EIGHT-YEAR-OLD BRODIE HUBER had seen plenty of championship coronations play out before, and so on the night of December 30, 2020, he tried to perform accordingly, channeling the professional wrestling bravado he’d learned from his late father. Dressed in a navy suit and a black wrestling mask with purple trim, Brodie slid the 10-pound AEW TNT Championship belt up his left arm and, with some assistance from wrestling superstar Cody Rhodes, over his shoulder.
He stood tall inside the ring at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville, Florida, as the socially distanced crowd chanted his name.
“Brodie! Brodie! Brodie! Brodie!”
It was also the name his father made famous. Jonathan Huber, a 17-year wrestling veteran, reached his peak playing the wrestling character Mr. Brodie Lee, a brooding, majestically bearded cult leader of the purple-clad Dark Order, a collection of younger, mostly masked wrestlers, some of whom went by numbers instead of names. At 6-foot-5 and 275 pounds, Brodie Lee had a booming voice, bulging eyes, and unmatched physicality. He played a heel, but fans adored him.
Less than three months earlier, on October 7, 2020, Brodie Lee had lost the TNT Championship belt against Rhodes in a dog-collar match. (For the uninitiated, that means they wore leather dog collars and were chained together.) It would turn out to be his final performance. Weeks later, Jonathan felt unexpectedly winded and had trouble breathing. He was eventually airlifted to the hospital, where family and close friends watched his condition progressively and horrifically worsen, until on December 26, 2020, Jonathan was pronounced dead from a rare lung condition.
Little Brodie accepted his dad’s old belt only four days later. At the time, he was flanked by Rhodes, AEW president and CEO Tony Khan, and his mother, Amanda, who wore a black dress and cried into the chest of Dark Order disciple Preston “10” Vance. In the middle of the ring, a bright spotlight shone on a pair of Brodie Lee’s black size-14 wrestling boots and a purple handkerchief. More than one million fans were watching live on TNT’s Dynamite showcase as the chant for Brodie continued.
As nearly everyone knows, professional wrestling is essentially a scripted, athletics-based morality play, one that hinges on fans agreeing to suspend disbelief for the sake of the show. Yes, we know it’s fake; that’s kind of the point. We relish the ridiculous drama as much as the superkicks. As Khan later explained to me, the Brodie Lee tribute was a way to say goodbye to Jonathan while honoring his son’s dream.
“After what his father, the late, great Brodie Lee, had done to help this company, I owe it to him, and the company owes it to him, that we mentor Brodie and look after him and give him a chance to be a wrestler,” Khan said in an interview with MH in February.
So Brodie Huber took the stage as Brodie Lee Jr. That mix of fantasy and reality might be a bit overwhelming for any eight-year-old, let alone one who had just lost his father. When we talked recently, Brodie, now 10, admitted that behind the mask he was crying.
“Everybody’s watching me hold this belt,” he told me in a high-pitched voice during a Zoom call with his mom in late April, nearly a year and a half after the event. “It was amazing. But at the same time, it wasn’t.”
Then his voice began to quaver. “Holding the belt that my dad held, just to be in that moment, was … it was definitely … it was hard.”
For Brodie Huber, the onstage memorial wasn’t a finale but a new beginning. Over the past year and a half, Brodie Lee Jr. has become an official member of the Dark Order, complete with a ring name: -1. He’s emerged as the wrestling world’s first child star, one who is navigating some of the same issues as many kids who become famous, with one larger complication. Plenty of athletes have channeled grief into great performances. But is it healthy for someone so young to work through grief on such a public and aggressive stage?
MONTHS BEFORE HIS DEATH, Jonathan Huber seemed to sense that something was off with his body. “I left a piece of me in there [that night],” Huber said during an interview on the AEW Unrestricted podcast that was taped in late October 2020, referencing his match against Rhodes for the TNT Championship. Huber revealed he had recently experienced trouble breathing on his Peloton bike but was starting to feel better.
Instead he got worse. On November 1, 2020, Huber was airlifted from Tampa to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, where he was put on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine to artificially support his breathing. Three weeks later, on November 22, Huber suffered a panic attack, and his sharp, rapid breathing caused even more scarring in his lungs.
He was still bedridden for his ninth wedding anniversary, on December 13, and then his birthday three days later. The lack of an official diagnosis proved even more frustrating as multiple Covid tests had come back negative. About the same time, Huber contracted a bacterial infection, and because he was already so immunocompromised, it raged to the point that the Mayo Clinic deemed him ineligible for a lung transplant.
A doctor called Amanda on Christmas Eve to tell her it was time to begin end-of-life care: Huber’s kidneys and heart were failing. After doing her best to provide Brodie and his younger brother, Nolan, a “normal” Christmas, Amanda took her husband off life support on December 26. He was 41 years old.
News of Huber’s death—posthumously characterized as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a rare lung condition for which there is no known source—sent waves through the wrestling community, with AEW and WWE performers alike sharing tributes on social media. “[Huber] cried with me when I cried after George Floyd was killed,” WWE performer Ettore “Big E” Ewen wrote on Twitter. “He’d text and call people he barely knew when he heard they were sick or grieving. His kindness was boundless.”
Ewen and Rhodes were in the Jacksonville hotel room when Amanda broke the news to Brodie, who collapsed into her arms. Then Ewen, the 5-foot-11, 285-pound former college football defensive lineman, who Brodie now calls his “best friend,” scooped Brodie up and held him. Rhodes also hugged and consoled them.
The following day, Amanda, Brodie, and Nolan attended a Jacksonville Jaguars game as Khan’s guests. (Khan co-owns the NFL franchise along with his father, Shahid.) There, Khan remembers telling Amanda that he was planning the tribute show for that week’s Dynamite. “She said, ‘There’s not going to be a [public] funeral. So whatever you do is going to be like a funeral on TV,’” Khan says.
For Khan, that moment of tribute reinforced one goal. Seconds after the show went off the air, he remembers kneeling down to hug Brodie. “This,” he says he thought at the time, “is only the beginning.”
LIKE A WRESTLING SHOWMAN, Brodie flips onto his back and rolls into a seated position on his bedroom carpet, smiling wide into his laptop webcam. It’s late April 2022, and the 10-year-old has his blond hair parted to one side and wears a blue Toy Story T-shirt that reads “You’ve Got a Friend in Me.” When I ask about his day, he sighs and says he just got home from a day of fourth grade. It was boring.
Brodie shifts around on the floor and fiddles with a ballpoint pen, occasionally giggling as he answers questions. When he gets older, he plans to grow a big, bushy beard, just like his dad, and he hopes to one day win the AEW World Championship.
Watch Mr. Brodie Lee’s tribute
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“I want to be just like him,” Brodie says with the sort of youthful conviction that life simply can’t go any other way.
The wrestling industry is filled with second- and third-generation stars who tagged along backstage with their parents as kids. There’s Rhodes, the 14-time WWE World Champion Randy Orton, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, to name a few. What makes Brodie different is that he’s committed to learning how to perform in real time in front of real audiences.
Since the tribute, Brodie has become a semi-regular AEW character, making a couple appearances on Dynamite and about a dozen more on the YouTube shows Dark and Dark: Elevation. The stakes are ostensibly low: He’s not part of long-running storylines, and he only attends tapings once a month, when AEW is at Universal Studios in Orlando for YouTube tapings, about an hour from his home in Tampa.
But these onstage moments can get fairly aggressive. Take his first live wrestling promo: On an episode of the AEW series Dark, which aired in early January 2021, Brodie stepped into the ring to confront Marko Stunt, who at 5-foot-2 was the lone male AEW performer at the time who did not tower over him. (Stunt has since left the company.) “When I’m older and I fight you, I’m going to be so much taller than you,” Brodie said mockingly. Stunt dropped his microphone and pushed Brodie, leading to a pull-apart brawl, with Rhodes and Khan, among others, running to the ring to break up the confrontation.
When we talked, Brodie told me he wasn’t given a script beforehand and came up with the promo on the spot: “It was awesome, to be, like, one of those wrestlers who doesn’t even have to think about the promo. Boom, it’s there.”
Then there was a more recent moment, when during a Dark: Elevation match Brodie stole an opponent’s cowboy hat and sprinted around the ring, leading the opponent right into a shoulder block from Vance. “Did I do that?” Brodie said mockingly to the camera, before riding the felled adversary like a horse.
Watch Brodie’s first live wrestling promo:
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AEW hasn’t shied away from referencing critics’ concerns onscreen, either. When Brodie appeared as -1 during a recent episode of Dynamite in Jonathan Huber’s hometown of Rochester, New York, the wrestler QT Marshall, one of AEW’s biggest heels, interrupted the promo and told the kid that his father might have been a legend, but he seemed more like a charity case.
After other Dark Order members had thoroughly beaten up Marshall, Brodie tore off his own Dark Order shirt in mock anger and offered the finishing catcall. “Listen, I would pin you right now,” he shouted. “But you know, I’m gonna wait.”
Such antics have made Brodie something of a viral star already—his appearances gain hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Although some of those clicks have come from Brodie himself. In early 2021, for a few months after his dad died, Amanda says her son lived something of a “Hannah Montana life”—taking part in virtual school during the day and attending AEW tapings during the night in Jacksonville, with some sporadic in-ring training sessions behind closed doors.
In early April of that same year, Amanda learned his grades had started to slip. The next day she peered over Brodie’s shoulder at his desk setup at the dining-room table during school. He wasn’t completing his assigned work but watching the confrontation with Stunt.
“Are you kidding me?” Amanda remembers saying. Then she looked at his search history:
“Luke Harper WWE”
“Best powerbombs compilation”
“-1 promo against Marko Stunt”
Amanda promptly installed website blockers and put a temporary halt on Brodie attending AEW shows. “I know he wants to be a wrestler,” she says, adding that she had the same childhood dream. “I fully support that. But if he changes his mind, I don’t want him to be stuck.”
After a few weeks’ time-out from wrestling, Amanda says Brodie was studying hard enough to return to filming segments. In fact, during another recent Zoom call that I had with her and Brodie earlier this year, Amanda was sitting on a bench at Disney World in Orlando, dodging French fries thrown by Brodie. He had just turned 10 a week earlier, and the trip was a reward for him getting his grades back on track.
“[Being involved] helps me because, like, I am ‘Carrying the Legacy’ of my dad,” Brodie said between rides that day, referencing the name of the dark cinematic rock theme song that AEW has designated as his own entrance music.
As we talked, Amanda explained that over the past year, Brodie had begun to act more grown-up at tapings, rejecting things like playful requests from AEW wrestler Tay Conti to dance with her backstage, as he had done during earlier appearances. “He tries so hard to be cool. He’s side-eyeing me right now,” she said, chuckling.
“Now, he’s growing up, and he’s like, ‘I’m not cute anymore. I’m a badass,’” Conti told me in a separate call. “I go to hug him, and he’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t care.’ [He’s being] a badass.”
Brodie’s tall for his age, standing about 4-foot-11. And he’s been forced to mature in other ways. He knows about the trolls on Twitter who’ve accused Amanda of “pimping” out her child. When she publicly responded by sharing with her 30,000 followers that Brodie does not yet get paid for appearances, others chided her for letting the company “exploit” her son without compensation.
“That’s not it, either!” Amanda says to me at one point. She says that AEW has handled their situation with “such grace and such kindness … that I personally don’t feel like they’ve exploited him, or taken advantage of us. Everything’s always felt to me like it’s done with nothing but love. I think people are skeptical and pessimistic and assume that it’s a lot more sinister than it is.”
Amanda says Brodie isn’t earning a salary but he will gain access to an account filled with royalties from his AEW T-shirts and other merchandise when he turns 18. She won’t speculate about how much that could be. “Again, everybody would have a different way of handling this. I’m doing my best. I’m trying. There’s a good chance I’m screwing something up along the way,” she says.
For Brodie, the situation seems less complex. “I do it,” he says simply, “because I love it. And my dad did it.”
AS THE SAYING GOES, it takes a village to raise a child. In Brodie’s case, that village is made up of pro wrestlers, so things often get physical. Because the Hubers live down the street from WWE performer Natalya Neidhart and her husband, WWE producer TJ Wilson, Brodie often practices at their in-home ring. “They teach him a lot of the basic stuff, so when he actually does start training, he’s going to be leaps and bounds ahead of everybody,” Amanda says.
Last summer Brodie also visited the Nightmare Factory, the Atlanta-area gym run by Rhodes and Marshall, to learn how to safely throw clotheslines and big boots, two staples of his father’s move set. Except he’s not quite there yet. “They were like, ‘We’re going to work on this a little bit more when you’re older,’” Amanda says.
Vance, one of the newer members of the Dark Order at the time of the tribute show, remains close with Brodie. The two first met during an AEW taping on December 23, 2020, while his dad was in the hospital. “Ever since then, he was just drawn to me,” Vance says. “[During the tribute show], I hugged him and I told him, ‘I will always be here for you, and I will always be your friend.’ And then I just held him.”
Brodie now works on-camera as Vance’s manager. Offstage, they work out and play video games together while Brodie plans out future storylines. Vance says Brodie recently FaceTimed him with an idea for when he turns 18: The pair, performing as “babyfaces” (good guys), will win the AEW World Tag Team Championship, and when Brodie turns to celebrate with the crowd, Vance will kick him in the face, turning into a heel and triggering an epic feud.
The kid is clearly planning ahead. “That’s, like, the longest [range] storytelling in wrestling history,” Vance says.
In recent months Brodie’s also turned things up a notch. During an intermission at a Dark: Elevation taping, he got into the ring and climbed to the top rope. With his back to the ring, he leapt and flipped his body in a backflip, completing a picture-perfect moonsault onto a crash pad.
Vance was watching with a couple trainees on hand for the show, one of whom verbalized what all of them were thinking: “That kid’s going to be a prodigy.”
BRODIE LOVES WRESTLING so much that sometimes the urge to keep going simply overcomes him. Late at night, he will spring out of bed and turn on the light. He’ll imagine slipping into his father’s boots and into the ring. He is no longer -1, the hyper kid at ringside, but a fully grown Brodie Lee Jr., the AEW heavyweight and menacing spitting image of his hero.
His opponent, a giant stuffed bear in the corner of his bedroom, has no chance. His move set is familiar: Big Boot. Clothesline. Then comes the pin. The referee counts: 1, 2, 3. “Once I do it, I don’t want to stop,” he says about how worked up he gets in those moments.
The fantasy follows Brodie around all day long. He cuts imaginary promos in his bedroom, in the bathroom mirror, and even in public. “He tells everybody, he’s like, ‘My name is Brodie Lee Jr., and I’m going to carry on my father’s legacy,’” Amanda says.
His mother still tries to reinforce what’s appropriate around the ring versus in real life. She believes, especially because he’s grown up in a wrestling family, that Brodie has a healthy understanding that his wrestling persona is stagecraft. “He’s aware [and] a lot more mature than you’d expect from a 10-year-old,” she says.
She’s also asked Brodie not to wrestle with his friends at school. On one occasion, when a close friend wanted a crash course on “locking up”—a move where two wrestlers grab the back of each other’s neck, often to begin a match—she says that Brodie took the lead and proceeded slowly.
He sometimes still needs to be reminded to take things easy on his younger brother, however. “He had [Nolan] in some submission the other night, and Nolan just was screaming,” Amanda says, chuckling. “He was like, ‘He won’t tap! Make him tap!’ I was like, ‘He’s four! He’s not going to tap! Just let him go!’”
Not that she’s worried about that behavior. “I remember doing that same stuff to my little brother,” she says.
Huber used to joke that wrestling was a mistress with whom he was in an abusive relationship, Amanda says. He didn’t want his son to be a wrestler. He’d be a chemist, or maybe a doctor.
But that doesn’t mean Huber wasn’t proud of the legacy he was creating. In an old interview that recirculated after his death, Huber noted he’d saved all of the action figures made in his likeness—not for himself, but to one day give to Brodie. (At the time, Nolan wasn’t born yet.) “For him to be able to see what I’ve done, and the person that [wrestling] has made me, I can’t really describe it,” Huber said at the time.
I ask Amanda what Huber would make of his son’s accelerated path in the sport. “He would tell you he absolutely hates it,” Amanda says. “But I could tell you that deep down, in his heart, he would be just bubbling over the moon.”
When I ask Brodie about the same topic during one of our video calls, he pulls himself up from his bedroom floor and sits cross-legged: “I bet if he was here, he would probably change his mind,” he says. “He just wanted me to be happy. If he were here, to have him see me be in the happiest place, me being in the happiest mood, I feel like that would brighten up his day.”
IN MARCH, THE DAY BEFORE AEW’s Revolution pay-per-view event, Brodie donned purple-and-white wrestling trunks and a white mask to appear as -1 inside the Addition Financial Arena in Orlando. He was part of the bill for AEW Fan Fest, an unscripted event held the day before the main promotion.
With his mom, brother, and Vance by his side, Brodie stepped into the ring to receive a small token of his growing popularity: the first Brodie Lee Jr. action figure.
A representative from the toy company Ringside Collectibles handed Brodie the box, and there he was: -1. But it was a dual set, and beside -1 stood a plastic version of Mr. Brodie Lee. Father and son, together again, right there in his hands.
Brodie inspected the box, put his right hand over his heart, and took some deep breaths. He knew this was coming, but the moment seemed to overwhelm him. Nolan looked up at him, beaming. Vance patted his shoulder. Amanda rubbed his back. And the crowd began a familiar chant.
“Brodie! Brodie! Brodie! Brodie!”
Once again, the mask helped hide his tears. It was his father’s name. But also his name, now more than ever.