On this week’s Homecoming edition of AEW Dynamite we will witness the highly anticipated debut of Malakai Black. A month on from his shocking debut, the mysterious striker is set to fight the company’s forefront EVP, Cody Rhodes. Amidst the heavy handed black and white imagery of this feud so far, the motives of Malakai Black have raised more questions than answers. This match may very well mark the mission statement of Black. So it’s that time once again, to look at 5 directions AEW could take Cody Rhodes vs Malakai Black.
1. (Worst Case Scenario) Cody Wins lol
The worst case scenario here seems pretty cut and dry. It’s appropriate that Cody’s nickname is the American Nightmare, because it’s everyone’s collective nightmare for him to go over in Malakai Black’s debut.
In last week’s article, I said it would take absolute booking magic from AEW to make The Elite beating the Dark Order work. Time will tell whether that’s been accomplished, but not even a coven blood ritual could make this work. The fans are already on the verge of fully rejecting Cody, and going over a hot signing in his first match would just reinforce what everyone already believes. And while evidence supports the fact that Cody has done more to put people over than himself, the fanbase is ready to jump on him for any win they feel he didn’t deserve. I just hope AEW and Cody see that and don’t do something incredibly stupid.
2. Black Flash
When you think of a squash match in wrestling, you’ll typically think of one named competitor overwhelming some no-name jobber with offence before putting the match away, sub 5 minutes. But the rarer, and far more effective squash match variant is the kind that ends in seconds, and comes at the expense of a top star.
Cody is no stranger to being squashed, famously losing to Mr. Brodie Lee in a matter of minutes to critical acclaim. But while Cody being thrashed by move after move until he couldn’t continue was a spectacle, there’s a precedent set that makes me believe that Malakai Black could dispatch of the EVP in a matter of seconds. In NXT, the former Aleister Black spent his first few weeks taking out jobbers in seconds with a single Black Mass roundhouse kick. He’s also spent his first few weeks in AEW leaving Cody (and Fuego) in a heap via that same vicious kick.
The sight of Cody getting pinned in under 10 seconds would shock the often feverish Dynamite crowd. Especially since they likely remember what happened with Anthony Ogogo. Another deadly striker in AEW’s universe feuded with Rhodes, resulting in a match at Double or Nothing 2021. The match saw the EVP taking shots that the Olympian boxer could dish out, before coming back strong and winning. Having Cody lose to a single kick would put the move and Malakai Black over strong. But there’s a chance that the Dutchman may not believe that one kick is enough...
3. Kicking a Dead Horse
A part of his character that he’d only brought to the forefront on rare occasions in NXT, is the seething rage hidden beneath his calm demeanor. It was in his feud with Johnny Gargano—after Gargano cost Black his NXT Championship, and later would be responsible for Black missing significant time off following a backstage attack—that Aleister’s rage began to bubble to the surface. It culminated in their match at NXT Takeover: Wargames, when after Black hit one Black Mass, he lifted Gargano with his foot to deliver a second deadly kick. A second kick to vent his frustrations.
In the short film that Malakai put out on Instagram preceding his AEW debut, there was a brief shot of his hospital records naming, among other things, violent physical tendencies.
This Easter egg, along with his recent habit of kicking people indiscriminately means we might be seeing a version of his character that chooses violence more often. Before he was released from WWE that seemed to be the direction he was heading, and we could be seeing that manifest itself in AEW.
I think there’s a good chance that at the end of this match, after Black has already hit one black mass, we could see him lifting Cody with his foot and kicking him again… And again… And again, and again. An increasingly violent physical outburst to get over how unhinged he truly is, even when he speaks as calmly as he does.
4. Back in the Paint (Contributed By Daisy)
In Malakai’s small handful of appearances on AEW thus far, he’s sported a black eye. As the episodes have progressed, his black eye has grown in size. It’s easily explained away on first blush by an inconsistent make-up job, but on last Wednesday’s Dynamite… something changed. The black eye was bigger yet again, and sitting alongside was a harsh black line shadowing his cheekbone. For me, it was an immediate reminder of the face paint he occasionally wore as a member of the “Sumerian Death Squad” during his time on the European indies - a tag team consisting of himself and Michael Dante. They were leaders of what they called a cult, driven by the idea that humans are violent in nature, and that we should embrace that part of ourselves fully. Black has proven himself to value consistency in his character across different companies, and that particular idea carried over to his work with WWE, notably in his final tenure as the Dark Father before his release.
It’s important to note that Black is Dutch, and grew up in the controversial black metal scene that was infamous across Europe at the time for church burnings, murders, and open reverence of the occult. What Black has done with his face paint in the past directly references that scene. In black metal, a black-and-white painted face isn’t a reference to Sting or the Great Muta, it’s a tradition that goes back to what the genre’s founders called “corpse-paint”.
Progenitors of corpse-paint include black metal legend Per “Dead” Ohlin, who lived and breathed death; famously burying his stage clothes in the ground and depriving himself of food so that he could achieve the look and smell of a cadaver. Corpse-paint is most often used to mimic the look of well, a corpse, but that isn’t always the case. When paired with satanic symbols like leviathan crosses, inverted pentagrams and the cross of saint peter (Malakai/Tommy is known to use all of this imagery in his gear), the visage of a demon or a person possessed is often the aim.
It appears to me that Malakai (The demon in the room) is manifesting on Tommy’s face within the paint. You can see a further nod to this in the Instagram vignette released the morning of Malakai’s debut when the strange figure in his head flashes over the right side of his face periodically. When Malakai walks out onto the ramp this week it's entirely possible that he will be properly painted. This match could be an introduction to Malakai’s fully-formed character, with a more aggressive in-ring style than we’ve seen recently in his work with WWE. The guy is supposed to be (or thinks he is, at least) possessed by a demon, so I expect and foresee violence.
There’s a lot of confusion online over who is Tommy, who is Malakai, and how can we the audience tell the difference? Going forward we’ll hopefully see Tommy and Malakai as two fully-formed separate entities. Malakai will wrestle in the paint whereas Tommy (if he appears) will wrestle without it. There could even be two different theme songs and move sets to properly nail down the idea that one is the vessel and the other is the force that’s presently in the driver’s seat.
(Editor's note: After this entry was written, Malakai Black appeared at PWG’s Mystery Vortex 7 show with white face paint creeping out from under the black paint around his eye. It’s unclear whether this is the full extent of the paint he plans on wearing, but it’s safe to assume this aspect of his character will be showing up in his match with Cody.)
5. Cody’s Heel Turn
The arrival of the enigmatic Malakai Black has raised one obvious question. Why Cody? It’s easy to dismiss this question as it seems like every new arrival in AEW crosses paths with the EVP eventually, but Malakai isn’t the kind of person to just let things happen coincidentally. Malakai Black wouldn’t come into AEW and have an arbitrary feud with Cody Rhodes. He has to have a clear goal in mind.
Although he’s only been in the company for 4 weeks, we already know a good deal about his motivations, even if they haven’t been named explicitly. In his single promo since debuting he talked about how the fans don’t love Cody like he loves them, and that when he kicked Cody in the face the crowd cheered. He goes on to tell a story about a man who had to put down his prized stallion that had become crippled in his old age, and had outlived its purpose. He circled back to Cody by saying when he looked into his eyes the week prior “it” just wasn’t there anymore. And if we can figure out what “it” is, we can figure out what he’ll hope to accomplish in this feud, and overall during his time in AEW.
In the bible, the character Malachi (Translated to “My Messenger” or “His Messenger”) is a prophet sent to dissuade the Israelites from doing things that would anger god. I won’t go into detail on the specifics of the book of Malachi, because frankly very little can be translated to Pro-Wrestling, but I bring it up because in the simplest terms Malachi was a character sent from a higher power to make people acknowledge their sins. If Malakai Black is using the Book of Malachi as a template, he’ll be targeting people he believes have some flaw he’s compelled to correct.
Since the beginning of AEW Cody Rhodes has been THE top babyface. That only recently began to come into question with the undeniable rise of Hangman Page coming at the same time as a vocal section of fans beginning to get tired of Cody’s blue-eyed babyface shtick. In my opinion, even at the beginning, a lot of what Cody said and did could have been seen as heelish if he wasn’t so loved by default. Flexing his wealth and condescending comments made it feel like at any point he could turn heel, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. But as time went on, Cody persisted as the face of the company, despite the fact that the section of the audience that didn’t want him to be that kept growing larger. The more people he faced and beat that fans felt he should lose to (Like Penta El 0 M and Anthony Ogogo), the more people felt like his role as top babyface was getting in the way of better developments elsewhere on the roster.
Malakai Black touching on the fact that the fans cheered him instead of Cody, and the metaphor of a horse living past it’s purpose, leads me to think that Malakai believes that Cody can no longer serve the purpose of being the top babyface in AEW. Maybe even believing that he’s committing the sin of pride and deluding himself to believe he still can. A major and possibly embarrassing loss to Malakai Black, while the fans he believes should be on his side cheer for the enemy, could be enough for the character of Cody Rhodes to rethink his role as a face, and be the catalyst for him finally turning heel.
Malakai Black is a great creative mind, and he enjoys infusing his characters with deep lore that is meant to be sifted through and speculated on. His arrival in AEW and the wider world of wrestling outside of WWE is going to give the fans the treat of seeing his ideas presented without too much interference. You could complain that him having his first feud with Cody is underwhelming, and Cody making everything about himself, but in reality he’s using his public perception to get a new character over. Barring the possibility that Cody’s gone actually insane, he’s not going to win this match and that’s going to put Black in a prominent role right out of the gate.
A big thanks to Daisy (@boutmachines on Twitter) for contributing to this article and helping me with the research. She’s been one of the biggest advocates for Malakai Black/Tommy End since he left WWE and I couldn’t have done this article without her help, so go give her a follow.