There hasn’t been much of a storyline leading up to the AEW women’s championship match between Hikaru Shida and Nyla Rose this Saturday, Nov. 7, at Full Gear. Cody Rhodes was on a media call today promoting the event, and he was asked about fan disappointment with the lack of build. It turns out that Cody is just fine with the way the match has been set up, and any disappointment is a matter of fans being conditioned to think a certain way about professional wrestling:
“I personally am not disappointed because my outlook on wrestling is there’s a wrestling ring, and we have wrestlers, and we have rankings, and there will be matches. I do understand that for the last 20 years fans have been conditioned to think that every match is going to start with a invisible camera, and a piece of cake in catering, and someone takes that last piece of cake. And now there is drama, now there is a ‘storyline’...I hope folks aren’t disappointed when they get this actual wonderful match between two incredible female performers...But I am aware that for 20 years they’ve been conditioned to every match needs to have a War and Peace story connected to it. That will not be the case with AEW. We have wrestling matches because we’re a wrestling show. It’s in the title. And I hope, if there was any disappointment in the build, there will be no disappointment in the execution.”
Cody’s remark about fans being conditioned over the last 20 years seems to be a reference to WWE’s style of professional wrestling, because for many fans, WWE was the only game in town during that time. I agree with Cody that the WWE way of doing pro wrestling is not the only way to do pro wrestling, nor is it the best way to do pro wrestling. And speaking as a fan who self-imposed myself in the WWE bubble for most of those 20 years, I can confirm that Cody is right that sometimes it’s necessary to unlearn certain things that WWE drills in my head, and it can be refreshing to see things done differently. AEW has scratched that itch pretty well for me.
However, building up a decent storyline for every pay-per-view match is not something WWE is known for, so I’m not sure why Cody is comparing the WWE storytelling process to War and Peace. There are way too many instances where WWE goes into a PPV with an incomplete card, or a card that has multiple matches without much build, or adds filler matches during the card. Long-term storytelling is not WWE’s strength. It’s a strange comparison to make.
This seems basic to me, but effective storytelling is often an important tool that can get people to fork over money to watch a wrestling show. Cody even admits this later in the interview during an unrelated question, where he says that getting fans invested in characters is what’s most important. Just throwing two good wrestlers out there and asking them to have a good wrestling match can sometimes work too, but it’s not the best way to build up that fan investment. So while Shida and Rose can go out there and have a good match without much of a story behind it, it’s less likely to drive pay-per-view buys without a hot story.
What’s most bizarre to me about Cody’s answer is that AEW is actually pretty good at giving reasons for why matches are happening. There is usually more than just “here’s a good match with two good wrestlers.” Just about every week on Dynamite, AEW is prepared to announce most of the card for the following week, because the matches generally follow a logical story development.
I think the real answer here is fairly straightforward. AEW had two months to build from one PPV to the next, which is a quick turnaround for their standards. AEW already has a difficult time managing their two weekly hours of Dynamite to feature most stars on the roster, and the women’s division in particular has been a casualty of that with a limited roster during the coronavirus pandemic. That continued during these last two months, where other Full Gear matches were given higher priority and more time to build a story than Shida vs. Rose.
One interesting thing here is that Cody’s own match at Full Gear is based on almost zero recent interactions with Darby Allin. In that sense, I think it can be argued that his match has less of a storyline build than Shida’s match. Cody could have used himself as an example of how it’s hard to juggle eight concurrent storylines while building to a PPV (especially during a pandemic), and some matches will get less focus than others. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I have all the answers; it sounds like a difficult problem to manage.
But instead of talking about those difficulties, Cody chose to put it on fans for being conditioned to think that pro wrestling only works the WWE way. His comparison doesn’t make much sense, and it’s a flimsy excuse for what we’ve gotten with Shida and Rose. It might not matter one bit, because it’s possible that Shida and Rose will execute a great match regardless. But this is a case where the fans (and WWE) are not at fault for being disappointed in what AEW has given them.