On May 25, 2019, AEW produced their first-ever pay-per-view (PPV), Double or Nothing. It took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, earning rave reviews from fans and critics across the globe. Since then AEW’s Executive Vice President and cherished wrestler, Cody Rhodes, has seen his fair share of criticism and love on his quest for gold.
However in 2019, Rhodes declared he would no longer pursue the AEW World Championship following his loss to Chris Jericho at AEW Full Gear, revealing he didn’t want to face the same kind of criticism his father Dusty Rhodes did when he was both booker and wrestler in Jim Crockett Promotions.
Fortunately that didn’t mean he swore off pursuing any other kind of title. On the March 30th episode of AEW’s Dynamite the TNT Championship title was announced, where the winner of the TNT Championship tournament would be crowned. Named after the TNT television network, AEW President and CEO Tony Khan stated:
it’s only fitting that the champion and the title belt will carry the logo of the globally-respected TNT brand, and that they’ll represent not only AEW but also the great quality programming, massive reach, and storied history in the wrestling business that are all associated with TNT
Starting with eight competitors including Rhodes, Shawn Spears, Darby Allin, Sammy Guevara, Dustin Rhodes, Kip Sabian, Colt Cabana, and Lance Archer, the tournament began on the April 8th episode of Dynamite and concluded on Double or Nothing PPV on May 23rd with Rhodes being crowned champion by Iron Mike Tyson.
During a media scrum after Double or Nothing’s groundbreaking PPV, Rhodes talked about what the TNT Championship means to the Rhodes legacy, defeating Archer, being crowned by Mike Tyson, and more.
“You talk about TNT and you talk about wrestling, the Turner Family Networks, everything that Ted did, that Dusty, Bill, Eric, and Sting did. There is a lineage and heritage but Tony Schiavone brought up this really good point in our sit-down interview. He named all these great stats for me, like my 1,000th match by 28. It was really special stuff, but they were like 10-year stats. They were stats that just didn’t – it’s not what you shoot for and to be able to add to my legacy to be the very first at this, it’s a damn good feeling. To come back and have Arn Anderson telling me, ‘Now it’s your time. Your time just started.’ After all this time, I think, ‘Oh good, finally.’ I’m just really happy. My initial thoughts might sound so strange, this story is so uniquely linked from Turner, Dusty, Dustin, and Cody, but my initial thoughts when I won were just about my mom. She’s the one I have left. I think she enjoyed it. I was happy. When you can please your mom, that’s a good thing.”
While the match between Archer and Rhodes reached a fever-pitch, the anticipation, and build-up of boxing legend Tyson also excited the fans. Despite being 53, Tyson has been in the headlines for recently uploaded training videos, making fans wonder will there be action between Jake Roberts and the knock-out champ. While we didn’t get a repeat of WrestleMania XIV, his presence played a significant role as he’s a huge fan of AEW.
“As far as Mike Tyson being a fan of AEW since the initial Double or Nothing, it was really fitting that he was here for this sequel of Double or Nothing and I thought it was, if things get hairy out there, I think had Jake Roberts had taken any further steps those fast hands of Iron Mike would have got to the old man but Jake knew better. It was a special moment to have Mike there for so many reasons. It was surreal, that’s the best way to really describe it: surreal. His ending out there is surreal. I’ve seen Mike Tyson in every fight, I’ve seen him in the ring with Steve Austin and tonight he handed me this TNT Championship belt and it was very surreal. I don’t think I’ll wrap my head around it anytime soon.”
Clearly one of the best matches of the PPV, it was a classic case of heel versus babyface with Archer dominating most of the match, forcing Rhodes to dig deep within himself, hoping his blows would eventually knock down the giant to pull off the win. Rhodes credits his old-school style of wrestling and storytelling for telling compelling stories and emotional matches. In fact, its the combination of what every wrestler brings to their matches that makes AEW unique and refreshing.
“Not to be too inside, I do think everything I do is old-school and I’m not trying for that, it’s just the wrestling style I prefer. I’m gonna put it out there because I get really tired of hearing it, myself, and Matt and Nick and Kenny that bond is unbreakable. We don’t have to be best friends, it’s an unbreakable bond and what they do, what Matt and Nick do in terms of the Deadpool-style of wrestling and breaking of the fourth wall, what Kenny does with the DDT-inspired elements and what I do with Crockett-inspired and Dusty-inspired elements that’s what always made the freaking group work. We don’t have to agree, we’re not supposed to actually, we’re supposed to give you these different flavors. I watched the Stadium Stampede, I watched it when it was put together and I watched it just now and watching people watch it, it’s so damn enjoyable. Old school is the flavor I like to bring, it’s the wrestling I love the most and I hope I’m getting the best I’ve been at it, for me, I have to improve. At this point more than ever, I have to keep improving and I hope I can continue to do so.”
“I’m proud of the roster here, if you were able to see how the roster even at a social distance, how they were able to watch the show and their reaction and also that aspect of watching it and you can see it in their eyes, ‘I want to be there, I want to be on that field,’ that itch, that’s the real competition behind the other competition that you see and that’s such a good thing for our roster, such a motivating thing. I’m incredibly proud of the roster so far.”
Despite beating Archer, Rhodes would happily wrestle him again. “Lance is probably one of the top three people I’ve ever been in the ring with. We’re not best friends by any means. The recruitment of Lance Archer to AEW was Tony Khan and QT Marshall. They were the ones who were on that search. I questioned that search and I have no questions anymore. It’s one of the top three opponents I’ve ever had. I can’t wait to step back in the ring with him. A freaky hybrid, drug-free athlete, the things he can do. That’s what you want, that’s what a wrestling company should be paying the big bucks for. Hats off to Tony and QT for finding him.”
Even though there are mixed reviews of the TNT belt design (it’s not finished), Rhodes is proud of what it signifies and loves it regardless of what other people think.
“Well the part that is the most special and Tony Khan pointed out to me is the mansion. It’s Ted’s. If you have driven by Techwood and see the studios, it has Sam Linsky and Bret and Kevin Riley and all of these wonderful individuals who have believed in us and have given us this new home. It’s the mansion and the guy hand-painted it. I know Tony has already told you all this already so it’s not breaking news but this isn’t even the final belt. The actual silver-plated title which has the shiny finish and the extra details, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we didn’t have it here. We will have it, maybe as soon as this week’s Dynamite but man, I don’t know if I want it because this is the one I got handed and I’m very emotional this evening and I think it’s the coolest damn thing I’ve ever seen.”
Saturday’s Double or Nothing PPV was more than a series of matches. It provided a source of entertainment that’s needed now more than ever. From the emotional women’s match between Hikaru Shida and Nyla Rose to the action-packed MJF and Jungle Boy or the unforgettable Stadium Stampede, it was a show that made you forget about the deadly pandemic, the political nonsense and the everyday struggles one faces; which wouldn’t be possible without the geniuses that make up AEW’s production team.
“I’m also incredibly proud of our production team who does not know the word ‘no.’ They’re just so talent-friendly. Elsewhere I notice there’s this disconnect between production and talent. They talk like truck-drivers to each other, there’s a lack of family and one of the first things I told Tony Khan and Tony is an absolute wonderful boss who’s instilled it is, ‘I can’t be that way here, we gotta know each other, we gotta be able to speak to each other, we gotta help each other tell these stories in the ring.’ Man, no place on earth does it like AEW in terms of the symbiotic nature between production and talent. So of course I’m very proud of the locker-room but I’m incredibly proud of what they were able to put together production-wise for this show, it’s a show you can’t forget.”
Despite the COVID challenges, creativity at AEW is at an all-time high and offers many life lessons to both fans and budding wrestlers.
“It’s been one of the most challenging times as a performer and competitor ever and I scarily have gotten used to the no fans and I don’t like that. I want to get back into arenas, I want to get back with fans. Frankie Kazarian comes up to me, he had a wonderful PPV for himself but also Frankie is a big leader behind the scenes, he just said, ‘hey this is a time that wrestling is going to forget it but they’re not going to forget what we did tonight.’ He coined it so eloquently. This is a unique time as a fan and the young people who end up being wrestlers themselves go back and watch these matches, there’s the albatross, there’s the fact that there is no crowd, there’s the question of ‘why,’ there’s the explanation, there’s always this conversation, it will always be a conversation but to be able to give them something that’s our obligation. To pay 50 bucks for a Pay-Per-View, in one of the most damnedest times our country has ever seen, so much division; we’re obligated. I’m obligated. It’s my literal job to make you happy and I’m very happy with tonight.”