The article that follows is one that is at odds with itself because analysing Brandi and her appearances as part of AEW’s women’s division has highlighted how talented she really is. You could even consider this title click-bait; if you’re looking for Brandi-Slander to fuel your hatred against her, leave, because I have nothing but respect for her talent as a performer. Perhaps some people are too blinded by their unnecessary hatred for Brandi to admit that she is talented, especially with a microphone in hand.
Conversely, it’s also frustrating to some that the most fleshed-out characters and storylines in the division have revolved around Brandi. Her elevated position is undoubtedly blamed to her being the wife of EVP Cody with many fans disliking her receiving prominence seemingly for this reason only, ignoring her aforementioned talent.
The purpose of this article is to highlight some instances where Brandi has appeared to hog the spotlight, hopefully, to demonstrate the frustration that some fans are feeling.
The Collective That Was Actually A Nightmare
Fans of AEW wish the Nightmare Collective was just a collective nightmare that never happened. I remember the criticism the group received more than anything the group did. Most people viewed the group as the hand of nepotism giving Brandi Rhodes something to do. A little plaything for her whilst her husband embarked on high-profile feuds with Chris Jericho and MJF.
Portraying a heel, the initial plan was for Brandi to manage Awesome Kong which soon evolved into the Nightmare Collective. A mirror image of the Dark Order, the two began to recruit members with division-dominance their motive. Although the hair cutting and the idea that cutting Allie’s hair transformed her into the Bunny was nonsensical, the group were developed by the division’s standards.
For weeks, Brandi courted new and popular signing Kris Statlander, likely desiring her strength and uniqueness. The Nightmare Collective, like the Dark Order, prey on weakness and insecurity with Brandi attempting to lure the Galaxy’s Greatest Alien with the promise of protection and success, afforded to her by the extensive Nightmare Family. This was a clever way for Brandi to embrace the accusations of nepotism and weaponise them; had Kris Statlander joined their ranks, Brandi’s connections could easily propel Statlander to championship heights.
After becoming number one contender for Riho’s women’s championship, Statlander refused Brandi’s offer to join her collective. Revenge seemed to possess Rhodes as she immediately clobbered Statlander with her heel and when Kris Statlander challenged for the women’s championship, she made her presence known.
This is where my retrospective appreciation for the Nightmare Collective dampens. As a fan of Kris Statlander, I was deeply happy that she was receiving a title shot. At the time, I even thought she could’ve won. She was physically more dominant than Riho and her momentum was unparalleled. However, as she seemed to get the upper hand on the champion, Mel and Awesome Kong surrounded the ring and began attacking the competitors. Riho was the first victim, with Statlander diving on Mel. This moment also introduced Luther to fans, as a male extension to the group.
From a storytelling standpoint, this moment was important. Kris’ decision to attack Mel following her attack on Riho demonstrated her respect for her opponent and cemented her position against the Nightmare Collective whereas she could’ve used this to her advantage to capture the title.
On the other hand, this decision was unnecessary for a title match with the fans’ outrage overshadowing an otherwise quality match. I remember being deeply frustrated at the time to have the efforts of both Statlander and Riho tarnished by this interference.
Kris went on to lose the match due to Kong’s final interference of the Big Bang Theory. Despite this, the storyline remained open-ended; her loss in a championship match may have persuaded Statlander to finally join the group with the success promised by Brandi’s position within the company or she could have distanced herself further from the group, leading to her building alternative allies within the division with a multi-person tag match the likely outcome.
After relentless criticism online, the Nightmare Collective disappeared from television faster than they arrived and many were happy to see the back of this group.
A Tournament Designed For One
Admit it, you were struck by a pang of fear when the Deadly Draw Tournament was announced because you deeply believed it was concocted solely for Brandi Rhodes. For at least a month beforehand, she had been appearing on AEW Dark with partner Allie as part of the Nightmare Sisters. The storyline between the two being Brandi distrusted her partner and perceived her as a threat towards the Natural Nightmares, due to her infatuation with QT Marshall. She soon came to appreciate her partner because the pairing were successful together.
When it came to the tournament, the teams were supposed to be random but Allie, with knowledge of Brandi’s coloured chip, looked to ensure she ended up with her partner. The team progressed to the final to the dismay of fans, occupying a position that fans believed belonged to someone else.
Despite losing in the end, the frustration of the fans was not erased. The tournament discourse exemplifies perfectly the frustration fans felt for a part-time wrestler being able to shine in the place of full-timers. Furthermore, frustration also arose from the expected heel turn of either Brandi or Allie never occurring making fans feel as though the effort expended developing this storyline, could have been expended elsewhere such as for the champion Hikaru Shida.
Lil’ Bran Bran
At the time of writing, Brandi Rhodes is the only woman in the company to have an action figure, either released or in production. To many fans, this is an aggravating fact considering Brandi is not a full-time wrestler and none of the three titleholders in the division has even been considered.
Brandi included this as part of her character during the Deadly Draw Tournament, seemingly obsessed with her miniature self, christening the figure “Lil’ Bran Bran”. To most fans, this was annoying at best but demonstrated Brandi’s penchant for weaponising criticisms against her for heat.
Brandi could be an incredibly useful component in the women’s division, provided she is not the one basking in the spotlight. I would like to see Brandi’s talent on the mic utilised to benefit a talent who is lacking in that area, either someone who hasn’t had a lot of promo experience on the independents or one of the Joshi wrestlers, to help elevate them. I still think that some of the efforts that have gone into Brandi’s multiple character arcs could have been used elsewhere, especially on our champions. Other than this, Brandi has done absolutely nothing to warrant the hoards of criticism that she receives.
Retrospectively, I’ve gained an appreciation for the Nightmare Collective and it would have been interesting to see where this group progressed if the bombardment of criticism didn’t take the faction from before our eyes. I’m definitely interested in writing about it more and speculating where it could have gone.
Credit To Contributors
As mentioned above, the following sequence of articles has been written in collaboration with various other wrestling fans. Without them, the following articles would not be as nuanced or showcase the variety of opinions that fans hold, and I would like to thank them for helping me achieve that.
These contributors include: @Seanathan64. @heelsimp, @bucksh0tangel and @rickystxrks.