I don’t want to make fun of Cody Rhodes’ neck tattoo, but we need to talk about it. Making its debut at last night’s AEW Revolution, Cody Rhodes’ neck tattoo was very bright, very loud, and very much there, right there, on Cody Rhodes’ neck.
Cody Rhodes’ neck tattoo is just Cody Rhodes’ logo, only instead of being embroidered on his gear it’s tattooed, forever, into the flesh of his neck. It sides on the right side, its tips racing towards his ear, his adams apple, the nape of his neck, a crowned, winged skull in the colors of the American flag. On any other dapper, blond haired, blue eyed human being, this choice would be suspicious. But this is Cody Rhodes. Like the word “Dream” tattooed across his heart, Cody Rhodes’ neck tattoo is a statement, a man who believes in himself and his mission so deeply that he’d get his own logo tattooed on his own neck and walk to the ring with that tattoo, still fresh, still healing, the day of one of the biggest matches of his life.
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Wrestlers—most people, if we’re being honest—are largely strangers to good tattoos. Cody Rhodes’ neck tattoo is not unique. In 2011, 58 years into a finite lifespan, Hulk Hogan got the word “IMMORTAL” tattooed across his back. The Undertaker took his wife’s name on his neck. More than one wrestler has walked the streets with something resembling the Godsmacked logo on their body. Brock Lesnar and Goldberg’s tattoos became their logos. These are all large, hardbodied men—who the fuck am I to laugh at their tribal tats, their ships full mast, their shoulder roses, their bicep tigers?
What fascinates me about Cody Rhodes’ neck tattoo isn’t its quality, nor the number of dismayed tweets about it not being temporary. Watching the Dynamite before Revolution, it was hard not to notice that neither Cody Rhodes nor MJF were there. It was also odd, to a degree, that their match, booked around Cody’s fulfillment of three stipulations, was actually booked around Cody getting a neck tattoo. I feel insane for even noticing this, but let’s look at MJF’s stipulations, in order:
- Cody couldn’t touch MJF.
- Cody had to wrestle Wardlow in a steel cage.
- Cody had to take 10 lashes on live television.
It isn’t hard to look at those stipulations and recognize that the most emotionally poignant one, the lynchpin of the whole feud, was Cody Rhodes allowing MJF to whip him. Those stipulations are narrative signposts. Cody can’t touch MJF, so MJF can harass him to his heart’s content, maybe even interfere in the cage match, which is designed to punish and weaken Cody. Battered and bruised and on the verge of emotional collapse, the hero climbs into the ring, the audience uncertain that he can take ten lashes without breaking, either by hitting MJF or giving up.
But that’s not how the feud went. The tension of the first stipulation, Cody’s helplessness in the face of MJF’s cruel, unrelenting verbal and physical assaults was undone almost immediately by the intercession of the Young Bucks and the later interference of Brandi and Arn Anderson during the cage match. Yeah, Cody cut some great promos. Sure, the build did its job in putting over MJF as a major league heel in a short amount of time. But the moment the Young Bucks threw MJF into a pool on Cody’s behalf, the feud lost the dramatic, high stakes feel that made Cody’s match with Chris Jericho, the one where MJF turned, feel so special.
So it was with bemusement that I watched the clear climax to this story happen before the cage match, a whole episode of Dynamite built around how much pain, blues, and agony we’d witness Cody Rhodes go through just to get his hands on his shitty ex-friend, only his reward for going through with all 10 lashes wasn’t MJF, but Wardlow. Maybe, I thought, the idea was that Wardlow would have an easier time of murdering Cody Rhodes in Atlanta, but now, having seen the tattoo, I know the truth—this blood feud, this AEW-defining angle serving as proof of what this company does differently from any other, was booked around a participant’s appointment at the tattoo parlor.
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEWrestling) February 6, 2020
True, none of the welts on Cody’s back encroach the area of his neck he chose to get tattooed, but let’s talk about that for a moment. Wrestling is, believe it or not, very deliberate in its use of belts and leather straps. When this angle happened live, every wrestling fan experienced in kink pointed out that the back and neck are, generally speaking, awful places to whip someone safely. It’s the legs and buttocks you want to focus on, big, dumb pieces of meat that can take a beating without the risk of clipping vital organs. The downside to whipping someone’s legs or ass in wrestling is that no matter how painful said whipping is, the audience can’t see the goddamn welts. Wrestling is a visual medium, designed to play as large to the cheap seats as it does the front row. So you need to aim a little higher, swing a little harder, and hope the trade-off is something that pops on camera.
Angles like this are absolutely booked in painstaking detail—the lashes up Cody’s neck and the one across his chest were not accidents. But accidents can happen. If MJF or Wardlow miss their mark and hit Cody on the right side of his neck, no tattoo. Even if the welts healed up in time, as pictures of Cody from the cage match against Wardlow suggests they did, the neck is already a shitty place to get a tattoo without an injury, and tattooing in color over a welt or a bruise is a good way to fuck up the color.
So you take your licks on February 5, wrestle in a cage on February 19, then show up 10 days later, weeks removed from the trauma of taking 10 lashes on the back and neck, with a fresh tattoo. Why not build the feud any further on the go-home episode of Dynamite? Can’t spoil the fact that Cody got some ink. A whole feud booked to debut a tattoo—a first, as far as I know, in the history of wrestling.
Cody Rhodes’ neck tattoo is practically a character in its own right, and I can’t wait to see what 2020’s most talked about rookie does next. It will heal, likely before anybody attempts to get the upper hand over Cody by raking the ink, and will eventually be normalized via exposure. But someone has to make fun of it. That’s what people on television do when a co-worker, rival, or friendly acquaintance grows a beard or gets a tattoo. We’re in a thrilling new world of tattoo-based booking, and the possibilities are endless. Shoot an angle where Cody is assaulted during touch-up work. Book a match where if Cody loses he has to cover his neck tattoo with foundation for 30 days, or a match where the loser gets the winner’s face tattooed on live television. Or just throw out a parade of wrestlers mocking Cody Rhodes and his new neck tattoo. That’s what happens to everybody who gets a tattoo, no matter how mild. That’d be wrestling at its most real.