AEW: The success of Cody and MJF’s lashing angle rooted in character

Ouch. Ouch, ouch, ouch. That had to hurt.

On AEW Dynamite this week, Cody assumed 10 belt lashings from MJF as a means to secure a match with his rival and former protégé at Revolution on PPV in three weeks. Mind you, it was Cody’s own belt too. The inhumanity!

I can still hear the sound of leather striking flesh. The angle this week was intense in nature and dramatic in execution, but it was the character work by both men that truly shined to make it all a success.

It starts and ends with Cody. Since the inception of Dynamite, Cody’s character has been given the most substantial amount of time to develop in front of the audience and on television.

The result is a rabid group of fans that are invested in, care about, and passionate for Cody and his mission in AEW. As the polished pro wrestler that Cody is, he’s able to successfully manipulate that connection to his character for an effective audience reaction.

Wednesday’s angle was no different.

From the moment that Cody walked out onto the stage, he owned the audience and laid the foundation of sympathy with how he emoted his body and facial expressions. His entrance was serious, his interactions with MJF believable, and he generally portrayed an attitude of concern even in the midst of doing something that would net him the end game he craved in the match with MJF.

That character setup development is important. By working through those emotions in real time, not only did Cody hook the crowd, but he showcased the range his character has as well.

In one segment, fans got to see Cody as an emotional competitor – concerned, sympathetic, and as a fired up, passionate, babyface all at the same time. Those character ranges from Cody gave fans a diverse mix of avenues to engage with him on.

Obviously, much of the attention throughout the lashings was on Cody and rightfully so. However, the character work on the part of MJF enhanced the focus on Cody and provided concrete development for the MJF character and the saga between him and Cody as well.

The AEW audience knows MJF as a snotty, two-faced, coward that habitually runs from fights in the name of being “better than you.”

That personality is rooted in arrogance and control. On Wednesday, those traits were displayed in full force. MJF walked the ramp with a cocky swagger and an attitude that screamed in control. Throughout the segment though, those root traits changed with every passing minute and new avenues for audience engagement with him were born.

As MJF beat on Cody and as Cody took the beating, MJF visibly grew more frustrated with himself and the situation. With each lashing, the control that is central to MJF’s character and any bully, slowly slipped through his fingers. That loss of control gave fans an opening.

It eroded MJF’s arrogant armor away and revealed the true coward that is present in any good pro wrestling villain. With that, there was hope. The AEW audience saw MJF’s exterior removed and saw an avenue where the hero Cody Rhodes could overcome and win.

Like Cody showing range with his character development, MJF morphing from arrogant snob to a running rat in a matter of ten minutes showed the range MJF has a performer as well. Also like Cody, the added range allowed for and built an environment where fans could engage back with him in an impactful way.

Successful character work like we saw in this segment undoubtedly helps the AEW product overall, but it helps both Cody and MJF too. Cody is able to grow his babyface fan reaction due to the dastardly deeds, heat, and hope MJF curated throughout the angle.

As for MJF, his ability to build heat and be a hated heel character is grown exponentially by Cody building sympathy and pulling fans to his side. This angle is a win-win for both acts and a perfect display of successful art in a pro wrestling ring.

Next: AEW Revolution: Cody needs to beat MJF

In the end, the angle created deep investment. Both men rooted that investment in their character work and authenticity behind it, but the audience cared. Bingo. What comes next? A license to print money.

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