Sorry for being late to the party. I know this topic has been beaten to death one million times over. A particular virus sank its nasty claws into me, and that funny thing called life got in the way for a while.
“Finish the story.”
That was Cody Rhodes’ mantra heading into WrestleMania 39 as a capacity crowd in So-Fi Stadium and millions watching around the world believed he would indeed finish the story. Then, to the shock of everyone, Roman Reigns pinned Cody Rhodes in the main event of what is touted as the most successful WrestleMania in history.
WWE seemingly bricked a wide-open layup on purpose, but why?
If one stares at the magic eye poster of WWE programming long enough, eventually, they will see the sailboat. For all of Vince McMahon’s creative decisions, both inspired and uninspired, there are three things you can always count on.
- Vince McMahon lives for big moments. The bigger, the better.
- Vince McMahon will ride that bike until the wheels fall off.
- Vince McMahon wants his characters to earn their keep.
McMahon is romantic about his brand of pro wrestling storytelling. Sure, he has crutches like any booker or writer, but once a wrestler is unquestionably the company’s primary star, he is all in on that performer until that bike can no longer ride.
From the moment The Shield broke up to the day he was reintroduced as the “Head of the Table,” it took WWE six years to alter Roman Reigns’ career trajectory from “change the channel heat” to fans finally acknowledging “The Tribal Chief.”
A wrestler in the lead role in WWE is not only about dollars and cents, though it’s a big part of the equation. The wrestler also must have the unqualified trust of Vince McMahon. Trust doesn’t come easy when your M.O. is taking “Calculated risks.”
McMahon has been impressed and excited by many wrestlers over the years. We’ve all seen it. Big Show, Kofi Kingston, Mable, Nathan Jones, and more. However, for whatever reason, each wrestler lost McMahon’s confidence somewhere along the way.
Roman Reigns is trusted more than any other talent on the roster. Vince McMahon is not taking him out of the top spot until he is 100% satisfied with the next contender, i.e., Rhodes.
100% satisfied. Not 99.9%.
Many have suggested Rhodes’ coronation was sacrificed to get Roman’s title reign to 1000 days. There is some truth to that; however, it goes deeper than a marketing slogan. McMahon despises anything that comes off as old, so WWE stopped numbering WrestleMania events for several years.
It’s been a long time since someone had an uninterrupted multi-year world title run in the same vein as Sammartino, Backlund, and Hogan. All three legends achieved their historic title reigns in the 60s, 70s, and 80s. McMahon wants to modernize that statistic.
1000 days and beyond for Roman Reign’s title run is long enough to make him an all-time great. It also eliminates the need to reference the historic title reigns from long ago, allowing Reigns to be the benchmark of championship success for the next few decades.
Even though fans vehemently believe it was Cody Rhodes’ time on April 2, he’s still earning his stripes in the mind of Vince McMahon. Rhodes needs more mountains to climb and adversity to overcome before he’s worthy of the brass ring. Let’s look at his accomplishments with an objective eye.
Rhodes beat Seth Rollins in three thrilling PLE matches before going down to a gruesome pectoral injury, which produced one of the gutsiest performances in history. Seven months later, Rhodes returned to win the Royal Rumble. After a few matches here and some great promos there, Rhodes arrived at WrestleMania and lost his first match in a year.
Looking at Rhodes’ accomplishments without context, he beat the same guy three times and only won the Royal Rumble because he drew #30 and eliminated Gunther, who entered at #1. McMahon’s vision for Cody Rhodes is either genius or history repeating itself in the worse way possible.
In 1993, WWE desperately needed a new marquee star when Hulk Hogan left wrestling for the bright lights of Hollywood. On the fourth of July, Lex Luger, who spent the last six months as a narcissistic bodybuilder, instantly became a star-spangled hero when he body slammed the massive Yokozuna aboard the U.S.S. Intrepid.
Luger did the unthinkable, excited the fanbase, and went on a country-wide tour via the stars and stripes-clad Lex Express to campaign for a title shot. The moment was set for SummerSlam in Detroit, MI, where Lex Luger beat Yokozuna to win the WWE Title amidst a confetti-filled celebration.
Well, the confetti part is accurate, and Luger did beat Yokozuna…by count out, meaning the title didn’t change hands.
At the eleventh hour, McMahon called an audible and postponed Luger’s coronation until seven months later, at WrestleMania 10, in Madison Square Garden. The goal was to make Luger’s moment even bigger while earning a more significant return on his investment. However, the idea was doomed at conception.
SummerSlam saw Luger purposely and illegally knock Yokozuna to the floor with his steel-infused forearm. He didn’t even try to get him back into the ring and celebrated the count-out victory with the pomp and circumstance that rivaled New Year’s Eve in Times Square. It not only disillusioned fans but was awful dumb.
WWE thought they were going to make a white hot babyface even hotter. Instead, they were stuck trying to reheat a severely cooled-down iron plate. Plus, a Calgary native named Bret Hart was still popular despite the carpet being pulled from under him in the lead role.
Instead of all eyes on Lex Luger, fans were split over who they wanted as champion until they weren’t. The division slowly tilled overwhelmingly in favor of the ‘Hitman.’ Come WrestleMania 10, Bret Hart would leave MSG as WWE Champion, with Luger never getting near the title again.
McMahon got it wrong.
Luger was suddenly thrust into the lead role, which didn’t give the audience long to get to know him. Failing to put the belt on Luger gave the audience time to compare their heroes. On the other hand, Hart was a proven commodity with years of fantastic matches and a never say die persona that resonated with fans.
Hart had earned his keep while Luger body-slammed a big dude on a holiday. No one would have made that correlation if Luger had been crowned the first time. Instead, the delay exposed and diluted Luger’s stardom as time passed.
Cody Rhodes is an American-clad performer with a more versatile Sami Zayn nipping at his heels. Rhodes is a better wrestler than Luger, so things may be different now.
Roman Reigns’ historic title run was never going to end at WrestleMania 39. It won’t end at SummerSlam either. Such a monumental championship reign only ends at an anniversary-level event, WrestleMania 40. Besides, what’s one more year? At least, that’s what Vince McMahon is thinking.
It will be commendable if WWE can keep Cody Rhodes as hot as he was at WrestleMania 39 for another calendar year. A Rhodes title win under these circumstances will prompt the question, “What was the point,” but at least no damage will be done.
What if Rhodes’ popularity fades past the point of no return? WWE would need to change course, thus admitting they failed Rhodes.
Now comes what history tells us is the unlikely scenario. You know, the one where Cody Rhodes becomes even more popular than he already is, making for the mega moment of mega moments when he dethrones Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40. If WWE can pull off such a miracle, the folly of WrestleMania 39 will be a distant memory.
Cody Rhodes’ path to the championship resets at Backlash in San Juan, Puerto Rico when he takes on Brock Lesnar. Many feel there is no way Rhodes loses this one, but don’t be so sure. Rhodes going on a losing streak is not outside the realm of possibility. Knocking someone down a few times before they rise like a phoenix is an essential story in WWE’s playbook.
The Cody Rhodes saga has been beaten worse than Little Mac pummeling Glass Joe. Ultimately, WWE made the wrong call. When a promotion has an opportunity to crown someone, you crown ’em. Moments like these come around infrequently. 1000 days and beyond for Roman Reigns sounds nice, but it won’t increase the company’s bottom line.
But wait, a new wrinkle has been added to the mix.
WWE introduced a new World Heavyweight Championship on Monday. The physical title draws inspiration from the Big Gold Belt. Roman Reigns will bring the WWE Undisputed Universal Title to the brand that drafts him, leaving the other show with the new world title. SmackDown will kick off WWE Draft on Friday and continue on Raw.
The new world champion will be determined on May 27 at Night of Champions in Saudia Arabia. The 27th is also Roman Reigns’ 1000th day as champion. While plans can change, Reigns is not scheduled to wrestle on the show. If this is an important milestone, why is Reigns not on the show, especially now since the new title disputes the undisputed.
Cody Rhodes has captivated the WWE audience. While tempting as it might be, he can not win the new world title. Doing so will come off as a consolation prize. It would dilute the new title’s importance and Rhodes’ quest to win the championship that eluded his father.
In storytelling, many say the journey is more important than the destination, while others argue the reverse. For Cody Rhodes, they are both now equally important. Soon enough, we will know if his loss was just the end of another chapter, as Triple H put it, or if it’s an American nightmare to be continued.