Four Wrestlers in Search of an Angle: Cody, Pac, Malakai, and Andrade

A clown, a hobo, a ballet dancer, a bagpiper, and an army major wake up inside an empty cylindrical room. They don’t know who they are, where they are, or why they are here. “A collection of question marks,” Rod Serling calls them as he does the intro for the 1961 Twilight Zone episode “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” By the end of the episode we learn the true nature of these question marks: they’re discarded dolls in a donation bin. A random, purposeless set of action figures waiting for someone to play with them.

A bastard, an occultist, an idol, and a nightmare end up trapped together inside a ring. The who (Pac, Malakai Black, Andrade, and Cody Rhodes) is clear, as is the when and where (the fifth match of AEW’s 2021 Full Gear PPV, held on November 13), but why they are there isn’t so clear. ““I don’t think we have two teams here,” Jim Ross drawls in commentary. “We have four individuals who are booked in a tag match.” This will be the main story of the match: these are not tag teams but fragile alliances, temporary partnerships with all the stability of nitroglycerine bottles on a rolling skateboard.

More AEW Full Gear 2021 Coverage

This tag team bout wasn’t the worst match at Full Gear (that distinction goes to the Minneapolis Street Fight) but it felt off in a way that none of the other matches did. The rest of the bill had matches with clear stakes and well-established builds; even the last-minute, we-booked-this-shit-two-weeks-ago matches like the white-hot CM Punk/Eddie Kingston brawl & the Miro/Danielson tournament finals managed to stoke anticipation with fiery promos. While bad blood certainly flowed between the “four individuals” in the tag match (Cody and Malakai have spent the summer kicking each other’s heads in; Pac and Andrade have already wrestled several highly acrobatic grudge matches), neither duo made sense as a team and the stakes for either side winning were opaque. The tag match seemed to exist for no other reasons beyond a billionaire’s son wanting to play with four of his toys for a bit.

“But can they co-exist?”

Thrown together in an enemy-of-my-enemy partnership after both of them have endured ambushes over the last few weeks from Andrade and Malakai, Pac and Cody started the match by almost immediately turning on each other. As Pac and Malakai were about to start the match, Andrade rushed in to push Cody while he was on the ropes. This kicked off the first of several consecutive blind tags from Team Good Is Dumb, as Cody tagged himself in, only to be shortly tagged out by Pac, a pattern that repeated itself until a spinning heel from Malakai put Cody out of commission for most of the back half of the match.

Malakai and Andrade’s United Nations of Evil was more cohesive in the ring—they worked together to rain tandem blows on Cody and Pac in the corners, didn’t leave themselves open to back attacks by arguing with each other over blind tags like the faces did, and Andrade landed a particularly gnarly hit on Pac when he stopped the world’s most swole hobbit from hitting a Black Arrow off the top rope on a prone Malakai by shoving him face-first into Black’s knee.

As a team, Cody and Pac have some simpatico qualities. Neither of them work well with others. If it weren’t for his association with the Lucha Bros, Pac would be AEW’s ultimate lone wolf: a densely ripped, stringy-haired misanthrope whose ferocious hatred of t-shirts is rivaled only by Glenn Danzig. While Cody spends a large portion of his TV time either working with or fighting students from his wrestling school—an All-American Muscle Dumbledore putting the next gen over by putting them on their backs—Mr. Daddy Eats First doesn’t need a partner when he’s got the royal Rhodes blood flowing in his veins. And both of them are sidelined to some degree in the AEW universe—Cody, ostensibly a member of The Elite, hasn’t interacted with any of his fellow EVPs or been embroiled in feuds with anyone outside The Nightmare Family/Factory in over a year. As the third point in the Death Triangle, Pac has become a third wheel since Penta and Fenix won tag gold. Each of them now have an intense feud to give them a purpose, keeping them out of the narrative bin where Anthony Ogogo and 75% of the women’s roster await their turn to get dusted off.

The crucial difference between them is that Pac, despite being a violent grouch, is beloved by the crowd and Cody is LOATHED. When Pac made a beeline for the ring at the start of the match, the crowd roared. When Cody emerged from his wall of pyro in his Homelander cosplay, he was greeted by boos—boos that briefly subsided so Arn “Glock” Anderson could get his just props from the packed house. These boo’s ratcheted up in volume and intensity for each of Cody’s blind tags; when Cody made the save by breaking Malakai’s German Suplex on Pac, the heat was so fierce it’s a miracle pretzels didn’t rain down from the stands.

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The Doghouse

There are three stories that are being told during a wrestling match: the story the wrestlers are telling, the story the announcers are telling about the story the wrestlers are telling, and the story the people in the audience are telling themselves and reacting to. When all three of these stories are aligned, everything runs smooth; there are no loose threads to pull at and unravel your suspension of disbelief. But when one story is out of sync with the others, that’s when things go off the rail. And sometimes that can lead to transcendent performance art, and sometimes you end up with Roman Reigns’ career circa 2015-2019.

The three stories in this tag match never quite managed to line up. The audience’s boos visibly threw off Cody and threw cold water on all his hero spots. The announce team, clearly rattled by Cody’s heat with the crowd, resorted to weird digressions about how having a TV show didn’t mean Cody had “gone Hollywood.” “Maybe it’s just trendy to boo Cody right now,” JR muttered, one of several moments where the commentary tried to frame the fans as being wrong about Cody, as though the crowd’s reaction to THIS match was in bad faith while they were legitimately hot for all four of the matches that preceded it.

As off-putting as it was to hear the commentators do the kind of sweaty brand management you’d hear WWE announcers do for Roman when he got buffeted with boos during his Big Dog days, even more perplexing was their repeated insistence that the team of Malakai and Andrade were constantly on the verge of falling apart. Aside from one blind tag by Andrade and Malakai occasionally looking irritated while he helped him beat up Pac, the two heels didn’t have any kind of real conflict in the ring. The announce team’s story not only didn’t make sense with the story happening in the ring, it clashed with the very build-up to the match itself where multiple Dynamite and Rampage episodes established that Andrade and Malaki are (for some unexplained reason) allies who enjoy beating up each other’s enemies.

Fallen Idol

Someone had to be buried at the end of all this so it fell to the man in the black skull mask to take the Black Arrow. Out of all the WWE refugees in AEW, Andrade has had the hardest time finding his place. Both Miro and Malakai have found their niches as monster heels; Danielson and Punk have the hardened vet circuit locked-down; and even Matt Hardy has a cushy spot as the headmaster for the Orphanage For Wayward Tag Teams. But the closest thing Andrade has to a gimmick is his revolving door of valets—the man burns through managers the way Spinal Tap goes through drummers. One gets the sense that plans are constantly changing with him: he tries to seduce the Lucha Bros to his side and then drops it when they win the tag belts; he hands Pac a phone book-sized match contract that never comes up again; he recruits Fuego Del Sol, beats him unconscious, and forgets he exists; he brutally fires Chavo after his manager helps him win a fight, but then later gleefully celebrates when FTR cheats on his behalf.

Who is Andrade in AEW? A heel with a sense of honor? Or is he a manipulative playboy who will do what it takes to win? And why does he hate Pac so much when he doesn’t have any leverage left to win over the Lucha Bros? Why is such a profoundly talented and charismatic performer stuck in a weird holding pattern with one guy while Bobby Fish gets to wrestle half of the top card in his first month? A collection of question marks.

The feuds of these four men didn’t end at Full Gear. Pac and Cody were assaulted by Cash Wheeler and Tully Blanchard (mercenaries on loan from MJF to Andrade) seconds after the match ended, with Malakai getting in a final kick to Cody’s head before making a hasty exit. It’s obvious that more Cody/Malakai and Pac/Andrade matches are in the cards; maybe AEW will make it interesting by switching up their dance partners. Set the Black Arrow against the Black Mass; pit the two bosses who don’t play well with others against each other. Let’s see what new stories these combinations can tell.

And for the love of Glock, if they all need to be in the same match again just make it a Fatal Fourway.

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