All Elite Wrestling's All Out card is stacked with intriguing matches. The feuds developed over the first three shows in company history laid the foundation for Saturday's event before the weekly TNT show begins Oct. 2.
None, however, have gotten as deeply personal as Cody Rhodes vs. Shawn Spears. The feud began with no obvious backstory as to why Spears plastered Cody on the head with a chair at Fyter Fest. It's blossomed because of the intricate storytelling AEW fans hoped to see. President Tony Khan promised more gripping entertainment than what wrestling fans have been used to in recent years, and the buildup for Cody and Spears' feud has been a highlight.
Below is a breakdown of the rivalry until now. Watch their match and the rest of the All Out event Saturday on B/R Live.
Although the friendship between Rhodes and Spears wasn't highly publicized before the chair shot, AEW set the larger stage for their feud through the YouTube series, Road to All Out. AEW established Rhodes and Spears' history of camaraderie during their time at Ohio Valley Wrestling, WWE's former developmental territory. There, the two were a tag team and won the promotion's tag titles twice.
In 2006, Spears taught a young Rhodes, only a handful of professional matches into his wrestling career, about the business.
"It started in OVW. It started with me," Spears said in an interview with AEW's Jim Ross during a Road to All Out episode. "He came in, and I taught him to wrestle. Those were his words, and he's made it public knowledge. ... He's a leech. He latched on, bled me dry and moved on in his ascent to the AEW hierarchy.
"Bottom line is he's forgotten who he was. He was in my inner circle. He forgot that I was there for the 50th wedding anniversary of his parents. He forgot that I sat at his table for Thanksgiving dinner. We were like brothers."
Harboring a deep resentment is a time-tested way to kick-start a wrestling angle, and this one planted the seeds for Spears to turn on Rhodes the moment the latter said "great hand."
In an episode of Road to All Out before June's Fyter Fest, Rhodes described Spears as a "great hand" to Nik Sobic, AEW's vice president of business operations, about The Perfect 10 signing for their company.
"He could potentially be a player-coach," Rhodes said. "He's great for the young guys and is a great hand, so I'm happy with it."
That's a compliment—usually. A hand is someone skilled in the ring and good to work with. Superstars can be hands and so can midcarders. It also can be a condescending dig at a guy who can work but is not going to be a star. For the purposes of this feud, Spears is selling it as a dig that he's never going to be a top star in the company. He's merely a good wrestler used to put over better guys.
Rhodes sees Spears as someone whom younger wrestlers at AEW can go to for advice and that he can help guide, similarly to what Spears did for Rhodes at OVW. As shown by his actions at Fyter Fest just weeks later, Spears was not pleased with this description.
The Chair Shot Heard Around the World
Rhodes had just finished a thrilling match against Darby Allin that reached its 20-minute time limit and ended in a draw. The crowd was hot already, and Spears jogged down the ramp with a chair in hand.
The crowd grew louder as The Perfect 10 raised the chair over his head and waited for Rhodes to turn around. When he finally did, Spears walloped his victim with a vicious, unprotected shot reminiscent of the Attitude Era.
A puddle of blood could be seen gushing out of Rhodes' head as he laid on the canvas with Spears standing over him. Brandi Rhodes, Cody's wife and the chief brand officer of AEW, rushed to the ring as she and referee Aubrey Edwards begged Spears to not take any further action. With an emptiness in his eyes, Spears left through the crowd.
The moment went viral—but probably not for the reason AEW wanted. Fans debated the recklessness of allowing someone to take a chair shot to the head. WWE banned them in 2006. Khan and the Young Bucks said after Fyter Fest that the blood was not intentional. The gimmicked chair used as a precaution mistakenly injured Rhodes.
Regardless, even more eyes were on the impending Rhodes-Spears feud now. The bludgeoning of Rhodes added to the perceived disdain Spears has for him, and that was the point. The chair shot confirmed how personal this feud was going to get.
Fans were left to wonder why Spears did that since the friendship between them wasn't highlighted until after the chair shot. The explanation came in his interview with Ross.
"Cody crossed the line," Spears said. "You don't call someone a good hand. It's the curse of this industry to be called a good hand. He should know better. Clearly he forgot, and that's why I wrapped a steel chair around his face. Sometimes people just need to be reminded."
The angle: Spears felt disrespected by Rhodes and believes his time at AEW will transcend that of just someone there to help others. He wants to be a face of the company and doesn't care who he has to confront to get that message across.
Reaction from within Rhodes' circle came in hot and heavy as his close friend, MJF, called Spears a "piece of s--t" in the buildup to their match at Fight for the Fallen two weeks later. Brandi Rhodes followed it up with a three-minute episode of Road to All Out solely dedicated to her thoughts on what happened and a warning to Spears on what's going to happen to him at All Out.
"He was your friend, and yet you took an unforgiving steel chair and ended all of that to make a name for yourself. ... That blood that I saw coming out of the back of his head may as well have been a mirror into your future. ... Ten staples to the back of my beloved's head was your 15 minutes. I really hope you enjoyed them."
This feud feels personal, and bringing in the opinion of others close to Rhodes to chime in emphasized that. However, Spears also didn't mind bringing in people to back him up.
Toward the conclusion of Spears' interview with Ross, he told AEW's lead commentator he had an ace up his sleeve. In walked Tully Blanchard, a WWE Hall of Fame member best known for being one of the Four Horsemen alongside Arn Anderson, Ole Anderson and Ric Flair.
Why bring in Blanchard? As Spears put it, his history of competing against Rhodes' father, Dusty, will give him psychological insight into what he can expect from Cody. After all, Blanchard and Dusty did wrestle together 184 times.
"I got a phone call from a great athlete who was feeling underappreciated," Blanchard said in an interview on Road to All Out. "He asked me how to get his career to the top. I said if you take down one of the Rhodes, that'll get you to the top in anyone's book. I probably knew Dusty as well as anyone across the ring. I know what makes the Rhodes family tick. Shawn has asked me to give him that knowledge."
Bringing in a name of Blanchard's ilk adds prestige and even more background as to why Spears assaulted Rhodes. Blanchard telling his protege that the quickest way to gain some respect around AEW is to go after the man he felt underappreciated by in the first place is compelling, in-depth storytelling.
Blanchard set the scene at All Out even further with one key stipulation.
The Stipulation and What We Can Expect From All Out
The contract signing on Road to All Out was brief, with Rhodes entering the room where Spears and Blanchard, along with a group of AEW officials, awaited the arrival of The American Nightmare. Rhodes walked in, signed the contract and left without saying more than a couple of words.
Before that, though, Blanchard and Spears added a clause in the contract stating that only one person would be allowed in the corner of each competitor during the match. It was obvious who would accompany Spears, but who accompanies Rhodes has yet to be announced.
Could it be Brandi or MJF? Could we see someone from Blanchard's past who can match wits with the Horseman? There are plenty of options, most whom already have their own stake in the feud. The surprise addition will add another layer to this bout.
This is the promotion's first real test in building a storyline that stretched for months, and so far it's worked. AEW's four events before its weekly show begins have given the promotion the opportunity to get its feet wet creatively. This feud has yet to feel far-fetched or disingenuous.
The match itself is what fans will really remember. If both wrestlers—and everyone else involved in the match—can deliver a satisfying finish, it would be a strong bridge to the start of AEW's weekly television.