A year ago, Time Warner and AEW were making a groundbreaking partnership announcement, and the inaugural Double or Nothing pay-per-view in Las Vegas followed soon after that. AEW’s very first PPV was a huge success and a launchpad for the company. A year after, what was supposed to become a yearly, Memorial Day weekend, MGM Grand event will take place in Jacksonville at Daily’s Place in a closed arena. Double or Nothing 2 will take place, but the pandemic changed the rules.

The whole wrestling business has been feeling the blow, some lighter than others. AEW can obviously be put in the category of the companies that have been able to “survive.” A few shows were cancelled, but the show has been on. AEW have used all the tricks they found in their toolbox, new talents from the Nightmare Factory, Cody, and QT Marshall’s training facility, the Daily’s Place that belongs to the Khan family, owner of AEW, serious self-awareness, and new wrestlers joining a devoted roster.

AEW Executive Vice-President and wrestler Cody Rhodes took the time to talk to the media this Thursday about AEW Double or Nothing PPV, taking place on tonight and the unique situation pandemic has created for the wrestling business.

On how close Double or Nothing card is to what has been planned before the pandemic

“Just to peel the curtain back a bit, 90% of what we potentially had planned is on the card. Obviously, we were presented with a curveball, and we’re at the plate, and we’re hoping to connect, but not a lot of things changed due to pandemic in terms of creative. So not a great deal of change, because we’ve been fortunate to have our stars and our lead individuals on the show.”

On his mindset coming to the PPV as a creative and as a performer

“One thing that’s particularly very important to me is self-awareness. I was aware of where we were last year in terms of going to Double or Nothing, and a lot of things were discussed about the product. Now here we are a year in, and this is Double or Nothing 2, and we’re evolving right in front of the audience. For me, the mindset is just to continue to make Double or Nothing destination programming, to continue to make AEW destination programming, take what is working and what people enjoy. That’s incredibly difficult to quantify when you have no audience screaming and booing and things of that nature. I know the company may look different than it did, but in my eyes, it looks so beautiful because there’s such a diverse palette on this show. I can’t think of a time in wrestling when the presenting network actually said we want our own belt, the TNT Championship. You have Hikaru Shida and Nyla Rose in no disqualification and no count-out match. You have the Stadium Stampede match, something we’ve never seen before, taking advantage of the stadium structure here in Jacksonville. You have young upstarts. It’s just a very diverse show, my mindset is let this be the most diverse show, let this be a buffet for wrestling, but make sure it’s the best damn buffet that there is.”

On working at the Daily’s Place for a couple of weeks now and doing the PPV there

“Daily’s Place was already special for us before the pandemic, as a bit of a home arena. Obviously, the parking lot was where we had the initial AEW press conference, but for me, there’s a lot of tools in this sandbox in terms of the space. We’re so fortunate to have Daily’s and its surrounding infrastructure. I just love the fact that the sun sets as the show is beginning and going on. It’s a really beautiful lighting treatment. I love that, and I love the wind in the open-air amphitheatre that is Daily’s Place. Really, it’s made things very easy for us. If we have to wrestle at the Daily’s in the foreseeable future, I would have no problem with that. It’s a tremendous place, and there’s a lot of tools in that sandbox. A flex field is behind Daily’s place, the bridge on the club section goes over to the main stadium, so there’s a lot of room for us within the show to play with.”

On Mike Tyson presenting the TNT Championship belt

“Mike Tyson is actually somebody that we met as a company at Double or Nothing. He is a hardcore AEW fan and someone with an element of prestige to present that Championship.”

On Brodie Lee being given a World Championship opportunity so fast

“It’s a very much a proving ground for somebody like Mr. Brodie Lee. He will likely not appreciate, but I will say I’m very proud of Brodie Lee. In a different aspect in our world that people don’t see, he’s stepped up considerably as a leader. This locker room is very young, and it needs leaders. I always was in locker rooms that had great leaders and the wrestling etiquette was taught correctly, without bullying or anything of that nature. Mr. Brodie and Shawn Spears are two guys who have really brought that to the forefront. His match is a proving ground that guy can go big rig, and I am very much looking forward to him and John Moxley. We all of a sudden went from being a very light heavyweight company to the board that is now filled with these super heavyweights individuals like Wardlow, Luchasaurus, Mr. Brodie Lee, and my opponent in Lance Archer.”

On Matt Hardy possibly being a member of The Elite

“Matt Hardy is wonderful. Last night, I got the privilege to sit outside and just have a beautiful view of the Jacksonville waterfront with Matt and to hear him tell stories to some of the younger guys. It’s really great having his presence. As far as the Elite is concerned, Kenny Omega and Matt and Nick Jackson are the heartbeats of it. All those guys are glue, and they do everything individually together. Kenny was PWI’s wrestler of the year last year. I don’t know how many tag team accolades Matt and Nick have won. They are incredibly polarizing figures because they’re damn good. I would assume that Broken Matt is trial by fire here. As someone who’s under the Elite banner, it’s an honour to have been selected to be part of it. I’ve been with those guys, and we’re a family, and that’s very special.”

On the mid-carders he sees as being the next breakout main-eventers

“I think everyone sees the same thing. MJF is destined for something incredibly great, he’s a very different type of wrestler, a very adaptive type of wrestler. I look at what he and Jungle Boy have on Saturday as a snapshot of the future. They’re both growing physically. Somebody like Sammy Guevara every week has done something on television that has made you want to look into Sami Guevara more. Hikaru Shida is another person who could break out by the fact that she’s really diverse. I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Darby Allin’s incredibly smart growing as well. There’s a potential for many great people to slip into the main event, especially with a ranking system. Take a look at Best Friends, potentially slipping into the number one contender spot based on their Buy In match. There’s a lot of options, and I hope that is a sign of a great company, and I hope guys will meet those challenges when they arise.”

On how different the approach to the shows has changed since the shift to close arenas

“There are so many stories online about what precautions wrestling is taking. Just to get in the hallway my office here at Daily’s place, I have to get a temperature check, so not only a temperature check in the parking. You’ve seen on the program the wristbands on everybody’s wrist doing testing in quarantine situations, the ring crew is working overtime to sanitize, we use masks as much as we possibly can. It’s just been a really unique challenge. Our medical team is already presented with the challenge of a violent wrestling show, now there’s this global pandemic, and they have just been so above and beyond and done countless hours to make sure that everyone is genuinely tested. No one in this building, no one touching a camera, or wrestling in that ring hasn’t been tested.

From the creative side of it, I have loved this challenge because you don’t have anyone to throw your weight belt to, you don’t have that instant gratification of knowing this spot works, this spot didn’t work. What a way to test your skills! This has presented itself as a challenge because, to me, there’s no one sitting in the crowd, but there are people sitting at home, and they’re watching wrestling. It’s my job to entertain them. I just really have relished the challenge, and it’s very clear who really stepped up during this period of time. I think people have honed their skills, and they’re going to come out of this pandemic as better wrestlers, and that just creates a better wrestling show for the wrestling fan.”

On the pros and cons of wrestling in front of no attendance

“The overlying advantage is that you’re really tested as a performer and a competitor. How do you tell this physical story with no fans to help you, with no background music to ride over? That’s been a positive, but to be frank, there really hasn’t been any other positives. We very much miss the fans. We miss each other. There is a need as a wrestler for a fan hulking up. Every aspect of a really good wrestling match in the psychology of it, but wrestling depends on the crowd. It depends on one another. We’re now working for this crowd that’s at home, and we’re appropriate, and we’re guessing things of that nature. I can’t say how much I miss it on a personal level, and I know the locker room too, and hopefully, we can have the fans back soon.

There are things that maybe aren’t personal flavours, but there’s been an aspect of experimentation. One example is the microphone. People will ask you why you got a microphone when there’s no fans? The microphones are actually for the cameras. When you take away the mics, you can’t hear what anyone is saying. One thing we have been fortunate to have is we do have the boys and girls on the roster in the crowd. Obviously, they’re all industry folks, so they’re the most jaded audience you could get, but to be able to move them in any way is actually a great barometer of how things are going in the ring. We’ve not had crickets of silence because we’ve been able to have the boys and girls in the seats, socially distanced, we’re not just dealing with utter silence, and that alone scares me to death. The wrestler’s nightmare is silence.”

On an adjustment that AEW has had to make in light of the pandemic

“If you’ve ever been backstage at a wrestling show, everyone shakes everyone’s hands. The handshaking aspect of that type of physical nature is maybe something that is passé. I was talking with Colt Cabana about this the other day, it’s disappointing not to be able to shake hands and hug and things of that nature, but if it prevents this virus from moving from one person to the next. It’s a measure that should be taken, and perhaps something moving forward. Handshaking is not as prominent as it was in wrestling before.”

Double or Nothing is available on Fite TV worldwide, including Canada (available in the USA on FITE only via PlayStation, Xfinity 1 and Xfinity Flex), this Saturday at 8 PM EST (1 AM BST). A free pre-show will be available on Fite TV and AEW YouTube Channel at 7.30 PM EST (12.30 AM BST). You can order the PPV here.

All pics and videos courtesy of AEW