5-Star Match Reviews: Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes - AEW Double or Nothing 2019, by Alex Podgorski

5-Star Match Reviews: Cody vs. Dustin Rhodes - AEW Double or Nothing 2019, by Alex Podgorski

Sometimes all it takes in pro wrestling is saying no to something enough times before finally saying yes. That’s what happened in this case. This was a match that was years in the making but never materialized. After years of trying and failing to get it put together, the stars finally aligned in 2019, and the wrestling world was treated to one of the most unexpectedly-exciting dream matches in modern wrestling history.

Today we revisit the classic encounter between brothers Cody and Dustin Rhodes from AEW Double or Nothing 2019.

As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.

The story

This match was originally supposed to take place years prior in an entirely different company. Cody had wanted to face his brother in singles competition as far back as 2015, but the match never materialized. Then Cody left the company in 2016 for a number of reasons, one of which being he was frustrated being stuck in the Stardust character.

Meanwhile, his brother stayed in WWE until his contract expired in April 2019. Once he signed with AEW, it was announced that he’d be facing his younger brother at Double or Nothing. Cody then vowed to make this a more symbolic match by proclaiming that by defeating his brother he would ‘kill the Attitude Era’.

The match

This match originally took place on May 25th, 2019. It was rated five stars by Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. It was rated ****1/2 out of five by TJRWrestling’s John Canton.

The bell rings and fans start chanting ‘this is awesome’. They take the time to soak in the loud crowd chants and Dustin points to the Heavens for their father Dusty Rhodes. Cody wins the first lockup then lands a takedown. He does a Stardust taunt which gets a huge reaction. After a headlock, he ducks down and lands an uppercut throat thrust, which is one of Dustin/Goldust’s signature moves. He tosses Dustin out of the ring and lands a topé suicida. Then he goes to whip Dustin but something gets botched. Cody tries again and Dustin counters into a kick to Cody’s face. Apron flipping senton from Goldust. A 50-year-old man just did a flip like Jushin Liger in his prime. That was sweet.

Back in the ring, Dustin ducks a clothesline and lands a bulldog. Ten punches in the corner by Goldust, with a Stardust taunt of his own before the tenth one. Dustin with punches and teases a Dusty Rhodes bionic elbow but Cody escapes the ring. Cody returns to the ring after a breather and goes for a bridging pin but Dustin hangs onto the rope. While the ref’s focused on Cody, Brandi hits Dustin in the head with the water bottle that Cody had just drank from. A fireman’s carry gutbuster gets Cody a two-count.

Cody starts working the arms and back with an abdominal stretch, followed by a dragon screw leg whip for another two-count. Dustin tries to fire back with uppercuts for Cody maintains control. Dustin reverses an Irish whip into the corner and charges but Cody dodges and lands a snap powerslam for two. After Dusty resists a submission attempt, he ducks a clothesline and lands one of his own. Then he counters a back body drop with a kneeling throat thrust as revenge for earlier.

Dustin dodges a charging Cody and hits another punch to the face. He teases Shattered Dreams but Cody removes the turnbuckle pad. After pretending to be conflicted, Dustin charges the corner. But Cody dodges and Dustin goes face-first into the exposed turnbuckle. Cody pushes Dustin into the corner some more and Dustin escapes the ring.

Dustin tries to recover ringside as Cody distracts the referee. The crowd boos as Brandi spears Dustin. Referee Earl Hebner has had enough of Brandi’s shit and orders her to leave, which gets a huge pop from the crowd. Brandi argues for a long time until DDP comes out and carries her back. That too gets a huge reaction from the crowd.

The action returns to the ringside area and Dustin is bleeding heavily. Cody attacks his open wound and wipes some of his brother’s blood on his chest. In the ring, Cody pins but Dustin kicks out at 2.8. Cody kicks Dustin in the face and Dustin tries to fire back with a clothesline but misses wildly. He staggers about the ring, unable to see, much less defend himself. A standing dropkick gets Cody another two-count. He stomps away on Dustin in the corner, and Dustin tries to feel in front of him, searching blindly for something to touch. A hard Irish whip into the corner sends Dustin down and Dustin tries to rile the crowd up to support him. He reverses a whip into a corner and goes for an uppercut but misses, having assumed Cody was coming closer. Cody lands a Curb Stomp for a close two-count.

Still blinded, Dustin gets up and walks into a diving double ax handle. Cody goes for another diving move but this time Dustin ducks it and lands a snap powerslam of his own for a close two-count. Dustin tries to maintain control but Cody counters into a Figure-4 leglock. Dustin tries to stay off his shoulders to avoid getting pinned but Cody punches him hard to keep sending him back down.

After an intense struggle, Dustin reverses the leglock on Cody, but he reaches the ropes quickly. Cody then takes off his weight belt and teases using it as a weapon but Hebner takes it away. That distraction allows Dustin to take advantage and land an atomic drop that sends Cody into the corner. Then, in a form of revenge, Dustin pulls Cody’s tight down exposing his bare ass and spanks him with that belt. Cody charges at Dustin but he counters into a Code Red sunset flip Powerbomb. Damn, where did that come from? He pins, but Cody kicks out at two. The crowd is giving Dustin a standing ovation.

Dustin places Cody on the top turnbuckle and lands a huge superplex. Standing spinning neckbreaker by Dustin. One, two, thr—no, Cody kicks out. Dustin teases Cross Rhodes but Cody hits a low blow that the referee misses. Disaster Kick by Cody! Cross Rhodes! It’s over…NO, Dustin kicks out. ‘Fight Forever’ chants erupt in the arena. Cross Rhodes by Dustin! Cody kicks out at 2.9! They do the yay/boo punch exchange with the crowd booing Cody. Cody lands another Goldust-style uppercut, then Dustin fires back with the same. Bicycle kick by Cody. Running neckbreaker. Cody kicks out at 2.5. Dustin slaps back defiantly. Vertebreaker by Cody! Holy Shit. Another Cross Rhodes! One, two, three! There’s the match!

Winner after 22:30: Cody

Review

This was a refreshing match to watch. A lot of modern 5-star classics tend to devolve into explosive displays of athleticism and high-spots at the expense of inner story. This match showcased the polar opposite. It was grounded in a deep, emotional story of two brothers facing off in a long-awaited singles match. It started off as an even match but soon descended into Dustin getting a major disadvantage. Once he got busted open it became all about his iron will and determination to overcome his younger, healthier brother. And he did an AMAZING job of selling that struggle. From reaching blindly to missing wildly with an attack due to having blood in his eyes, Dustin was awesome here. You felt for the guy and it was easy to get behind him and cheer for him. That made each move he landed feel like a big deal, which is why the crowd responded so loudly whenever he got close to winning.

But it wasn’t meant to be as Cody was the better man. But boy did Dustin ever go down fighting. The match had an old school brawl-type feel to it with simple actions that meant something in the grander scheme of things. This was proof that putting on a great match doesn’t require increasing layers of complexity and daredevil acrobatics to draw an emotional response. If you sell the emotion of a match in a way that resonates with a crowd, that will go much farther with an audience than just doing crazy moves for the sake of doing crazy moves.

And yet, there was something off about how this match was put together. It suffered from an identity crisis that made it difficult to really invest into. This was supposed to be a sympathetic dream match between two brothers that used to work for WWE and wanted their dream singles match to happen there but it never materialized. And now that it takes place in front of a sold out crowd…Cody decides to play the heel, which was completely unnecessary.

Point blank, Cody’s cheap and underhanded tactics took the story in a different direction from the obvious one it was meant to tell. This was supposed to be Cody having a dream match with Dustin. It was meant to be them putting on a classic encounter to show what they were capable of. Instead, Cody decided to act all dirty and underhanded, and even shoehorned Brandi into the story via cheap interference. That spot also felt completely unneeded as it took the focus away from the deep interpersonal story Cody and Dustin were trying to tell. Then DDP showed up to carry her away, and while that popped the crowd it seemed to detract from the overall story as well.

Furthermore, there are some elements in the match that came off not as pro wrestling but as…fanservice. Some stuff was just thrown in there for the sole reason of popping the crowd. And while there’s certainly a time and place for that, it just didn’t feel right here. The most notable example in the match was the spanking spot. He came off as too slapstick and therefore out of place in what was supposed to be a serious, hardnosed fight. And there wasn’t really much payoff for it as Dustin’s next move, the Code Red, was more interesting than the entire setup that preceded it.

Final rating: ****1/2

I went into this match not expecting much and was really happy with how it turned out. Dustin was the bigger star here, showing how well he could still perform despite being 50 years old. The emotional inner story was great, especially with Dustin trying to overcome challenge after challenge in the hopes of surviving. But it wasn’t meant to be, as Cody kept his word and in his own way, killed the Attitude Era.

But as good as it was, the match had a few issues about it that were hard to ignore. It seemed like it was trying to tell every story at once, and tried to encompass every wrestling trope and concept imaginable to get a reaction from the audience. And in doing so, the match felt a bit disjointed and all over the place. The interference was unnecessary, the fanservice seemed cheap and out of place, and Cody becoming an outright villain in the match contradicted his growing reputation as the champion of an alternative to WWE’s status as industry juggernaut.

So while it isn’t perfect by any means, it definitely stands out in relation to other great modern wrestling matches. If you prefer storytelling over action and a raw, bloody fight over acrobatics, you’ll be happy with this match.

Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.