Welcome everyone to another year of the ‘Monday Gorilla Position’! A weekly column here at Cageside Seats that dissects the latest shows and reports, and tries to figure out just what is going on in the world of WWE, AEW & more!
Well folks, this WrestleMania season is certainly shaping up to be a great one. Isn’t it?
That may depend on how dead set your heart was on watching Cody Rhodes finally finish his story by defeating Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The main event of WrestleMania 40 that seemed all but guaranteed when the Tribal Chief and the American Nightmare had their epic stare down on SmackDown this past October, just received a violent shove into uncertainty.
When The Rock returned last Monday night on Raw, it wasn’t for just a ratings pop or to clown Jinder Mahal. Hollywood’s leading man made it perfectly clear that he’s ready to claim his seat at the Head of the Table.
Reaction from the WWE Universe was mixed. The live crowd in San Diego lost their minds in jubilation. Cody Rhodes fans on social media also lost their minds, but in sheer panic instead. Immediately rushing to judgment that The Rock was swooping in to claim the marquee spot at ‘Mania next to his cousin, elongating Cody’s never-ending story in the process.
Full transparency, I was one of those people who immediately dove off the ledge and landed on that conclusion. And initially, the thought of The Rock’s first legitimate match in over a decade coming at the cost of Cody’s crowning achievement was met with a giant eye-roll on my part.
As the week progressed, my thoughts on matter changed. I may not like the move, but I certainly understand it.
Call me crazy, but I’m a proponent of rewarding your full-time guys. Even after his devastating defeat at the hands of Roman Reigns last year, Cody Rhodes has remained one of WWE’s consistent needle movers and top merchandise sellers.
His work rate in 2023 was unmatched. On top of competing in a company best 113 matches last year (an average of more than two a week), Rhodes was the face of countless community and charity events for WWE. He’s worked the WWE Champion schedule without being the WWE Champion.
Cody Rhodes has earned his place in the main event of WrestleMania 40. He’s earned the right to finally win the title that has long eluded his family and cement his legacy as the head of Rhodes family table.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Cody Rhodes will be WWE Champion one day. It just isn’t going to happen in April.
Or could it?
As we learned on SmackDown this past Friday, Roman Reigns will now defend his WWE Universal Championship at the Royal Rumble in a Fatal 4-way Match against Randy Orton, L.A. Knight, and AJ Styles.
It's going to be a Fatal 4-Way Match for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship at #RoyalRumble! @WWERomanReigns vs. @RandyOrton vs. @AJStylesOrg vs. @RealLAKnight!— WWE (@WWE) January 6, 2024
️ TICKETS AVAILABLE: https://t.co/nxx4BKWpqS pic.twitter.com/xlGhPum1iY
The WWE Creative team has now given themselves a path to appease those fans who want to see The Rock take on Roman Reigns and the members of the WWE Universe who want to see Cody finish his story.
The equation is simple.
Randy Orton wins the WWE Championship at the Rumble by pinning either Knight or Styles. Booking The Rock to take out Roman and the rest of the Bloodline would be paramount for setting up his showdown with Roman at WrestleMania. Cody could then go on to win his second consecutive Royal Rumble to become the No. 1 Contender, giving the people two huge matches in Philadelphia:
- Roman Reigns vs. The Rock for the title of Tribal Chief
- Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes for the WWE Championship
Given their history with one another, having the Viper win his 15th World Championship in route to facing his old Legacy stablemate at ‘Mania is really the only play that makes sense in this scenario.
In fact, Randy Orton is really the only suitable opponent for Cody if he’s not going to be facing Roman Reigns. Booking that match without the WWE Championship, however, comes with some hurdles.
Orton is an exclusive member of the SmackDown roster, while Cody is over on Raw. Winning the Rumble allows Rhodes to challenge whichever Champion he wants to face. Up until very recently, it was assumed he’d choose Reigns. That said, facing off against his old mentor on the Grandest Stage of Them All with the biggest prize in the company on the line is not a bad consolation prize.
Without the title involved, getting Cody and Randy together at ‘Mania would require some roster jumping gymnastics that would most assuredly be met with the predictable “why even have a brand split” criticisms.
I guess the possibility exists that Rhodes could get involved in the World Heavyweight Championship picture, but why convolute what is sure to be a fantastic, personal rivalry between Seth Rollins and CM Punk?
Best to leave well enough alone in that regard.
So to recap. Randy wins the Title. Cody wins the Rumble. Cody wins the Title at ‘Mania and Rock and Reigns close the show.
Everybody wins, right?
Eh... allow me to go ahead and dump some water on that ball of hope some of you have burning inside of you.
Since taking over as the Chief Content Officer of WWE, Triple H has proven time and again that he cannot be steered off course. At the very least when it comes to the WWE Universal Championship.
The Game has had numerous chances to make an everlasting moment by having someone slay WWE’s final boss and he has yet to pull the trigger.
After passing on crowning Drew McIntyre in Cardiff, Sami Zayn in Montreal, and Cody Rhodes in Los Angeles, does anyone really believe that Triple H is going to have Reigns’ historic run come to an end without him being involved in the finish?
Having anyone other than Reigns take the fall would be a weak sauce ending to the most significant World Championship run of the last two decades in WWE. I sincerely doubt that’s the end game that Triple H has had in mind all this time.
Booking the Fatal 4-way for Royal Rumble was not done for Cody’s benefit, it was done for Orton. Randy has been so white hot since coming back from injury, the company simply doesn’t want him to lose to Roman. And they don’t want him to beat Roman either.
According to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio, the idea is for Knight or Styles to take the pin in order to protect Randy ahead of WrestleMania.
The win for Reigns would also wipe clean all of his potential challengers on the Blue Brand, leaving no one left for him to smash. He would have beaten everyone. Except one man.
I can see you guys rushing to the comment section to bring up Elimination Chamber. Reportedly the Australian Government has been pushing for The Rock to be on the show, which has many speculating that The Rock and Roman could actually be the main event at that show, instead of WrestleMania.
It’s a possibility, but not a likely one.
The only way that match gets booked in Perth is if WWE finds a way to make more money than they would if the match happened in Philadelphia.
Revenue will always be the driving force behind any decision WWE makes. It’s a business after all. And doing what’s best for business is why The Rock was brought back in the first place.
There’s no doubt that WWE stands to benefit substantially by bringing the Great One into the fold. Merchandise, sponsorships, ticket sales, a bump in Peacock subscriptions — it all adds up.
Not to mention the increased ratings The Rock would bring to WWE’s weekly TV product at a time when the company is still trying to land a new media rights deal for Monday Night RAW. According to Wrestlenomics, 2.154 million people watched this past Monday’s segment between The Rock and Mahal.
His presence throughout all of WrestleMania season is incredibly valuable to the company. Besides, the reports of Australian tourism officials wanting The Rock at Elimination Chamber say absolutely nothing about him wrestling on the show. The reports said they were negotiating for an appearance.
That could mean a spot as a special guest referee. That could mean a promo segment. Heck, that could mean a Rock Concert. Any one of which would bring a boost in ticket sales for the event and make the Australian fans very happy.
Putting money aside for a moment, and this is said with absolutely no disrespect to Cody Rhodes or his value to the company, The Rock vs. Roman Reigns is simply the biggest match that WWE could possibly put together in 2024. It deserves the main event spot on the biggest show in WWE history.
It’s also why the top prize in the company has to be involved. Not because a match between The Rock and Roman Reigns needs the WWE Championship. It doesn’t. The WWE Championship needs The Rock and Roman Reigns.
For 1225 days, and counting, Roman Reigns has carried the WWE Universal Championship. He’s carried into into three consecutive WrestleMania main event matches. Not giving it a fourth would be a massive disservice to everything that WWE has done to build up the prestige of that Championship during this Era of Relevancy.
The WWE Championship will not main event WrestleMania unless it’s around the waist of the Tribal Chief. It just won’t.
Any match that goes on after Rock and Roman would be almost certainly doomed to fail. An experience that Triple H lived through at WrestleMania 18 when Chris Jericho and himself had the daunting task of following up The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan in front of a thoroughly exhausted audience.
WWE is in a tough spot here. Bringing in The Rock is too good of a business opportunity to pass up. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. If WWE can make this match happen this year, they should. They may not get another chance as the Rock is one of the busiest men in Hollywood.
Compounding the booking issues that lay before WWE is that it just doesn’t make any sense creatively to take the belt off Roman Reigns ahead of WrestleMania, no matter how it’s done.
Yes, it makes the main event in Philadelphia entirely too predictable, because (spoiler alert) The Rock is not going to win the WWE Championship. And yes, Cody Rhodes is getting the short end of the stick.
Not everyone is going to be happy. Not everyone is going to get what they want. It’s just how life goes.
Fear not Cody fans. Triple H knows how valuable The American Nightmare is to the company. His time will come. His time will come.
Patience, for both the American Nightmare and his adoring public, truly has to be a virtue.
You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and stay tuned for more in depth interviews with WWE and AEW talent here on Cageside Seats.