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How Brandi Rhodes is changing the face of executives in wrestling

Brandi Rhodes is seen prior to competing on an episode of All Elite Wrestling's "Dynamite" show. (Photo courtesy of All Elite Wrestling)

When you type Brandi Rhodes’s name into Google, the first two “People also ask” results seem perfectly logical: Is Brandi Rhodes a good wrestler? Is Brandi Rhodes Cody Rhodes’s wife?

While these questions make sense, they are also unfair.

Brandi Rhodes is more than just a wrestler and she’s definitely more than just Cody Rhodes’s wife. The 36-year-old grew up as a competitive figure skater, completed degrees at the University of Michigan and the University of Miami, and had started her career in professional wrestling all before she met her future husband.

That’s all part of what makes Rhodes, the first African-American woman to hold an executive position in a professional wrestling company, a beacon in an industry that has undergone dramatic change over the past decade.

“I rarely consider myself a role model,” Rhodes told Yahoo Sports. “I do realize I am in a huge position and I know that I got to this position through hard work and perseverance. It’s not something I consider to be a gift at all, I definitely earned it.”

Rhodes is the chief brand officer for All Elite Wrestling, the professional wrestling promotion started by her husband, Cody, Matt and Nick Jackson, Kenny Omega and Tony Khan in 2019. Rhodes’s inclusion at the highest level of the company is significant because for nearly the entire history of the industry, wrestling’s most prominent executive roles have been occupied by predominantly white men. Rhodes does have company in one respect — Stephanie McMahon holds the same position in WWE.

“When you do look at the landscape of wrestling, women are something that we still need to be talking about,” Rhodes said. “We’ve made huge strides as far as in-ring competitors, but behind the scenes and in executive roles, there’s still this need to see women more clearly. My hope is that being in my role and seeing the successes that I have had so far, we will be able to open the door for more women to make the same transition, to be trusted with certain roles within wrestling.

“I know I have a lot of interest in terms of women joining the team. It’s something I am going to continue to advocate for.”

The launch of All Elite Wrestling in January 2019 marked a significant shift in professional wrestling. For the better part of the past two decades, Vince McMahon’s company has operated mostly unopposed. In just over a year since launching, All Elite Wrestling has held five major shows and signed a television deal with Warner Media, which was recently extended through 2023 and will include a second hour of weekly programming.

“I would definitely grade this first year as a solid A,” Rhodes said. “The reason for that is that this first year was very important in terms of establishing ourselves. Not just getting the weekly TV show rolling, but also getting our relationship established with Warner Media and TNT. You cannot wish for anything better in such a short period of time.”

‘Everybody sees something that they can identify with’

Branded as an “alternative” product, All Elite Wrestling has put together one of the most intriguing rosters — both men’s and women’s — in recent memory. While one may think that having such a diverse collection of wrestlers would make creating an umbrella for everyone to fit under difficult, Rhodes simply views the talent pool’s scattered demographic as the defining characteristic of the company.

“The good thing about it is that we don’t have a generic brand, we have many different facets and I think that’s how it should be,” Rhodes said. “When you look at America today, it’s not generic. Everybody is very diverse, has different motives, different looks, different feelings.

“I’m kind of hard to follow because of all of the ways my mind likes to go when it comes to being entertained. In that sense, I’m able to look at this business from a lot of different perspectives. Definitely we don’t want one flavor of anything, we don’t want to be bland.”

A perfect example of All Elite Wrestling’s inclusive mentality can be seen in its own women’s division. All Elite Wrestling counts transgender wrestler Nyla Rose, Japanese standouts Riho, Emi Sakura, Hikaru Shida, and Awesome Kong among its ranks.

“I hope that we will acquire more talent as time goes on and you’ll continue to see the same trend in that we’re just looking for amazing performers, regardless of where they are from or what their backgrounds are,” Rhodes said. “It’s a big recipe for success and having a comfortable environment for these ladies backstage. A lot of people have said that they look at AEW as kind of a snapshot of what their world looks like today. Everybody sees something that they can identify with.”

In addition to serving as one of the most front-facing executives for the company, Rhodes also plays a prominent role on television. 

“It’s honestly very fun juggling the two,” Rhodes said. “I’m the one on the team that everyone trusts and says to let Brandi be the one to do it, to talk about it, to show up and speak on things. It’s an honor to have that role, but it comes very naturally to me. This company is my number one passion, so it’s very easy for me to share my passion with other people.”

As far as her on-screen character goes, Rhodes won’t deny that she’s more comfortable as a manager than an in-ring performer. After starting as the de facto mouthpiece for Awesome Kong, Rhodes has morphed into the leader of the “Nightmare Collective,” a mixed stable that feels more like it belongs on “American Horror Story” than an episode of “Dynamite.”

The "Nightmare Collective" is seen prior to a match on All Elite Wrestling's "Dynamite." (Photo courtesy of All Elite Wrestling)

It’s been a polarizing faction among fans, but also one that adds a wrinkle of storytelling in women’s wrestling that goes beyond simply vying for a championship belt.

“Our fans have been very vocal about it from the very beginning,” Rhodes said. “They’re a little spoiled, but that’s OK because we love them and we will spoil them. One of the things they said that they wanted was stories for the women. Now we are starting to see certain stories develop, ‘Nightmare Collective’ being one of them, but it’s certainly not the only story in the women’s division. There’s a lot of other things happening that people can look at and see where their feelings lie. There’s definitely potential this year for a lot to happen within this division and people should be excited about new stories forming.”

AAA: Alternative, approachable, authentic

The mindset behind sticking with the “Nightmare Collective” angle provides key insight into Rhodes and All Elite Wrestling’s emphasis on authenticity. Rhodes believes the company’s dedication to its storylines and vision has led to the success it has achieved in such a short time.

“I think we’ve promised a certain product and we have delivered on that,” Rhodes said. “Even when it’s been predictable and we were in a position to do something that would have been easy to change and be reactive, we haven’t. We’ve remained really true to who we have said we are and really true to being the alternative that we claim that we are.”

In addition to being an alternative and authentic brand, Rhodes believes there’s immense value in being approachable. Citing All Elite Wrestling’s deal with KultureCity to create sensory-inclusive environments at live events, Rhodes prides herself on continuing to have discussions on how to evolve the company.

“I just think that we are an approachable brand,” Rhodes said. “People are able to get me on the phone because I make myself available and I want to be available to these people. It has more to do with approachability than anything. When you’re approachable you find out things that you didn’t know.”

A key factor in the equation here is Rhodes’s — and her colleagues’ — road to serving dual roles. While it’s not uncommon for executives and behind-the-scenes personnel to become involved as an in-ring performer, Rhodes and the rest of “The Elite” took the opposite route. They were professional wrestlers before they were calling the shots.

“If you’ve been in the industry, you’re probably one of the biggest fans of that show,” Rhodes said. “We know what made us move in these different moments in wrestling, what stayed with us. We know the types of moments that we want to create for our fans because they are the same types of moments we wanted created for us.”

Amid creating moments for fans, Rhodes experienced a significant one herself as an executive.

Last month, shortly after All Elite Wrestling celebrated its one-year anniversary, Rhodes gave a keynote address at the National Association of Television Programming Executives conference in Miami — a testament to the success of All Elite Wrestling’s brand under her stewardship.

In a room filled with some of the top names in television, Rhodes wasn’t a wrestler or Cody’s wife. She was a trailblazer.

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