On the 5th of February episode of All Elite Wrestling’s weekly television program AEW: Dynamite, a monumental storyline angle took place. After weeks of build up and bargaining between Cody Rhodes and his former friend (turned bitter enemy) Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF), the terms upon which Cody would get his match with MJF were set. Cody was unable to lay his hands on MJF until said proposed match; Cody would have to face MJF’s bodyguard Wardlow in a steel cage match; and most curious of all was that Cody would have to survive 10 lashings at the hands of MJF on live television, as MJF put it, “In front of his friends, family and god.”
It was during this instant classic angle that All Elite Wrestling would truly define themselves as the alternative to WWE that they had always promised to be. While WWE is so often a product driven by the destination, AEW has set itself apart as being a product that puts equal, if not more, focus on the journey to said destination. This is story telling at its finest, and by the time the show was winding to its climax, fans in attendance at Huntsville, Alabama knew they were witnessing something special.
On paper the idea of a strapping/lashing segment seems somewhat silly; but it is the story surrounding it and what has led to this moment, and where this moment will lead to, is what makes the stakes feel so high. Cody has to survive the trials put in place by MJF or he cannot get his vengeance in the wrestling ring. MJF had masterfully screwed Cody at Full Gear out of being able to challenge for the AEW World Championship ever again by throwing in the towel as his cornerman. On top of that, MJF delivered a devastating low blow, turning on Cody in the process. MJF has since made Cody jump through proverbial hoops in order to secure this match, hiring The Butcher and The Blade to take Cody out in a brutal assault, and having his heavy Wardlow beat Cody down and strangle him with his Burberry tie.
After two months of trials and tribulations, Cody was now at the next obstacle in his road to revenge: he had to survive ten lashings from MJF. After having already been through so much turmoil at the hands of Maxwell, Cody now had to take the humiliation of being whipped like a dog by the man he so desperately wants to tear limb-from-limb. The crowd went silent, as they were in sheer disbelief that their hero Cody was about to endure this pain. Before the lashings could begin however, MJF had one last piece of humiliation to deal out to Cody: He would force Cody to give him the belt off his own pants. He wanted to whip Cody with his own belt, symbolically telling Cody that it is his own doing, that MJF believes Cody is the author of his own destruction for holding him back.
Crack! The first lashing snapped across Cody’s back, the sound echoed throughout the arena. Cody turns around and gets in MJF’s face but he knows he cannot hit him so he fights the urge and bucks up to receive the next nine lashings. MJF delivered lash after lash and Cody’s back became bright red as they shredded his flesh. It was around the third lashing that Arn Anderson (Cody’s personal coach) would head down to the ring to cheer him on. Cody withstood another two lashings before buckling in agony. Next out came his brother Dustin Rhodes. Dustin pleaded with MJF to let him take the rest of the lashings in Cody’s place: a request MJF denied.
Cody had to survive all ten lashings or else he would not be able to make it to the next stage of the trials by MJF; the match he so desperately needed would vanquish before his eyes if he could not take five more lashings. As the lashings went on, fans in attendance were seen shedding tears as Cody struggled to stand. The other members of The Elite made their way down to ringside to support Cody; the very same people that MJF so badly wanted to bare witness to Cody’s humiliation at his hands.
Around the ninth lashing, MJF decided to shake things up a bit and allowed his bodyguard, Mr Mayhem himself, Wardlow to deliver a devastating lashing. The lashing was so brutal it drew blood from Cody’s back as he crumbled to the ground. MJF was loving every moment of this, he dared Cody to give up, to just quit. It appeared all hope was lost as Cody had taken more punishment than any normal human being should, when out came Brandi Rhodes, Cody’s wife. With tears rolling down her face and now tears rolling down Cody’s in turn, she told him she loved him and that he could do this, he only had one lashing left. With a kiss from his wife, Cody defiantly took one last stand to MJF who in frustration delivered the final lashing directly to Cody’s chest. Cody had survived the lashings: MJF’s plan had failed.
Ironically, MJF’s insistence that his friends and family bare witness to the lashings was ultimately his undoing, as the support and love he was given was what allowed him to overcome the pain and withstand the humiliating assault. MJF would deliver yet another low blow to Cody before hightailing it into the crowd, proverbially kicking the man while he was down.
As the episode of Dynamite faded to a close, whether it was the fans in attendance or the people watching at home, we all knew that we had watched something remarkable. It was a beautifully composed segment that was executed perfectly. Cody is well and truly over as the biggest babyface in the company, and MJF as the despicable hated heel. But this is just one part of the journey: Cody must still face Wardlow in the cage. Cody has to survive a steel cage match with Mr Mayhem if he still has hope of facing MJF at Revolution. The destination is in sight but right now this journey has been oh so sweet. I for one cannot wait to see Cody get his hands on MJF, but before that he will enter the first steel cage match in AEW history later this week on Dynamite. Regardless of what happens next, the ten lashings angle will not leave our minds any time soon; it showed us what wrestling can truly be at its greatest of moments – beauty through pain.