(CBS Baltimore/CBS Local) — Brandi Rhodes and others in All Elite Wrestling have stressed that the promotion aims to be all-inclusive. Nyla Rose, a transgender performer of African-American and Native-American heritage, who is favored to win the women’s championship belt, is proving that their message is not just lip service.
Brandi herself can relate, as an African-American woman who blasted through the barriers of a male-dominated industry to become an executive. Like the others at the top of AEW, she splits her time between her duties in the front office as Chief Brand Officer and in the ring as a performer.
I caught up with Brandi, as showtime for AEW Dynamite drew near. Her excitement was immeasurable. We spoke about her nerves, expectations for viewership, battling WWE, and crafting one of the more unique rosters ever assembled in wrestling.
Can you compare the level of excitement you have now as the premiere of AEW Dynamite approaches to any other point in your life?
You know what, I can, but the other one definitely trumps it, but just a little bit. I think this is like similar to the excitement building up to my wedding to Cody. I was on cloud nine and extremely excited. Planning like crazy, very busy. So much in a similar way, very excited. But you know, wedding takes everything, of course. So it’s a very close second.
I think he might be disappointed if you said that AEW would trump the wedding.
Honestly, Cody might not be that disappointed. He is obsessed with wrestling and obsessed with the company. So I think he might understand.
What do you think the day of October 2nd will be like for you? Do you expect that there will be the same kind of jitters that you had on your wedding day or did you even have jitters on your wedding day?
The only moment of jitters on my wedding day was when the forecast said for weeks that it was all sunny all the time and no problems. And I woke up that morning for my outdoor wedding and saw 30% chance of rain. That was the only jittery moment for the wedding.
It’s a very, very busy and aggressive day. We’ve got media leading up into it. We were going to have some of the TNT partners and people there on site. A lot of hustle and bustle. So I think we’re probably just going to get those little moments where we have a moment to kind of take it all in. Especially, as soon as we hit live air. Everybody has to take that moment in and allow themselves to remember it, but aside from that we’re going to be all, you know, running on all cylinders.
How do you think that the women’s roster of AEW compares to any other roster out there, whether it be WWE or NXT, Japan, anywhere in the world?
Some people may think this is not a good thing, but, I think this is a good thing. I don’t compare my women to anybody. They live in their own space. They’re fantastic. They have gone above and beyond and really, really delivered in the past for these pay-per-views. I’m very excited for them. I’m very happy for them, and they’re all just really incredible athletes. They’re great human beings. I’m happy to be working with them. I’m actually excited and lucky to be working with them. I have all the confidence in the world than in these women. I don’t think there’s anything that they can’t do, so I’m just looking forward to getting them out there on a regular basis in front of mainstream audiences so that they can see how great they are.
Do you feel like you need to come out and make a statement with that women’s division, especially after what [NXT did in their premiere] by opening with a fatal four way match with women? Does that make you want to work harder to make the women of AEW be “elite?”
I think they already are. … Thinking back, especially to the match at Fyter Fest … The triple threat match between a Riho, Yuka [Sakazaki] and Nyla. That was one of the best matches that I’ve seen in quite some time, as far as a triple-threat goes and a women’s match with so much energy. The crowd was so hot for it, and they couldn’t stop talking about it. And that’s the energy that the girls are going to be bringing to every single show.
Now the job is just to get the rest of the world to see this, and they’ve got a great stage to put it all on. Capital One Arena, we’re sold out, one of the best arenas in the world, Washington, DC, and we have two of our top competitors going at it to be crowned the first Women’s World Champion for AEW. So they’re already in a huge spotlight. That night will live in history. Whoever wins that match will never be able to have it taken away from them. So I’m just really excited for those two ladies. I know that they’re going to duke it out. I mean it’s very important. This is going to be a match for everybody to see, and they’re going to want to see it live. So they’re going to have their moment to shine.
Whether it’s them or anybody else on the roster like Britt Baker or Nyla Rose, even The Young Bucks… One of the challenges that you are facing is building brand familiarity with the audience. How do you go about turning those names into household names? You haven’t had a national TV platform until now.
For a lot of these folks we’re seeing this happening already. You mentioned Dr. Britt Baker. She’s one of our most popular women and one of the reasons is because we showcase the reality of who she is. She is a practicing dentist. There are no other females in the entire wrestling industry, I’m confident to say, that are a practicing dentist and also on a live weekly television show, wrestling at a superior level. So, she’s one-of-a-kind, and people really have taken to her.
Just last week I featured Britt Baker, very much to my chagrin, on “A Shot of Brandi” … to kind of showcase a fun side of her and her personality. But also you know that she doesn’t take a bunch of crap either. I mean, I can try as hard as I can with her to be snide, and she gives it right back.
So things like that are just helping these new people become more and more popular, being on these familiar platforms. And it’s really helpful too. When we have new fans, or fans who are coming back to wrestling after many, many years of not watching, that say, “Okay, I’m going to tune in October 2nd, but I feel like I’m out of the loop. I’m not sure. You know what I’ve missed.” I’m seeing almost every day people tweeting people like that and saying, “Hey, here’s the link to the “Nightmare Family” YouTube, here’s the link to All Elite Wrestling YouTube, here’s the “Being The Elite.” Check this out. All you got to do is watch a few of these episodes, and you’re going to feel like you know these people.
That’s just been a really helpful tool for everybody. And, of course, we’re going to continue to do those things because you know our fans like it and they’re fun. But they’re also really helpful and supplementary to the show.
Have you guys talked about any goals as far as what you hope to achieve on television viewership from night one? Is that anything that you’re willing to discuss?
No. I don’t think that’s a fair thing to do. We started the company in January, and we were very reasonable with ourselves and with our expectations. [We were] as reasonable as you can be for a company that’s this young, has a major television deal and is going to be on TV that fast after just forming. So we do have a lot of great things that have happened and continue to happen. And I’m sure that more news is going to be rolling out over the next couple of weeks here. But in that light, it’s best to just be focused on what we do best, and that’s presenting this product. We don’t need to concern ourselves with trying to meet a particular number or creating unfair goals for ourselves. We’re really what we want to do and what our dream is to do is to deliver fantastic programming. So, however many people tune in to see that, we want to make sure that they see something that they’re never going to forget, that they’re going to tell their friends about and that they’re going to keep coming back for.
AEW’s slogan is to be all inclusive, and you’re catering to minorities and the LGBT community. That is so important for so many reasons. Is it also your hope to grow an audience that isn’t necessarily the conventional wrestling fan, historically speaking?
So when we say AEW is for everyone, we truly mean that. We’re definitely not trying to single out fans from the past or what some people’s perceptions are of wrestling fans. We want those people too. We really want it to be for everyone. So we don’t want any groups of people to feel like they can’t come to a show or that there’s nothing that they can identify with here. Our hope is that everyone has something that resonates with them. From seeing our shows, whether it’s a character, just the atmosphere or some of our business practices. There really should be something about AEW that’s for everyone. That’s our goal.
Is it more important to grow that type of new audience than recapture the disillusioned fan, or are they kind of equal in your eyes?
Oh, they’re very much equal, and we’re seeing so much response in both departments. That is so fantastic… Definitely those fans who are returning have a place here. They’re important to us. Just as important to us as new fans, just as important to us as our current existing fan base. So it’s been really exciting to see kind of new people coming onboard. People from the past coming back, people who maybe have heard about us and our current wrestling fans and they’re just curious what we bring to the table. It’s really just an exciting time.
You are not only one of the very few female executives in wrestling, but you’re also a woman of color. I can’t think of another woman of color who is in the similar position in the wrestling industry. Do you feel a sense of pressure that comes with that?
I think with everything there’s pressure. You can definitely take gender and race out of that and you’re still going to have plenty of pressure, because this is something that we all believe in and we’re all very passionate about and we want it to succeed in every single way. But, you know, being a woman of color and a woman, there are things about that that go without saying. Sometimes wrestling is kind of viewed as a boy’s club, and one of my missions in that is trying to shake that up a little bit. I do not want women to feel like they can’t be executives in the wrestling world, because there’s just too many boy,s and there’s no way to penetrate that wall. I’m here to show that there is a way to penetrate that wall and that there are other females advocating for that change. Myself being one of them.
And it’s something that I’m really passionate about, and it’s a slow thing. Just like with everything, nothing happens overnight. Nothing is super easy, but I feel like every day, with every move that I make and every partnership that I’ve created or everything that I’ve done for the brand that’s been positive for us.
A lot of people would say that you’ve become a trendsetter and somebody that people can draw inspiration from. I would argue that there is a little girl out there who is telling her parents, “When I grow up, I want to be just like Brandi Rhodes.” You hear something like that, how does that make you feel?
I was that child at one point in time. My chief sport growing up was figure skating, and when I was five years old, I told my mom, I saw Debi Thomas, who was one of the only few black female figure skaters in that era. I saw her skating and I told her I want it to be just like her. So I know what it’s like to be that little girl. And now it’s pretty cool to be in the reverse scenario, but it’s something that just kind of helps you continue to head north and just keep your head up, especially on days where things are especially challenging or maybe things aren’t going quite as planned or quite as quickly as you would like for them to. When you think about things in that sense. That you’re paving kind of a way for somebody to hopefully maybe even have an easier time reaching their goals. It’s just really good to hear things like that and know that you could possibly be helping somebody’s future.
AEW Dynamite Premiere Card
Cody Rhodes vs. Sammy Guevara
AEW Women’s Championship Match
Nyla Rose vs. Riho
Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks vs. Chris Jericho & Santana & Ortiz
MJF vs. Brandon Cutler
Adam “Hangman” Page vs. PAC
Jon Moxley is also scheduled to appear.
There is a strong possibility that AEW will unveil a number of surprises on the roster as well.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.