For now, it appears that WWE is moving ahead with Roman Reigns and Cody Rhodes in the main event for WrestleMania XL following an official press conference on Thurs., Feb. 8, in Las Vegas to kick off the event.
After a four-way confrontation involving Reigns, Rhodes, The Rock, and Seth Rollins that saw The Rock slap Rhodes, “The American Nightmare” said he would challenge Reigns for the Undisputed Universal Championship at WWE’s grand spectacle.
“They’re harming Cody,” said Solomon. “It’s a mess.”
Like many wrestling enthusiasts, Solomon has been confused by WWE’s recent presentation of Rhodes and his storyline, which saw him reconsidering finishing his saga by winning the WWE Championship — the title that eluded his father, Dusty Rhodes.
It began with an unexpected challenge from Seth Rollins, followed by Rhodes’ initial decision to step aside for The Rock to take his place against Reigns, a decision which stunned fans. Many thought the WrestleMania Kickoff press conference would provide a clear picture regarding who would be facing whom on wrestling’s biggest stage. Instead, the media presser left some wiggle room for the adage, “Card subject to change.”
The hour-long press event culminated when Rollins sought a response from Rhodes regarding his challenge for the World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania. However, Reigns intervened, claiming Rhodes’ indecision cost him his moment against the Tribal Chief, and asserted his authority to decide his opponent.
From there, Reigns announced his choice to face The Rock, who promptly accepted the challenge while making derogatory remarks towards Rhodes’ supporters. Rhodes, perhaps feeling slighted, arrived and called the situation “bullshit” before deciding to redeem his Royal Rumble win for a shot at Reigns’ title. Tensions escalated as The Rock slapped Rhodes, provoking a heated reaction before authority figures, including Paul “Triple H” Levesque, came to defuse the situation.
When it was over, Reigns and Rock, who were planning to go to war against each other moments earlier, left together, telling Levesque to fix it.
Solomon, who worked as a writer for WWE’s website and its various magazines from 2000-2007, felt that the company was perhaps flying by the seat of its pants as opposed to coming into the show with a solid plan. He reasoned that WWE may have used this event to gauge whether it was going in the right direction with Rock and Reigns, with Rhodes as a potential Plan B if fans didn’t respond as the company had hoped. While The Rock seemed to lean into the jeers he received, indicating a potential heel turn, Solomon noticed a shift in reaction to Rhodes from those in attendance at the T-Mobile Arena.
“They’re weakening him now,” said Solomon. “Because for the first time ever, my worst nightmare of all this, for the first time ever... thanks to this whole mess, you actually had a portion of the crowd that was booing Cody.”
After Rhodes initially stepped aside for The Rock on SmackDown more than a week ago, WWE.com framed it as Rhodes had refused to fight Roman Reigns. In the past, one of the criticisms levied against Rhodes by this writer was his hesitancy to get physical when necessary. Last year, in his initial confrontation with Reigns, Rhodes stated that he did not come out to engage in reckless negotiations.
After The Rock slapped him at the press conference, Rhodes did not pursue his aggressor with full fury, a fact CM Punk pointed out in his role as an announcer for the event.
“He has to start swinging back,” said Punk of Rhodes. “You cannot let a man slap you in the face and get away with it. I would be ripping out eyeballs even if I had one arm.”
It would be a shame if WWE loses what they have with Rhodes, given how the son of The American Dream has caught on with fans like few babyfaces have in recent years. According to Solomon, Rhodes is an organically beloved babyface who could be the next John Cena or Steve Austin. How WWE moves beyond this is a mystery for the wrestling historian, but he says it’s vital for WWE to put as much shine back on its number one good guy.
“I’m very confused by what I just saw,” said Solomon. “So I almost have to see where this goes because the number one goal here should be keeping Cody as strong as humanly possible.”