The dream match of Roman Reigns facing The Rock and Cody Rhodes finally finishing his story against Reigns at WrestleMania were two things that had a chance to be universally celebrated.
The NY Post reports that amazingly, WWE found a way to fumble both of them, for now.
WWE made Rhodes look terrible as reports and rumours say it called a WrestleMania 40 audible that Rock himself pushed for after CM Punk was injured and the news of Vince McMahon resigning after a lawsuit accused him of sexual assault and sex trafficking put the company in a bad light.
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It made the events of the Royal Rumble and Rhodes graciously stepping aside on SmackDown for The Rock to officially take his WrestleMania match against Reigns feel disjointed.
The backlash is widespread among wrestling fans, with a clip of The Rock’s staredown with Reigns quickly become the most disliked YouTube video in the promotion’s history.
The video, titled ‘The Rock steps to Roman Reigns on Road to WrestleMania: SmackDown, has 5 million views but also racked up more than 500,000 dislikes in a couple of days.
The Rock is nicknamed the ‘People’s Champ’ but his treatment of Rhodes shows he’s anything but that.
Instead of moving toward being “the guy” for WWE to build around after two years of tireless work, merchandise sales and crowd reactions at the highest level, Rhodes was reduced to the red herring so a no-timer in Rock and a part-time in Reigns can main event the biggest WrestleMania ever this April in Philadelphia.
How the change was done is far worse than the change itself.
Rhodes is a true professional for how he handled himself. He, and even fans, get this is business and Rock — now a TKO board member with a reported $30 million stock award — is one of the biggest money-making stars in all of entertainment, and that’s what WWE is cashing in on.
Rhodes did the ceremonial handshake and hug with The Rock to try to get this over. But Rhodes looked emotionless and gutted doing so.
You can make the case that Rollins vs. Rhodes and now maybe Drew McIntrye isn’t that much bigger of a match than, say, Rhea Ripley vs. Becky Lynch for the Women’s World championship.
But let’s take a step back for a moment and look at how Rhodes ended up being a story device and undercut by the entire SmackDown segment.
After winning the Royal Rumble, Rhodes pointed directly at Reigns to all but confirm the main event, and it felt like WWE putting him in the company of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels as a sign it saw him as the guy moving forward. Then Rhodes himself dubbed himself “the guy” in the post-show press conference.
His fans could exhale.
On SmackDown, Reigns began the terrible delivery of the change, basically calling Rollins’ championship the “losers’ bracket” title and telling Rhodes that winning that belt makes him the best of the “twos.” It makes Rhodes’ current pursuit feels so less-than now.
Then Rhodes, with the crowd chanting his name, gave all the reasons he should face Reigns, only to awkwardly change the basis of his whole WWE run by telling Reigns he still plans on taking the belt and but now also “everything” away from him — just not at WrestleMania.
Then in an attempt to make this all seem like Rhodes’ idea, he said he sought Rock’s council on his decision after Rollins made an impassioned but illogical case to face him. Now, even in the storyline, Rock had a hand in the change.
The only way this makes sense is if Rhodes believes that Rock beating Reigns and stripping him of being “Tribal Chief” is the first step of “taking everything” from him, but it doesn’t feel like something he should care about.
Rhodes’ slogan forever has been “do the work.” He did it and gave the fruits of it to someone else.
“Finish the story” is becoming a punchline.
It all led to the diehard fans flooding social media with #WeWantCody and disliking the YouTube video of the SmackDown segment in a viral push to get Rhodes back in the main event. On Raw, they chanted “We Want Cody” and “Rocky sucks!” as Michael Cole and Pat McAfee didn’t ignore the groundswell behind him.
Rhodes told fans to “trust me” in a tweak during Raw.
It’s going to take more and louder nights like that that for WWE to consider reversing course on potential big business — booing Rock and Reigns out of the building every night and hijacking their segments with love for Rhodes might do it at the risk of spoiling a dream feud. Just don’t cross the line it appears some people did with Rock’s daughter and NXT star, Ava, who tweeted she got “death threats over a situation I have nothing to do with.” That can never be tolerated.
That being said, Rhodes has never been a bigger babyface than he is now and maybe WWE knew that would happen and can bottle that up for down the road as Reigns could likely pass Hulk Hogan for the third-longest world title reign in WWE history.
And there are ways to remedy this whole situation and technically neither main event match is official yet.
Rock needs to return the favour and put Rhodes over before Dusty’s son unseats Reigns — maybe at Madison Square Garden to bring the story truly full circle.
That could mean Rhodes beating Rock in a match — upset at him for losing to Reigns. It could also be an impassioned promo from Rhodes with Rock to tell him he should have never given up his chance and now he’ll go do what you the legend couldn’t.
It’s up to WWE — maybe after undeniable backlash from fans — to make this right after finding a way to turn two sure-fire wins into an unknown.
This article originally appeared in the NY Post and was reproduced with permission.