Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns – A Second Chance At Destiny

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Two years ago, ahead of WrestleMania 38, I published only my second ever feature here on WP about Cody Rhodes’ impending move to WWE from AEW and how it would be a seismic shift in the wrestling landscape.

One year later, it appeared as though that belief was correct, as ‘The American Nightmare’ was set to challenge Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 39, and thus once again, I decided to write about how Rhodes had emerged as WWE’s next top superstar.

Heading into WrestleMania 39, I had little to no doubt in my mind that Reigns’ historic title reign would be coming to an end at the hands of Rhodes, however, infamously, that was not to be, as a Samoan Spike courtesy of Solo Sikoa followed by a spear from Reigns sent the SoFi Stadium into a state of shock. Cody was unable to “finish the story”, and Roman Reigns would subsequently surpass the 1,000-day mark as Undisputed WWE Universal Champion before engaging in Bloodline Civil War alongside Solo Sikoa against the former Undisputed WWE Tag Team Champions, The Usos.

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Roman would go on to successfully defend the title against Jey Uso and LA Knight in singles action that year, with the majority of his major angles alongside his relatives centring more around the dynamics of the Anoa’i Family and the title of ‘Tribal Chief’ more than the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.

As for Rhodes, he immediately entered into a heated feud with Brock Lesnar that extended into a trilogy, with many fans pointing out that both angles could’ve played out exactly the same, if not better, had Rhodes left WrestleMania 39 with the gold, but it simply wasn’t to be. Rhodes year would largely comprise of a number of side quests so to speak, however one moment during the October 13th episode of SmackDown offered fans hope that justice would be done next year, as Rhodes and Reigns stared each other down in a brief but significant encounter.

Reigns’ only title defence this year thus far came against LA Knight, AJ Styles, and Randy Orton in a Fatal Four Way at the Royal Rumble in January. The Royal Rumble, as an event, is of greater significance than just another Reigns defence here though, as after revealing that it was still his mission to right the wrong of Mania 39 and “finish his story” in Philadelphia, Cody Rhodes would once again outlast 29 other WWE Superstars to punch his ticket to WrestleMania 40, pointing at Roman Reigns during his celebration and seemingly making his decision known then and there.

Or so we thought.

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Enter Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who initially made his shocking return to WWE during the Day 1 episode of Monday Night RAW on January 1st, where he ended his promo by questioning whether fans believe he should sit at “the head of the table”, of course referencing his cousin Roman Reigns. The idea of a Roman Reigns vs The Rock WrestleMania main event had always been a topic of discussion and something that WWE had been trying to put together for years, and so The Rock teasing such a match had Cody Rhodes fans on edge, and their initial fears would eventually be confirmed.

On the February 2nd edition of Friday Night SmackDown, Cody Rhodes took the ring to officially make his decision, and with Roman Reigns sharing the ring with him during the promo, the direction seemed clear. The promo was impassioned, with Rhodes stating that he “had” Reigns at Mania 39 if not for the interference and that he’s still intent on “finishing the story”, and that he was coming for Roman Reigns.

“But not at WrestleMania.”

Out came The Rock, and all hope of Cody Rhodes finishing his story in Philadelphia seemed lost, with the prospect WWE World Heavyweight Championship match against Seth Rollins coming as little consolation to his fans.

Those fans would be the difference makers, however, as shortly after that episode of SmackDown, #WeWantCody began trending across social media, and that soon trickled into the live crowds. All of a sudden, Hollywood megastar and WWE legend The Rock was being booed by the WWE Universe during a build to what WWE had long hoped would be their biggest WrestleMania main event of all time.

The match wasn’t officially announced yet, though, which takes us to the WrestleMania 40 KickOff event on February 8th.  With both Roman Reigns and The Rock setting the stage for their main event clash in front of an incredibly mixed crowd, Cody Rhodes interrupted, labelling what was unfolding before him as “bullshit” before revealing that he’d made his decision.

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That decision was the one we all thought he’d made clear at the Royal Rumble in January, and thus the rematch was set: Roman Reigns vs Cody Rhodes for the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 40. A second chance to finish his story. A second chance to capture the title his father Dusty Rhodes never had the privilege of holding. A second chance to hand the title to his mother. This time, however, he wouldn’t be up against just Roman Reigns and his Bloodline stablemates Jimmy Uso and Solo Sikoa. He’d also have to deal with ‘The Final Boss’, that being a newly heel Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson, who slapped Rhodes at the KickOff event and officially joined The Bloodline shortly after.

The following events across WWE TV have been nothing short of electrifying. The Rock morphed into an evolved version of his original Hollywood Rock persona, creating one of the most impactful heels we’ve seen in WWE in recent history thanks to both his ability to switch from playful to downright menacing in moments, as seen during his Rock Concert segment during the March 15th episode of SmackDown and his legitimate status on TKO’s Board of Directors, which add another level of weight to the threats he makes towards his adversaries on screen. Labelling Rhodes’ fans “Cody Cry-babies” added a deeper level to their feud too, as The Rock’s belittlement of Cody showing genuine emotion sets the two apart as the representations of a bygone era of toxic masculinity and a present that is more accepting of men showing not always having to hide and supress their feelings.

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With the odds firmly stacked against Rhodes, he’d find an unlikely ally in a former rival. WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins also shared the stage with Rhodes, Reigns, and The Rock during the WrestleMania 40 KickOff event, with a match against Cody still being on the table up until ‘The American Nightmare’ made his decision official. Rollins would end up siding with Rhodes during the final confrontation, and on the subsequent episodes of WWE television, Rollins, who’d previously gone to war with Rhodes inside Hell in a Cell and was the storyline reason for his lengthy absence in late 2022, declared that he was more than prepared to side with Cody in the battle against The Bloodline, noting that it was a fight he felt he had to lend a hand in as the future of the industry would be on the line.

This led us towards a Bloodline double-header at WrestleMania 40, as not only would Reigns vs Rhodes main event Night 2, but the pair of Rhodes and Rollins would now also take on Roman Reigns and The Rock in the main event of Night 1.

As if the match couldn’t get any bigger already with the names involved, Reigns and The Rock decided to elevate the stakes to the next level. Should Rhodes and Rollins emerge from Night 1 victorious, Rhodes’ match against Reigns the following night would be free of any Bloodline interference, thus eliminating the sole factor that prevented Rhodes from getting the job done the year prior. On the flip side of that deal, however, should Reigns and The Rock defeat the babyface duo, the Undisputed WWE Universal Title match will be held under Bloodline Rules, with all bets being off regarding interference and general ringside chaos should that be the case. Before Rhodes had the chance to retort, Rollins accepted on the team’s behalf, and so the stakes were set. The biggest tag team match in the history of WrestleMania will play directly into the biggest main event in company history.

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The company have done a tremendous job at presenting the tag bout with the focus it deserves, with some of WWE’s most compelling segments of the past few years involving the aforementioned duos. The interactions between Rhodes and The Rock have been particularly must-see, as Rhodes’ status as a superhero-like babyface makes for the perfect counter to this new version of The Rock.

In no segment was this more apparent than in the closing moments of the March 25th episode of Monday Night RAW. After brawling to the backstage area with Jimmy Uso, Rhodes was jumped from behind by Solo Sikoa. Cody was able to get the better of Solo during their brief exchange though, only for The Rock get involved in the brawl, with the ensuing beat down likely to be viewed as an iconic WWE segment for years to come.

Earlier in the night, The Rock had interrupted Rhodes’ promo, where he simply whispered something into Cody’s ear before leaving in a disturbing move that had fans on edge. During the beat down to close the show, we’d learn that The Rock promised to make Rhodes bleed and that he did. In a move previously believed to be banned by the promotion, Rhodes bladed to draw blood, and adding in the rainy Chicago conditions, the scene made for a chilling piece of heel work that had many young fans legitimately concerned that The Rock had put a permanent end to their hero.

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In all of this mayhem, many fans started to point out that Roman Reigns had began to feel increasingly like the second-in-command to his cousin during this build, and this wasn’t helped by a largely lacklustre promo battle between ‘The Tribal Chief’ and Rhodes, whilst the majority of Rhodes’ segments with Dwayne were perceived as must-see. This, thankfully, would be put to rest during the go-home episode of RAW, as Reigns truly stamped his authority on this year’s WrestleMania build. After Bloodline Rules match between Rollins and Solo Sikoa had broken down, Rollins and Rhodes began to enact revenge upon The Rock, with Reigns having seemingly left the building earlier in the night. Just as it appeared that Rhodes would have his revenge for last week’s bloody assault however, Reigns remerged, and thus the numbers once again favoured The Bloodline.

Roman went on to deliver perhaps his best spear thus far to Rhodes, before The Rock pulled out one of Rhodes’ trademark weight belts, a makeshift weapon of great significance to this story, as The Rock has made it clear that rather than Rhodes delivering his newly won title to his mother, he intends to hand over a belt drenched in her son’s blood. The pair took turns to deliver brutal lashes to both Rhodes and Rollins, with a referee even ending up on the receiving end of the pair’s brutality after the show went off the air. The angle showed the fans a glimpse of what could be yet to come during Night 2’s main event should the match be held under Bloodline rules, and more importantly, reestablished Roman Reigns as The Bloodline’s head honcho, the shot-caller whose plan was perfectly executed to close out the show.

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The difference between this year’s build to Roman vs. Cody compared to last year couldn’t be more apparent. Many had rightly criticised the pair’s build to their match one year ago as feeling somewhat lacklustre considering the stakes and the apparent likelihood of one of the most significant title changes in company history. Perhaps in that sense, the result wasn’t as shocking on paper as it felt on the night, although this year certainly feels different. This year’s build feels like the culmination of an entire era for the promotion, with the events leading up to where we are now setting the company up perfectly for an Avengers: Endgame level finale to one of the greatest title reigns of all time. Should Roman and The Rock successfully put away Rhodes and Rollins on Night 2, the implementation of Bloodline Rules could see all bets being off regarding potential interference, with Jimmy Uso and Solo Sikoa seeming nailed on, whilst outside members of the family such as Jacob and Zilla Fatu could also make their presence felt.

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This extends both ways however, and whilst a Jey Uso cameo also feels like a certainty, Rhodes may also gain allies in the form of WWE legends John Cena and Stone-Cold Steve Austin, as the company’s greatest heroes could look to finally put over 1,300 days of dominance to an end. Cena’s involvement would likely see the former 16-time World Champion seek revenge against Solo Sikoa, who dispatched the leader of the Cenation in dominant fashion the last time John appeared onscreen for WWE at Crown Jewel. Austin’s involvement writes itself too, as who better to open up a can of whoop-ass on The Rock but his arch nemesis, creating the perfect opportunity for one final iconic Stone-Cold Stunner delivered from ‘The Texas Rattlesnake’ to ‘The People’s Champion’.

All of this will hopefully culminate in the closing scenes that many had hoped for at WrestleMania 39, with Cody holding aloft the title he’d dreamed about watching his father winning since he was a youngster after putting away the previously unbeatable Reigns with a number of Cross Rhodes.

The win would officially confirm what many fans already believe Rhodes to be for WWE, that being their next “guy”, a flag bearing babyface that can feature front and centre on all of their promotional material, a consistently performing superstar that works every show possible to ensure that the company deliver on their promise of putting on the best night of entertainment possible week in week out. That’s the man that Rhodes has already become for WWE in the eyes of many fans since arriving from AEW, but defeating Reigns would be as good as WWE announcing him as their heir to John Cena themselves.

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As my preview of their first bout last year drew to a close, I labelled the match era-defining, and one that offered WWE the chance to pull the trigger on creating their next megastar. Pull the trigger they did not, but that only makes their rematch this Sunday all the more important, as it now feels like a true now-or-never moment for Rhodes being the one to dethrone Reigns. If the unthinkable does happen, it’d be incredibly difficult to get fans invested for a third showdown between the pair, and so WWE would likely push forward with having Reigns smash records whilst searching for a suitable contender over the coming months, perhaps even years. Whilst The Bloodline’s ‘Wiseman’ Paul Heyman claimed that the iconic faction’s story was in the bottom of the third inning last summer, Rhodes let it be known during the March 11th episode of RAW that “we are in the last inning.”, I for one, certainly hope he’s correct.

What the future would hold for Reigns remains to be seen, with a potential match against The Rock down the line still seeming like something that’s on the company’s agenda, although a lengthy absence would also be expected for both. Regardless, it’s hard to look at the prospect of a Cody Rhodes-led WWE product and not be excited for the possibilities of clashes against CM Punk, GUNTHER, Bron Breakker, Andrade, and many more upcoming names across both brands. All that’s left to do now is sit back and watch the madness unfold. There will undoubtedly be twists and turns along the way, but should everything go to plan, WWE could close out the weekend in Philadelphia with one of their most iconic moments of all time. The end of an era and the beginning of another. A destiny fulfilled. ‘The Final Boss’ defeated. ‘The Head of the Table’ beheaded. ‘The American Nightmare’ achieving his dream. It has to be now. 

“When one good story ends, an even better one begins.”

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