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By Mike Johnson on 2024-02-03 10:16:00

As you saw with the finish of last night’s WWE Friday Night Smackdown, unless there is yet another major change in plans, Cody Rhodes will not be “finishing the story” at Wrestlemania 40 in Philadelphia, PA.

Numerous WWE sources have concurred that the decision to go with The Rock vs. Roman Reigns Mania weekend, expected to be officially announced this Thursday in Las Vegas for the Philly event, was a push by The Rock to move into the Mania main event, backed by top TKO Group Holding execs.

While WWE had been expertly building to a Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns rematch, some sources believe it was done by Johnson to, as one source stated, “save Wrestlemania” after CM Punk and Brock Lesnar, for very different reasons, were taken off the board from the biggest weekend of the year.  

Others believe that Rock pushed for the move and likely would have no matter what, given his massive $30 million stock payday is, in part, contingent on him hitting certain milestones.  Sources familiar with the situation believe one of those milestones was Johnson returning to the ring this year and that Johnson pushed for the match to happen sooner than later with the idea he felt Reigns vs. The Rock was the far bigger attraction for the company, 

So, it’s very possible that no matter who was injured or not, Cody vs. Reigns would not have taken place because The Rock was back in the game and the most important members of company management were going to acquiesce to Dwayne Johnson’s ideas.

With Johnson’s power as a member of the TKO Board of Directors, his Hollywood standing and the backing of Ari Emanuel, Nick Khan and others, the decision was made to go with Rock vs. Reigns as the headline bout, believing it would be a greater attraction for the mainstream and also help push some positive momentum for the company.  

One source compared it to Johnson’s attempts to take over the overall creative for the DC film franchise, noting that he came in originally as an actor to portray Black Adam, but by the time that process was done, had changed the original trajectory for the plans from playing the opposition for Shazam!, instead pushing that Adam should have his own film so he could eventually be set up to face Superman instead and even went over the heads of executives to their superiors to get ideas approved.  Johnson’s long-game was to gain control of the entire DC film franchise, only to lose that attempt when Warner Bros. Discovery gave that power instead to James Gunn and Peter Saffron.

But, in WWE, there isn’t going to be anyone that’s not going to at least consider Dwayne Johnson’s ideas.  He's The Rock and has a big history of selling tickets and merchandise and movies and at the end of the day, Wrestlemania is about spectacle and The Rock equals spectacle. is told this wasn’t done to target and politic Cody out of his main event out of malice, but out of the belief that Johnson was the best idea to make money now and respect his new position with the company’s parent company.  This was a strategic move to give Johnson more political power overall and to show Endeavor’s faith in his involvement and that even Paul Levesque, who has done an admirable job as the Chief Creative Officer, would "lose that power struggle with Johnson at this point", as one source surmised.

One source confirmed to that former Senior Vice President of Development at Johnson’s Seven Bucks Productions, Brian Gewirtz will be in the mix as the voice representing Johnson in the WWE Creative process going forward.  There are some who believe Gewirtz, who at one point was one of the longest tenured WWE Head Writers, will be around physically at least for major shows going forward, could even be there as a “Plan B” if Endeavor ever needs to pivot WWE's direction and go with a Johnson-backed creative team down the line.  

One WWE talent privately wondered to this morning if perhaps Johnson was going to be the plan all along but he hadn’t committed until late in the game, which made them wonder where CM Punk would have been positioned if he hadn’t torn his tricep, and whether that injury prevented Punk from learning he too, would have lost that Wrestlemania main event slot.  There’s no way to ever know that but it was something that has to be pondered given how quickly WWE turned the Wrestlemania creative direction for Johnson.

As far as the future for Cody, the current plan is for him to face Seth Rollins at Wrestlemania 40, a direction change that a lot of readers we’ve heard from resent given that he’s been pushing to “finish his story” all year, that finishing that story was in reach after a Royal Rumble win and that even the WWE 2K24 video game (which Cody is on the cover for) is themed in part around fans “finishing” their own story.  For Rhodes, as a character, to then have that moment in reach and not choose Reigns for Wrestlemania is as silly as Han Solo throwing away the keys to the Millenium Falcon and leaving it behind.    Beating Seth for a title doesn't end Rhodes' story, especially since he's publicly stated that he needs to win the title his father held and had taken away for that story to end - and the lineage of that belt is carried by Paul Heyman to the ring for Roman Reigns in 2024.

I don’t think anyone, especially privately, would deny that within WWE, forces beyond Rhodes’ control changed the board game - and that’s the reality of the new WWE.  The old rules don’t matter and Endeavor is going to do what they believe will maximize their business, and their choices may indeed prove to be correct, even if they are unpopular with the audience that has been ravenously following Cody and supporting him the last several years.

The reality is this: while the story was primed to climax at Wrestlemania 40, there were already some in the company openly talking about the idea of Cody winning the World Heavyweight Championship and then challenging the winner of Roman vs. Rock for Summerslam in a title unification bout so that Cody could finally, really, we promise this time, finish the story.  

That sounds nice in theory but given there is a young audience currently in love with the WWE product and in Rhodes in particular, not giving them what they want - a Rhodes vs. Reigns showdown that they have been all but promised for a year, is quite the creative choice and leap - and one that could prove to be the moment where WWE disenfranchises some of their fans.  For all the things that upset fans in the last week, rightfully, about the company, none of the complaints were about the storylines, but overnight, that has changed drastically.

It wasn't all that long ago that WWE fans in Philadelphia rejected a Roman Reigns Rumble win because they wanted Daniel Bryan.  Even with The Rock making a surprise return to endorse him, Philly booed what was forced upon them.  Now, in 2024, WWE has primed Cody Rhodes and will instead walk back into Philly with Rock vs. Roman.  Under any other circumstance, that’s a spectacle and an attraction that most fans would celebrate, but in this instance, WWE may have booked themselves into the one scenario where fans don’t want it - because they wanted WWE to finish the story they had already expertly written.

In 2014, WWE found themselves in a bind when CM Punk walked out of the company.  They had no choice but to go with Daniel Bryan, who the audience badly wanted to be the main eventer that year, and it led to some great moments at Wrestlemania 30 when the company just embraced what the audience wanted.  This year, the company has done the opposite.  They had the hero the audience wanted to embrace and then removed him from that great moment the audience wanted.  Whether they will attempt to rectify that for the fans that are let down this morning, possibly by reconfiguring plans again to maneuver Cody back in the mix with Rock and Reigns or just stay the course they have now laid out remains to be seen, but three things are obvious.

One, this may prove to make Cody the modern day equivalent of what Daniel Bryan was in 2014, a star that the audience mobilizes for and gets behind because they are so sympathetic for him. 

Two, for a portion of the WWE audience today, it doesn’t matter what The Rock’s name is.  To them, based on the overnight reaction, if the name isn’t Cody, it’s not going to matter, because that's not the story they want to see.   

Three, to another portion of the audience, it will matter that Dwayne Johnson is the main eventer, because it's The Rock.  That's what Endeavor and The Rock are counting on - that Johnson's star power will empower the company to the biggest Wrestlemania of all time.

Once more, what happens behind the scenes is as suspenseful as anything that plays out inside the squared circle - and we will see how this story is finished.


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