Do you happen to remember the closing moments of Super Bowl XLIX? Down 28-24 to the New England Patriots, the Seattle Seahawks had the ball at the goal line with 26 seconds remaining in the game. All they had to do was hand it off to their stud running back Marshawn Lynch and they would have left Arizona with their second consecutive World Championship.
Instead, the Seahawks decided to get cute and called a slant pass to Ricardo Lockett that was intercepted by Malcolm Butler in the end zone. Patriots win the Super Bowl.
I remember standing in my living room eight years ago wondering how on Earth Seattle made that decision in that moment. It’s the exact same feeling I had this past Sunday night standing on the floor at SoFi Stadium as Roman Reigns pinned Cody Rhodes to retain the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.
How on Earth does WWE make that decision in that moment?
When referee Dan Engler’s hand smacked the mat for a third time, declaring Reigns the victor, the wind was sucked out of the building. A majority of the 80,000 plus people in attendance stood on with dumbfounded expressions on their faces - including myself and many of my media colleagues.
… #WrestleMania pic.twitter.com/hJ8PbAmR9v— Northwest Cee (@CeeHawk) April 3, 2023
For a company that thrives off creating memorable moments that last generations, the WWE creative team has now bypassed what would have been three all-timers over the last several months to keep both belts draped over the shoulders of Roman Reigns.
Back in September of last year, WWE had the chance to give Drew McIntyre the moment he missed out on at WrestleMania 36 by having him win the big one in front of 62,000 screaming fans at Clash at the Castle.
McIntyre was the poster boy for the campaign to get the United Kingdom it’s first major stadium show in three decades. Having Drew dethrone Reigns to win the Title would have been a poetic way to close out the show. Instead, a debuting Solo Sikoa cost McIntyre the match. Not long after, he and Tyson Fury tried to send the crowd home happy by singing a rendition of Don McLean’s “American Pie”.
Fast forward to February 18, 2023. Elimination Chamber is in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and Sami Zayn just so happens to be the hottest babyface in the entire company.
Despite his popularity, the overall success of his arc from Honorary Uce to Bloodline saboteur, and that he was fighting for the World Title in front of his hometown fans — Zayn was always going to be a long shot to knock off the Head of the Table. Especially when the heir apparent, and Royal Rumble winner, Cody Rhodes was waiting in the wings.
Still though, what a sight it would have been to see a jam-packed Bell Centre erupt in jubilation when their boy pulled off one of the biggest upsets of this century. An atmosphere and energy rivaled by only those created from the very best moments in company history. This generation’s version of “Mick Foley did it!”
Every wrestling fan who was around on the night of January 4, 1999 remembers where they were when Mankind defeated The Rock to win his first WWE Championship. Hundreds of thousands of viewers flipped the channel the minute the tape delayed results were leaked out on rival WCW Nitro, just to see it for themselves.
It’s hard to imagine that Sami Zayn winning at Elimination Chamber wouldn’t have had the same effect. Years from now, everyone would have remembered the night Zayn beat Roman Reigns and ended his historic title run.
Apropos that a member of Anoaʻi family would have fallen, just like on Monday Night Raw well over two decades ago.
Alas, Sami Zayn did not win. But that’s ok. We all knew it was going to pay off a few weeks later. Zayn and Kevin Owens seemed destined to take out the Usos and win the Undisputed Tag Team Championships at WrestleMania 39, and that’s precisely what happened.
Those four men created nothing short of absolute artwork in the main event of night one. Zayn brought it home with an exhilarating and emotional round of three Helluva Kicks on Jey Uso that sent the crowd home extremely optimistic about what would follow on night two.
If WWE were like any other television show, WrestleMania would be considered it’s big season finale. It’s always a question of what type of finale are we going to see. Night one was akin to Full House. Night two, was more like The Walking Dead.
Sami Zayn losing at Elimination Chamber was easier to swallow because it was supposed to open the door for both he and Cody Rhodes to have their moments on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
Zayn was allowed to have his happy ending. Cody... was not.
Not long after WrestleMania came to a close reports surfaced that the decision was made well in advance to keep the titles on Reigns.
Maybe this shows why I’m not a booker, but the second that tens of thousands of people lost their minds after Rhodes hit Reigns with a headlock takeover in the match’s opening seconds, I would have called an audible. If a crowd is losing their minds over one of the most basic of chain wrestling maneuvers, they’re invested.
That crowd desperately wanted to see Roman’s reign of terror come to end. They wanted to see Cody finish his story and claim the title his father never did. Not only did they want it to happen, they believed it was going to happen.
Reigns was dead to rights as Cody seemed primed to deliver a third consecutive Cross Rhodes. Then, at the last moment, The Bloodline once again saved the day for their Tribal Chief and turned the WrestleMania dreams of many into a nightmare.
Thanks to @WWESoloSikoa, @WWERomanReigns RETAINS against @CodyRhodes at #WrestleMania!@HeymanHustle pic.twitter.com/Q1vUPOHokZ— WWE (@WWE) April 3, 2023
During his post show media scrum on Sunday, Triple H said that the Tribal Chief is operating on a completely different level from anyone else in the business right now.
“There’s nothing that happens when he’s in that ring that doesn’t mean something. It’s impressive. And it’s why he’s been champion for 945 days. It’s why he’s been at the top of this industry. It’s why three WrestleMania’s in, he’s defending the same championship in the same run.”
Sunday’s booking proved that Roman Reigns is the only sure bet in WWE, but it does beg the question. What is the end game, outside of getting him to 1,000 days as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion?
If you weren’t willing to give Drew his moment in Cardiff. If you weren’t going to have Sami shock the world in Montreal. And if you weren’t going to crown Cody in the main event of WrestleMania 39. What else could you possibly be building toward that could topple any of those three moments that you passed on?
It’s hard to see anyone other than Rhodes being the guy at this point. His loss in Hollywood only amplified the backing of the WWE Universe and added the desired layer of adversity for those who believed his road to winning the gold this year was too easy. But it’s a massive gamble to try and carry his momentum all the way into a rematch with Roman Reigns, whenever it happens to take place.
Rhodes’ route to getting in the ring with Roman again now has a massive obstruction in the way by the name of Brock Lesnar. The Beast’s vicious and lengthy assault on the American Nightmare this week on Raw all but guarantees that a major PLE contest between these two is on the horizon.
A win for Cody Rhodes over Brock Lesnar could catapult him right back into the title picture. Or... he could lose. And the road back to Reigns gets even more difficult. It honestly would not be surprising if the plan is for the Tribal Chief is to carry both titles for another year and walk into the main event of WrestleMania 40 in Philadelphia with them.
If it was simply a matter of a questionable booking decision, my detestation for the whole situation would eventually subside and I’d be more willing to, gulp, let it play out. However, we all know the uneasiness of this week does not stem from Cody Rhodes failing to defeat Roman Reigns. It comes from the events that followed what was an overall spectacular WrestleMania weekend.
It sure looks like Vince McMahon is back in charge of WWE Creative. After proclaiming to CNBC that he would only be involved with WWE productions from a higher level, because he can’t “get into the weeds” anymore, Mr. McMahon wasted no time what-so-ever diving head first right back into the weeds.
To make matters worse, he completely undermined his son-in-law in the process. Triple H is still the Chief Content Officer of WWE, as of this writing, but that very well may be in name only.
This past Monday night on the Raw After ‘Mania, Triple H opened the show by touting the success of WrestleMania weekend and promised that WWE would not be going anywhere following Endeavor’s purchase of the company and its merger with UFC.
His comments on the sale to the public came hours after an employee and talent meeting where it was promised that nothing would be changing in regards to the creation and production of WWE’s on-screen product.
It seems as soon as Triple H made way for Roman Reigns and The Bloodline to take center stage on Raw, he walked back to the gorilla position and was greeted by Vince McMahon making sweeping last minute changes to the show.
It was reportedly business as usual for a Vince McMahon-led episode of Raw. Several Superstars were pulled from or added to the show last minute, matches were scratched from the card, and multiple different rundown sheets were sent out to the producers at ringside over the course of three hours Monday night.
At one point, it looked as though Seth Rollins was thoroughly confused about what he was supposed to do when it came time for his segment. During a commercial break Rollins was seen talking with someone on a headset right until the lights came back on and the show went live on the air.
It appears Rollins was told in the ring during the commercial break of changes to his segment #WWERaw pic.twitter.com/7waEGJU7FF— Juan RC (@elclass_king) April 4, 2023
Rollins then chucked the microphone and stood with arms wide open while those of us inside Crypto.com Arena sang the same four notes of his song over and over for what seemed like an eternity.
There’s been no confirmation that Rollin’s segment played out any differently than what was originally planned, but the optics of the moment are not great.
The entire evening was a stark reminder of what business was like on a regular basis before Triple H took the reigns last Summer. And according to multiple reports, Vince running the show this week was the biggest hit to talent morale since before he resigned from the company.
If McMahon truly is back running things on a week-to-week basis, which many people view tonight’s SmackDown as the true indicator on the matter, than it’s going to be an extremely tough sell. Not just for the talent worried about what their creative futures will hold, but also for the most loyal among WWE’s fanbase.
Twitter isn’t a be-all end-all and shouldn’t be used a sole barometer for any given situation, but is #FireVince and #WorstRawEver really what you want trending coming off your most successful WrestleMania ever?
Well if you’re among the top brass in WWE, you apparently don’t care what the people are saying about the company as long as they continue to say it in large quantities.
I promise you, the fact there has been so much discussion they will only see as a positive. If there was no discussion, they'd be shaking their heads thinking what went wrong. If it was a misfire, history will tell us, but right now the reaction is what they wanted. https://t.co/m0d4YumiaC— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) April 5, 2023
There’s also now been chatter online about boycotting WWE events or hijacking them with “Fire Vince” chants.
Despite the company’s “no such thing as bad publicity” way of thinking, it’s been statistically proven that Vince McMahon leaving WWE was actually good for business. Wrestlenomics outlined all the numbers from the last several months and the figures show that fan interest definitely increased during the Triple H regime.
Ratings for both Raw and SmackDown went up compared to Vince’s last year in charge, despite WWE dealing with an increase in a number of households cutting the cord in favor of different streaming services. Ticket sales also shot way up. A 14% increase for SmackDown and a 25% increase for Raw under Triple H.
Fans were happy. Talent, for the most part, seemed happy. The quality of the on-screen product, albeit subjectively different based on the particular viewer, was vastly improved.
Which makes the decision, nay, the insistence from Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel that Vince McMahon remain on-board following the sale of WWE all the more puzzling.
Sharing the sentiment of Cody Rhodes’ promo this past Monday on Raw, this was not the column I had anticipated writing this week. I was fully prepared to give WWE all of it’s flowers for a spectacular WrestleMania weekend, and certainly Triple H and his creative team deserve credit for putting on a hell of show.
Even if fans weren’t thrilled with ending, there’s no denying that Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes went out there and had an epic encounter that, in this writer’s opinion, can only be accurately described as theatre.
Rhea Ripley had a star-making performance as she and Charlotte Flair put on one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time, regardless of gender. Once again Bianca Belair shined bright on the big stage and has quickly established herself as Ms. WrestleMania. Seth Rollins and Logan Paul delivered a good ole good one.
The men’s tag team showcase lived up to it’s billing, whether it was Angelo Dawkins trucking Braun Strowman, Chad Gable giving that same big monster an earth shaking German Suplex, or Ricochet literally flying through the air with enough body control and hang time to gently smack the announcers desk off a spring board Shooting Star Press.
The incredibly talented athletes of WWE deserve all the attention this week. WWE fans deserve to feel a prodigious high as the company rides a massive wave of momentum into tonight’s SmackDown.
Instead, many are biting their nails hoping that Vince McMahon didn’t travel to Portland for the show. That wave of momentum is gone. Almost like, WWE turned the ball over at the goal line.
Momentum is a funny thing by the way. It doesn’t take long for it to change hands and rival AEW has now taken that ball and is running the other way with it.
Wednesday was a spectacular day for Tony Khan’s company, headlined by a number of key hires and one of of Tony K’s patented massive announcements. Naturally the most celebrated move, is former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Switchblade Jay White officially becoming All Elite.
Elite Catalyst.— Switchblade Jay White (@JayWhiteNZ) April 6, 2023
- @kimberlasskick pic.twitter.com/hdUHA7Q4Lk
The biggest free agent in professional wrestling has a new home after leaving New Japan Pro-Wrestling earlier this year. White decided to join Tony Khan’s promotion after reportedly having conversations with WWE over the last several weeks.
Those within World Wrestling Entertainment were said to be confident that they’d be able to land Switchblade’s services, and there’s at least speculation out there that Vince McMahon’s return to the company swayed his decision to sign elsewhere.
Something to monitor as other highly coveted talents like Kenny Omega, the Young Bucks, and MJF near the end of their current contracts.
On top of pulling in one of the best heels going in the game today, AEW was able to bring in acclaimed commentator and broadcaster Nigel McGuinness and bolster their PR staff by hiring 25-year WWE vet, and former Vice President of Communications Adam Hopkins, after he was shockingly released by the company ahead of the Royal Rumble.
It’s also worth noting that after months of teases and speculation about their future, Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood are going to be sticking around in AEW after they won the tag team titles this past Wednesday on Dynamite.
Just minutes before FTR’s win over the Gunn’s in the main event, Tony Khan made his big announcement that AEW will be heading to the UK this summer. All In will be taking place at Wembley Stadium on August 27. Quite the ambitious endeavor as Wembley can host up to 90,000 people. Rest assured that Khan will be putting forth his best card possible to bring as many AEW faithful as possible to the show.
For those WWE fans out there who are reading this right now, I’m not trying to invoke a sense of panic. I’m not saying the sky is falling or that the company is facing certain doom now that Vince McMahon is back in the fold. But it is perfectly rational to feel uneasy about the situation.
BREAKING: @TripleH will be on #SmackDown tomorrow night to address the WWE Universe.https://t.co/jsEZLmMlMl pic.twitter.com/PwWcJ9swiU— WWE (@WWE) April 6, 2023
Was the lasting image of Brock Lesnar flipping the double bird on Monday a scripted moment to build heat or did the gesture have a deeper meaning? If history has taught us anything, it’s that Vince McMahon is going to whatever he feels is right - even amid mounting evidence to the contrary.
Triple H will be on the show tonight to once again address the WWE Universe. Will what he have to say quell the concerns of many and will his words amount to anything other than lip service?
We’ll all find out together in due time. In the meantime, just sit back and hope for the best. It’s all any of us can do.
Hopefully for everyone involved, McMahon and Triple H can find a good balance and get on the same page when it comes to the company’s creative direction. It may be the only way to get that pendulum of momentum swinging back in WWE’s favor.
You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.