2021 is really delivering wrestling feuds from all sides of the map as of late, and it looks as though another one could be building. AEW star and executive vice president Cody Rhodes was hyping his upcoming televised match with NBA legend Shaquille O'Neal, and in his promotion, he may have started something with prominent former NFL athlete and featured NXT collaborator Pat McAfee. Is there something big brewing here, or is it all a work to get fans' attention?
The situation started when Rhodes was asked in the conference call Wednesday (via Comicbook.com) about Pat McAfee's comments about the upcoming match, in which he contested the claim Rhodes' match with Shaquille O'Neal was going to be the greatest celebrity-involved wrestling match of all time. Rhodes, aware that McAfee notably turned heads with his participation in NXT events like NXT TakeOver XXX and WarGames, made a surprising allegation regarding the former NFL punter:
I didn't see this comment, especially from Pat. Which is super bizarre because I'm pretty sure that Pat is trying to get a job at AEW like every other day.
It's a statement I'm sure Cody Rhodes knew would raise some eyebrows, given AEW has scoped some major talent out from the WWE brand as of late. While Pat McAfee wasn't an outright Superstar and regular in-ring performer for the brand, his charisma and overall ability to work in the ring gained him some fast fans within the franchise. That is until WWE pulled McAfee from television in late December, with speculation alleging the brand didn't want to rely on him (or his popular radio show) to draw viewership.
Coincidentally enough, The Pat McAfee Show was airing at the time the call took place, which meant McAfee learned of the comments made by Cody Rhodes live. McAfee didn't sit on the news and wasted no time clearing the air about allegations he was trying to get in good with AEW:
Cody Rhodes says I've been trying to get employed by the AEW? This is not true, I've actually contemplated retirement here more than I have contemplated going to AEW. I've been in a little bit of a spat with Rusev, old friend of ours, now Miro. [He] kind of came after us and we flipped the script a little on him a little bit. And Shaq, obviously. I do have to watch that match tonight. Aside from that, I am not. I would just like that to be very clear.
Was Cody Rhodes telling a white lie to stir controversy, or was Pat McAfee covering tracks to avoid an awkward conversation with anyone at WWE who may want him back? Both are valid questions, but I can't ignore the fact that both Rhodes and McAfee engaged in some light cross-promotion of the other on significant platforms, which is usually the grounds for how collaborations get started. Also, it's not lost on me that McAfee threw a bit of heat back Rhodes way, stating he'd sooner retire from wrestling than join AEW.
There's also past precedent in Pat McAfee using The Pat McAfee Show to promote wrestling storylines that, on the surface, look like innocent drama. In fact, a big part of what led to McAfee's in-ring run in NXT began on his show when he interviewed NXT star Adam Cole, and the two got into a verbal altercation. Many at the time believed the blow-up between the two was legitimate but, of course, thoughts changed when the whole thing turned into a wrestling angle.
And for the record, I know it does seem silly to speculate on whether Pat McAfee denying he wants to join AEW is all a bit that will lead to him joining the program, but such is the world of wrestling. Celebrities insulting the sport of wrestling is a cheap yet effective way of drumming up interest in these types of situations and, with McAfee already a notable up-and-coming figure in wrestling, AEW could benefit from his presence. It truly isn't hard to see him and Cody Rhodes working together, which may be why the two openly rejecting each other feels a bit off.
AEW Dynamite airs on TNT Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET. I wouldn't count on McAfee being there just yet but, personally, I wouldn't rule out his eventual arrival given some of the talents the brand has sniped from WWE since its creation. For more on that, check out this handy list of the talent that has flipped sides here.