Cody Rhodes failed to defeat Roman Reigns in the main event of WrestleMania 39. I and many others have talked about the disappointment of this for a full 24 hours now. I’ve ranted on my post-show podcast and had conversations with virtually every friend of mine who is into pro wrestling—all with the same idea: we’re afraid WWE has no ability to do something that will equal or exceed the potential of that WrestleMania victory.
Effectively, no matter what WWE has in store, it will be worse. That is, of course, IF there actually are any plans in mind to follow this up. Mind you, history has shown that there are very many instances of WWE booking something in this direction just to never reach a proper conclusion. Whether it be due to an injury or just “plans change” when enough time passes for them to not be interested anymore, they move on and retroactively say something like “Cody Rhodes was never the guy.”
The immediate defense Triple H had for this booking decision is something I want to specifically dissect here, mostly because I don’t buy it for one damn second and I don’t think you should, either.
About Rhodes losing, Triple H said the following: “It’s always interesting to me when people say ‘how could that happen’ or ‘how could they do that in that moment’. It’s almost perfectly spelled out in this story. ‘I need to finish the story.’ In the WWE, the story never finishes. Tomorrow night on Raw, the story continues. The story takes another chapter. We just got to the end of the chapter. But the story continues and that is where the story gets interesting to me. That is what is the most amazing thing about our business. The story never ends.”
My initial impressions of that phrasing are the following:
- Of course you’re going to say “but keep tuning in.” You’re not going to ever say “and if you don’t like it, you probably won’t like what we have in store for the follow-up.” Every company in every situation is always going to say what’s coming up next is even better, so there isn’t any real value there.
- This reeks of “you all thought we were telling a different story than we really are telling.”
- Once again, as per usual, the philosophy is “No matter what mistakes we make, you fans should always give us the benefit of the doubt that we will sort it out. Even if it is 10 years later, you should have faith we will eventually get around to making it worthwhile. And if we don’t, hopefully, you’ll have moved on to something else that you care about more and you’ll forgive and forget.”
- For Triple H to say the most interesting thing for him is this part of the story, that means he enjoys the chase more than the conclusion. By proxy, that means the finish isn’t as exciting as the journey. And if you’ve watched J.J. Abrams projects in the past like Lost and The Force Awakens, that should scare you, because he does the same thing. He likes “the mystery box” of setting up questions with no answers, and wants the journey of the unknown to be fun, even if the resolution is so bad that it upsets people for wasting their time.
I am very much in the camp of thinking that WWE feels they are telling the Roman Reigns story here, rather than the Cody Rhodes story, and that is one of the main reasons why WrestleMania ended the way it did.
Note how Triple H didn’t say “The story continues for Cody Rhodes” or “We just got to the end of the first chapter for Cody Rhodes.” And it wouldn’t shock me if in their minds, the next chapter of the story is Roman Reigns reaches 1000 days as champion because it is just too tempting to pass up. Factor in that they can do a swerve for WrestleMania and be happy that they “got” everyone, and bank on that as proof that they’re “unpredictable”, combined with their moronic company mantra of the past 15 years of “It doesn’t matter if you boo or cheer the product, so long as you’re making noise”, I think they DO think this is good storytelling and the right decision. I think they’re also, in their minds, impervious to criticism, because anyone who doesn’t like it “doesn’t get it” and “isn’t a true fan” or is “too impatient to just let the story play out.”
Did you hear the disdain when he responded to Jon Alba saying that they were dragging it out? To immediately say “To drag things out sounds negative. It’s not ‘drag things out.’ It’s telling a story.” and go on the defensive to say that “If I didn’t feel like we had a compelling story on the other side, it wouldn’t be the decision” means that struck a chord.
But again…is there an actual end to this story? Or, more so, is there a resolution of any kind that will be satisfying? Because yes, technically, the overall story of WWE doesn’t end. But the individual stories do.
Trace the WWE Championship back in time. Hulk Hogan beats Iron Sheik. Drops the title to Andre the Giant, who gives it to Ted DiBiase, who gets stripped of it. DiBiase loses in the tournament finals to Randy Savage. Is that a conclusion? No. Because Macho Man turns heel and loses it to Hogan. Full circle. But that’s not the conclusion, as he drops it to Ultimate Warrior to crown “the next Hogan.” But Warrior loses to Sgt. Slaughter so that he can drop it to Hogan…so he can drop it to Undertaker…who can drop it back to Hogan…and then, it is vacated. Okay, so Ric Flair wins the 1992 Royal Rumble to set up…Savage…and then Flair…who loses to Bret Hart, who drops it to Yokozuna who immediately drops it to Hulk Hogan – who drops it to Yokozuna so he can lose it back to Bret Hart. Holy hell. It just keeps going, right?
But look right there. What is the story of Yokozuna’s title reign? “He won the Royal Rumble, beat the champion, lost it immediately after, won it back and then lost it back to the guy he originally beat.” The end. There is no more story for him after that.
And what’s scary about the current climate is that whether it is WWE’s plan or not—as we all know full well injuries and such can force plans to change—Cody Rhodes finishing the story may have very well actually already ended with “and he came up short because his story is a tragedy. Not every hero wins. Too bad.”
I ask, is that good enough for you?
Don’t get me wrong. I love a good tragedy here and there. Not every story in every form has to end with a perfectly wrapped-up bow of happily ever after. The Godfather is not a happy story.
But I’m worried WWE has no better alternative in mind right now and that they WON’T be able to think of a better one. And that we’re going to get something similar to the Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar feud.
Remember that? How Reigns was the guy built up to beat Lesnar, who had ended The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak specifically so he could look even stronger so when Roman beat him, Roman would be the guy? And then, Seth Rollins cashed in, and Reigns had to wait? Remember all the follow-up matches for YEARS where Reigns was definitely going to have this story finish at WrestleMania 34, only to lose, and then follow it up with another loss at Greatest Royal Rumble, because if we’re meant to believe they planned this garbage out, they truly thought all those losses and 3+ years would be better off waiting until SummerSlam?
And then, what happened? Reigns had to take time off, so the belt just went back to Lesnar at Crown Jewel with a massive reset button, and it took several more years to do multiple “last time ever” matches with Reigns cheating to beat Brock. Yaaaaaay?
Time to address the headline of this post. How does Cody Rhodes finish the story?
If I’m fantasy booking it, my hands are already tied. They botched it. There is no possible way in my mind that they can capture the same magic that would have happened at WrestleMania. All they can hope for is a consolation “next best option” at the most.
Best case scenario right now, in my mind—taking note that this is NOT AT ALL what I would want them to do, but my prediction—is that their game plan follows this format:
- They thought Cody needed to lose to garner more sympathy. They’re worried if he had won at the #30 spot (which they were too tempted to pass up) and after beating Rollins thrice, that fans would reject him as champion too fast. So they wanted him to suffer a loss because a hero is made better for getting knocked down first and getting back up, rather than just vanquishing the villain.
- So they had him lose at WrestleMania to incite a riot. IE, they want that Yes Movement thing from Daniel Bryan not winning Royal Rumble. They want to build this to a fever pitch and they’re willing to risk him losing momentum if they drop the ball.
- Having Brock Lesnar beat him down is a reiteration of that, as well as a means to kill time and separate Rhodes from Reigns. This gives Reigns time off to not have to work the next month, nor Backlash, and we won’t see him again until King & Queen of the Ring.
- Cody fights Brock. He gets his payback. Maybe. If we’re lucky. And by going through Brock, he earns his right to still call himself the next challenger.
- At King & Queen of the Ring, in Saudi Arabia (ugh), the day that Reigns has reached 1000 days as champion, Cody wins the title. Or, at worst, SummerSlam.
The worst case scenarios, which I think stand a very, very strong chance of happening, would be any of the following game plans:
- The story is basically over. Rhodes wasn’t the guy to beat Reigns. The story they wanted to tell was of him being an interesting challenger, not a champion. He was meant to lose and now that he did, it’s time to transition him to the back of the line. Someone else, likely who they haven’t even decided on yet, is their future plan to beat Roman, and only “when they feel good and ready to do it”, which they probably haven’t decided on, either. Basically, “I don’t know. Shut up and enjoy the ride and stop complaining. And if it works out, great. If it doesn’t, well, shut up and enjoy the next ride.”
- Brock was put out there as a distraction. Whether Cody beats him or not, he’s just the next person Rhodes will feud with, while someone else will eventually work opposite Reigns. By that time, WWE is hoping you’ll have given up on the Rhodes train and you’ll support him against whatever alternative next phase is (maybe against Austin Theory for the United States title as a consolation prize or something), but they’re crossing their fingers The Next Guy vs. Roman Reigns will be more enticing to you than continuing the Rhodes thing.
- Brock was put out there to reiterate that Rhodes isn’t the guy. Lesnar is going to beat him down and the end of this story is that if you’re a Rhodes, you are NOT going to be champion. You can only come close, but you have to come up short. And in their minds, that’s a good story with a good conclusion.
I don’t think WWE plans to have Rhodes spend the next full year working his way back up to winning the Royal Rumble again for a second shot at Reigns, where he’ll beat him inside Lincoln Financial Field. This isn’t John Cena losing to The Rock so that he can skip to the next WrestleMania to beat him.
Ultimately, I think their true game plans are one of three ideas that we’ll see play out by the time SummerSlam ends. Either they wanted to have Cody lose so that people would rile up even more and he’d win it after Roman reaches 1000 days, they don’t want Rhodes to win it at all and they think his failure is a good story and we’ll enjoy “whatever they come up with next” and move on, or they have no idea at all what they’re doing, booked Reigns to retain on the fly due to cold feet, and they are quite literally hoping the magic answer will fall in their laps at some point in the future, but they’re only focused on the right now because of this Endeavor deal.
After being a WWE fan for over 30 years, I don’t know. I remember vividly when Triple H said Braun Strowman would replace Reigns against Goldberg in “a unique way” only for it to be casually mentioned in a quick card rundown the night before. And I remember when Triple H said Rhea Ripley losing to Charlotte Flair that same WrestleMania would make sense if we all just gave them a couple months to “let the story play out”—only for Ripley to take a pinfall from Io Shirai to prevent Flair from looking weak, then spend a full year doing nothing, to beat Asuka for the title and drop it back to Flair, to come around to this Mania as the supposed epic conclusion for all that.
I can’t say I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. What about you?