The guys talk Penelope Ford’s ability level, MJF, and Tyler gives Matt his props for calling Cody Rhodes’ turn plus much more!
A large number of corporations in America have struggled to balance worker safety and satisfying their bottom line. In sports and entertainment, there have been several examples of companies that have prioritized shareholders over employees. Arguably the worst example is not Major League Baseball, but World Wrestling Entertainment.
The U.S. containment of COVID-19 was thought to be possible in early spring. Toward the end of March, however, those hopes were dashed. States began to lock-down restaurants. Most sports leagues including the NBA, MLB, and the NCAA postponed and in some cases canceled the current and upcoming seasons.
The WWE, for their part, stopped live shows and began pre-recording programming without fans in attendance. According to executives, talent was told that these tapings would be voluntary and would not receive punishment for refusing to attend either financially or otherwise.
Wrestlemania, the largest pro wrestling pay-per-view of the year was held in the performance center in Orlando, Florida. Florida was coincidentally one of the last states to enter lock-down and was open during the taping of Wrestlemania.
The company acted proactively with two of its wrestlers Dana Brooke and Rey Mysterio who showed signs of illness by pulling them from shows. Roman Reigns, a wrestler in remission from leukemia took a leave of absence from performing over concerns over his high-risk status for Coronavirus. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during March.
By early April all states had entered into varying degrees of lockdown, and Nationally the U.S. outpaced the rest of the world in total COVID-19 deaths. With only essential business open in most states, WWE was declared an essential by Florida Governor Ron Desantis despite not initially labeled as such. Around the same time, the Connecticut based company decided on April 10th to resume live shows.
Vince McMahon cited the change by implying the networks carrying his programming could cancel their television contracts if the company did not continue to perform live shows regularly. Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer reported that USA Network and Fox denied considering dissolving their agreements. McMahon reversed course and eventually allowed pre-taped episodes to resume.
On April 15th, WWE released a business update announcing the furlough of talent as well as other cost-cutting measures. Over 30 wrestlers were released, not including behind the scenes workers This included Miroslav Barnyashev formerly known by his in-ring name of Rusev. Rusev had recently donated $20,000 of his own money to help those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
A week later the company’s quarter one earnings report was released and the biggest highlight was the increased revenue from the previous year’s first-quarter earnings: A net positive of 60%. During April there was a confirmed but unidentified employee who contracted coronavirus. The individual was not a wrestler but did work at shows. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during April.
There were not many new developments from the business perspective of World Wrestling Entertainment, however, the content of their programming led to frustration from fans and employees alike. Fans began noticing Reigns had been edited out of more and more programming. He had not made an appearance in over a month so in some regard, it was understandable that his name was not often referenced during or after matches.
What was harder to understand was the manipulation of certain highlight packages removing him entirely. This included matches he was heavily featured in. Previous to this instance only one wrestler had been effectively removed from the annals of history: Chris Benoit. Since the American Somoan’s conduct had been spotless it was unclear why these decisions were being made.
Also, Sami Zayn was effectively stripped of the Intercontinental title. While this may seem like a storyline angle at first glance, it’s important to note Zayn was participating in Canada’s quarantine protocol as he was a Canadian citizen and could not attend the Orlando tapings due to international travel restrictions. His failure to comply cost him his place despite the company’s earlier assurances that no worker would be punished for skipping voluntary tapings.
Jordan Devlin had an almost identical experience. As the Cruiserweight Titleholder, Devlin was unable to defend his championship and there was a tournament to determine who would hold the belt during the interim similar to how UFC deals with injured fighters. However, the word interim was dropped without explanation and it’s unclear if Santo Escobar, the winner of the aforementioned tournament, will have to defend his title against Devlin when the UK native eventually returns. WWE did not test any of its wrestlers for COVID-19 during May.
This month WWE has made every effort that it could to return to normal. Developmental wrestlers, friends, and families began attending pre-recorded shows to give the performers and audience at home a more authentic fan experience. For the first time in months, there were boos, cheers, and even chants to fill a mostly empty void of fan interaction.
This week, a cascade of bad press has been unloaded upon the pro-wrestling giant. It was announced on Monday that a developmental wrestler who had attended a taping has tested positive for coronavirus. Reports surfaced from multiple sources stating that face masks were not permitted inside the performance center premises during tapings. This is in contrast to the early April CDC recommendations on wearing a face mask in public.
WWE responded by explaining to fans and news-outlets that masks were unnecessary since all employees and fans in attendance maintained proper social distancing and followed Florida state policy to the letter of the law (despite fans being shown high-fiving talent and disregarding the six feet minimum of each other of the episode in question).
Possibly the most disturbing report released this week was that on some occasions, fans were allowed to attend shows despite having a fever if there were special circumstances. On Wednesday the company implemented the first wave of COVID-19 testing to its wrestlers. At this time there has been no announcement of regular testing.
WWE’s Coronavirus response looks worse with context
All companies have the legal right and ability to hire and fire employees at their discretion. All publicly-traded companies are expected to be at least somewhat responsible with their finances to appease the stockholders. All businesses should be able to set forth policies for their workforce.
The problems lie when WWE is compared to smaller wrestling promotions who have done an objectively better job keeping their employees safe while staying afloat during these difficult economic times.
All Elite Wrestling on TNT has returned to their regularly scheduled live shows. Before each show, all fans, wrestlers, and staff are all tested before they can enter the building. AEW along with even smaller groups like Ring of Honor and Impact have not fired, released, or furloughed any wrestlers. At shows, you will see masks worn by referees, interviewers, and even fans. These groups have proved you can make every effort to serve your employees first and put the bottom line on the backburner and survive as a wrestling organization.
World Wrestling Entertainment may have fulfilled its legal obligation to its shareholders, but it has severely failed its ethical responsibility to its staff, especially the talent which is the main product for consumers of pro-wrestling.
On the first Dynamite following his TNT championship win over Lance Archer at Double or Nothing, Cody Rhodes addressed the AEW fans and gave subtle clues on a darker alter ego on the horizon, one not seen since his time in WWE. AEW has proved its dedication to long term storytelling. There was a slow burn between Jon Moxley and Chris Jehrico. The all-out war that happened to feature the Young Bucks, Adam “Hangman” Page, and Kenny Omega, both had tremendous build-up and rewarded fans for paying attention to details. Cody has been dropping clues about a possible heel turn for months and in his coronation speech on dynamite he finally revealed the reason he will renounce his baby-face persona.
An Inevitable Heel Turn is Coming for Cody Rhodes
Rhodes has been a heel for a large portion of his career and with good reason, he is an exceptional talker and worker for that role. We have not seen him be a true heel since he left WWE either in the indies, New Japan or inside of AEW. Cody Rhodes will become a heel again and the evidence is already there.
Cody has been careful to leave hints right out in the open, but there are also examples where fans have to look deeper into his past to find the foreshadowing of the coming turn. Let’s have a look at the things Rhodes has said, the actions and inaction he has taken on pay-per-views, dynamite, and his run in the pro wrestling indies this past couple of years.
No one on the AEW roster has been more outspoken against Cody Rhodes’ character than Maxwell Jacob Freeman. MJF betrayed his mentor and made it his mission to besmirch the Rhodes family name ever since. It has drawn him nuclear heat at times and erupted when the former protege pinned Cody earlier this year at Revolution in Chicago. Most heels say disgusting things to get over as a villain in front of the crowd, but some of what MJF says about Cody has an air of truth in it.
MJF has always maintained that the reason for his betrayal was Rhodes was not who he appeared to be. The people that associate themselves with Cody are there to be used to advance his career. Interestingly, MJF chooses these words to describe how Cody treats his friends and family. Has Rhodes reciprocated the support Brandi, Dustin, QT Marshal, and Arn Anderson have given him without fail? Or was MJF’s heel turn a stand-alone event with no bearing on Cody’s storyline?
Easily the person closest to Cody, Brandi has been alongside her husband for nearly every match since the nightmare collective folded last year. In those matches along with segments interspersed through dynamite, we have seen where Brandi has been put in harm’s way, both accidentally and other times with a bit more intent. When Cody is in championship fight mode Brandi comes second, that’s not conjecture, that’s Brandi’s experience before Cody’s pay-per-view fight with Chris Jericho at Full Gear last November.
Also, when Cody faced off with Darby Allin in the semi-finals it appeared as though he threw Allin into Brandi despite knowing his wife was behind him. Finally, possibly the most damning moment where Cody’s ego showed through was his inaction after Jake Roberts covered his wife with his trademark snake and mimed heinous motions over her unconscious body. Rhodes never delivered a promo, he let Anderson talk for him on the go-home show before Double or Nothing.
The eldest member of the Rhodes family is a strong veteran wrestler who has worked without his half-brother most of his career. However, after a heartfelt plea by Cody after their match at the very first Double or Nothing, the two have teamed together and have stood up for each other much more. However, during the other semi-final of the TNT championship tournament, Cody had an opportunity to stop the contest between Lance Archer and the Natural, Dustin Rhodes.
QT Marshall held the towel in his hands asking, almost begging Dustin to let him end the fight before he made his decision Cody ripped it from his hands and refused to throw it in. This may have been a matter of pride, but the match was over from a realistic standpoint. Cody could have saved his brother from taking even more unnecessary damage. In the lead up to his match with Archer, Rhodes only acknowledged his “need” for the title, he never talked about the match as a way of vengeance for his family.
One of the people who battled for power with the second generation pro wrestler and fellow member of the bullet club was Kenny Omega. Many people were speculating back in the tandem’s NJPW days that Cody was jealous of Kenny’s popularity, and talent and that it would lead the nightmare family patriarch to launch a hostile takeover of the bullet club and leave Omega on the outside looking in. The payoff to their tension was never to be, but to this day both Rhodes and Omega still acknowledge they don’t always see eye to eye.
If Kenny becomes a threat in the eyes of Rhodes what will Cody do to maintain his place in AEW?
The TNT Championship Title
On the May 27th edition of Wednesday night dynamite, Rhodes cut a promo as the very first TNT champion and it didn’t start like anyone expected. “Tony (Schivone) do you know why Tom Brady is my favorite quarterback?” He explained that both he and Brady were passed over multiple times by organizations and despite that fact have legacies that speak for themselves. The analogy being made hinges on the fact that Rhodes was the fourth phone call made by Tony Khan when making a merit-based pro wrestling promotion.
“It (being called 4th) doesn’t bother me, and if there is a tinge of bother it is absolved by the fact that in my right hand is the TNT Championship, and I am the very first champion of America’s greatest network,” Rhodes admits to having a sore spot or a chip on his shoulder for being snubbed for the first couple draft picks as it were when selecting the greatest free agents to start AEW. If Rhodes were ever to lose the title, these old feelings would resurface. In the press conference immediately following Double or Nothing Cody talked at length about what the title meant to him, it is important to him personally as it is professionally.
How Does it Happen?
Dropping the championship for Cody will be extremely difficult considering how attached he is to it. Losing the TNT championship would be the most likely opportunity for a change in personality. While a when is difficult to predict, the person to take the title is much less in doubt. While Jon Moxley is a fan favorite it’s very hard to characterize him as a pure babyface. Mox is the ultimate badass, a lone wolf who oozes charisma. While fans root for Moxley his persona will never be a replacement for Rhodes if he does indeed fall.
Who Triggers the Turn?
AEW has many likable wrestlers who could hold the title and perform at a serviceable level. There is only one wrestler, however, who has an unmatched rivalry with Cody Rhodes and always gets the best out of him when they square off. Darby Allin has had three matches with Rhodes each time getting closer to beating him. As mentioned before, Allin collided with Brandi Rhodes and appeared to be redirected into her by Cody. When listening to the promo by Cody leading up to that contest it’s clear he perceives Allin as a threat. A title win by Allin would not only elevate the profile of the Seattle native but would force a new chapter in the Cody Rhodes story.
In AEW’s first pay-per-view since the quarantine The Elite defeated The Inner Circle in the main event to cap a loaded show that featured a new Women’s champ, a variety of great matches, and the debut of former IMPACT star Brian Cage.
Best Friends vs. Private Party put on an entertaining match-up to kick off the buy-in. Best Friends were without Orange Cassidy as he prepared for the Casino Ladder Match. Private Party put on an impressive showing. All the usual spots and a few new ones mixed throughout including both teams trading Trent’s headband back and forth and an assisted moonsault Marq Quen and Isiah Kassidy. Best Friends got the victory and became the number one contenders for the tag team championship. The date of the match against Hangman Page and Kenny Omega was not announced.
As is the case for most AEW pay-per-views, the opening contest was full of high spots, comedy moments, and surprises. The casino ladder match began with Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky as the first two competitors. After 50-50 scrapping back and forth Kip Sabian entered at number three with Jimmy Havoc interfering before Sabian entered the ring. The first big spot of the match came from Darby Allin. Allin attempted and failed to crush Kazarian with a skateboard double foot stomp from atop a ladder outside the ring sending Alling crashing through a second breakaway ladder.
Orange Cassidy entered at number five doing what Freshly Squeezed does best…very little. The comedy spots continued at number six with Colt Cabana entering and promptly getting his fingers pinched in the ladder after nearly reaching the poker chip above the ring. The bad boy Joey Janela entered at number seven as the replacement to Rey Fenix Jr. who was injured on the previous episode of dynamite. Luchasaurus wiped out the majority of the remaining participants at number eight before Allin reemerged slamming the super heavyweight member of Jurassic Express with a code red leaving no one in the ring to stop Allin.
The mystery competitor was finally revealed with the ninth and final participant, Brian Cage. The former Impact star was led to the ring by Taz and the powerhouse Cage dismantled all other AEW stars before finally they rallied together and buried him beneath guardrails, pieces of the set, ladders, and other debris. After more interference from Best Friends, Marko Stunt, and a few more ladder attempts Cage exploded from beneath the wreckage leading to one final spot between himself and Allin. Cage gorilla pressed Allin lying helplessly on top of a smaller ladder and deposited him outside. Cage secured the victory ending the contest at around 28 minutes of near nonstop thrills.
Up next was MJF vs Jungle Boy. As a change of pace the two put on a technical clinic. This match was arguably the best-worked performance of the night. MJF won after referee Aubrey Edwards accidentally gave MJF the momentum he needed by inadvertently knocking Jungleboy into a vulnerable position. MJF won via pinfall at 17 minutes, keeping him undefeated in singles competition.
The TNT Championship
The TNT championship tournament final between Murderhawk Lance Archer and Cody Rhodes was an excellent balance of storytelling, wrestling, and personalities. Iron Mike Tyson was at ringside waiting to crown either of the two men. Archer dominated Rhodes early on hitting the blackout in the first 10 seconds of the match. The narrative for most of the fight would be Rhodes struggling to hold on while Archer appeared to be toying with him most of the contest. A couple of the main highlights of this match were Rhodes hitting the Murderhawk with a DDT out of Jake Roberts playbook and Archer hitting an Arn Anderson–inspired spine-buster. Despite Roberts defying ejection from referee Bryce Remsburg, Tyson kept the peace long enough to allow Rhodes to capture the first-ever TNT victory in just over 21 minutes.
Very little of note occurred for the next few segments. It was announced Dr. Britt Baker would inform the AEW audience live this Wednesday how long she would remain sidelined from her knee injury. Penelope Ford, her replacement for the match against Kris Statlander, did an admirable job subbing in for her. Statlander had her best performance in an AEW ring thus far beating Ford in a tidy eight minutes.
Arguably the only poor portion of Double or Nothing was the bizarre interaction between Shawn Spears and the natural, Dustin Rhodes. It isn’t fair to call this a match. Spears was embarrassed by Rhodes after calling out Cody’s older brother out of an assumed retirement. The chairman Spears was forcefully disrobed and exposed for having his manager, Tully Blanchard‘s face on his briefs. Rhodes pinned him for the victory in a thankfully short, but pointless, four minutes.
Hikaru Shida defeated Nyla Rose to win the AEW Women’s championship. Less than 24 hours after the tragic death of Hana Kimura, a wrestler for the Japanese promotion Stardom, Shida the former Stardom athlete won the no disqualification brawl against reigning champ and native beast Nyla Rose. Shida’s emotion, passion, and storytelling was overwhelming and won with an emphatic baseball-like swing of her kendo stick breaking it over the monster Rose, hitting her with a running knee strike and pinning her at 16 minutes.
The AEW Championship
Jon Moxley finally had his chance to exact his revenge on the exalted one Brodie Lee. AEW champ Moxley came out aggressively trying to tear the head off of the leader of the Dark Order. Lee in contrast, executed his offense in a very cerebral fashion. The referee gave a lot of leeway in this match allowing both wrestlers to leave the ring without counting them out, and not disqualifying Brodie Lee or Moxley for slamming each other through multiple barriers and stage equipment. When the action resumed in the ring the champ Moxley regained his title by referee stoppage via submission, although Lee did not officially tap. Likely, this feud is not over.
The Stadium Stampede
The Stadium Stampede match in TIAA Bank Field will be remembered for its fun and zany antics for a very long time. The less that is said the better. For those who like Matt Hardy‘s broken world, being the elite, and the bubbly bunch this main event may be the best product you watch from AEW this year. If you weren’t a fan of the more cinematic type of matches such as the boneyard match between AJ Styles and The Undertaker its best to skip this one. Kenny Omega pinned Sammy Guevara to win the contest for The Elite after 33 minutes for iconic spots and absolute insanity.