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The Rocky Rhodes To WrestleMania: Cody, Rock and Reigns

By 5 February 2024February 19th, 2024Uncategorised

By Andrew Spoors

“Cody Rhodes. You have carried this company on your back for a soul crushing two years. You’re right around the corner and they hand you the cover of the WWE 2K video game! And right when you’re about to cross the finish line and finish your story..oh wait, what’s that in the distance? It’s a much bigger Superstar who hasn’t been around in a very long time coming to take it all away from you!”

As the old adage goes, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Although the above quote was meant as a warning from CM Punk to Cody Rhodes about himself, less than two weeks later, that same speech became oddly prophetic. To truly take stock of the current stormy social seas WWE find themselves in, it may be fitting to take a quick stroll down memory lane.

Turn back the calendar to what feels like the simpler times of April 2012. CM Punk is the WWE Champion heading into WrestleMania XXVIII, just a few months later he would be announced as the cover star for WWE 13, the company’s latest video game release. But all is not well in the garden of the Straight Edge Superstar. 

Even with the WWE Championship around his waist, Punk knows he will not appear in the main event of WrestleMania. That accolade belongs to John Cena and a returning Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. He knows this, because that showdown was announced almost one year ahead of the event. Rock vs Cena is billed as a ‘Once in a Lifetime’ match (that was repeated a year later…) and Punk’s match against Chris Jericho is pushed to the unenviable spot on the card of second last of the night.

If any of this sounds familiar, don’t worry, it should. 12 years later, Cody Rhodes finds himself at a similar..ahem…cross-roads. After winning the 2024 Royal Rumble and pointing at the WrestleMania sign, his attention and gaze instantly turn to the figure of Roman Reigns, sitting up high inside Tropicana Field and perched within a corporate box. The crowd swells in anticipation for the now inevitable rematch from WrestleMania 39 in Los Angeles.

What A Difference A Week Makes

Two nights after the Rumble, the first signs that all is not quite as straightforward as it seems begin to show. WWE Heavyweight Champion, Seth Rollins, implores Cody to challenge for his title instead of Roman’s. His case consists of a couple of key points and leans heavily on Cody’s two weaknesses, his work rate and the memory of his father. Talk about playing to your audience.

It’s a compelling argument, but surely not enough to dissuade Cody to give up on his much lauded ‘story’, so intrinsically attached to the championship currently in possession of Roman?

A few short days later on SmackDown, WWE confirmed a showdown between Reigns and Rhodes. But rumours begin to swirl that The Rock, newly appointed board member of WWE’s parent holding company TKO, is in town. Not only in town, but present in the Legacy Arena.

In the final segment of the show, Reigns cuts a promo on Rollins and his accusations of being work shy and a Hollywood champion. Out comes Rhodes and it feels like Rock or no Rock, we are about to get confirmation of this year’s Mania main event. Despite an affirmation that Roman’s title is the one that he wants, the first of two bombshells hits.

Cody will not be coming for Roman at WrestleMania. Just as the vocal crowd in Birmingham, Alabama come to terms with that news, the iconic entrance music of The Rock hits. The usual roar of appreciation ripples through the arena and after an embrace with his seeming usurper for the main event, Cody takes his leave looking forlorn. As the chants of ‘This is Awesome’ provide the soundtrack for an intense staredown between Rock and Reigns begin to fade, social media goes into meltdown.

A Social Storm

Cue bedlam. Outraged fans pour on to their chosen platforms setting up soapboxes to declare a scandal. Within hours, WWE’s YouTube clip of the night’s proceedings becomes the company’s most disliked video of all time. Less than 48 hours later, there are over 500,000 dislikes on the clip.

#WeWantCody has been posted over 350,000 times on X (Twitter). WWE Superstars and other wrestlers in the industry also throw their support behind the American Nightmare. WWE’s merchandise shop’s X account is flooded with tongue in cheek fans claiming to have ordered Cody Rhodes shirts but instead receiving Rock bobbleheads. Even the People’s Champ himself tweets his appreciation for the night’s support only to be met with a barrage of support for Cody.

National news outlets pick up on the fan’s furore, overshadowing what promised to be a major moment for WWE. So just why are large sections of wrestling fans so passionately behind Cody facing Roman Reigns at WrestleMania and will it make any difference?

The first part of that question is relatively straightforward. When the referee’s hand hit the mat to end WrestleMania 39, those present in the fading Californian heat inside SoFi Stadium and the millions watching at home were left stunned. Roman Reigns had escaped with his title again. The final chapter in the story of Cody Rhodes would not be written in LA. The frustration was palpable.

Throughout the next year, Rhodes would continue and perhaps even grow into an even bigger babyface for the company. Overcoming obstacle after obstacle, yet still maintaining popularity (in 2024, that is no mean feat), Cody winning a second and consecutive Royal Rumble felt like the company was finally going to pull the trigger and not only crown the grandson of a plumber, but end Roman’s reign.

For that to be snatched away by a Superstar, albeit a legend within the industry, that hasn’t wrestled a match in years seems galling. Rumours of a power play by Dwayne Johnson to leverage his new found board member status and place him on track for a financial windfall, certainly haven’t helped.

But will the social outrage change anything? Now here is where it gets interesting. Before social media was as popular as it is today, WWE experienced the ‘YES! Movement’ that changed the course of WrestleMania XXX’s fate. Crowds rallied behind Daniel Bryan and the ultimate underdog created one of the Mania moments by ending the night with all the gold.

While this isn’t exactly the same and certainly the company’s main decision makers have well and truly changed, it isn’t beyond the realms of possibility that live audiences will hijack shows in support of Cody similar to how Bryan got the shot he so desperately deserved.

Cody Rhodes Royal Rumble

Cody celebrates his Royal Rumble win. (Credit: WWE)

Social Swerve?

So here we stand. Approximately 60 days away from night one of WrestleMania XL in Philadelphia. With no official announcement, all this may seem premature. Sure, there is an open press event scheduled for later in the week to kickoff Mania’s coverage. Roman, Rock, Cody, Seth and Triple H are all scheduled to be present. We might know more by the end of that. We might even know more by the end of Monday Night Raw.

But did WWE foresee the tumultuous events of the last week? When Cody Rhodes won his second consecutive Royal Rumble and pointed at Roman, surely there was a plan in place? An interesting theory currently being touted, is everything is playing out exactly as intended.

Heading into the Rumble, accusations of an abhorrent nature against former WWE owner Vince McMahon dominated social media channels. Although the noise surrounding the suit has (rightfully) not disappeared completely, the narrative and focus has shifted. 

This decision has not been popular by any stretch of the imagination and threatens to roll on until matches are made official, WWE could well be playing canny when it comes to the eventual main event of WrestleMania 40. Two years ago fans were desperate for the real life cousins of Rock and Roman to face off in a battle to prove who really is the Head of the Table. But new heroes have emerged, new chapters written. Times have changed.

For the first time in years, the company possesses a naturally popular babyface Superstar that fans feel invested in. Video game taglines carry his own words. FINISH THE STORY.

If those who fail to learn from history are indeed doomed to repeat it, are those who take heed destined to shape their future? And for all the comparisons between Rhodes and Punk’s experience heading into the biggest event in the industry, it is WWE themselves that have the chance to do exactly that.

Ten years on from the ‘Miracle on Bourbon Street’ it is possible that the company has learnt its lessons and has manufactured a Rhodes Revolution? Or will we simply see the transformation of The People’s Champion into a real life Corporate Champion that values buy rates and stock bonuses over fan satisfaction?

History awaits your decision WWE…