If no one in either company ever referenced the other, there would be sniping between WWE and AEW fans. A bit of it is because that’s the fun of any kind of public competition. Some of it is because people — especially online — take an “us vs. them” approach to just about everything that goes on in the world today.
People in both companies did reference each other though, and continue to. Often it’s jokey and good natured. Sometimes it’s legitimately critical or about more serious issues. It inspires and provides ammunition for the wrestling war.
While he’s far from the only person to stoke the flames, Cody Rhodes has played a prominent role. He took a Triple H-esque sledgehammer to a Triple H-esque throne at AEW’s first PPV, and his last promo for the company in January included digs about NXT and WWE’s penchant for name changes. It’s one of the reasons his return to Vince McMahon’s company was surprising, and fascinating.
Now that Rhodes is back with WWE, he’s had nothing but good things to say about AEW. He’s also taking some ownership of the bad blood between partisan fans.
He talked about it with Corey Graves & Vic Joseph on After The Bell:
“I feel like that fan base, that divide that exists amongst all the different bubbles I like to call them, if there was any negativity — well I can put some of the blame on my shoulders.
“The last shows I had done before making this WWE return, I’m taking little fun potshots and talking smack which is what wrestlers do. I think sometimes the fans that attach themselves to those statements forget that we are in the realm of entertainment, but I added to the tribalism myself, so I can’t necessarily get mad at it when I see it.”
Even so, Cody was surprised to see how some fans took his departure from Tony Khan’s company:
“It was unique to see people burning my old AEW shirts which was a trend for a few days there on social. It felt kind of like you were leaving a sports team, like I left this city to go to this city. It didn’t break my heart but I do remember I thought it was odd because the place doesn’t exist without me. There’s other people that needed to be there for it to exist for sure but I am one of the people that that place exists because of. AEW exists partially because of me.”
Will Cody taking responsibility for “the tribalism” change anything? Probably not.
Will it change how fans react to him? After months of getting mixed-if-passionate responses from AEW crowds, the WWE audience has welcomed him back. That’s been helped by letting him continue to critique the company from the inside. He’s been cast as an outsider who’s skirting Vince’s rules for how a Superstar has to act on Raw, chasing the title the McMahons wouldn’t let his father keep. What happens when Rhodes isn’t in opposition to a brand?
Maybe we’ll all break into pro and anti Cody tribes again? The American Nightmare will probably take that. He’ll definitely take credit for it.
Let us know what you think about Rhodes, or the AEW/WWE fan beef. Check out Cody’s entire visit to After The Bell here.