It is no secret that I have enjoyed watching the ascent of AEW as a real competitor to WWE. Sure, they may not have the worldwide reach of WWE, but they have a rabid fanbase and a growing footprint, which is fun for a business-minded guy like me to watch evolve over time.
However, as much as I like the business-side of professional wrestling, we cannot forget that the industry is essentially an athletic performance. And, being an athletic performance, professional wrestling is prone to drama, character-based innuendo, and emotionally-driven entertainment. Last month, one of these scenarios took place and it left a really bad taste in my mouth, so much so that I wrote a column about it (and here we are).
On the August 4, 2021 episode of AEW Dynamite, Cody Rhodes feigned that he was so disrupted by losing to Malakai Black that he was seriously considering retirement. To show this to the crowd, he did the classic move of taking off his boots and leaving them in the ring (one boot taken off during Dynamite and the other one left behind after the show went off the air). The conclusion that any wrestling fan would draw from these actions is that Cody Rhodes is going to retire from professional wrestling and move on to other endeavors (helped, in part, by his upcoming reality show on TNT).
Now, granted, I know that we are talking about professional wrestling and yes, I know that he is being written out in a storyline manner because of the reality show, but that he will be back at some point soon. No big surprises there at all – I get it, folks – I get the storyline. What rubbed me the wrong way about the use of the boots in the ring approach is that this is usually reserved for older, much more well-established professional wrestlers. To see a relatively young guy like Cody grabbing on to a time-honored tradition like that one felt incredibly forced and, for this wrestling fan, came off very poorly. Yes, Cody’s family has been in wrestling for decades, but his own career is only 15 years old and the bulk of his elevated career (top of the card) is very recent, coming within the last few years.
On top of the relatively short career that he has had, he is only 36 years old. To be blunt, Cody has not earned the gravitas to be engaging in that type of false retirement, leaving my boots in the ring performance art – yet. Might he be at that level in another 5 to 10 years? Maybe – it all depends on how his career evolves in the ring. If Cody left active in-ring performing right now, he would not have put together a Hall of Fame career. Not yet. He has not even put together a distinguished in-ring career, though his business moves outside of the ring are deeply impressive (helping to form AEW is no joke and is something worthy of remembrance).
While I know I am one random writer in a sea of internet commentators, in the ultra rare event that a Tony Khan type reads this column, then I hope that he takes away from it that not every wrestler has the gravitas with the wider fanbase to pull off time-honored traditions in the ring. In other words, even though a relatively young performer like Cody may want to engage in what appears to be an emotionally-driven feigned retirement, someone in the leadership structure has to be willing to tell him – and all of the performers – no once in a while. And I am sure that this is already going on behind the scenes and that Tony Khan and his team are actively working with AEW’s talent to make sure that their in-ring stories are logical. I just hope that those conversations are spread up the ladder and chain of command to the founders of the company like Cody and the Young Bucks, among others.
And, in general, in a world where professional wrestlers stay involved in the industry for decades after they “retire,” I think we can drop the false retirements entirely. Do we really need another fake retirement out there? It is and always was a weak storyline plot and professional wrestling can do much better. Why not replace the fake retirement with a real stipulation like, “If you beat me, then I’ll sit on the sidelines for the next X months/years.” What a great opportunity for someone to not put their career on the line (which we all know is a false proposition), but, instead, be forced to sit on the sidelines (maybe even in the front row of the shows) and be mocked by their opponent! And what a great opportunity for there to be a countdown until the wrestler can come back to the ring.
Regardless of how these storylines play out in the future, I hope that the “career-ending” ones are used few and far in between. And I hope that they are reserved for those performers who have reached a level of gravitas in the ring that warrants such a desperate stipulation.