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WWE Have Course Corrected with Cody, Now To Stick The Landing

By 15 February 2024February 26th, 2024Featured

By Joe Baiamonte

In the beginning, it was Roman. Then it was Roman, just not at WrestleMania. Then we all wanted Cody. Then it was Roman at WrestleMania again. Only this time with his High Chief by his side.

Had this saga played out over the course of an entire year, it might have felt well paced. But the above journey twisted, turned and almost veered clean off the radar in a little over seven days.

Finally, it feels as if the Road to WrestleMania is on course. But with the final destination of Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia still seven weeks away, there is still ample time for plenty of turbulence to upset the trajectory of things. Paul ‘Triple H’ Levesque and his creative team must ensure a smooth flight doesn’t crash land on a Rocky road.

The WrestleMania 40 Kick-off press conference, while more stage show than Q&A, was pure, unadulterated sports entertainment, delivering water cooler moments and the main event everybody wanted in the first place. It also delivered an unexpected Rock heel turn and The Great One’s finest promo work since 2003.  But then there were also a few more questions left unanswered.

Cody Rhodes left WWE fans satiated, safe in the knowledge that, despite his curious back peddle on the previous week’s SmackDown, he would in fact be facing Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania 40, not The Rock. While a rematch from last year’s main event is the correct move from a booking perspective, how we got there was a needlessly convoluted mess. Rhodes had, after all, less than a week earlier informed Undisputed WWE Champion Reigns that he would not be ‘finishing the story’ at WrestleMania, despite winning this year’s Royal Rumble. Instead, Rhodes introduced The Rock, seemingly setting in motion the dream match that had been rumoured for the last two years between The Tribal Chief and his older cousin from Hollywood.

The Rock and Cody Rhodes

Image: WWE

Not to worry though, because we would receive an explanation from Cody about his WrestleMania wobble on SmackDown or Raw, right? Rhodes in fact did not appear on the following night’s SmackDown and, despite sharing a solid promo with World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins this past Monday on Raw, did not address his counsel with The People’s Champion or the reason why he went back-and-forth on wanting to face Reigns in Philadelphia.

While this plot hole remains gaping, it leaves a needless question mark hanging over what should be an all-timer of a WrestleMania build. After almost a year of WrestleMania 39’s main event gnawing away at him, shouldn’t Cody have been desperate to land another shot at Reigns? After all the talk of finishing the story, what could The Rock have said to Rhodes that would cause him to so suddenly move his own goalposts?

To leave this pretty seismic shift in the narrative unexplained is to leave a chasm in Rhodes’ on-screen character. SmackDown this week, where The Rock and Roman are advertised to appear, would be the ideal destination for an explanation. It would also provide Rhodes with the opportunity to return the favour to The Rock for the slap The American Nightmare was handed in Las Vegas a week ago. Rhodes claimed he wanted to “take everything” from Reigns, yet storyline wise, throwing away a guaranteed WWE Title opportunity was actually placing his story and overarching plans of taking everything from The Tribal Chief in unnecessary jeopardy. At the time, it felt as though Cody had been outmanoeuvred and outgunned by a legend with more star power and political stroke. He had essentially kowtowed to The Rock and given up the dream in the process. There has to be a reason.

Image: WWE

Despite this, we now find ourselves at an immensely intriguing cross roads. The Rock, aligned with The Bloodline, as well as the TKO Board, sets in motion a potential civil war within WWE against Triple H and The Boys. The locker room is behind Cody. Rollins offered his services as his one-time enemy’s ‘Shield’ on Raw this past week, while an alliance with Sami Zayn is seemingly in place also. Lest we forget that Ricochet took to Twitter to share the #WeWantCody hashtag. The Rock’s Hollywood big dogging alongside Reigns’ over-inflated sense of entitlement are the perfect foil to the full-timers fronted up by the son of a son of a plumber, with Levesque at the helm, firing shots The Rock’s way just like it was ’98 again.

Among the confusion of the week leading to the Vegas presser, The Rock’s first heel turn in over 20 years felt like a refreshing change of pace. Treating the fans and Triple H with derision, steering clear of the meaningless nicknames and catchphrases that have punctuated most of his appearances over the last few years. His teaming with Roman leaves the door open for the long-awaited match between the pair, when the civil war within WWE inevitably turns inwards on the Bloodline. A tag match for Night One of WrestleMania 40 has been mooted, in which The Rock and Undisputed Champion Reigns face off against Rhodes and Rollins. Not only does this foursome maintain Rollins as a main event player, instead of some forgotten bit-part act, standing on the sidelines attempting to remind everyone why his World Title matters, but it presents a golden opportunity for Rock and Roman’s Maui sized egos to erupt. The two cannot co-exist and their Tribal Chief/High Chief dynamic costs them the match (have Rollins pin Rock’s shoulders to the mat to give him a much needed W on the weekend where he likely drops his World Heavyweight Championship).

Three seperate feats should be accomplished over WrestleMania weekend: Seth Rollins, bereft of his World Title, should be shot into the stratosphere following his positioning in the programme with the Bloodline. The Man’s man has played second fiddle for too long and should now be seen as a company carrying megastar. Secondly, the dream match between The Rock and Roman Reigns should be set in stone. Thirdly, the story must be finished.

Image: WWE

Filing out of the Sofi stadium floor towards the backstage area for last year’s Night Two press conference at WrestleMania 39 was an overwhelmingly deflating trip. WWE Superstars and celebrities zipped by on golf carts, laughing and joking, all in a celebratory mood after another record-breaking weekend of work. But myself and the throng of journalists shuffling towards an audience with Triple H, Bianca Belair and the still-reigning Roman were in a perpetual state of “what did they just do!?”

That night in Inglewood, the expectancy was that a new king would be crowned. The roar from the floor was unlike anything I have experienced at a pro-wrestling event, as newly minted tag team champions Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn sent the Usos scurrying through the crowd. Cody connected with one Cross Rhodes, then held on for another. The third and final one was coming. We were seconds away from the end of Roman’s reign. Then Solo Sikoa’s taped thumb had other plans and a few seconds later the energy around us was reduced to a numb squeak. Confusion and disbelieving laughter. This wasn’t an anti-Roman atmosphere, but one in which no one could understand the logic of circling back to the usual shenanigans that had helped keep the belts on Reigns for so long up until then.

When you’re locked into a moment as it’s unfolding in front of you, it is human nature to not see several moves down the line. There was no guarantee that Cody would maintain his positive momentum throughout 2023 and into another WrestleMania season. It felt like an open goal had been missed. Cody was just another in the ever-growing list of Roman Reigns opponents who were perfectly positioned to usurp the Tribal Chief at a moment in time, alongside Drew McIntyre and Sami Zayn (and later Jey Uso), who came up short.

Image: WWE

There have been whispers that circulated in recent months that suggested Cody not finishing the story in Los Angeles was a Vince McMahon call. Whether that is true or not may forever remain a mystery. Yet here we are, almost a year later, with WWE presented with another open goal and McMahon, obviously, a long, long way from ever having a say in creative again. It is testament to Rhodes’ stellar work and his relentless dedication that he has remained so popular despite last year’s defeat in Hollywood. Not only do WWE fans want to see The American Nightmare dethrone Reigns, they want to see it so much they would gladly pass up seeing The Rock and Reigns face off for the first time, in order for it to happen. Only if this open goal is scuffed wide of the target once again, Cody’s momentum and the audience’s belief in him will disappear quicker than Roman Reigns after one of his quarterly title defences.

The Rock and co’s pivot back to Levesque’s original plan of Cody choosing Roman at ‘Mania in order to capture the title his father never did, is a pivot that should be commended. They tried a different route, immediately realised the backlash was not worth the aggravation and course corrected, adding some extra stardust (not THAT stardust) along the way as a bonus. A new era feels as though it is on the horizon. One in which a new face is the WWE’s Head of The Table and the wealth is shared. An era in which The Rock has a seat at the TKO table and gives it the old razzle dazzle in the ring whenever it feels appropriate. The People’s Champion taking the Bloodline into its third and final act is the natural and logical evolution of the story, potentially elevating Reigns as a crossover star in the process and ushering a Paul Heyman-backed Solo into the main event scene.

Money will continue to be made, of course, regardless of how ‘Mania’s main event scene is booked from hereon. Reigns may be gifted the honour of eclipsing Hulk Hogan’s four-year record as WWE Champion as the promotion seeks to update their history books to further establish this new era’s importance. But the widespread popularity of the current product will wane if the company fails to stick the landing on the second leg of this journey. They already took the wrong turn when the road forked in front of them last April. The same choice would mean getting stuck going round in circles when there’s a vast expanse of open road and opportunity waiting to be taken.

WrestleMania 40 will emanate from Philadelphia, PA on April 6th and 7th. Tune in on the WWE Network or TNT Sports Box Office.

Featured Image Credit: WWE

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