Ahead of tonight’s tag-team match against Shaquille O’Neal, AEW’s Cody Rhodes talks EXCLUSIVELY with HL about his experience facing men of that ‘stature,’ his excitement at becoming a dad, Maki Itoh, and more.
“I am beyond tickled and curious to see Shaq,” says Cody Rhodes while speaking EXCLUSIVELY with HollywoodLife. With that one line, the All Elite Wrestling star summed up the mood of the pro-wrestling world ahead of the March 3 episode of AEW’s Dynamite. For the second time in history, Shaquille O’Neal will step inside a wrestling ring, teaming up with Jade Cargill to take on Cody and Red Velvet in a mixed tag-team match. Shaq’s run in professional wrestling has long been rumored, and Cody sees great potential in his opponent. “The guy has all the athletic credentials in the world,” he says, “plus the genetic gifts to be an athletic giant.”
Though Shaq is a foot taller than Cody (7’1” to Cody’s 6’1”) and outweighs “The American Nightmare” by 100 pounds, Cody isn’t intimidated. In fact, he has experience facing “giants” of the squared circle. Cody spoke with HollywoodLife before AEW announced the signing of Paul Wight, formerly known as WWE’s “The Big Show,” and Rhodes may have slyly hinted as to his strategy for when he goes toe-to-toe with Shaq. “And I have only been in the ring with one guy of that stature, and he beat me pretty handily,” said Cody, hinting at his WrestleMania 28 loss against Wight. Nearly a decade after that 2012 clash – and years after the rumored Big Show-Shaq match — Cody tells HL that he “looks forward to [showing] the very different me [at this] phase in my career.”
Shaq and Cody won’t be the only ones in the ring for the match. All eyes will also be on Jade Cargill and Red Velvet, and Cody tells HollywoodLife that he sees this as an opportunity to help AEW elevate its Women’s division. One of the main critiques against the young company is that its women’s division is underdeveloped (“A lot of people talk specifically about the Women’s Division, ‘We go to do the Women’s Division, we got to do the Women’s Division.’”). Recently, AEW has made two massive steps in putting women further in the spotlight, with this tag-match being one. Cody says that his match is a way for him to “reach your hand down and grab your fellow brethren, your sisters, and bring them up. In this case, Red Velvet is somebody that is really maximized her minutes in the ring so well and has seized an opportunity. I am very excited to see what they can do.”
The other way that AEW has righted the ship when it comes to its Women’s division is the recent Women’s World Championship Eliminator Tournament. The international tournament – with half taking place in the United States and half in Japan – will decide who faces AEW Women’s Champion Hikaru Shida at Revolution on March 7. It has already successfully introduced AEW fans to a bevy of new talent, like Veny, Mei Suruga, and the woman Cody wanted to win, Maki Itoh.
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“She owes me ten dollars for one!” says Cody. “I bet on the opening round. Yeah, I lost ten dollars on Maki Itoh.” Maki, a former member of the idol group LinQ, has developed an intense following since becoming a pro-wrestler due to both her being “the cutest in the world” and her blunt/explicit Twitter habits. The combination is pure charisma, and she’s earned a fan in Cody.
“I think her kind of ‘raunchy and punkish behavior meets real quality disciplined wrestling’ is what makes her very endearing and fun,” he tells HollywoodLife. Sadly, Maki fell to Ryo Mizunami in the opening round, and Cody echoed many wrestling fans’ sentiment when he told HL that he would “love to see more of Maki in AEW. Of course. Maki, she didn’t let me down. I don’t think that is the first time we hear from somebody from that talent and that kind of social love she received.”
“And you know, what I do for a living is wrestling, so it’s such a unique lifestyle for a kid, one I experienced myself,” says Cody, the son of the late wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes. “We’re going to get everything right. The house is getting decluttered, the baby crib, the dogs got specialized classes, all three of them. We are walking around with a fake kid in our arms and making noises on a YouTube loop for the dogs.”
“There has not been a challenge or a thing in my life that has excited me ever like this, so I think the word ‘excitement’ is what has been tagged in so many articles, but it is so beyond that. It is immeasurable! This moment for me… I didn’t expect to be a dad, and to be a dad and to have a little princess is going to be amazing.”
With a baby on the way, a match against Shaq, Cody’s eager for what’s next in 2021 – but his aim is higher than princess dresses and wrestling rings. “The big goal for AEW, for me, in year two and year three is the Warner Media footprint,” he says, speaking not as Cody Rhodes the wrestler, but as Cody Rhodes, AEW Executive Vice President. “I look to HBO Max, and they got the Snyder Cut [of Justice League], and they got South Park, and I think there is a place for us there.”
“I don’t want just to be given it,” he adds. “I want to earn it. I want to take it. Warner Media and the offices they have and the people they have are wonderful partners, and we have a one-to-one relationship with them. Honestly, everything I get from them — whether it is [co-hosting] The Go Big Show or the next step, I want to earn it, and I want to earn it as a wrestler because wrestling is telling great stories. Wrestling’s treading mainstream popularity, and it hasn’t been in quite some time.
“And as far as working with other companies?” he says, referencing the recent appearance of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s KENTA on Dynamite, “The sky really is the limit. There are no rules, and I know that sounds crazy. There are no rules at AEW. Tony [Khan] or myself or the other EVPs, we need to make great content.”
“Wrestling fans have waited so long, and they have got the alternative to make great content and to keep in touch, and that is the thing. It is a bigger world. You can never insult the fans. You can never do that, they are customers, and they are loyal. They stick with us every week and the things that they fantasize about and dream bookings, we can make them possible in our company, in my opinion.”
So does that mean more stars from music, sports, and other worlds will step into the wrestling ring? “We don’t often get a lot of [mainstream stars] express interest and want to do something with us, and that is… I mean, growing up a kid that had a wrestler as a daddy, always trying to explain wrestling, it is always so nice when someone from a different world. in pop culture, wants to do this.” When asked if that means a potential 8-on-8 match between AEW’s The Dark Order and masked metal group Slipknot, Cody laughed. I don’t know if it will be Slipknot and Dark Order, but you will definitely see crossover.”
Cody Rhodes teams with Red Velvet to take on Shaquille O’Neal and Jade Cargill tonight (March 8) on AEW Dynamite on TNT. Check local listings.
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