Cody Rhodes on the state of AEW, TNT title open challenge, Mike Tyson and more

Since defeating Lance Archer to become the inaugural AEW TNT champion, Cody Rhodes has made his weekly open title challenges one of the must-see elements every Wednesday night. AEW

Cody Rhodes is often at the center of the conversation when it comes to All Elite Wrestling. A lot of that has to do with his role as an executive vice president for the company and being in the public eye as AEW has evolved to become a valuable part of the TNT schedule.

But there's also what he's doing in the ring. Every Wednesday on AEW Dynamite, Rhodes has been defending his TNT championship in an open challenge. It's not a new idea in pro wrestling, but what Rhodes has done with the opportunity is certainly noteworthy. AEW has used the open challenge as a means to elevate its contracted stars in a new way and as an entry point for wrestlers from other organizations not on the roster.

The storyline has introduced Dynamite's viewers to new talent at a time when AEW does not have a full roster because of travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and wrestlers have extremely limited options in terms of where they can perform.

Last month, former NWA TV champion Ricky Starks answered Rhodes' open challenge, and his performance earned him an AEW contract. On last week's show, Rhodes faced Eddie Kingston, an independent wrestling veteran who has wrestled for almost every promotion outside of WWE and on Wednesday Rhodes faces Warhorse, a red-hot indie star.

ESPN spoke with Rhodes about the open challenge, Mike Tyson's involvement with AEW, which former WWE stars he'd like to sign, controversial comments made recently about WWE on an AEW Dynamite broadcast and much more.

(Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)

ESPN: What's the latest on AEW's broadcast schedule? Will there be a third hour or second show, as has previously been rumored?

Cody Rhodes: I think probably in four to six weeks I'll have a firmer answer on that. That's still very much the case. The format of that show might be different. It might rely on the production we have in place already, it might not. I know we've got all kinds of different plans converging on what we want. The goal of what the third hour would be is to showcase a different crop of talent from AEW. It's very hard when you have this much talent and you only have a single weekly show. It's hard to keep people in the mix. As a wrestler, it's even hard to train for. The only way to train for wrestling is still wrestling. It's been an adjustment, even without the pandemic.

When you say different talent, do you mean existing talent on the AEW roster or maybe some new faces?

CR: One thing that's really crazy is that throughout this pandemic, [AEW president and CEO] Tony Khan has not let anybody go. He has not furloughed anybody. If anything, opportunities have been given and some people have seized those opportunities. You look at Ricky Starks. That was never the intention to sign him. The intention was to diversify and offer this wide palette for the AEW open challenge, of all different challengers from different worlds. And kind of acknowledging that wrestling exists outside of our AEW space, which is very important, to stay honest. If I had my way -- and maybe I will -- that third hour is a space to see some new men and women, including men and women not on our current roster.

If you were to choose, who would be your No. 1 dream match for that AEW TNT title open challenge?

CR: It depends on the type of dream you're having. To be fair to your line of questioning, I'll give you two answers. One is from our world. I'm surprised MJF hasn't knocked on the open challenge door. I'm surprised we haven't revisited that. That's one that I'm legit chomping on the bit, as a performer and competitor, to do again.

And then off the top of my head, someone from outside our world, there's maybe two guys that I hear a lot about. One is my good friend Ethan Page [of Impact Wrestling]. I've kind of watched his glow-up continue. ... He maybe doesn't have the God-given talent, but just absolutely will outwork you and will continue to grow up, glow up and mature, which is the key if you're going to make wrestling your life's work.

Another guy is [current NWA champion] Nick Aldis. That guy and I, we couldn't be any farther from friends, but there's this natural bit of respect between us because we did do the two NWA matches and they did have a really warm following. The match at All In, that was one of my favorite moments of my life as a wrestler. And we never finished this. We were 1-1. Now that you ask me this, you've opened up a can of worms. I also have split wins with Kenny Omega. That's somebody, too, I could see that stepping up for the open challenge.

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Tyson arrives with backup at AEW brawl

Mike Tyson, along with friends and ex-UFC fighters Henry Cejudo, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort, all get into a brawl with Chris Jericho and his friends at AEW on Wednesday night.

The Mike Tyson segment with Chris Jericho in June generated a lot of buzz. What's going on with AEW and Tyson?

CR: I can say that there's a relationship between Mike and AEW and Mike and Tony Khan. I think that's a thread that those guys will likely pull, if not now, then in the future.

Anyone from the MMA world who would intrigue you? Henry Cejudo, the former UFC double champion, showed up with Tyson recently on AEW.

CR: I like Henry a lot, only because he's seen what our family looks like backstage and behind the camera. He's somebody who is very intriguing. If he had any interest in it, I think this is a company I feel very confident we would know what to do. Pro wrestling is vastly different from combat sports and mixed martial arts and UFC. But there are some people who can blend the lines a little bit. There are people here with combat sports experience and have that under their belts. They can find that really hard element where it works as a pro wrestler.

I'd love to see Henry in the ring. I really would. I'd love to tag with Henry. I think he's great. He's a former Olympic gold medalist. It's very important to me that we have a real sports broadcast. I know there are a lot of very meta and very silly things on our show as well. That's part of the buffet. But when I'm going out there and stiffing each other to high heaven and beating the hell out of each other, I like the sports side of it. I want to strengthen that as much as we can as a company.

One of the issues you guys are facing right now is COVID-related travel restrictions. Any indication when guys like PAC, who is from England, will be able to come back into the country and get back to AEW?

CR: We kind of watch the news just like everybody else does. We have some people with their ears to the ground in Washington on perhaps when these borders will open up. I would hope as soon as it does, we can get everybody back here. But there are some hoops to jump through. You've got to quarantine -- you've got to legitimately self-isolate. But this is the greatest job ever, to be a pro wrestler. It's worth the hoops. PAC is maybe pound-for-pound the best wrestler in the world. We can't wait to have him back.

There are some talented names who are not under contract right now. If you could sign any free agent right now to AEW, who would it be?

CR: I think there are two free agents that are on a lot of people's radar, that being Miro -- formerly Rusev -- and Matt Cardona, who was Zack Ryder. Obviously, those free agents should be on any radar. They have literally drawn money. They have TV experience. They have high-profile experience. They have locker room experience. The pros heavily outweigh the cons.

Those are two great free agents. I'm not going to go as far to say that if I had to sign anybody, those would be the two that I would sign. But I think they're great free agents. I think if they have the passion for pro wrestling, they're going to continue to succeed.

Here's the trick. We only have a two-hour show. And a lot of our roster hasn't even been fully realized or seen yet. I want to make sure we honor individuals like that. If you bring in a hot free agent, that means someone is going to lose a spot. That's just the reality of it. In my capitalistic, cold nature that I have, I actually don't mind that, because that makes everybody else step their game up. But you do want to do it fairly and responsibly. The best wrestlers, no matter where they came from, you're going to want on your show.

If Rey Mysterio was a free agent, how aggressive would AEW be in trying to get Rey Mysterio?

CR: To me, the greatest luchador ever, of all time -- hands down -- is Rey Mysterio Jr. And he's got friends here. Jericho and him are friends. Mysterio is not afraid to travel out there, either. He's not a one-company individual. And I think Rey still has a lot left to give in terms of wrestling. That might be something that someone else is currently discussing with him at this point. You never know.

What about Kurt Angle and Tessa Blanchard?

CR: Kurt is amazing. I had three matches with Kurt when I left WWE. That's a very special wrestler. I'm not sure if he wants to keep doing it, though. I look at someone like that and I look at what is their interest like beyond just being a wrestler. When you're multifaceted like that and you have an Olympic background, I would just be curious as to where his passion levels lie beyond in ring.

I don't know a lot about the current situation with her and Impact. Tully, her father, is in AEW. That's more Kenny Omega, [my wife and AEW chief brand officer] Brandi [Rhodes] and Tony carving out the growing and evolving women's division. They'd have more of a beat on that. She was part of All In for us. And anyone who was part of All In has a place in my heart. On a personal level, I always want all the second- and third-generation wrestlers to have the best experience. She has a lot, a lot of talent. I'm sure it's something Kenny, Brandi and Tony have discussed.

Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, who were released by WWE, recently mentioned on a podcast how close they were to signing with AEW last year before re-signing with WWE. They said they feel like they have heat in AEW. Any truth to that?

CR: There's no heat at all. Business is business. I think Karl Anderson, just to see his glow up and him get ripped [was great]. And to look back at what he was able to do in New Japan, that guy is a superb talent.

Gallows, everyone loves Gallows. He takes the award for the most carny wrestler in the history of wrestling. He is the king carny. He came to my house prior to their re-signing with WWE. There were some discussions. We both lived in Georgia. He actually told me a number he was offered, got drunk and then -- not realizing it -- only an hour later told me a different number that was of course higher. I love him. You can't not love somebody who is that carny and that goofy.

There's no heat with Gallows and Anderson at all. I'm curious where their path takes them next. But gosh, how could you have heat with a guy who told you one price and then an hour later, after some Crown Royal, jumped his price up by a significant dollar amount? That's just funny, that's just beautiful. When you have a wrestler like me who takes it so seriously, I like having folks like that around to help balance me out.

Were they as close to signing with AEW as they said?

CR: They were at the finish line. They were. Luke Gallows, like I said. Luke Gallows will step over $100 to get to a dime. There's no one like him. And I mean this totally lovingly. He's not even a good friend of mine. That was a business decision that they made and there are no hard feelings over it.

Any chance they could be in AEW in the future?

CR: There's always a chance. I have to be really careful about what I say online when it comes to anything. ... There is never a never. One thing about AEW is we don't know what AEW fully is yet. That's a beautiful thing. That's why jumping on now as a fan is the best. It's growing. The scouting report, throw it out the window. AEW is absolutely unpredictable and remains unpredictable.