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MGP: WrestleMania 40 does not need to be ‘saved’ by The Rock

Welcome to another edition 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!

“I am a three-count, or a submission away from being the quarterback of the greatest, most prosperous era in the history of sports-entertainment.”

Life comes at you pretty fast. Not even 10 days ago Cody Rhodes won the Royal Rumble for the second year in a row and emphatically declared himself to be WWE’s new franchise player.

By then end of Raw last Monday night, seeds of doubt had already been firmly planted about whether Rhodes vs. Reigns II was as much of a slam dunk as it should have been. Then on Friday night, WWE made Cody go back on his most recent message to the WWE Universe.

“Those fans who have been with me from the beginning, and those fans who just jumped on, are completely vindicated by what just happened [at the Royal Rumble]. They are completely vindicated and they are completely validated,” Cody Rhodes said during the Royal Rumble Press Conference. “Here’s the news. Here’s the headline: I am the guy. And I have been the guy.”

No lies we’re seemingly told on that night. Cody Rhodes was the guy, or so it appeared. And then he wasn’t.

Just when it looked like the American Nightmare was not going to be denied his dream finish this year, top decision makers within WWE decided to bench their new starting quarterback right before the company’s Super Bowl.

While nothing has officially been officially announced, it certainly appears as though Roman Reigns will be defending his WWE Universal Championship in the night two main event of WrestleMania 40 against The Rock — instead of the man who earned that spot.

Why?

Well, that’s a loaded question.

Let’s start from the creative side of things, because what we all saw play out this past week has more plot holes than a Michael Bay summer blockbuster.

Cody Rhodes has been talking about finishing ‘the story’ for so long, WWE has forgotten what ‘the story’ was all about. Suddenly the American Nightmare coming back to win the title his Father never did is now a personal vendetta against Roman Reigns. An all out mission to tear down his entire empire, even if it means bringing in someone else to do the job.

Motivations can change. Stories can and have adapted before, but the best evolutions happen over time. That’s not what transpired here.

Seconds after pointing at the WrestleMania sign, igniting the pyro at Tropicana Field, Cody Rhodes looked up at Roman Reigns inside one of the Tampa Rays’ box suites and passionately made it known he was coming for the Head of the Table.

“WrestleMania 39 did happen. If you’re me, you can’t look at that, and you can’t run from it,” Rhodes said to the media just minutes after his historic Royal Rumble victory. “I want to be back in the back in the ring with Roman Reigns, and I want to finish the story.”

And yet, thanks to some mind-boggling creative decisions, Cody is running away from that fight. Which is why so many fans have taken to social media in his defense.

The problem isn’t booking The Rock vs. Roman Reigns for WrestleMania 40. The problem is how WWE went about it, because Cody Rhodes winning the Royal Rumble was the point of no return for him creatively.

Winners want the ball in their hands with the game on the line. They rise up to the challenge in the biggest moments. That’s what Cody Rhodes has been about since he returned to WWE. And yet, Friday night on SmackDown he was forced to go out in front of the entire WWE Universe and take himself out of the game — after literally putting himself through Hell for the company.

Rhodes battled through a torn pectoral muscle at Hell in a Cell 2022 and delivered an instant classic with Seth Rollins inside the demonic structure for which the PLE was named after. He then endured a grueling seven month rehabilitation, came back in spectacular shape and won the Royal Rumble.

Rhodes was screwed over at WrestleMania 39, denied a rematch and beaten to a bloody pulp on the Raw after ‘Mania, survived three encounters with Brock Lesnar and a seemingly endless feud with the Judgment Day that finally culminated with Cody leading his team to victory inside of WarGames. He then became the fourth man ever, and the first in nearly three decades, to win consecutive Royal Rumble matches.

He went through all of that, just to get another opportunity at Roman Reigns and his WWE Universal Championship. He finally earned his golden ticket, his shot at redemption, and he willingly handed over his opportunity to somebody else. Leaving himself with a consolation fight, for a consolation prize — as Roman Reigns would describe it.

“I love his dedication to our WWE universe, to fans, to anybody,” Chief Content Officer Triple H said about Rhodes during the Royal Rumble press conference. “He is the right human being. He is the right person. His passion for this, his dedication for this, is second to none. It’s bandied around as a term a lot, but he absolutely is the future of this for all the right reasons.”

Apparently some within WWE took Triple H’s words quite literally. Cody Rhodes appears to be the future, not the present. However, with all due respect, The Rock is neither of those things. And every time the creative team moves the goal posts on Cody and his story, WWE fans grow more and more impatient.

Some have already started to lose faith.

This weekend there was a massive online pushback to Rhodes stepping aside, so TKO’s newest board member could thrust himself into the main event spotlight. Hundreds of thousands of people took to X (formerly known as Twitter) and had #WeWantCody and #WoahMovement trending all day Saturday and Sunday.

Multiple current and former WWE Superstars were among the people who voiced their support for the American Nightmare. Including Ricochet, Logan Paul, Mustafa Ali and Matt Cardona — which could potentially be turned into angle this week according to new reporting from the Wrestling Observer.

There has been very little, if any, public recognition by WWE about the campaign. Instead the company soldiered on with it’s own social media campaign promoting Friday’s face-to-face encounter between The Great One and his World Champion cousin on every platform available.

Fear not though Cody fans, according to multiple outlets the virtual vitriol has not gone unnoticed and the situation will reportedly continued to be monitored. But unless something drastically changes between now and Thursday’s WrestleMania media and fan event in Las Vegas, Rhodes will be denied his crowning achievement for the second year in a row.

His onscreen reasoning for missing out on this year’s ‘Mania main event leaves much to be desired. Rhodes simply stated that he still has Roman in his crosshairs, but after seeking council with a certain 10-time World Champion, he’s decided that WrestleMania 40 is not the time nor place for his story to end.

Behind the scenes, The Rock was reportedly the one who pushed heavily for the spot next to Roman Reigns on the marquee. The justification being that a dream match up with the Head of the Table could be booked as a way to ‘save’ WrestleMania with both CM Punk and Brock Lesnar no longer available to work the event — for completely different and unfortunate reasons.

If this report holds any water whatsoever, than it’s truly the most infuriating and troubling aspect of anything that’s taken place in WWE in the past week. Allow me to stress, I’m speaking strictly from a creative standpoint here.

There are many who believe the move to bring in The Rock was done to draw attention away from the ongoing lawsuit and scandal surrounding former WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. If that’s true, then congratulations. Consider it mission accomplished for a weekend, but that story is only going to continue to dominate the news cycle in the weeks and months ahead with federal investigators reportedly speaking with several additional victims.

The company is simply not going to be able to sweep this under the rug, and no singular inept booking decision is going to make people forget the awful and inhuman actions that allegedly happened inside (and outside) of WWE Headquarters.

Meantime, the concept of having to ‘save’ WrestleMania is quite frankly a slap in the face to every man and woman who steps between those ropes on a weekly basis.

As I’ve written about before, the WWE creative team has an abundance of top level talent, many of whom do not have a clear storyline or role carved out for this year’s WrestleMania.

Randy Orton, LA Knight, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Jey Uso, Bobby Lashley — WWE has more organically over babyfaces than they know what to do with right now. Add in Seth Rollins, Cody Rhodes, and a healthy CM Punk and WWE has an entire starting All-Star starting line-up of fan favorites at it’s disposal.

Let’s not forget that Drew McIntyre is putting together some of the best work of his entire career right now and is showing WWE why the company should prioritize signing him to a long-term contract extension.

Then there’s GUNTHER. Are we supposed to believe that removing Cody Rhodes from his well-earned main event spot, so he can face Seth Rollins for a fourth time, is the best move to make when the Ring General exists?

Punk and Lesnar being out of the picture has left both GUNTHER and Rollins without a date for the big dance. A natural pivot would have been to move forward with the World Heavyweight Championship bout that was teased just ahead of Royal Rumble.

Meantime, Andrade just re-signed with WWE. Bron Breakker is seemingly about to get the call up to the main roster full-time. What’s the plan for those two gentlemen? What’s the plan for Damian Priest and the rest of Judgement Day?

I haven’t even mentioned the Women’s Division, yet.

It’s unclear if the The Rock’s apparent intrusion into the creative process will alter any other plans, but as things stand now, WrestleMania 40 could very well be the biggest night the women of WWE have ever had on the ‘Grandest Stage of Them All’.

If the crowd in Birmingham, Alabama Friday is any indication of the type of support Bayley is set to receive in the lead up to her match with IYO SKY, then Seth Rollins is going to be facing some stiff competition from more than just his wife and Rhea Ripley this year for the main event spot on night one in Philadelphia. Regardless of who his opponent ends up being.

The Role Model put on a master class in storytelling on SmackDown, beautifully selling the emotional betrayal of her now former Damage CTRL teammates. Always one to let others shine, Bayley now has every opportunity to showcase why she’s one of the greatest performers of the past decade, culminating with her first ever singles match at WrestleMania.

On top of the two likely World Title matches, it’s hard to envision Bianca Belair not having a significant role on the card this year. Especially with the launch of Love & WWE, the reality show on Hulu that stars the E-S-T and her husband Montez Ford, and her gracing the cover of the latest WWE2K video game.

Could we see a dream showdown between herself and Jade Cargill? Tiffany Stratton, who just officially signed with the Blue Brand, could also be an option. What about Naomi? It’s going to be very interesting to see what story unfolds for her in the weeks ahead.

Then there’s the Kabuki Warriors and their likely Tag Team Title defense against one or more of WWE’s budding women’s tag teams. There’s no reason why the ladies couldn’t have four or even five matches on the WrestleMania card this year.

It’s truly a testament to what Triple H has done with the on-screen product since taking over as Chief Content Officer, that the roster has this much depth and star power.

And yet, The Rock’s foray into the creative process could be just the first steps to a much larger takeover.

Reports are that Dwayne Johnson’s longtime business partner and former WWE creative member Brian Gewirtz is set to be heavily involved in the Rock’s creative plans moving forward. That reporting included at least some speculation that Gewirtz could be seen as the ‘Plan B’ if Endeavor were forced to move away from Triple H and his vision for the on-screen product.

It is interesting that just months after Vince McMahon was all but removed from the creative process by Endeavor CEO Ari Emanuel, so that Triple H could act without fear of sudden and constant change from others above him, WWE’s Chief Content Officer is potentially now dealing with a completely different creative incursion.

It’s difficult to say just how heavily involved Triple H was in the decision to move forward with booking The Rock and Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40, but given his endorsement of Cody Rhodes at the Royal Rumble, it’s not a farfetched assumption that he was simply overruled and out politicked in this situation.

The Rock vs. Roman Reigns is the biggest match that WWE could possibly put on the WrestleMania card. There’s no denying that. The question is when and why the decision was made to go in that direction.

When The Rock was brought on as a member of the TKO Board of Directors, one of the reported conditions of the deal was that he get his long coveted showdown with his cousin.

Deciding to change course and book that dream matchup at WrestleMania as a result of CM Punk’s injury can at least be understood in certain respects, if not outright condoned. But if higher ups had The Rock locked into the main event prior to Cody Rhodes winning the Royal Rumble, as this morning’s latest report indicates was the case, that’s just booking malpractice.

To make matters worse, there are some within WWE who not only believe The Rock pushed for the spot at ‘Mania but that he is also campaigning to defeat Roman Reigns and end his historic reign as WWE Universal Champion.

It’s been said before, but WWE has a very rare opportunity to truly “make” someone by having any number of talents on their active roster be the one to defeat Roman Reigns — Cody Rhodes being the name that is right at the top of that list.

I don’t care who it is. Having a 51 year-old come out of the board room and defeat the Tribal Chief in his prime is the wrong call.

There are many uncertain days ahead for WWE. The landscape of the company has been in a constant state flux since the first time Vince McMahon stepped down as CEO and it’s only gotten more turbulent following the sale to Endeavor.

If a world exists in the near future where a Dwayne Johnson led creative team is put in place, it doesn’t instill much faith that his first major order could potentially see himself going over the most dominant World Champion in the modern era for WWE.

As of now, nothing is set in stone. WWE still has time to do right by their ultimate team player and company guy. Will they? That may entirely depend upon you.

Bryan Danielson, Becky Lynch, Kofi Kingston were all undeniable by the time their WrestleMania moments came to pass, in large part due to loud and unwavering audience support.

If you’re on the Team Cody bandwagon, make your voices heard. Online outrage is one thing, but it’s the live crowd reactions that may force WWE’s decision. We’re going to find out soon if The Rock has competition for the crown of “People’s Champion”. And maybe that was the ultimate goal all along.

I truly hope that is the case. If we’re all being worked, than I say bravo. I will happily tip my cap, because it would at least show that no matter who is in charge, that WWE is prioritizing the talents of today rather than giving the legends of the past one more moment in the sun.

You can follow Rick Ucchino on X/Twitter and stay tuned for more in depth interviews with WWE and AEW talent here on Cageside Seats.

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