The whiplash of WWE news in January is still almost impossible to comprehend. We went from the announcement that Monday Night Raw would be moving to Netflix in 2025, followed almost immediately by bombshell allegations that Vince McMahon committed sex trafficking in a lawsuit that led to him stepping away from WWE in every capacity, with rumors swirling that federal charges could be brought against McMahon.
In an effort to change the narrative, the Royal Rumble gave fans the feel-good ending they wanted, with the promise of finally seeing Cody Rhodes “finish the story” in his attempt to win WWE’s biggest prize at WrestleMania. Less than a week later those good vibes were gone, and fans were actively booing The Rock in the middle of a WWE ring.
What the hell happened?
It starts with the story of Cody Rhodes
Cody Rhodes was WWE’s biggest signing of 2022 by a mile. Son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes (which Cody will remind you of at every corner), he was often ignored by management during his time in the company from 2006-2016.
It wasn’t until Cody left, saying he wanted to do more in the business, that he became a mega-star. Rhodes spent significant time in Japan, he worked for various independent promotions in the USA, and was one of the architects behind All Elite Wrestling, WWE’s biggest rival.
Rhodes was a legitimate star in AEW, but his journey in the company was coming to a close. Fans were growing weary of his matches, his promo style, and it was becoming apparent that Rhodes didn’t really jive with the future direction of the company he helped build.
When it was announced that Rhodes was returning to WWE, the hype behind him was unbelievable. This was partly a case of absence making the heart grow fonder, and part that he was a major “win” for the company. Rhodes was the first wrestler to leave AEW and head back to WWE, during a time where fans seem more intent on cheering for rival corporations that individual wrestlers.
Cody was a symbol, as much as anything else. Fans wanted him to succeed, and he quickly became the biggest babyface (good guy) in the company.
Rhodes returned on night one of WrestleMania to take on Seth Rollins, saying after the match that it was his desire to return to WWE to do what his father never could: Win the WWE Universal Championship.
It was widely believed that Cody would ascend to finally take the title off champion Roman Reigns, who has held the belt since 2020. As loved as Reigns is as a heel, fans had been growing weary of the title being perennially locked on Reigns, and wanted to see more intrigue with the belt on someone else.
The believe was that this title change might happen at Summerslam, but Cody Rhodes suffered a torn pectoral muscle that put him out of competition for nine months — stopping the story in its tracks.
A return to … greatness?
The 2023 Royal Rumble was the time to put the story back in action. Rhodes returned from injury, winning the Royal Rumble match and getting his opportunity to face Reigns at WrestleMania.
Surely this would be the time for the title to change hands, right? No. In a questionable decision WWE had Reigns beat Cody, hold the title, and rewind Cody’s story once more. A year of waiting resulted in an unsatisfying conclusion, and it was starting to feel once more like Rhodes wasn’t being taken seriously as a main event wrestler who could carry the title.
Restarting the story
There was legitimate intrigue surrounding the 2024 Royal Rumble. Cody Rhodes was in the match, but so was C.M. Punk — another returned star, one who legitimately eclipsed Rhodes in every way. Punk shared the same AEW exodus story, but to a greater degree, with many believing that Rhodes would be passed over for Punk.
That didn’t come to pass. For the second straight year Rhodes won the rumble match, and closed out this show by pointing to Roman Reigns in the box seats, teasing the promise of finally finishing the story started two years earlier.
Injury, issues, and The Rock
It’s here we get to what happened on Friday night. WWE was reeling from the realization that C.M. Punk was hurt and wouldn’t be able to compete at WrestleMania, paired with needing to sever all connections with Brock Lesnar, who was named as part of the McMahon sex trafficking lawsuit.
It was widely believed Lesnar would return at WrestleMania to challenge Gunther, that Punk would take on Seth Rollins, with Cody set to go for the title against Reigns. Now two of the three biggest matches were off, and WWE needed to find some pop.
Cody appeared on WWE Smackdown to tell fans that despite pointing to Reigns at the Royal Rumble, he had a change of heart. He would not be challenging for the championship, which came to the confusion of fans, at which point The Rock made his return.
Don’t let the crowd noise confuse you, because much of this was fake. Reports from inside the area were that there was very little actual cheering for The Rock coming in and taking Cody’s spot, and the “This is awesome” chants were piped in by WWE over the arena PA systems.
Some fans joined in, but this was largely manufactured enthusiasm. Fans were LIVID, booing The Rock both in person, and showing their clear displeasure on YouTube, where the above clip is now the most-disliked video WWE has ever put on the platform.
What happens now?
All signs point to us building for a Rock vs. Reigns WrestleMania, which is something fans wanted to see — but not at the expense of Cody Rhodes finishing his story. To make matters worse, this year’s show is taking place in Philadelphia, a city where fans wont hesitate to boo and destroy anything they love if it means registering their emotion.
It’s unclear if WWE had any idea this would have the fallout it did, but things are bad. This is a case of the company thinking it knows best, when in reality it’s dictating what its audience wants — without having any understanding of what they want.
This was a knee jerk reaction by WWE and the question now is, why? Was this simply because of the injuries? Did the company want to deflect attention away from the McMahon lawsuit, so it gave something new for people to hate? Whatever the reason, at a time where wrestling fans should be more excited than ever, they’re crushed.
Nobody knows what to do, other than boo.