Interview: Cody on TNT Championship, Sonny Kiss Match, AEW Culture, Rhodes Legacy, & More

PWInsider held a recent interview with Cody. Some of the topics discussed included his thoughts on being the inaugural TNT Champion, his recent TNT title match against Sonny Kiss, lessons learned on building an AEW culture, his current relationship with the Elite, and continuing the legacy of the Rhodes Family in wrestling.

On the topic of being the inaugural TNT Champion and building the title’s prestige, Cody stated:

“Well I think AEW has always presented, especially to experienced talent, even myself in management, just looking at myself from a wrestler the way I present it to other experienced talent who have a lot of equity is that you’ll play your music how you want to, there is no writing core, there’s much less scripting going involved.  With that in mind the TNT Championship has been, kinda been open mic, it’s an open challenge but it’s been an open mic for me pretty much every week as far as how I want my wrestling career, what I want to do next. It’s very important to me, very…I think some people might think it’s silly but I’m a wrestler so it’s not silly to me but it is important to me that I grow as a wrestler, I’m only going to do this for 5 more years and the next 5 more years I want to really carve out that bell to bell aspect of what I was able to do, cause I’ve always been very confident in myself in the ring, and I try not to be overly confident, but we’re dealing with different athletes now and we’re drawing from all walks of life in terms of the wrestling world…that’s what I always loved about The Elite. There’s all these rumors about the Elite and our relationship and things of that nature but one thing that’s for sure is why it has worked is because Matt and Nick have this incredible, high paced meta-like wrestling approach to tag team action that’s really just remarkable to watch, and then Kenny maintains some of his DDT elements and his Puro-roots and the long form New Japan style match, and what I brought to the table was classic Jim Crockett Promotions old Southern wrestling, old Southern drama, but what I think is special about the group is I think everyone in the group is capable of doing what the other could do in a way, and that’s what I wanted the TNT open challenge to represent – my ability to hustle bell to bell,  because it’s what I train for every day, it’s very much a professional sport to me and I train like a professional athlete, so I’m going to want to be the best at it. And per recruitment of or I guess scouting of opponents pretty much been half and half, when I think of it in my mind, Tony has some people he wants to see get in the mix, and then there’s some people I’ve wanted to see get in the mix, and never really is it a hard sell to one another on these things. Arn Anderson’s actually been involved, his involvement goes beyond the on-screen coaching role, it really is special to have him around and Jerry Lynn secretly is the, kinda been attached to me by the hip for the last few weeks and my gosh, I’m so glad to have him because it feels like 2007-8 all of a sudden again, it feels like I know nothing, and he doesn’t do it in a mean spirited way but it’s never about ‘oh what you did well or what worked’ it’s about ‘well you could have done this, you could have done this’, and really special…he’s found his identity as a coach, but this has gone very well, and I’m a large critic, very well in terms of viewership and ratings, very well in terms of critical reception to the matches  but the trick is it’s gotta keep getting better and I think there’s an element of unpredictable to the open challenge that I want to kind of turn the volume up on.”

On the topic of his recent TNT Championship match against Sonny Kiss, Cody stated:

“So Sonny, the match we had, the day, as the day went by it dawned on me a little bit more, the severity of what it meant to have this fluid gender and open homosexual to have himself/herself challenging for the TNT Title. To me, Sonny is an outstanding athlete that has an incredibly different approach, presentation-wise, and a different type of charisma, the only like, reference-able charisma that I can think of what Sonny does is almost like Gorgeous George from the radio days, and just the overall pomp and circumstance of the presentation Sonny has, but that day as the day went on, it became more clear to me that this meant a lot to more people than just wrestling fans and I, you know, forgive me for being naive to that, I want to, I want to love and respect everyone on our roster, so it was a great learning experience for me and Aubrey Edwards was the one who kinda brought it in for me, brought it home in terms of how important it was, I’m almost tearing up as I say this, but it was, she said to me in the hallway, this is a big deal to a lot of people and I, I just, you know, you know I’ve been to the end zone before and I gave her the like, nod and I turned around and I went back and I gave her one of the longest hugs I think I’ve ever given anyone because I got it, and I could feel us in. So with that in mind, I want to make sure that, that I’m responsible to that, you know not only did she tell me that’s important and that’s a big deal, now I have to be responsible for that. Sonny doesn’t have over 10 years of experience like I have, I’ve worked with some of the greatest wrestlers of all time, and if I don’t take that experience in the ring and the match sucks, it’s not Sonny’s fault, it’s my fault. So with that in mind, I really..I was really proud we were able to carry it the way we did. There were some things I thought we could do better, but they were things that I could do better, and I was proud of Sonny, I was proud of Aubrey, I was proud of TNT, very proud of AEW, we’re moving forward on what does life look like really in 2020-2021 and beyond, it’s represented on AEW and doing it in a way that’s not just hey we check the box, here’s a big PR press campaign, instead doing it in a real functional way made me proud.”

On the topic of building a company culture in AEW, Cody stated:

“Probably the largest lesson that I’ve personally, kind of taken in is that we don’t have our identity just yet, and that’s a really wonderful thing. It’s going to take time. And if you look at the campaign and the build to AEW, you look at some of the things that I said, and then you look at the product, there’s areas where we’ve done other things, there’s areas where we’ve veered from the path and then back into the path, we’re kind of putting our toes in multiple bodies of water and that I think is a really beautiful thing. I think that’s why it’s so cool to be a fan now, to jump in now with AEW, because we’re slowly forming that identity as who we are as a brand and much quicker than you would have thought, you know Fyter is already an established brand for example, Fight for the Fallen, which I do have to mention I was so keen on the idea that it remain charitable and Tony and his family, you know, quietly donating over a million dollars to North Florida Covid relief and that shirt, which you can still get now, that shirt on, Fight for the Fallen shirt, still making money for the said charities Tony’s supporting, they’re all to combat the pandemic, but with us the biggest lesson is that we haven’t found our identity yet and for me personally, um, I just, I’m a hot headed and red blooded individual, and that doesn’t work in management anymore, and I really never brought it to the table in AEW but we have a very kind of loosey-goosey, we have 18 good cops and maybe only 2 bad cops when it comes to, you know, disciplinarians and absorbing that role of being the one who has a little structure, absorbing that role I am OK with, it doesn’t make you friends with everybody in the locker room, and I am OK with that because more than friends with everybody in the locker room I want to make sure that we have a product that’s on TV and on TNT for years and years to come, so that’s just been an area where it’s been an adjustment. I always was friends with all the boys, and I was one of the boys, and I’’re really, the day this place started that wasn’t the case anymore just because I’m in a different position and I want to do that position honestly and respectfully, but that’s been a big adjustment for somebody who’s always in the locker room and one of the guys, to the next, you know, two degree being their boss, it’s been a big adjustment and I hope I’m up for the challenge but uh, you know that’s just me personally, I know Matt, Nick and Kenny, everybody’s had something else that they’ve learned and again we’ve had Tony right there. Anybody who sits down with Tony for more than 5 minutes, all of a sudden he brings you in, he’s so charming, he knows so much about the history of wrestling and right now, whether people know it or not, we are relying a lot on the history of wrestling, the really good stuff, the magic, the ‘what’s old is new’ that’s back there for us to uh, kind of take and shape to our own brand and our own product.”

On the status of his relationship with the Elite, Cody stated:

“I think in a way and a lot of people will be like “No way, he’s lying”, I think in a way it’s actually made us stronger, but we don’t spend near as much time as we used to together. Everyone is so busy, Kenny is working from the time he gets there, Matt, Nick uh are always up to something in terms of the BTE is such an important brand to them, and it’s an important brand to AEW, um, and then I’m always up to something. We literally have you know, a couple of rooms in the hallway where management is all and they’re basically different offices, and sometimes you think there might be a lot of goofing on in there but it’s not, it’s literally from 1 segment to the next, from 1 talent to the next, so I think in a way years from now we’ll look at it and say it made us stronger, you know, I do miss some of the fun we had when we didn’t have as many cares in the world, believe me. I’m never on BTE anymore, BTE has become a spotlight for younger guys and girls and I totally get that, but uh, I have nothing but respect and love for Matt, Nick and Kenny and if you ever hear about any in-fighting or any things of that nature, sure, I’m sure there’s arguments and I’m sure there’s differences of opinion but we have never gone into a show where we weren’t all on the same page, very professional, those guys all put the professional in professional wrestler and uh, you know, we don’t spend near as much time together anymore but we have this show with our faces on it and I know we want to make it the best.”

On the topic of continuing building the legacy of the Rhodes Family in wrestling, Cody stated:

“It’s really easy to go kinda down into that space where I get very kind of melancholy and of course nostalgic and I miss my dad, you know it’s five/six years now, it doesn’t make it any different, it feels like it was yesterday that I was sitting in that hospital room and watching it all happen, but I think I’ve learned that I almost want to get away from that legacy to a degree, or I almost, a better way of putting it, I want to compete with that legacy. I don’t want my identity to just be that I was Dusty’s son, believe me it’s something that I’m proud of and all of that, but actually now that we’re on similar platforms and in similar roles, um which is insane and I hope somebody does write a book about it, about just the, how time and fate all works, but I do say this, Dusty is somebody I’d like to compete with. I know exactly how good, in the box office, in the ring, I know exactly how good Dusty was with no bias, and I ain’t close to it yet, but I don’t mind competing with it, I really don’t, because that’s what he would want and I feel like I’m one of the leading experts on what he would want versus everyone else who does to a degree, I understand has a fan ownership of him, but I want to be better than him, I want to be better than Dustin and I don’t mean that in any mean spirited way at all, I just…I just want the legacy to move on, and you know, I want to move ahead of them on the graphic, if that makes any sense and he would love that and that’s the space I like to be in mentally, versus the space of just remembering and doing things for him, because if you get into that space it’s real hard to get out and believe me, I slip into it every now and then, he was my dad, and he was a great dad, hall of fame dad, so it’s hard to slip out of it, and it’s hard sometimes for my family to understand what I’m doing and why I’m such a d*** a lot of the times and why I’m so, you know, focused and laser-eyed on things. I want to get something done, I don’t always know what it is, but competing with Dusty is part of it.”