Chances are, few Black girls in Canton, Michigan, envision figure-skating careers.
Even fewer, perhaps, dream of moving South and being an executive for an upstart wrestling group.
Brandi Rhodes has done both. She’s also a wrestler, a new mom and a star (with her husband Cody, sown here) in “Rhodes to the Top,” a reality show that airs after wrestling, at 10 p.m. Wednesdays on TNT.
“The biggest surprise to me about wrestling is how engrossed you become in it …. I’m consumed by it,” she told the Television Critics Association.
Rhodes might seem out-of-place there … but she’s used to that. She was one of the only – sometimes THE only – black competitor in skating competitions. At first, she’s told interviewers, she’s felt she was being judged unfairly; eventually, she did well.
“Those were some of the best years of my life – my experiences and friendships in that sport,” she told the TCA.
Rhodes (then Brandi Reed) started at 4 and finally quit at 21, to focus on her University of Michigan studies in broadcasting. She did some work on TV stations, then made a big jump.
“I love Michigan,” she said. “But oof, that cold weather. I think those winters did me in.”
So she moved to Miami, expecting to land a TV news job. Instead, she worked in marketing, got a master’s degree (University of Miami, broadcast journalism), auditioned for World Wrestling Entertainment and found her new life.
“I want (my daughter) to be as passionate about something as I (am with) wrestling,” she said. “It took me a good 27 years to find that.”
Under the name Eden Stiles, she did some wrestling and a lot of work as a ring announcer. That’s where Cody Rhodes spotted her.
“I looked at her ringside,” he said, “and I went from working the 10,000 people to just her …. I thought she was the most amazing and beautiful woman.
They’re also opposites in one way, he says: If there’s a mistake at a restaurant, “I’m too shy to say, like, ‘Hey, take it back’ …. My wife is not too shy to say those things. She has a ferocity that has been so good for me.”
They live in Atlanta and commute to wrestling matches in Jacksonville, Fla. It’s a Southern life that doesn’t always prefer ferocity. “Expectations of women in the South seem different,” Brandi Rhodes said. “In Michigan, it was always, ‘I’m going to have a career.’” Now she sometimes hears “’become a homemaker’ – I didn’t even know that word before I moved to the South.”
The career part is what she savors. She and Cody left WWE in 2016, then in 2019 became the core of the new All Elite Wrestling. She’s chief branding officer, he’s one of the executive vice-presidents. He wrestles; she plans to do so, getting back in shape after the birth in June of their daughter Liberty.
In the ring and in their reality show, they provide new faces of wrestling – attractive ones, actually. She’s been a model; he has near-platinum hair, wears suits and ties outside the ring and used to be billed as Dashing Cody Rhodes.
That’s pat of the hype of old-time wrestling, something that Cody – the son of wrestling star Dusty Rhodes – understands. But he’s also an athlete — winner of two Georgia wrestling championships in high school – who wants a blend of hype and athletics.
“Old-timey wrestles (would) give you more Shakespeare,” he said. But modern fans “want it all. They want the new flips, the dives, the strikes, this new level of high-speed werestling.”
They want fierce action, wild characters and (maybe) an amiable reality show afterward.