This past Saturday night in Las Vegas, wrestling fans experienced some quite surreal sights. ‘The Hitman’ was on hand, a returning Awesome Kong appeared and of course, Jon Moxley arrived. However, it was a whole other visual that remains engrained in my mind. Rhodes vs. Rhodes. Cody vs. Dustin. Nightmare vs. Natural. After 20 minutes of intense, gripping action, the two brothers reached a screeching halt. Covered in blood, both men froze as for a brief moment, the audience spoke on their behalf.
Their response spoke volumes. It had been an exhausting, emotional experience but not a single fan could look away, eyes rooted to the ring as great theater unfolded. In truth, this story began decades ago, a history that couldn’t be created by even the smartest mind’s imagination. Instead, this was a conflict between two brothers that had grown up in front of our eyes. Two men seemingly destined for greatness who through ups and downs, have consistently strived for their own unique legacy, all while honoring their father’s iconic identity.
For now at least, Double or Nothing was the culmination of those journeys and before the bell had even rung, its meaning was palpable. The scene had been perfectly set and an atmosphere had emerged, an anxious uncertainty surrounded what would follow. Few things felt definite as the first bell approached but two stern figures stood in opposing corners nonetheless. Their body language told a tale in itself, a tension in their movement and a caution on their face. This mattered to these men and as a result, it mattered to the fans too.
Once the action begun, any doubts soon faded. At 50 years old and eleven months removed from his last match, Dustin Rhodes continued his dominance over father time, moving as naturally as ever. ‘The Natural,’ wrestling’s most apt nickname, a perfect description of Dustin’s quite effortless brilliance. Effortless of course until it’s time to struggle, smooth until it’s time to become sympathetic. That contrast is hard to capture, a slick skill within the brutal, bloody brawl. When managed though, its impact is glaring.
Opposite Dustin stood the perfect foe, a villain by default almost, a man dealing with emotions that internally battled with his every move. Cody Rhodes was fighting more than just his brother here, violently tackling a relationship that had lived far beyond his in-ring career. Early on, Cody benefited from Brandi Rhodes’ presence, impacting proceedings twice until her ejection at the first act’s close. That conclusion coincided with a different factor’s introduction: the crimson mask that flooded Dustin’s face for the match’s remaining minutes.
Just moments earlier, fans had showered both men in touching chants of ‘Dusty’ but things had now taking a gruesome turn. If there were any doubts before, this was certainly no exhibition, with Dustin graphically leaking blood as fans looked on in shock and horror. As bizarre as it sounds, I mean that sentence as the upmost compliment as well. That color brought a unique level of violence to the affair, a visual representation of the match’s motivation. The resentment, the spite, the love, the hate, all of it shined through that red mask.
That visual is unlikely to leave my memory for quite some time, a glaring image that only heightened what followed. Eventually, Dustin unsurprisingly fired back, initiating a closing stretch that almost merged generations with each near-fall. That back and forth was rather modern but its roots were a throwback, especially with Jim Ross’ inspired voice serving as the backing track. In truth though, this story was being told as all wrestling tales should, with sheer in-ring imagery. In the end, Cody ended his brother’s night, leaving the ring with an emotion that appeared far from overjoyed.
At that particular moment, I felt emotionally spent. In hindsight though, the finale had only just begun. Cody swiftly returned to the ring, standing over his brother and in a fashion reminiscent of their father 25 years ago, pleaded for a one night tag team outing. Just like on that occasion all those years ago, the speech resulted in an embrace as sheer emotion overcame almost every fan watching. This moment wasn’t about WWE and frankly, I’m not even sure it was about AEW either. This was about family.
At core, Dusty Rhodes’ appeal was that somehow, someway, he always remained human. Beyond the spectacular promos and larger than life mannerisms, there was a relatability there that audiences forever latched onto. That same spirit lived on at Double or Nothing, an honesty that extended far beyond the fight being fought. It’s a credit to professional wrestling that somehow, someway, we were truly moved by this 30 minute episode of simply beautiful wrestling theater.
It obviously remains unclear how Double or Nothing will be viewed in wrestling history. Whether it’ll be the start of a shifting landscape or instead, simply a unique moment in time. Regardless of which side the truth eventually resides on, that’ll never change this show or more specifically, this particular match. In wrestling especially, we can only ever speak for ourselves and with that in mind, I’m delighted to say that Cody vs. Dustin, Natural vs. Nightmare left me in absolute awe.
Regardless of the letters hosting the match, each time the bell rings, the performers have a chance to impact people. A chance to move people and a chance to make them feel something special. On this occasion, Dustin and Cody managed that and I can only be thankful for it. Considering the pieces in place and the history they shared, this is obviously a rare case. Combine that with the moment’s importance and suddenly, a quite surreal picture is engrained in your mind.
On this night, these two men produced their masterpiece. On this night, two brothers traded blows with blood flowing as fans celebrated the heritage and legacy that their surname represents. Neither of these stories are complete and in Cody’s case especially, his may only just be beginning. With that being said, these two men will have work to do if they ever surpass this night in my mind. It was simply a dream scenario, there’s just no better way to put it.