One year after Cody Rhodes announced the creation of All Elite Wrestling, the promotion is enjoying unprecedented success.
AEW has carved itself a sizable niche in the professional wrestling market, securing national television deals in Canada and the United States, while many of their live events sold out in a matter of hours.
Not resting on his laurels, the executive vice-president of AEW is still astounded by the impact of the company and knows that a growing audience comes with higher expectations.
“It’s still surreal every time I walk into a building and see [the footprint] we have,” said Rhodes. “It's really exciting and it instantly sets the tone that fans are counting on this, fans are putting a lot of pressure on this, and we have to deliver.”
While Rhodes did not place any initial expectations on Dynamite, the company’s weekly televised program that launched in October, he says the debut episode matched his projected goal, ultimately becoming the most-watched debut for a TNT program in the last five years.
AEW maintained their early momentum throughout 2019, hitting 100,000 ticket sales after just 18 live events. The 34-year old credits the milestone to the ability to move forward and adapt in order to meet lofty personal goals.
“Your first show is never really a good indicator. It's really the second show, moving forward and maintaining that,” said Rhodes. “You have to move out of the honeymoon phase. The best thing about watching the show back on Thursday is saying, ‘We should have done this, we should have done that.’
“There's a lot of that same passion from everybody in the crew. Everybody wants the show to be perfect. It's an absurd and lofty goal, but it's worth pursuing.”
That passion and commitment has not been lost on fans, watching Dynamite go toe-to-toe with WWE's NXT in the battle for U.S. television ratings on Wednesday night.
From its inception, “The American Nightmare” has wanted AEW to be the alternative place for wrestling fans to get their fill.
Through the show’s initial success, Dynamite has become the official “opposition” in an industry long dominated by a single company.
“It’s validating. The audience proved there was a market for us. The meet-and-greet lines were out the door,” said Rhodes. “I'm excited. The fan base is functional, active, and not going anywhere.”
While detractors have come out of the woodwork on social media, Rhodes is confident that the company is heading in the right direction thanks to the overwhelmingly positive response from its fans.
“The true secret of wrestling is there is no single way to do wrestling. The only indicator that you did it right is the live audience,” said Rhodes. “There's nothing more important than getting over with the fans.
“When that little kid and [their] dad are standing in the front row instead of sitting down and they're enjoying it, and then go home and you see them wrestling on the sidewalk as you’re pulling out of the parking lot. Fan experience is the only indicator on if you're doing it right.”
Despite the quick start the AEW has enjoyed, the son of late wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes refuses to give himself any praise until he can achieve sustained success in the eyes of his audience.
“I will not pat myself on the back until five to 10 years from now when we see what this all really looks like,” said Rhodes. “Right now the responsibility is that people wanted something, they were hungry for something. Let’s give it to them.”
As Dynamite pushes forward into the new decade, Rhodes and the rest of the AEW brain trust are not focused on the “Wednesday Night War” with the competition. Rather, the company is concerned with improving their own product and creating a new class of household names.
“Freshness is what will lead us forward in 2020 and remains the recruiting word around the AEW office,” said Rhodes. “We were always going to lead with the new class, take that risk and not lead with household names that were built elsewhere.”
Though trotting out legends and nostalgia acts is a tried and true method of success in the wrestling business, the Atlanta native looks forward to showcasing a younger generation of wrestlers, specifically citing Jungle Boy Jack Perry (son of late actor Luke Perry), Maxwell Jacob Friedman, and women’s division newcomer Kris Statlander.
“We have plenty of ways to link the nostalgia but it's those folks that I look forward to seeing in 2020 the most,” said Rhodes.
With AEW prospering and its popularity growing by the day, the EVP says it’s only a matter of time before the show comes north of the border to put on events in front of some of wrestling’s most passionate fans.
“I have the best respect for the Canadian wrestling fans and they've always been incredibly good to me,” said Rhodes. “There's no way you can start a global wrestling company without making plans to go to Canada and making Canada a part of your fabric.
“For people watching on TSN, just stay tuned and that will come to fruition. There are definitely plans for 2020 in Canada because it's a great audience and everyone likes to wrestle in Canada. I look forward to it.”