This past Friday night on WWE SmackDown, Cody Rhodes shocked the world when he announced he would not face Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns at WWE WrestleMania 40. Instead, Rhodes informed Reigns that he wanted to “take everything” from him and introduced The Tribal Chief’s cousin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. The Rock made his way to the ring and stood face-to-face with Reigns, heavily teasing the two would face off in Philadelphia. The match is not yet official but could be announced this Thursday at a media and fan event taking place in Las Vegas.
Fightful reports that the plan, as of now, is for The Rock to face Reigns and Rhodes to face WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth “Freaking” Rollins at WWE WrestleMania 40. It was also noted that despite Rhodes insisting he was facing Reigns at the post-WWE Royal Rumble press conference, some within the company had heard that afternoon that The Rock had already agreed to face Reigns. Some sources that Fightful spoke with claim new “Head Of The Table” WrestleMania-themed merchandise prototypes had already been put together by Rumble weekend.
Furthermore, some are saying The Rock not only pushed for the match with Reigns to happen but also lobbied to win it. The move is said to be politically and financially motivated as TKO Group Holdings sees more money in a Rock vs. Reigns match than a Rhodes vs. Reigns one. TKO sources claim that the change in direction was not meant with malice toward Rhodes. Sources close to the situation claim that The Rock was pitching for the match to happen before the Vince McMahon and John Laurinitis scandal broke, but the negative publicity may have played a role in changing up WWE WrestleMania 40 main event plans.
In regard to the backlash from the fans to Rhodes forgoing his shot at Reigns in favor of The Rock getting the opportunity, the report states some in WWE are hopeful the company acknowledges the reaction and changes direction. One name that may be able to keep things on track, at least creatively, is The Rock’s long-time partner and writer, Brian Gewirtz, who it sounds like will be around more. As time goes on, and if the situation changes, Gewirtz could also be in line for a more prominent WWE creative role.
Rhodes appears to have been made aware of the change in creative direction by this past Friday, at the latest, as The Rock was scheduled to appear on the show. By that time, the decision had been made to hold the press and fan event in Las Vegas this Thursday, which The Rock and Rhodes are both scheduled for.
Backstage reactions to The Rock taking Rhodes’ spot against Reigns have been mixed. Some feel that The Rock was not being malicious in pushing for it to happen, while others worry the timing could blow up in his face. One source pointed out how The Rock has burned his goodwill with the comic, superhero, and football communities, and he may be running the risk of doing that with his most beloved demographic, pro wrestling fans.
On this morning’s Wrestling Observer Radio, Dave Meltzer reported that part of The Rock’s deal to come back to WWE earlier this year was that the match against Reigns would happen. Why the decision was made for Rhodes to win the Rumble is a question that he has not been able to get an answer to from anyone in the company. As of Friday, it was reiterated that the plan is for Rhodes to face Rollins at WWE WrestleMania 40. However, things can always change, and it does sound like things are “up in the air” creatively.