Cody/AEW split about money, power, creative clash, backstage perception

It’s only been a little more than 24 hours since we learned that Cody & Brandi Rhodes were exiting AEW, leaving the company they helped form just three years ago to likely rejoin WWE. Fans still have a lot of questions — and even more theories — about what happened.

One of the most detailed attempts to answer those questions came from PWTorch’s Wade Keller in a podcast for subscribers posted on the site yesterday afternoon (Feb. 15).

Keller’s sources say the bottom line was financial: “From what I’m told, Cody asked for more money than what Tony Khan was willing to spend.” Rhodes wanted to paid at the same level as recent signees CM Punk and Bryan Danielson. AEW’s owner & president not only didn’t see Rhodes as being worth that amount of money, the presence of stars like Punk and Danielson gave him leverage over Cody: “…it did give Tony a sense of ‘I have enough top guys , and then young guys on the rise’… and there’s only so much salary cap room that Tony has to spread around.”

Other factors contributed to the decision. While Keller confirms other reports that Rhodes was getting along better with his fellow Executive Vice-Presidents (Kenny Omega, and Matt & Nick Jackson of The Young Buck) recently, there were still backstage issues. Past rifts had been healed enough to where the management team was surprised that Cody & Brandi were actually leaving, but Keller still described their partnership as “a loveless marriage”; “There wasn’t fighting, but there wasn’t great chemistry and collaboration.”

Referring to an interview Cody did with Inside The Ropes last summer where he praised Triple H for succeeding simultaneously on screen and behind-the-scenes, Keller notes that Rhodes was frustrated in general with his role backstage: “Cody wanted to be I think more involved with being seen as sort of an equal to Tony, and it became clear over time this was Tony’s company.” This doesn’t seem to have led to any hard feelings between the two men, as illustrated by yesterday’s professional-yet-warm statements by both. But it is described as their realizing the dynamic was never going to be what Rhodes wanted it to be, and that parting ways might be best for each man’s business.

There were also creative tensions, which may have been fueled by the other issues. Angles with both Rhodes disappointed during the course of their AEW runs, with backlash to Cody’s program with Anthony Ogogo leading much of the fanbase to turn on him. He worked with that, but was resistant to the heel turn it would usually result in. Not having to worry about booking the Rhodes could be a relief for TK:

“…the bottom line is Cody was not successful with this character, and was stubborn or steadfast in wanting to be portrayed a certain way. And you can see it in that statement about the community outreach aspect of it. So when you’re trying to manage Brandi’s aspirations, and you’re also wanting to be paid a certain amount, and to match or exceed others, and at the same time the crowd is rejecting the character that you’re steadfast in wanting to continue portraying — it can become a problem.”

In the podcast, Keller reiterates some of his past reports about Cody backstage. Rhodes is said to have stuck with “a small group who hung out with him,” and while he was always available to those who sought him out, “he wasn’t out there just making himself available, and getting to know & everybody shaking hands, and welcoming people into the company & getting to know their story. Cody was very focused on himself, and the grandioseness of what he did.”

One of the more controversial elements of Keller’s report was what his sources told him about Brandi:

“It sounds mean but nobody has anything nice to say about Brandi Rhodes and her disposition or popularity behind the scenes and I’m not saying that with any personal satisfaction or preference for her to be liked or not liked. I’m just telling you when I talk to people, Brandi has not been seen as an asset on camera, in the ring, or behind the scenes. And so that ended up being baggage with Cody because people like Cody, pretty universally like Cody. Even people who say bad things about Cody like Cody, if that makes sense.”

This has received a lot of pushback online, from members of the roster…

… to prominent members of the AEW fan community…

… so include that with your grains of salt about the entire report.

In the end, Keller is one of the many saying Cody is off to WWE in the very near future. It’s a public relations hit for AEW to lose a founder, but Khan is betting his company is poised for future success without the Rhodes. The former Stardust will get “a big money contract with WWE, and he will get a big push during WrestleMania season from Vince McMahon.”

Time will tell how that works out for both of them. It may even tell us how much of Wade Keller’s report is accurate.

This is wrestling, and as this story’s reminded us, never say never.

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