Did Cody Rhodes settle for second place?
In a matter of two weeks, the injury bug bit WWE, as well as the horrendous Vince McMahon lawsuit that implied that Brock Lesnar was involved in the misconduct so a potential Wrestlemania card that could’ve been overloaded became a situation where the office had to assemble the puzzle based on the pieces that were left.
As we know, Seth Rollins had an injury scare a few weeks ago, which scrapped his possible title defense at the Royal Rumble, and it’s doubtful that he will have any matches in the next two months before WM 40 to allow his knee to heal as much as possible before the signature event of the year. From a booking perspective, that limits him to strictly promos and probably rules out any type of physicality to add sizzle to the build up for his title bout in Philadelphia. Considering that he dodged a bullet, one that strayed and hit CM Punk, there’s no reason whatsoever for Rollins to do anything more on television than talk on the mic. That said, it’s going to be tough to build a featured bout, one that wasn’t initially on the WM line-up with mic exchanges for the next seven or eight weeks.
As mentioned, CM Punk didn’t avoid injury and torn his right triceps, which isn’t the same arm that he injured previously during his tenure in All Elite Wrestling, during the Royal Rumble match after he took a DDT from Drew McIntyre near the conclusion of the segment. Truthfully, this confirmed injury is a much bigger dent to the WM card than the injury scare that Rollins had a few weeks ago. This isn’t a knock on Rollins’ talent or ability at all, but there were ten years of anticipation from the audience to finally see CM Punk in the main event of Wrestlemania. The reason there was that level of cache was because of not only the controversial exit he made from the WWE a decade ago, but also the new ground he could cover in this run. It’s so disappointing and somewhat deflating that a guy that brought such buzz with him when he made the comeback to the company had all the momentum halted by yet another injury. So far, CM Punk suffered two injuries after just two matches each time in the span of just two years in two different organizations. Keep in mind, prior to the arm injury in AEW, Punk suffered a broken foot that put him on the sidelines for a few months. Three surgeries to repair three different injuries in less than three years seems to make it clear that Phil Brooks is too injury prone to invest major stock into for a company. Obviously, injuries can happen to anyone, but the bottom line is, a talent can’t draw money in the ring if they’re on the sidelines.
Assuming a comeback is in the cards, Punk will be 46 by the time he’s back in the ring to potentially get to the main event spot of Wrestlemania. While there would still be demand for Punk to main event the show in 2025, it’s not realistically possible for there to be the same level of hype around it as there was this year because of the previously mentioned cache that was built up for the ten years that he wasn’t a part of the company. In 2025, there will naturally be diminishing returns because the fans already saw CM Punk finally make the return to WWE. Taking nothing away from his level of star power, regardless of some of the rightfully criticism of his All Elite departure, Punk draws money, but the harsh reality is, nothing about his return to the wrestling industry within the past three years suggest that he can stay healthy long enough to draw the biggest money possible. For example, Punk worked in a stadium for All Elite Wrestling, but the majority of those tickets were sold before his involvement was even confirmed because he was recovering from the left triceps injury. Punk worked the Rumble in a stadium for WWE and will probably spend the rest of the year recovering from surgery again.
With Punk being hurt and off the WM card, this would’ve been an opportunity for the company to use Brock Lesnar as an insurance policy so to speak, but as mentioned, with Brock being referred to in the McMahon lawsuit, the former champion is persona non grata, at least this year. If Brock was involved in the scandal at all, and a smart attorney wouldn’t include references to him in a lawsuit if there wasn’t proof that he was, it’s very possible that Lesnar doesn’t work for the company again. The last thing TKO needs or would probably risk in any way, shape, or form is any reference or connection to the McMahon scandal, especially when the lawsuit is still pending. Granted, it’s always possible that TKO settles with Janel Grant for a massive amount of cash to prevent a public trial, and that might open the door for Brock to be back on WWE programming at some point in the future, but he could also exiled from the WWE landscape just as easily. It’s not just a matter of the negative publicity that Lesnar would bring back to the organization, but it might also be considered a safety issue for female employees if he actually wanted sexual favors from Grant to be included in his contract negotiations. Again, it took a mere two weeks for a potentially stacked line-up to disintegrate from a combination of the scandal and injuries.
Seth Rollins’ promo on Raw was very solid, but the bottom line is, the title that Cody originally set out to win when he returned to the organization was the championship that Roman Reigns has held for almost four years. Furthermore, when Cody lost last year, he lost to Roman, that sets a precedent that to “finish the story,” Rhodes has to not only win the belt, but beat Reigns to accomplish it. Anything else, championship or not, is nothing more than a consolation prize. That’s why Seth’s plea for the “workhorse title” just doesn’t gel, because Cody already lost to Reigns last year. That’s where we are in the Cody story, he has to slay Roman Reigns and avenge the loss to truly because the champion in honor of Dusty.
Now, when The Rock made the hint that he was going face Roman after the surprise appearence on Raw last month, I said that if management can land Dwayne Johnson for a WM match, especially with TKO’s ownership then it’s too good of a corporate opportunity for them not to make the match. There’s too much money to be made, not only from the domestic revenue that can be generated from the live event, but also the domino effect it will have to boost the stock price, not to use The Rock in the main event spot. However, I also said that it would be a very delicate balance for management to get to the bout from a storyline perspective since they would have to avoid making Cody look secondary, and also they would have to avoid a situation where it looked like The Rock just showed up to take the opportunity away from Rhodes.
The Rock made another surprise appearence this past Friday on Smackdown and without saying a word, the WM bout with Roman Reigns was set up. The video clip on Youtube quickly became the WWE’s most down voted video in history.
A situation where The Rock slid in the spot to face Roman could’ve been done successfully, but there was going to be a very fine line between cautionary success and fan rejection. Unfortunately, the segment was the latter and it puts everyone in a much tougher position going forward.
With the level of reaction to the segment, everyone is going to have an opinion of what should’ve been done or how it should’ve been done. My two cents on the matter for the billion dollar corporation is, it wasn’t that The Rock took Cody’s spot, but rather how he took Rhodes’ place. Cody quite literally gave away the theoretical biggest match of his career because The Rock is simply a much bigger star than Rhodes will ever be. Rhodes was secondary in the segment because Dwayne Johnson merely had to be willing to show up the way he does every few years to get the opportunity that Rhodes had to win The Royal Rumble to achieve. Aside from those storyline dynamics, Cody looked legitimately disappointed when he left the ring and the visual of the dejected look on his face sends a message to the fans.
If The Rock had got on the mic and asked Cody to please allow him to restore order to his family line then it would’ve been a completely dynamic. If the bombastic and charismatic star was portrayed in a way where he would’ve humbly asked Rhodes for the opportunity to end Roman’s dictatorship of the Samoan dynasty then it would’ve had a completely different impact on the audience. The portion of the angle where The Rock was humble and serious rather than his usual over-the-top entertaining persona would’ve stood out as something much more important than his usual schtick.
The way this was presented, especially with the way Cody was left standing there and The Rock didn’t even have to ask Rhodes for the favor, it makes Cody Rhodes look like a total fool. His comeback from injury, his comeback from defeat, and The Royal Rumble win weren’t important enough to him since The Rock decided to show up. Obviously, Dwayne Johnson is a bigger main stream star than Cody, but Rhodes is the full-time guy in this segment, where does this leave him when he’s going to have to be perceived as the top baby face after Johnson goes back to Hollywood?
Again, I want to make it clear, The Rock brings too much publicity and cash to TKO, and also a needed spotlight away from the McMahon lawsuit, for the office not to book him in the Samoan showdown, but the presentation of the angle of how to get there was critical to making sure Cody still looked like a major star. How are the fans supposed to continue to believe in Cody as the top star if he was willing to give away the biggest opportunity of his career?
I understand the options of what to do with Cody after the Punk injury were limited, but as mentioned, the presentation of the segment on Smackdown could’ve been done in a way that would’ve made Cody look gracious for allowing The Rock the chance to reclaim the Samoan dynasty instead of making him look like he’s not a big enough star to main event Wrestlemania if The Rock decided to show up for a few weeks.
If Cody beats Rollins for the championship instead, it almost reinforces the notion that he wasn’t a big enough star to win the title that the fans consider the conclusion to his story. While the amount of press and publicity that The Rock will generate is undeniable, it will be very interesting to see if he gets a hostile reaction at the event. Keep in mind, Wrestlemania is an event that fans travel to from around world and thus they are the most dedicated portion of the fan base. They are the core audience that follow the product weekly and are willing to pay major cash to be there so they might reject The Rock because he showed up from Hollywood to take Cody’s opportunity away.
Regardless of how the storylines build or what direction any of the performers go to get to their respective positions for Wrestlemania, I think the impression that the segment on Smackdown made on the fans won’t be changed prior to the event. Cody Rhodes is a tremendously talented performer and he conducts himself as a main event guy inside and outside of the ring. He’s a great representative for the company and probably deserved a better scenario for Wrestlemania this year. That being said, he was presented as a secondary wrestler that isn’t important enough if The Rock is an option for the company. Furthermore, he was made to look foolish as a character because he gave away the biggest opportunity of his career. It goes without saying that Dwayne Johnson is a mega star and he will be more than prepared to deliver a quality main event. You won’t ever see a situation where The Rock mailed in a performance. At the same time, he was put in a position where he’s the one that took away the biggest chance of the top baby face’s career so at the very least, the audience might be divided on how enthusiastic they should be about Wrestlemania this year.
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Until next week
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