AEW Dynamite is in Philly on April 27. WWE Saturday Night's Main Event is in Trenton on May 7. One special fan is linked to both.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Tyler Williams - Sooplex to his thousands of social media followers - always could count on his older brother Marquise for a laugh.
"My brother was one of the funniest people I knew growing up. His witty jokes he'd crack around, or sometimes playfully on our family, would light up the mood of any setting," Tyler Williams said. "Whenever my brother was around, laughs and a good time was ensured."
The brothers who grew up just outside Philadelphia in Chester, Pennsylvania were close - even when it came to their birthdates. Though Tyler Williams was born four years after Marquise, their birthdays on the calendar each year were just five days apart.
"To this day, I think our dad planned this out so we can share birthdays, but I'm not sure," Williams said with a laugh.
Williams just celebrated his 25th birthday on April 23. Marquise would've celebrated his 29th birthday on April 28.
But this past October, Williams lost his older brother.
Marquise passed away in what Williams explained was a very abrupt manner. His brother was gone, the laughter was no longer filling the room and Williams could only hold onto the memories.
"It was one of those situations where one day he was here, and the next day I got a call from my stepmom to inform me that he wasn't," Williams said.
"Tell your family that you love them because you never know what day is the last day you're going to see them."
On that October day, Williams raced down to his family's home in Delaware County, Pa. once he was told of his brother's passing. He spent the entire day with his loved ones. As night fell on an emotional day, Williams searched for comfort on the TV.
It was a Friday night and that meant one thing to Williams: Pro wrestling.
Wrestling has always been part of Williams' life since he can remember.
"When I was 4, I remember my mom taking me over to my grandmother's house who we visited frequently while she was in college. I distinctly remember her TV watching (WWE) Vengeance 2001. The main event was Chris Jericho vs Stone Cold and The Rock for the Undisputed (WWE) World Championship and Jericho won!" Williams recalled.
As Williams turned on the TV, WWE Friday Night Smackdown on Fox had already aired by that point, so he flipped over to TNT to catch AEW Rampage.
He and his brother bonded over wrestling growing up - they would also wrestle each other at times to mimic the stars they saw on their screens.
"Though he grew out of it over time, he would still make an effort to check in with me often and ask about who is still wrestling and who the WWE champion is. If I can recall, his favorite wrestlers growing up were the Undertaker and Triple H," Williams said.
A sense of familiarity swept over the room that night. Like the days of Williams watching wrestling with his brother when they were kids, he was not alone on the couch this time either. Williams was joined by the son of his late brother, his 11-year-old nephew Marquise Jr.
"I told him that growing up me, his dad, and his grandfather - my dad - watched wrestling together," Williams said. "This kept him so intrigued enough to watch the whole show. He kept asking me who the wrestlers were and why they were fighting each other. That innocence to wrestling really took me back to a much simpler time."
Williams, a pro wrestling social media influencer with 40,000 TikTok followers who is never shy about sharing his life with the world, posted about this special moment with his nephew.
"My brother passed away today. It's been a dreary and upsetting day. But me and my nephew (his son) got #AEWRampage to keep up [sic] company," Williams tweeted.
The tweet was now out there for the world to see. Though, Williams, having around 500 Twitter followers at the time, didn't think anything of it.
"When I took a picture of my nephew watching Bryan Danielson vs. Eddie Kingston, and posted it to Twitter, I honestly thought it would get lost in a sea of other more popular tweets about AEW," Williams said. "But as the night grew, the tweet got more and more traction. People from all over were tweeting and commenting their condolences almost to an overwhelming degree."
Williams' tweet wound up reaching the Twitter feed of then Executive Vice President of AEW Cody Rhodes.
"I'm very sorry for your loss and pain - That's a beautiful family bond. My thoughts are with you. Would you guys like to come to a show near ya' sometime?" Rhodes asked.
Williams was shocked that Cody Rhodes had not only tweeted him, but sent such kind words his way when he really needed them.
Plus, he was getting to go see AEW the next time they were in the Philadelphia area. He was hoping to take Marquise Jr. and his other brother's son, 13-year-old nephew Jamar.
Rhodes followed Williams on Twitter to make sure they stayed in touch.
Rhodes' story is also about family. He is the son of pro wrestling legend the "American Dream" Dusty Rhodes. His brother is former WWE Intercontinental Champion Dustin Rhodes, who went by the moniker Goldust for a majority of his wrestling career.
Rhodes, dubbed the "American Nightmare," knows the bond between brothers.
"For Dustin and I having generational differences, wrestling is what brings us together more than anything," Rhodes told Action News. "We're both doing it in different ways, trying to carry on our father's legacy and what he started many years ago. But the most he and I are ever brother-brother are in the moments where we discuss what we do or if we get the opportunity to do things together."
Rhodes' niceties towards his brother stopped short of saying he was a better wrestler.
"I don't think he's better than me," Rhodes said. "I think he's been around more experience. He's experienced more in this industry than I'll ever have experienced in terms of the generations he's been part of. I think that's such a feather in his cap. I just don't think he's better than me. But I don't think he thinks that I'm better than him. That's what makes great brothers. Right? Is that how brothers work?"
Rhodes' wrestling career has taken many paths. After 10 years in WWE, he left. He would go on to wrestle in multiple independent promotions, then Impact Wrestling, New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor. In 2019, Rhodes, along with the Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, announced they would be wrestlers and executives for a new promotion called All Elite Wrestling, backed by Tony Khan, the son of the owner of the NFL's Jacksonville Jaguars. Wrestling fans saw Rhodes as the face of AEW.
Another new face had appeared in AEW around this time. Adam Cole, who just celebrated 14 years in the industry this month, had recently ended a successful run in WWE's NXT brand where he became its longest-reigning champion.
His AEW debut was a bonding moment for his family as well.
"My mother got to be there for my debut at AEW at All Out in Chicago. And she has been supporting me for my entire 14-year career. And she got to be in the crowd for that. And just the overall excitement she felt in the building because she isn't necessarily - she loves wrestling because I love wrestling. But she was like 'that was just the coolest thing that I've ever been at as far as your career goes,'" Cole said.
Williams and his nephew Jamar attended the last AEW Dynamite event in Philly earlier that October where they saw Cole be victorious.
Now, Rhodes had opened the door for Williams and his family to go again.
That was at least the plan. But in wrestling, sometimes doors are meant to stay open and others are strictly forbidden.
On April 2, the wrestling world was turned upside down when Cody Rhodes appeared as the surprise opponent of Seth Rollins on night one of WWE WrestleMania 38. The once-AEW Executive Vice President had left the promotion that he helped start and returned to WWE in a quest to get the one championship his revered father never could attain in one of the most shocking moments in wrestling history.
But where did that leave Williams?
If you were to tune into AEW over the past year you may have heard Tony Khan throw out the phrase 'forbidden door' on occasion. He tweets it, too.
It's a term that has caught on in the pro wrestling business these days.
"Forbidden door, at least in the AEW's viewpoint, in my opinion, - everyone could have maybe subtle differences or changes in what that phrase means - but it's opening up this idea of other companies and other promotions working together with what many fans or many people would view as competition," Cole explained.
In an example outside of wrestling, the forbidden door of late night was knocked down when Jimmy Kimmel and Jimmy Fallon worked together to surprise their audiences by switching shows as an April Fools' Day prank.
The term can refer to dream matches that would never have been possible before since two competitors worked for different promotions. For instance, last week on AEW Rampage, Cole faced New Japan Pro Wrestling's Tomohiro Ishii.
The forbidden door was opened.
"Forbidden Door" is now its own wrestling pay-per-view event in June produced by both AEW and NJPW. It was announced on television last week by Cole himself.
The mega-event will be a focal point this Wednesday night when AEW Dynamite airs live from the Liacouras Center on Temple University's campus in North Philadelphia.
It will be a homecoming for Cole, who was born in Lancaster County, Pa., went to Manheim Central High School and had his first match in Philadelphia. He's all set to hear the roar of the vocal Philly crowd once again.
"Philadelphia fans are the best!" Cole said emphatically. "Here's why they are best. In pro wrestling, one of the things that can happen sometimes, especially when you're starting out depending on what market or city you're in, is some fans take a little warming up where maybe they're not going to love you right away or support you right away. You have to earn it. So Philadelphia to me is very much like that."
"Me getting to start my wrestling career in Philadelphia was vital, I think seriously vital to my success in a lot of ways because if you screwed up, they let you know. If you made a mistake, or you did something they didn't like they let you know. But when they love you, they love you forever."
This Philly show was supposed to be the one Williams and his nephews were going to get tickets for from Rhodes had he still been with AEW.
"When I told Jamar that Cody Rhodes was no longer in AEW, I'm not sure if he fully grasped what that meant, aside from we're probably not going to the show unless I am able to afford it. He gave a disheartened 'Oh...OK,'" Williams said.
Not surprisingly, Williams tweeted out this predicament to update his followers.
"My nephew just asked about this with the upcoming Dynamite in Philadelphia and I'm trying to explain to him that the guy who was getting us tickets is in WWE now so idk," Williams tweeted.
Ten minutes later, he got a response from one of his followers.
Cody Rhodes of the WWE had tweeted him back.
"I got ya' - check dms," Rhodes tweeted.
"I was completely floored!" Williams said. "In the past few months, I haven't gotten a chance to speak to Cody because... well, he's a busy man. I wasn't expecting him to respond back because he signed with WWE and he is under no obligation to honor what he said. Shortly after replying back to my tweet, he DM'd me: 'How many tickets and for what show?' I told him the number and place and within that short period, our seats were secured. Like clockwork! Definitely one of the best birthday presents for myself I can think of in recent memory!"
Yes, you read that right. A WWE superstar had secured tickets for a wrestling fan to an AEW show. Now while this was in no way a partnership between the companies that leads to a WWE Champion Roman Reigns vs. AEW Champion Hangman Page encounter, Rhodes' tweet opened a forbidden door of sorts.
"How I was brought up in the game, that's a matter of keeping your word. And a matter of, no pun intended, a family hitting some hard times," Rhodes said, referencing a phrase made famous by his father. "What I do for a living doesn't fix that void by any means, but it can help and it can bring people together."
Rhodes said the wrestling world is not like it was in decades past. He said we live more in a real world now where wrestlers can acknowledge those in other promotions, even those they once called home themselves.
"People come and go and wrestle and change and stars are all around and I'm currently fully on board and committed and all in with WWE as happy as I have ever been. But that does not discount what I helped create. It doesn't discount my friends that remain there (in AEW) or anything of that nature or fans of that product. I'm not intending on invalidating their experience and I don't think anyone of this generation is really looking to do that," Rhodes said.
In a surprise twist, when asked if using the term 'forbidden door' in this case is appropriate, Rhodes made clear, "It's kind of my term. I know someone else claimed they coined it, but I was the one who did it. You can use any term that I came up with."
WWE has done business with other promotions in the past. In January, Mickie James brought her Impact Wrestling championship with her when she participated in the Royal Rumble match.
Outside of the ring, WWE and AEW have reached an agreement at least once before. AEW's Chris Jericho made a startling appearance last year on Stone Cold Steve Austin's Broken Skull Sessions program on the WWE Network.
Cole said the collaboration on the AEW tickets came down to it being just the right thing to do on everyone's part.
"I think it just speaks volumes to the type of dude that Cody is. And also I know Tony Khan and the crew at AEW are all about doing the right thing and making sure everyone enjoys their time at an AEW show. So to me it's such a no-brainer because it's just the right thing to do. That's incredibly cool of Cody," Cole said. "So to me, that's just Cody and AEW coming together to do the right thing and make sure that this person has a wonderful experience and it's great."
Williams made sure to tweet Rhodes back.
"I told him how much it meant to not only me, but my family that he would take such a selfless and kind act to comfort and accommodate us during this time. If he or anybody from his team or family reads this, Cody, from the bottom of my heart, thank you again. You're a kind human being and I truly wish you the best in WWE and beyond," Williams told Action News.
Rhodes does not take the position he is in lightly. He feels social media, in general, is pretty volatile - 90% of it, at least, he said - and thinks somebody who has been given a great opportunity like he has maintains a responsibility to find the positives in life.
"I think it is important to not get into the weeds, and find the positives, find the people who enjoy what you're doing and are supporting and following. And that's just a great example of wrestling is international language. I hope it's going that direction, that there is more positivity, that it's not so much about the contrary and opinions selling yourself against it versus just hey, they like what we do. Let me help you see what it is that we do live and in person," Rhodes said.
WWE and AEW each have their loyal fanbase. The Internet Wrestling Community argues day after day which show was better or why one brand is superior over the other. On social media, some fans choose to praise only one promotion and bash the other. Cole's view is that people have every right to support what they want to support, but said there's enough love to go around in the wrestling industry.
"I love pro wrestling so much and I can't imagine hating a place, like hating guys who work for a certain company. I love all of it. I have friends that work at WWE, at Impact, at New Japan, on independents, and I can still go and watch a lot of these events and really enjoy them because I love pro wrestling. And I want as many people to be as successful as possible. So for me personally, you probably won't ever see me on the 'super pro-one area' and then 'gosh, we hate this place with all of our hearts and all of our soul.' But you're allowed to do that, you know, if you want to," Cole said.
Cole said there's just too much good professional wrestling in 2022, and it's not just in AEW.
"AEW is stacked. The roster is unbelievable. The matches every single week. But man, WWE has some awesome stuff going on. So does Impact Wrestling has some awesome stuff going on. Ring of Honor now with the AEW acquisition, New Japan, like there's so much great, great pro wrestling out there that it's a shame that, I don't know, more people can't enjoy a lot of it," Cole said.
Rhodes, now a member of the WWE roster, was not done surprising Williams. He also gave the fan tickets to the upcoming WWE Saturday Night's Main Event live show at the Cure Insurance Arena in Trenton, New Jersey on May 7.
"I tweeted that the night after I returned to WWE, at WrestleMania, 'wrestling is a love story' and I think for those who watch sports entertainment, watch wrestling, know exactly what I meant. (The Williams) family being one, and I'm excited that we're able to get those (AEW) tickets. Now part of this selfishly, I want them to be able to see me wrestle as well. So we're going to offer the same family the full WWE experience going to the Trenton, New Jersey show, and looks like we'll just keep it keep going. We'll just keep it going. They put it out there on social. Now they're part of the 'Nightmare Family.' So wherever I go, hopefully, they go to," Rhodes said.
Tyler Williams is one of the millions and millions of wrestling fans across the globe, yet he feels the audience is a tight-knit group - whether they're interacting in an arena or on his social pages.
"Everyone is here because we love and respect that art form of professional wrestling. We love seeing stories being told in this physical medium mixed with the athleticism of sports and the fine acting of entertainment," Williams said. "These larger-than-life characters going against each other in this gargantuan battle for supremacy brings us together! And I couldn't be happier being a part of it in such a way that people actually look to me for my opinions, takes, and spins on certain topics within it."
Cole, now 32, was once just a fan, too. He remembers meeting WWE Hall of Famer Kurt Angle in person as a kid while he was wearing his school wrestling gear. When Angle asked him what weight class did he wrestle, the former Olympian instantly became Cole's favorite wrestler of all time. "It was because he seemed interested in me." It's those moments that Cole hopes to make for the fans of today.
"Wrestling fans are some of the most supportive, amazing people that I've ever had the pleasure of meeting," Cole said. "It's unbelievable the impact that you can have on a lot of these people because of how much they love pro wrestling or how much they love you."
When Rhodes made his return to WWE in front of nearly 80,000 fans at AT&T Stadium in Texas for WrestleMania, he felt that same connection. It's what drives him, he said.
"Right now outside this bus where I'm doing this interview is a whole gaggle of fans with different signs for different people that when they see them, it's important to them, they're inspired by them. They're motivated by them. And that's hopefully a job well done with what we do," Rhodes said.
Tyler Williams and his nephews, Jamar and Marquise Jr., will be amongst the crowd seeing AEW in Philadelphia and WWE in Trenton thanks to Cody Rhodes opening a forbidden door.
As Williams gets ready to cheer on stars from both companies at their respective events, he'll be thinking of his brother.
Marquise's birthday is the day after the Dynamite show.
"It's honestly very surreal how this all played out I tell you. When AEW Dynamite was announced for Philly on April 27, a lot of emotions came over me because I knew this was going to be a very heavy week for me and my family," Williams said. "Being able to take them away from that feeling of trauma and sadness for just a few hours means so much. These shows will create happy memories for my nephews at a time when they need it most, and I can't wait to give them that."