(xt) The Rock vs. Roman Reigns: The right match at the wrong time

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) – From the moment the iconic “If you smell…” echoed through the speakers of Legacy Arena Friday night, 10,000 people erupted into euphoric disbelief.

Dwayne Johnson, known to wrestling fans simply as The Rock, walked onto the stage of the show named after one of his many catchphrases, Friday Night SmackDown. As the former multi-time WWE Champion stepped into the ring and stood face-to-face with his real-life cousin and Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns, the crowd chanted, “This is awesome,” lost in the moment of it all.

It became clear that The Rock was back to challenge the “Head of the Table” at WrestleMania. And with that clarity, two years’ worth of storytelling was discarded as WWE’s biggest full-time babyface walked back up the ramp.

Since the conclusion of Friday’s SmackDown, the hashtag #WeWantCody has been blowing up social media as a very vocal portion of the WWE fanbase is anywhere from annoyed to downright angry that Cody Rhodes has been pushed aside for the family feud between Rock and Reigns.

Cody Rhodes’ story since winning the 2023 Royal Rumble has been to capture the WWE Championship, the very title that eluded his father, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes. Since losing to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 39, the message has been clear for Rhodes – “Finish the story.”

Even after winning the 2024 Royal Rumble just over a week ago, Rhodes stood on the corner turnbuckle and pointed to Reigns, declaring he was coming after him and the WWE Championship. He was going to finish the story.

Now, it seems that Rhodes will instead challenge Seth Rollins for the World Heavyweight Championship and, as always, it will be an incredible showing from two stellar athletes. But it’s not what the story calls for.

Professional wrestling takes a lot of heat for being “scripted.” But at its heart, it’s storytelling in front of a live audience. Drama, action, joy, excitement, disappointment – all elements of great storytelling played out in front of thousands week after week. Wrestling is built on emotion and storytelling.

Yes, The Rock and Roman Reigns carries a great story. The Bloodline story has dominated WWE programming for years, featuring members of the famed Anoa’i family. Now, for The Rock, perhaps the most famous member of that family, to come back and set right the evils of his cousin, it’s great drama and fans have clamored for it.

WrestleMania came and went every year with fans desperate to see the inevitable showdown. But, it never came.

Meanwhile, Rhodes made his WWE return against Rollins at WrestleMania in 2022. He went on to wrestle inside “Hell In A Cell” with a visibly disturbing torn pectoral muscle. He returned and won the Royal Rumble and set out to win the championship at WrestleMania 39. Except, he didn’t. He lost and the fans wanted to see it even more.

By shoving Rhodes aside, WWE abandoned two years of storytelling, burying their top babyface in way that doesn’t even make sense.

Yes, The Rock and Roman Reigns will bring massive mainstream attention to the 40th WrestleMania. Yes, it will draw in a lot of lapsed fans who want to see one of the stars of the Attitude Era one more time. Yes, it will draw money as merchandise is bound to fly off the shelves. But at what cost?

The Rock vs. Roman Reigns is the right match at the wrong time. Perhaps that time has passed, there’s no way to know that. But for the sake of the story being told, Cody Rhodes needs to finish his story.

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