The Post’s Joseph Staszewski brings you around the world of professional wrestling every Tuesday in his weekly column, the Post Match Angle.
The dream match of Roman Reigns facing The Rock and Cody Rhodes finally finishing his story against Reigns at WrestleMania were two things that had a chance to be universally celebrated.
Amazingly, WWE found a way to fumble both of them, for now.
WWE made Rhodes look terrible as reports and rumors say it called a WrestleMania 40 audible that Rock himself pushed for after CM Punk was injured and the news of Vince McMahon resigning after a lawsuit accused him of sexual assault and sex trafficking put the company in a bad light.
It made the events of the Royal Rumble and Rhodes graciously stepping aside on SmackDown for The Rock to officially take his WrestleMania match against Reigns feel disjointed.
Instead of moving toward being “the guy” for WWE to build around after two years of tireless work, merchandise sales and crowd reactions at the highest level, Rhodes was reduced to the red herring so a no-timer in Rock and a part-time in Reigns can main event the biggest WrestleMania ever this April in Philadelphia.
How the change was done is far worse than the change itself.
Rhodes is a true professional for how he handled himself. He, and even fans, get this is business and Rock — now a TKO board member with a reported $30 million stock award — is one of the biggest money-making stars in all of entertainment, and that’s what WWE is cashing in on.
Rhodes did the ceremonial handshake and hug with the Rock to try to get this over. But Rhodes looked emotionless and gutted doing so.
You can make the case that Rollins vs. Rhodes and now maybe Drew McIntrye isn’t that much bigger of a match than, say, Rhea Ripley vs. Becky Lynch for the Women’s World championship.
But let’s take a step back for a moment and look at how Rhodes ended up being a story device and undercut by the entire SmackDown segment.
After winning the Royal Rumble, Rhodes pointed directly at Reigns to all but confirm the main event, and it felt like WWE putting him in the company of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and Shawn Michaels as a sign it saw him as the guy moving forward. Then Rhodes himself dubbed himself “the guy” in the post-show press conference.
His fans could exhale.
On SmackDown, Reigns began the terrible delivery of the change, basically calling Rollins’ championship the “losers’ bracket” title and telling Rhodes that winning that belt makes him the best of the “twos.” It makes Rhodes’ current pursuit feels so less-than now.
Then Rhodes, with the crowd chanting his name, gave all the reasons he should face Reigns, only to awkwardly change the basis of his whole WWE run by telling Reigns he still plans on taking the belt and but now also “everything” away from him — just not at WrestleMania.
Then in an attempt to make this all seem like Rhodes’ idea, he said he sought Rock’s council on his decision after Rollins made an impassioned but illogical case to face him. Now, even in the storyline, Rock had a hand in the change.
The only way this makes sense is if Rhodes believes that Rock beating Reigns and stripping him of being “Tribal Chief” is the first step of “taking everything” from him, but it doesn’t feel like something he should care about.
Rhodes’ slogan forever has been “do the work.” He did it and gave the fruits of it to someone else.
“Finish the story” is becoming a punchline.
It all led to the diehard fans flooding social media with #WeWantCody and disliking the YouTube video of the SmackDown segment in a viral push to get Rhodes back in the main event. On Raw, they chanted “We Want Cody” and “Rocky sucks!” as Michael Cole and Pat McAfee didn’t ignore the groundswell behind him.
Rhodes told fans to “trust me” in a tweak during Raw.
It’s going to take more and louder nights like that that for WWE to consider reversing course on potential big business — booing Rock and Reigns out of the building every night and hijacking their segments with love for Rhodes might do it at the risk of spoiling a dream feud. Just don’t cross the line it appears some people did with Rock’s daughter and NXT star, Ava, who tweeted she got “death threats over a situation I have nothing to do with.” That can never be tolerated.
That being said, Rhodes has never been a bigger babyface than he is now and maybe WWE knew that would happen and can bottle that up for down the road as Reigns could likely pass Hulk Hogan for the third-longest world title reign in WWE history.
And there are ways to remedy this whole situation and technically neither main event match is official yet.
Rock needs to return the favor and put Rhodes over before Dusty’s son unseats Reigns — maybe at Madison Square Garden to bring the story truly full circle.
That could mean Rhodes beating Rock in a match — upset at him for losing to Reigns. It could also be an impassioned promo from Rhodes with Rock to tell him he should have never given up his chance and now he’ll go do what you the legend couldn’t.
It’s up to WWE — maybe after undeniable backlash from fans — to make this right after finding a way to turn two surefire wins into an unknown.
The 10 Count
Bayley’s babyface turn was well done. Clear reasons were given for it as she overheard Iyo, Asuka and Kairi Sane saying she was done tonight in the locker room, revealed she spoke Japanese all along and even brought a pipe suspecting they would turn on her. The audience is clearly ready to cheer Bayley and WWE delivered on it. Who Dakota Kai sides with is the question. And if she sides with Bayley, they need one more. Liv Morgan?
Having Chase U saved from its gambling debts thanks to Jacy Jane putting together “The Ladies of Chase U” calendar that WWE Shop is selling and Dijak throwing Joe Gacy for a trailer in the NXT parking lot felt as close to the Attitude Era as you are gonna get in WWE’s PG world.
Some of the ways NXT tried to build tension during matches between Trick Williams and Carmelo Hayes were a little awkward at Vengeance Day. But Hayes’ heel turn attack at the end got the desired reaction and left NXT with two choices: Williams needs to win a triple-threat match versus Hayes and NXT champion Ilja Dragunov or have Hayes become champion and beat him at Stand & Deliver as fans want to see a Williams reign.
DIY needs to be the new unified tag team champions. Then split the belts up with so many deserving teams in WWE now. Babyfaces can say they will defend them separately, right?
Having general managers again makes adding call-ups and new signings to the main roster feel that much more important by having people fight over their services.
TNA opened the door for Nic Nemeth needing some friends with Steve Maclin and the Rascalz attacking him. You’d assume one is brother Ryan Nemeth. Who the third man is will be the fun question. Nemeth and Matt Cardona also sports entertained the heck out of us in GCW this week — with even a few shots at The Rock.
Tony Khan’s “big announcement” next week better be just that when fans will expect the announced signing of Mercedes Mone’ or Kazuchika Okada.
Swerve Strickland proves time and again he’s the guy in AEW. Had a banger with Rob Van Dam, who is still simply incredible in the ring for his age. Strickland and Daniel Garcia’s stock continues to rise as the latter’s dance is over and he’s racking up wins, with Christian Cage and the TNT title in his sights.
I’m no expert on joshi wrestling, but aftershocks from Stardom firing founder and executive producer Rossy Ogawa over the weekend are worth keeping an eye on with rumors swirling that one of the promotion’s biggest stars, Guilia, could be heading to WWE at some point. Stardom’s parent company Bushiroad accused Ogawa of “poaching a number of Stardom athletes and staff members.” Rossy denied doing so to Tokyo Sports and said he plans to start a new promotion, per Fightful.
Jey Uso deserves to be Gunther’s next Intercontinental championship challenger — and man, the champ was a menace on the mic on Monday to him. But how about Jimmy Uso costing Jey a win at Elimination Chamber out of jealousy to set up up a match at WrestleMania?
Wrestler of the Week
Satoshi Kojima, MLW
The 53-year-old Japanese wrestling legend made history by becoming the first repeat world champion in MLW history, beating Alex Kane at MLW SuperFight on Saturday. Kojima previously won the title in 2002 and ended Kane’s seven-month reign. It will be interesting to see where MLW goes from here and if Kane gets a rematch.
Social Media Post of the Week
Match to Watch
Sting and Darby Allen vs. Ricky Starks and Big Bill, AEW tag team championship (Dynamite, Wednesday, 8 p.m.)
Yes, Swerve Strickland and “Hangman” Adam Page square off in a No. 1 contenders match for the world title, but Sting’s in-ring career has a month left and this is likely his final chance at any kind of gold. The last time the Icon held a title was in 2011 as TNA World Heavyweight champion and winning here would make his final match at Revolution even more meaningful.