There was a time Brandi Rhodes was a ring announcer; the first-ever black female announcer at one of the oldest wrestling events in history. She has since broken more barriers: she became the first woman of colour to appear in a match at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom. When AEW was launched, she became the first African-American woman to hold an executive position in a North American wrestling promotion.

On AEW, Brandi Rhodes has been creating a brand, in the ring as a wrestler and as a manager, but also outside the ring as the CBO of the company. She is in charge of the development of the Women’s division, the building of partnerships and also marketing or public relations. Saying she is busy would be underestimating her workload. She recently launched AEW Heels, a community for women who love wrestling with some special events totally dedicated to women wrestling fans.

SteelChair Mag had the chance to have a one-on-one conversation with Brandi Rhodes last week about all her different roles in AEW, her desire to challenge the industry with new ideas and partnerships, and also of the way women are considered in and out the business in general.

We are at a moment when women empowerment and all those things have never been more important, mostly the recent weeks. Is there something you want to want to say about the #speakout movement and all those things?

“What has definitely come to light here in the past few weeks is that we still have a long way to go, as far as women’s rights and equality, and especially in workplaces in general. I think that this has been a wake-up call for a lot of people that it may seem like there’s been all of this great change, but there’s still a really long way to go.

I think that people’s minds and eyes and ears and hearts are open now to the possibility of real change, so not just change that you just talked about, but change that you actually create from within and the standard that you create. This is really great for AEW because we’re a company in such infancy and these are the types of goals that we have, as a company, to build our brand around.

It’s just a good consistent reminder that this is what we all want, this is the goal, and you’ve got to get there, but you’ve got to start from scratch. It’s easier to start from scratch than to have been doing something incorrectly for 20-30 years, and then try to start over. We are definitely at an advantage that starting from square one, so we can be the right kind of company.”

We’re in 2020, and we are still talking the same challenges that we have been talking about for decades. More than anybody, you know all this challenge because being the first woman as an executive in a wrestling company, being a black woman, which is something that you should never be reminded of because you’re a woman. How do you feel about that the fact the things are still the same on that?

“I believe that people are what garner change and people are still the same. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and you will commonly hear that some families raise their children the same way they were raised, regardless of whether 2020 or 1980 or 1960. They still raise their kids with the same standards, so it’s not so surprising to me when people hang on to things like that as part of their family traditions.

It’s something that you hear about commonly, especially when it comes to race. There are parts of the Southern United States where it’s commonplace to use certain language, and until people change that, those pockets will still remain, and as long as those pockets remain, then racism still remains, and sexism still remains. The only way to completely eradicate something like that is to get rid of it within each person and I don’t know if that’s something that’s ever going to be possible. Socially accepting it is something that we can stop doing, which I think in 2020, we are at our wits end with it.

I think people are starting to say enough, so it’s really just something that as long as we, as people, don’t let it slide so many times. I hear people say, “Well, oh, ignore that, or just let it roll off your back.” If you do ignore, you’re complacent and you’re allowing it. There’s a fine line between taking the high road or actually speaking up.”

Have you also suffered from your name and the fact of being Brandi Rhodes?

“It’s a very common thing, especially in wrestling, of being either related to or second-generation talent. You’ll hear speak about things like this all the time, people will always hold you to a different standard when you are related to somebody who came before you, though that was really fantastic. I’m ok with that.

I’d rather be held to a higher standard than to be held to no standard that just makes me work harder, so it’s something that is always going to be there, and it’s okay, it’s fine with me. I like challenges. I like proving people wrong, and it’s become a kind of part of my daily life right now.”

When AEW was created, you have become the CBO of it, you had to create a women’s division, develop some partnerships. Everything that you are doing now, you had to start them from scratch.

“It’s a very exciting thing to be a part of something from the very beginning because the opportunity is just very vast, and you have a lot of different buckets in front of you, and you’ve got to figure out how to efficiently fill these buckets, but you can’t overfill one and leave one half-empty. You’ve got to work on them all kind of at the same time. It’s challenging, but it’s a lot of fun. I’m lucky because I have a lot of really great people that help, with just about everything that I have to do.

When it came to contouring and building the brand, I have all of my ideas, great suggestions and things that I wanted to do, but then there were these other amazing people behind the scenes,  working with me on the PR side and on the marketing side, that also have great ideas, and maybe they’ve had stuff that they’ve done before with other companies that I didn’t think about.

When you factor all of this in, you get really just good creative energy, and a good thought process going to figure out the best thing for AEW because it can’t just be about what I think, it’s got to be the best thing for the company as a whole, the whole brand. It’s not the Brandi brand. It’s AEW. I’ve been really lucky to have a lot of really good people keeping me grounded and helping me achieve all of these different aspects.”

You are extremely positive about women empowerment and everything you can do for women. Tell me about the AEW Heels project because it’s really something we feel that you’re just so passionate about, allowing women whether they are in the ring or fans to make themselves be heard?

“The Heels project came about because I was looking for something more for the female fans. I pay a lot of attention to who’s watching our show, and who’s talking about it, and what they’re engaging each other in. I noticed that there was a community of just women that are always talking on the Twitter timeline, using the AEW hashtags, and really just engaging each other for these two hours, the entire time, and really having a great conversation.

They would be respectful of each other. They would laugh and joke and still really make our product look really good because this is what the dream is, to have fans who are extremely passionate about it and having fun with it. From seeing that, I thought what if there are more women out there like this that want to be doing this that just don’t know about it? Maybe they don’t know any other female wrestling fans, maybe they watch it with their husband or their kids, but wish that they had more people to talk to about it and engage with about it.

The idea for Heels actually came together very, very quickly, which goes to show how receptive the group is here because I am technically the only female that is a performer and an executive. When I thought of the idea, I wrote it all out and I put it together what it would look like, how would we do this and where would it live and all of that, then I called Tony Khan (AEW President) a couple of days after, and I said, “Hey, I really want to pitch you this idea and see what you think.” He said this is a great idea, I can’t believe I would never have thought of this, which is really validating when you have somebody as smart and capable as Tony Khan say to you, congrats, you thought of like the one thing that I would not think of.

He was so for it, and so behind it. I really just kind of prayed that it would be a success and that it would be good for people, whoever decided to log on to that first one, that they would get something out of it. I didn’t imagine that people would get as much out of it as they did, and it was just very heart-warming and exciting to watch it all unfold on that first Zoom call, and so much fun for the girls as well because I approach everything with the women wrestlers as voluntary. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, ever. I mean, when we do photoshoots or little get-togethers or anything, I always want to make sure they’re comfortable.

I presented the idea to them too, and I said, “Hey, if this is not for you, don’t worry about it, don’t do it.” They all got on, they had a great time, they even asked now when’s the next one or can I do the Q&A or can I share something. It’s just been really great to see that this has worked for everyone because that was the goal. The goal is for this to be not just for one group of people, but for everybody on the women’s end of wrestling in general. It’s been very exciting, we’re looking forward to the future, and we will have some news to share with you very soon.”

You’re in and outside the ring, backstage and onstage. How easy or uneasy it is to be, at the same time, a wrestler, a ring announcer, a manager, the company’s CBO? And what is your favourite role?

“That’s a good question. I honestly feel like I like both because both present their own unique challenges, but both I see myself growing and learning almost every week. I’ve recently gotten back in the ring. It’s been a while since I was competing. I was more managing for a while, but now that I’m back in the ring and competing, and as a tag-team, I’ve never been a tag team wrestler before, so this is my first time doing tag-team wrestling too.

Allie is something else, she’s a handful, but it’s been really cool to learn in that aspect because Allie has been wrestling for almost twelve years, so she’s very experienced and has a lot to offer. I’m kind of relishing in this opportunity to get to work with her and learn so quickly and have so much fun at the same time, but then, in the other aspect, I’m launching Heels, which is amazing, something that’s never been done before something, that is completely unique to AEW and women’s wrestling.

It’s kind of like a milestone each, it’s like what I was talking about earlier with the multiple buckets, it’s like these two buckets, and they’re both about half full, and I’m just working on each one each week to keep them both happy.”

When you think about the future of AEW, how do you envision it now? What is the biggest lesson, whoever it is from, you want to keep with you when it comes to the future of AEW, something that is really important for you for the future of the company?

“For me, personally, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned so far that I want to continue to carry forward into the future is you cannot second-guess yourself when it comes to this because I’m one of those people who have an excellent gut instinct on everything. I have had a couple of times this year where my instinct told me one thing, but I decided to do something else because I thought that that would be better.

For some reason, I thought that would be better, and then when I look back at it, I say, well, when you look at the data on that, it wasn’t better because it probably would have been better had I just listened to my instinct and done what I wanted to do. Those are things that you have to learn, though, and it’s part of growing pains and part of just being better. One thing about me is I’m a little bit cheeky, I come across that way I think, socially or on social media,  very sarcastic in GOP, but I’m also extremely confident. When I figure out I’m right about something, I will not let anybody forget it (laughs). There have been a couple of times this year where I’ve said, “Well, I think maybe this is what we should do,” and then no, we did something else, and I say that remember when I said maybe we should do that, remember that, remember that, because I was right (laughs).

I think as you work together as a group, you start to learn, you remember when people were on the same wavelength and things like that, and then you say, “Okay, I think I can trust this person to steer me then in the right way,” or I can trust myself to steer me the right way, but all in good fun, of course, nothing super serious, but it’s definitely good to realize when you can stand on your own feet and when you can call the shots. You don’t need to ask anybody for approval or suggestions. You’re just confident in your own stance.”

How do you see AEW Women’s Division grow in the future? I’m sure the future is bright for all these fantastic women, but from your side, what do you expect for your division?

“The sky is the limit for AEW’s women. We were dealt some tough hands this year in that the pandemic happened and a good chunk of our women live overseas, and they’ve just been gone for this entire time. There’s no way for them to be here, so that was something that we had to quickly adjust with and adapt. I think we did a great job with that. We were able to bring some new faces in and kind of garner some intrigue with new local people that we actually didn’t really even know they existed on the level that they did until they were given the shot.

Something unlucky happened, but then something beautiful happened from that. Of course, we’ve had a couple of kind of freak injuries happen, which it’s sports, so that happens, and we needed to know how to shift within that. I think we’ve done a really good job with that, keeping the momentum going with some people stepping up to the table sooner than they had planned to, but still accepting the challenge and doing really well. I think that things can only get better, injuries will heal, and hopefully, we get this unprecedented situation under control that’s going on in our world right now.

When that happened, we’ve weathered this storm. It’s been a rough one, but like I said, our women have accepted the challenge, and we’ve stepped up. You’ve seen Penelope (Ford) get into singles action when she wasn’t really planning on it. You’ve seen me and Allie get into the tag action when we weren’t really planning on it. We’ve seen Shida have an amazing reign as champion, Nyla looking strong as ever, Big Swole has emerged as a really big player. We’ve got women, but we’ve got great women, and we’re going to continue to roll with them, and I’m really proud of everyone so far.”

Which female wrestler would you really want to sign to AEW Women’s division?

“Of course, there are some fantastic women that are out there, that are available, and it’s just a matter of time before you start to see new faces again, but we’re really committed to the faces that we do have because like I said,  they’ve been really just doing a fantastic, stellar job in this current situation, and not to forget we’ve had some brand new faces even pop up during this time.

Anna Jay has emerged. Abadon has emerged. We’ve got a strong group of ladies. I think sometimes people will focus in on the aspect of so-and-so is stuck in another country, and this person’s injured, but you got to look at the whole big picture. We’ve got a really well-rounded, beautiful roster of really talented women. I think the sky’s the limit, and we’re just going to continue to move onward and upward.”

Follow Brandi Rhodes on @TheBrandiRhodes and AEW Heels on @AEW_Heels.

Kind regards to Georgia Madden – All pics courtesy of AEW and Brandi Rhodes

By Steph Franchomme

News, Reviews, Social Media Editor, Impact Wrestling Reviewer, Interviewer Well, call me The Boss... And French...

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