Former AEW TNT Champion and EVP Cody Rhodes was on a recent episode of AEW Unrestricted to help kick off season two of the podcast. He discussed his thoughts on AEW after it's first year admitting that he's a bit more pessimistic than others.
"I feel like I take the more pessimistic stance [out] of everybody," Rhodes admitted. "Not because I don't have confidence. It's because I lived the same thing you lived Tony. I just lived it as a son vs. being in the mix, but I remember Dusty getting the ratings on Thursday via fax. I remember them celebrating the ratings, talking about the ratings and wrestling being the most popular thing ever, and the next thing you know, this area, this jewel of the south that was Atlanta, where all of WCW was, it just went away. And then there was this terrible fallout four years. The south, for the most part, was lacking its wrestling.
"So that fear and that experience makes it so that I'm always very pessimistic, but to answer your question, because I'm more pessimistic, I did not think we would be doing as well as we're doing, and that's with COVID in mind. I thought we would be moving, and shaking and aiming for expansion, but you mentioned the TV Guide thing.
"To be in the top 50 shows, to maintain top five cable series, to take a dip in the ratings and then shoot right back up with the Brodie [Lee] and Dustin episode cruising fully and registering over a million in this era with attention spans the way they are and the cord cutting and all of that good stuff. I didn't think we would be expanding, and I wouldn't think we'd be in this spot right now. I'm very happy and also very trepidatious and scared. I want it to keep going. I don't want anyone to screw it up."
Rhodes discussed before about the advice and critiques he gives saying that he wants people that care. He noted that "the wrestling system" would love for AEW to fail because of how they operate, so he hopes that AEW can continue to expand and continue their current run.
"We got to check, and we got it balanced each other because the wrestling system that has been in place systematically would love this to fail because 'oh, no way will this work,'" Rhodes recalls hearing. "There's multiple wrestlers with creative. There's random, weird job titles. It's half office have not. No way will it work, but so far, we're in year two. New logo. (Rhodes knocks on wood) There's no end in sight. So we just have to keep working. Keep expanding."
Rhodes asked Tony Schiavone if he's enjoying his time in AEW, and Schiavone said it has been the best time of his life. Rhodes said that energy was something he wanted to bring back, and he talked about AEW's use of pro wrestling veterans and how they're being used to help the next generation.
"That's such a good thing to hear, and I know this sounds weird, but Tony, you're the example of what we were trying to bring back, the energy," Rhodes pointed out. "That energy actually quantifies and translates to the people who watch. They didn't like it. It was icky, and now you're here and you love wrestling again. And that's such a good feeling.
"I love how we have taken the generations prior and featured them on our shows. We've never made it cheap by any means from Greg 'The Hammer' Valentine sitting in the crowd, to having Tony pass on his knowledge to Excalibur and having Jim Ross there. Just doing it right. That's how it should be. You need those experienced guys around, really, to lean on."
Rhodes also highlighted the newer talent in AEW including Anna Jay and Red Velvet, the latter of whom was featured on a recent episode of Dynamite. However, while discussing Red Velvet, he admittedly did not know if she was officially signed with the company.
"In year two, we have Britt Baker, Sammy Guevara, MJF, Ricky Starks, my God, Eddie Kingston. They were nothing in year one," Rhodes pointed out. "They were year one rookies, and now, they have their own brands and identities. Anna Jay, seven matches. Anna Jay is going to be a huge part of year two. Red Velvet, I don't even know if Red Velvet works here yet. She's on an 'agreed to appear' right?"
Rhodes then explained the contract tiers in AEW. He explained that many indie talents are signed to a tier 0 contract remarking over how much they make in bonuses. Tier 0 also allows AEW the first option to sign them while also guaranteeing them a certain amount of dates. He discussed the other tiers in AEW and joked that there is also a "tier Jericho" as well.
"Agree to appear is a tier 0 meaning you'll get a bonus, which Tony's super super generous. If you ask some of these extras what they're making for being there (Rhodes takes a moment), my dad would have lost it," Rhodes remarked. "But he's right. It's COVID era. They have no other work. There's no indies. Tier 0 is just a signing bonus and exclusivity to us in terms of we get a first option on you I believe is how it works, and we guarantee you x amount of dates, five dates.
"The exclusivity thing is case by case, but we guarantee you x amount of dates. The goal is you don't want to pay someone agree to appear, Chris Harrington would handle this much better than I am, you don't want to keep giving them their weekly, their weekly, their weekly, their weekly vs. tier 1-ing them, which is our base contractor agreement. That's another thing, we're just talking about Tony, we built a middle card and a lower card. We have tier 1's, tier 2's, tier 3's, tier 4 and tier Jericho."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit AEW Unrestricted with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.