Welcome to the first edition of Off the Top Rope. Every Thursday we will offer you compelling analysis, a look at the best wrestling you might have missed over the previous seven days and an interview or feature focused on some of the most important newsmakers in the sport.
This is a historic time to be in the wrestling business and should be an exciting era for fans as two megapower promotions collide. We will be your guide as All Elite Wrestling and World Wrestling Entertainment wage a Wednesday wrestling war and promotions big and small continue innovating and reinventing what is possible inside the ring all over the world.
Brandi Rhodes doesn't dream small. If she and her partners did, they'd still be grinding away on the independent scene or begrudgingly collecting a paycheck from WWE as they watched the clock on their professional careers slowly wind down.
Instead, they are launching the first real competitor the wrestling space has seen in decades—and doing it their way.
As chief brand officer for All Elite Wrestling, the shiny new promotion launching this October on TNT, she spends most of her time building partnerships and making people feel like they matter. As a professional wrestler and manager, she more often sows chaos and discord.
She'll fully occupy both roles at All Out, the sequel to a pay-per-view that essentially launched the promotion into existence and made the fledgling group the talk of the community, stealing the hearts of fans throughout the wrestling world. It returns to the scene of the crime in suburban Chicago this Saturday on Bleacher Report Live with a show that promises to do something most follow-up acts can't—top the original.
Just days before the event that will set the stage for the promotion's television debut and establish its ongoing direction and storylines, Rhodes, who is married to fellow wrestler and AEW vice president Cody Rhodes, sat down for a two-part interview with Bleacher Report's Jonathan Snowden to discuss her ever-shifting world.
Jonathan Snowden: I know it's got to be hectic heading into a major show like All Out. It occurs to me that very soon this isn't going to be something you guys have to grapple with every couple of months or every few weeks. It's going to be a weekly thing, every single Wednesday. Are you ready to step out into the storm?
Brandi Rhodes: Yeah, I think we're ready. Being on the road every week is not new to me. I've had a little bit of a reprieve actually, so it's kind of welcome to be traveling again so frequently and able to be fully engrained in the work and busy, busy, busy. We're all looking forward to it on our end. It's actually a little bit lighter a schedule than we're used to, so it's going to be very nice.
JS: I'm really excited by the women's division you're building at AEW. I think it could be a real secret weapon, especially because many fans in the United States have never seen what a lot of them can do. But you've also got what I see as quite a challenge in front of you. How do you mesh the tremendous women from the Japanese Joshi Puroresu scene that Kenny Omega is helping scout with the Americans who come with different skill sets and a different approach in the ring?
Rhodes: One of the best things about our division is that it's so very diverse. We have a lot of female wrestlers who bring a lot of different things to the table. I think you're right that a lot of the Joshi talent hasn't been seen before, so it's great to have them on board to show people what they can do.
They'll be mixing with people like Allie and Brit, who have been on the indy scene for awhile but haven't really broken through, either. I think it's going be a nice mix no matter what you like.
There are a lot of fans who really like that high-flying, fast-moving, hard-hitting action. And there are some people who really love to be fully invested in the character work of someone and wondering what's going to happen next in the story and where it's going to go.
That's the beauty of what we're doing. There's no box that anyone is going to be forced into. They are allowed to be authentically who they are and that will be a recipe for success.
JS: I've been watching over the last several weeks as you've announced some familiar faces for the All Out Casino Battle Royal like Sadie Gibbs and Jazz. Pardon the pun, but I'm pretty jazzed about it.
Are these signings for just the single match in Chicago, or does it indicate a more long-term relationship with AEW is either in place or possible?
Rhodes: Most of the women you'll see at the Casino Battle Royal are non-active members of our roster. As I've mentioned on the Road to All Out, we don't have 21 women on the roster and the match requires 21 women.
So, this is an opportunity for a lot of these women to get in front of a larger audience. Maybe an opportunity most of them have never had, or at least not in a long time.
Right now, most of these women aren't actively members of the AEW roster. But that doesn't mean they won't continue to work with us.
JS: It sounds like this is an opportunity for them to impress the people in the back, who will surely be watching closely.
Rhodes: I feel like it's more an opportunity for them to impress the audience. They're our core and who we're listening to. They kind of have their finger on the pulse of what they want.
If someone makes a great showing and the audience is really, really loving them, that certainly will go a long way.
JS: I absolutely love the feature you did on the Road to Fight for the Fallen about your figure skating career. It was super-relatable to everyone who has ever failed at something and spent years seeking redemption. My whole family was Team Brandi after that moment. Then you came out at Fight for the Fallen and were a villain! Is that dichotomy tough to pull off?
Rhodes: Actually, it's not. I think my character is a little more complicated than people give her credit for. I do have these moments when I can rope you in and have you very much on my side—and even feeling sorry for me. But in those moments, it's up to you to decide if that's real.
So, the last couple of times I've done it, I've proved I wasn't really about what I was supposed to be about. In the case of Allie and Awesome Kong, I cried crocodile tears and wanted people to be behind me and be my friend and cheer for me. And the first chance I got, I took the easy route. And I won.
And that's what it's about. It's about winning the matches. It's good when you create those emotions. When you can just feel that burn like "my God, how dare you?"
One of my favorite characters to watch growing up was Sensational Sherri. Man, she pissed me off all of the time. But I always wanted to see her and see her get her comeuppance. She was just so much fun to hate. I think about her sometimes with some of the things that I do.
It gets even more complicated because I do work with Cody, and a lot of the times he is a good guy. It's hard to see him as a bad guy, especially with everything he's done for pro wrestling in general. So, it's an interesting on-screen relationship. I'm true to myself, but I always have a soft spot for my husband no matter how nefarious I am.
JS: It's fascinating to watch you navigate social media as one of the most high-profile women in all of wrestling. Some of the fans are lovely; others less so. I don't want to speak for you, but from the outside, it looks like there is a sizable contingent of fans who seem uncomfortable with a woman, especially a woman of color, in a decision-making position. Does it feel that way to you sometimes, too?
Rhodes: Social media always has that anonymous factor to it where people can say whatever they want to say without being accountable.
Definitely, there are people who have adverse reactions to our brand as well as my role. That's OK. It's just social media and it's never going to change as far as I can tell. But it's not going to stop me from doing my job and what I need to do and what I love to do.
I think in wrestling generally there is this good old boys' system. Where you always have a lot of men at the top and a lot of men making all the decisions. And I think it's time we kind of stepped away from that. Truly, in our minds. It's one thing to say it and another thing to actually accept it, be about it and walk the walk.
I'm looking forward to that with AEW and hoping we continue this journey and continue to see women differently than the industry has in the past. And that includes my role. As positions come open and we grow, I hope the best candidates get the jobs and not just people in the right network or people with the right number of years in the industry.
It's a paradigm that's shifting right now and it's taking some people, including some members of the audience, a little bit of time to catch up.
In part two of our exclusive interview next week, Rhodes discusses the struggles a performer can face as a woman in wrestling, the promotion's commitment to inclusion of all kinds and why fans should give this new group a chance.
Match of the Week
Ricochet vs. Drew McIntyre (WWE Raw, Aug. 26): This was a spectacular display of aerial insanity from Ricochet, balanced out nicely by McIntyre's solid, power-based game. It lasted almost 13 minutes, an eternity for a WWE television match, and both wrestlers had time to demonstrate what they do best.
Ricochet's 630 Splash is one of the most low-key brutal finishers in the game. He does so many rotations that it never quite feels like he is in complete control of exactly where he lands or with how much force.
Anyone laying on the mat has to prepare himself for a potentially rough landing. Since I'm not on the receiving end, that's OK with me.
Honorable Mention: Marty Scurll vs. Bandido (Ring of Honor Saturday Night at Center Stage, Aug. 24)
'Hard Times' Promo of the Week
Kenny Omega isn't normally known as a promo guy, but he absolutely blistered the hide off of Jon Moxley in the most recent episode of Being the Elite.
This was filmed with the camera and lighting setup used for Road to All Out, a good aesthetic choice as the normally breezy goofball went on the attack in an interview that got very personal, very quickly.
Omega was critical of Moxley's decision to wrestle in New Japan Pro-Wrestling's notoriously strenuous G1 Climax tournament and offered no kind words wishing him a speedy return from a staph injury that will prevent the wrestler formerly known as Dean Ambrose from competing at All Out.
"Did I go to Japan and wrestle 24 days in a month before fighting you? No, you see, I did this thing, Jon. It's called being a professional. What am I supposed to say? I was ready, I took you seriously. I never got myself injured. I got myself in the best shape of my life. You never took me seriously. You never took this PPV seriously.
"You owe everyone an apology, you owe me an apology, and you should really look in the mirror, Jon, mm-hmm, you should look in the mirror and you should ask yourself, ‘what the f--k am I doing?’
"I'm playing this all back in my mind and I'm thinking I'm being really insensitive, because this is a real serious injury, it could have happened to anybody, right? You were careless. I blame you. And if people want to look at me like I'm the bad guy? Well, jeez, they're just as bad as you are, Jon. You left a lot of pieces, a lot of broken dreams, and a lot of disappointed fans laid upon my feet. And they're begging for something now, huh? What kind of wrestler does that?"
The Illegal Double Team Hot Take
In many ways, wrestling promotion is a lost art.
The old masters, men like Dusty Rhodes or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, could take the skeleton of an idea and turn it into oral gold. They didn't need a script or a committee of writers to craft their dialogue—it came from the heart, as authentic as the men who performed it.
As wrestling became more "corporate boardroom" than "outlaw biker bar," the way wrestlers talked changed to suit those shifting sands. Instead of responding like a normal human being—sometimes angry, sometimes funny, sometimes even with imperfect delivery—the wrestler has become nothing more than a vessel for a Hollywood writer.
The template for the modern wrestling promo was created by The Rock—sarcastic, funny and sneering. But he was a singular performer. Those who have followed have paled in comparison when trying to do his act, to the point that today's Rock clone is barely an echo of the original.
The result is often awkward, stilting and hard to take seriously, each wrestler, no matter their supposed background or motivation, sounding like the exact same vascular automaton.
That brings us to Road to All Out. The presentation on this weekly series is the antithesis of what we've come to expect from wrestling promotion. The sitdown interviews, particularly, have given matches that might otherwise not seem especially important the kind of gravitas that is rare in contemporary wrestling.
When Jim Ross sits down to talk to "Hangman" Adam Page, it doesn't feel like a wrestling interview. It feels like the best kind of sports programming, a version of 24/7 for the squared circle.
Short on histrionics and long on authenticity, it's a look inside the mind and heart of an athlete facing a significant challenge. There aren't the long, tortured pauses or panicked looks as the performer forgets a line that we see so often on wrestling television. Instead, it's a man sharing his story in a calm, calculated and compelling way.
Ross invented the form in signature interviews in WWE's glory years with figures such as Austin and Mick Foley and excels at highlighting who the wrestler really is and what their motivations might be. It's excellent, compelling television. I hope it's a staple of AEW programming going forward.
Jonathan and Kristina Snowden talk about wrestling and life, weekly on Illegal Double Team.
Three-Count: Looking Ahead
NXT UK Takeover Cardiff (Aug. 31, WWE Network):
- Walter (c) vs. Tyler Bate for the United Kingdom championship
- Kay Lee Ray vs. Toni Storm (c) for NXT UK women's title
- Grizzled Young Veterans (Zack Gibson and James Drake) (c) vs. Gallus (Wolfgang and Mark Coffey) vs. Flash Morgan Webster and Mark Andrews for the NXT UK Tag Team Championship
AEW All Out (Aug. 31, Bleacher Report Live):
- Chris Jericho vs. "Hangman" Adam Page for the AEW World Championship
- Kenny Omega vs. Pac
- The Lucha Bros vs. The Young Bucks in a ladder match for the AAA World Tag Team Championships