As part of his promotions for the two-night Fyter Fest event on TNT, AEW Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes stopped by on the Busted Open podcast. Bully Ray, host of the show, talked about how we’re always our own harshest critics. Rhodes agreed, talking about how he can improve on achieving “the next gear” of a match.

“One area that I always kick my own ass on is there is that elusive ‘next gear’ in wrestling,” Rhodes said. “You’ll hear all these coaches and producers say, ‘get into that next gear,’ and it’s one of those things that you really don’t know, until you know.

“When I watch matches back and I find I don’t get into that next gear, that’s an area where I know the next week in the final minutes of the match, an area that Christian taught me more than anyone else how to really tell that story and really go for it. That’s an area I always like to improve upon. An area I’m most critical of my particular work in how I compete is that final, closing stretch.”

Ever since winning the TNT Championship, Rhodes has defended the title in an open challenge format. Rhodes talked about the types of opponents he has faced giving praise to Marq Quen and Jungle Boy.

“I benefit in my own way from being in the ring with someone like Marq Quen because his style is incredibly different from how I was trained [and] to how I compete,” Rhodes described. “[We are] the absolute polar opposites. I think we really started the TNT open challenge off correctly with Jack Perry in terms of Jungle Boy and seeing a side of him that we haven’t.

“These guys like Jungle Boy and MJF aren’t freshmen anymore. This is year two, and we have to see a new side of them. There’s only so long that you can be that young guy on the totem pole. They’re still young guys, but they’re in a different area now. They can’t make those baby mistakes. He made very few mistakes that match. Very impressed with Jungle Boy, especially the feeling in there with him.”

Rhodes also gave praise to Ricky Starks, who signed with AEW after his match against Rhodes. Rhodes noted that the open challenge was never meant to sign people to AEW. However, Rhodes said that Starks had something that he felt was missing from AEW, and revealed that AEW President and CEO Tony Khan was quick to sign Starks soon after the match.

“I’ve loved every match I’ve had,” Rhodes admitted. “Ricky Starks is such a unique example. The open challenge was not intended on ‘let’s give people a job.’ If you win the title, of course, you become a member of our roster, but in the case of Ricky Starks, as soon as I got in the ring, I looked at him and thought, man, he’s got a swag. He’s got a presence that we’re missing in some areas here. Tony Khan thought the exact same thing.

“As soon as he walked back through the curtain, that was a done deal. It was something that I had not planned for, so I was really proud of Ricky Starks and proud of the open challenge to be able to do that.”

Ray talked about how experience watching AEW as a wrestler and talked about how the rules are rarely followed by wrestlers and the refs rarely enforce the rules. Rhodes said the process is slow and steady, and he talked about the dichotomy of different generations of wrestlers where today’s critiques are met with resentment and a need to say something back.

“Well every week we discuss, as far as our coaches are concerned, all the stuff you just mentioned,” Rhodes noted. “My generation is kind of quick to bite back when people start talking about the rules and people start talking about psychology. I’ll liken it back, and this is an extreme example, Harley Race is taking back drops and nobody else on the card is taking back drops. All these wrestlers, especially these older, luminary wrestlers are telling him how dumb he is and to conserve his body and how a high spot like that isn’t worth it.

“You fast forward to 2020, and there is a lot of rule breaking and there is a lot of high-impact, high-octane, dinosaurs doing shooting star presses off the stage type stuff. When the types that get on the Internet, and we’re really just talking that Twitter world, and just bury that modern product, it has an opposite effect. The guys stop saying, ‘I want to listen to this legend.’ It becomes so heavy-handed that people bite back.”

AEW referee Aubrey Edwards has said that a rule book for AEW is in the works. Rhodes noted that FTR was a tag team that leads by example when it comes to following the rules. He shared high praise for the new AEW tag team.

“FTR went out there with all the modern, high-tech stuff, but they also had a fundamental, tag team match where they’re holding the freaking tag ropes,” Rhodes remarked. “There are guys being trained today who don’t even know the purpose of the tag rope. So I look at somebody like that and they lead by example, and the reason I think they lead by example is because they’re so good [that] other people on the roster want to have that match.

“Other people on the roster want to wrestle those guys. I have been over the moon in love in terms of that tag team, FTR, and what they represent. I had just a slight knowledge. I saw the TakeOver match they had with [Johnny] Gargano [and Tomasso Ciampa], but it’s about what you’ve done for me lately, and what they did lately, as of last week, has kicked ass.”

Ray speculated that FTR could be used as a means to restore order to the tag team division. Rhodes liked the idea, but he also likes that AEW has a “wild West” reputation. He notes that they are critical of themselves, and he hopes that he and FTR can be examples that can be followed.

“It might be the latter in terms of them restoring order which is a really good way to put it, but another things for those that have attended and kind of shadowed the AEW events, I love that we have the reputation of being a little Wild West,” Rhodes said. “One thing that you will notice is it is very organized and a very, very critical of itself system in terms of the level of competition that we want to be at.

“So, when you see things like that, I think you’ll see less of it as the weeks go by. It’s just a slow and steady thing. It’s not something that people don’t mention, believe me. We’re talking about it now, and it’s talked about heavily right there in the go position. It’s talked about on commentary every now and then. It’s something we’re gonna have to hold ourselves accountable for, but again, I’m the type, especially being in management now, that really likes to lead by example. My example can curb some ways, and FTR’s example, I think that’s a beautiful thing.”

If you use any quotes from this article, please credit Busted Open with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.