Moxley and give them short runs with the belt. Austin was best when chasing the title, and his first four reigns as champion were all under 100 days (91, 90, 56 and 55 days). McIntyre, who has been champion 106 days since his match aired at WrestleMania, and Moxley (144 days) are both ready to resume their role as challengers. One of the constants in wrestling is that there is constant interest in the chase. Fortunately, both McIntyre and Moxley have ready-made opponents to chase, with either Kevin Owens or Randy Orton fitting that role for McIntyre, and MJF eagerly awaiting his first chance at a title run in AEW.With wrestling effectively turned into a studio television show, and crowds nowhere close to returning, having both champs lose their title and resume their chase will add some excitement to the weekly product.The (online) week in wrestlingRandy Orton–Big Show wasn’t far behind, but the highlight of Raw was Kairi Sane’s win over Bayley. CM Punk and John Cena reflected back on their WWE championship match from nine years ago, a 30-plus-minute classic in Chicago that brought Punk to an entirely new level of stardom in WWE.Chris Jericho hosted an incredibly entertaining “Saturday Night Session” this past weekend, where he discussed how the original idea for Orange Cassidy on last week’s Dynamite was an orange juice truck, which would have paid homage to Steve Austin’s beer truck and Kurt Angle’s milk truck. Jericho also discussed his upcoming book, which will detail every single match he has wrestled and will commemorate his 30 years in the business. There are few talents currently more underutilized than Shelton Benjamin, who has the talent—and the charisma—to be a world champion. A change of pace is always welcome in pro wrestling, and I hope WWE allows Benjamin the opportunity to change the meaning of the 24/7 title, even briefly, by giving him time to work meaningful matches on a weekly basis.Roman Reigns appears to have stayed in good shape during the pandemic (and his time away from WWE). I enjoyed Mustafa Ali’s return on Raw. He is another talent that could be a huge star for WWE. His suicide dive on Bobby Lashley (found at the 1:50 mark of the clip), which took place while Lashley was applying chokeholds to both Cedric Alexander and Ricochet, is one of the rare instances in wrestling when a wrestler is hit outside the ring without seeing it coming. Impact Wrestling is trending, and for all the right reasons. Slammiversary was one of the company’s best pay-per-views in recent memory, and the show was carried by performances from Chris Bey, Willie Mack, Deonna Purrazzo and Jordynne Grace. Eddie Edwards is the new Impact champ, and plenty of talent (Eric Young, Heath Slater, new tag team champs in the Motor City Machine Guns, and EC3) now add a tremendous amount of depth to the roster. But I would love to see “Machine Gun” Karl Anderson have a run with the Impact belt, and having Luke Gallows in his corner would only add to his aura. New Japan Pro Wrestling returns for a big show this weekend, headlined by IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion Evil defending the titles against LIJ’s Hiromu Takahashi. It was great to see Naomi trending last week. She is another star waiting for a bigger role, and adding her into the title picture with Bayley (or the tag-team title picture) would lead to some compelling moments on screen with Bayley and Sasha Banks. Independent wrestling makes another triumphant return this weekend, highlighted by GCW and Beyond Wrestling’s putting on shows in Atlantic City. The Good Brothers had some fun on Being the Elite, looking back at a potential signing with AEW and weighing that with their offer from WWE. Over the past week, Gallows and Anderson have perfectly harnessed social media to enhance their arrival in Impact. Tweet of the WeekIn good news for wrestling fans (and wrestlers), Billy Corgan is not planning to shut down the NWA.Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.


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