I’ve been watching wrestling for over two decades now and can’t remember a finish that was as deflating as what happened on April 2 at the end of Night Two of WrestleMania 39. The way the WWE decided to book the final match in their most important show of the year is baffling for reasons I’ll get into shortly, but I want to clarify a few things before starting. Believe me or not, I’m not a Cody Rhodes stan. In fact, I actually prefer Roman Reigns as a wrestler. Rhodes is maybe a better in-ring storyteller, but Roman’s ability to show up at big events and put on incredible performances is among the best in the company right now. I should also say that I’m not watching the WWE product from week to week, so my understanding of the feud before last night is lesser than someone who tunes in each week. I don’t think that changes how I would view the end result, but it’s worth noting. With that out of the way, let’s take a look at why I think this ending fell so flat, starting with what I think is the most obvious question.
Where do they go from here?
Before entering this feud with Rhodes, Reigns was fighting against both Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn to some extent. Zayn had been a part of Reigns’ stable, but had seen the light and became a good guy again after Roman went too far in a match against his best friend. That storyline finally showed cracks in Reign’s vaunted Bloodline stable, with Jey Uso teasing a potential face turn. I was at the Rumble where Zayn first went from Honorary Uce to Owens’ tag partner and the crowd was red-hot for that turn. When Zayn faced Reigns at the Elimination Chamber, the crowd was lit on fire. They were begging the WWE to put the title on Zayn and they refused to do it. The WWE had created a good guy that was as over as anybody in the last few years and they didn’t capitalize on the moment. why would they do that? Surely there’s a good reason.
Enter Cody Rhodes. His quest to finally capture the title that his father never could and do it on the grandest stage of them all is an easy story to get behind. I mean, everyone that’s seen a second of Dusty Rhodes loves him, and seeing his son finish that dream is maybe the simplest story the WWE has ever had in front of it. Yes, Roman’s push to a 1,000-day reign is potentially monumental (we’ll get to that in a second), but these chances to truly make somebody into a megastar don’t come around that often. Especially twice in a row.
Of course, you already know what happened, Roman pinned Rhodes at Mania and ended that dream. The question now is, where can the WWE even go from here? As much as HHH wants to say that they’re just turning the page to a new chapter, they have effectively killed the hype behind two of their biggest baby faces in back-to-back “premium live events.” The crowd will never be hotter for Rhodes than they were last night, so making this happen further down the line would feel like a slap in the face, not a victory. I suppose the WWE could bring back The Great American Bash this summer and let him win there, giving it some extra historical significance, but that would cheapen the win even more since he couldn’t do it at the most important PPV of the year. War Games suffers from a similar problem and would also mean we’re getting Rhodes-Reigns for more than nine months, which doesn’t sound appetizing even for the most diehard Cody fans.
And if they don’t continue the program with Cody, who’s next? Is Bron Breaker going to appear on the main roster with a bang? Will they go back to Seth Rollins and explore more of that history? Is Solo Sikoa ready to break away and become the face that topples his cousin? Could Solo even be a believable world champion at this point in his relatively short career? Heck, could either of the Usos hold a world title? The only guy that makes sense (outside of a few people who have never spent significant time in the WWE) would be if Jon Moxley decided to slap on the Dean Ambrose gimmick once again. Since there’s no way that’s happening, it feels like the WWE has booked itself into an impossible corner with this decision. They either let Roman run wild while they try to build someone new up or they let Rhodes grab an unsatisfying win this summer after Roman’s streak hits 1,000 days.
This is just scratching the surface though. There are so many other things about that finish that don’t make sense. Let’s dig a little deeper into how it actually happened and analyze why this thing didn’t work beyond the macro side of storytelling.
A Dusty finish
Hopefully, if you’re reading this you’ve seen the match. If you haven’t and you’ve somehow gotten this far, take 35 minutes, head to Peacock, and give it a go. I promise it’s 99.7% worth it. Now, I’m going to pick up from around the middle of the match when Solo Sikoa gets sent to the back. This is important because it’s pretty rare to see a heel’s entourage be sent away and then come back. It definitely happens, but that often signifies to me that we’re going to have a relatively clean finish to the match, likely ending the feud. Also, excuse the tangent, but how on Earth did no one on the announce team mention that Solo used the belt Cody gave to Luke Harper’s son to hit him? With how much this match tied into wrestling history, it felt like such a missed opportunity for Michael Cole and Corey Graves to not even talk about how disrespectful that was by the youngest member of the Bloodline, but I digress.
From there, we get some absolutely astonishing false finishes. Reigns hit the Rock Bottom for a near fall. Rhodes would later also pay homage to history and hit a (admittedly weak-looking) Pedigree to get a two-count. And I have to briefly mention that teasing a Cody win via the Figure Four was a masterstroke (an expected one, but sometimes expected things are still great) Night One’s Tag Team main event was probably the better technical wrestling match, but the story Reigns and Rhodes told was on another level. I’m not putting it on the level of Undertaker vs. HBK or anything, though it has to be said that these two men know how to put on a WrestleMania spectacle as well as anyone else on the current roster.
Then, we have yet another potential nod to the Rhodes family with Cody taking out the ref before the Usos come to save Roman. I may have some gripes about the fact that this section would have you believe that a normal clothesline is stronger than Reigns’ Superman Punch, but I’ll put that aside. What’s important is that Cody actually got some backup. He, Kevin Owens, and Sami Zayn aren’t your usual idiot baby faces and effectively managed the run-in. Would I have liked to see a bit of the Bloodline disintegrating here? Absolutely, but again, I’ll put that aside because I have to or this will get even more unwieldy.
Instead, let’s talk about the decision to not end the match here with a Rhodes win. I think this is the first place you could legitimately end the match and have everyone go home happy. Rhodes, Zayn, and Owens have been fighting against the Bloodline for months. Having the three of them come together to end the reign of terror would’ve been solid booking. I don’t think it brings the house down, but it would work without a doubt. But they don’t do it. Not only do they not do it, but Reigns kicks out of it cleanly, as if to say that not even the combined powers of his three greatest (currently) enemies are enough to beat him. That goes back to my previous point of who’s next for Roman, but I’ve talked about that enough above, so let’s move on for now.
If I were booking this, I would’ve had Paul Heyman pull Cody away to stop the count. That leaves open the idea that Cody can still win. Instead, they let Roman kick out cleanly, effectively ending any thought I had that Cody could actually win this thing. Eliminating that from the equation made the needle much more narrow. As mentioned at the top, you could have this end with a Reigns win satisfyingly. What they did next was not that.
After the two men trade shots, Rhodes counters Reigns and delivers his dad’s patented Bionic Elbow. A great spot that maybe teased there was some hope after all. Then, he attempts to hit three Cross Rhodes in a row but Paul E distracts the ref. Solo comes back and interferes, letting Reigns hit a Spear and pick up the three count. That’s a garbage ending even if you’re a Reigns fan and I’ll tell you why.
First, let’s talk about Solo getting back into the mix and how this killed the match from a logical standpoint. Think about it for a second, the ref sent Solo to back earlier in the match. Now, to his credit, Solo does duck below the ring while the ref is counting so that he can’t see him before he rings the bell. However, are we supposed to believe that the ref doesn’t see Solo at all after the match is over? Does he think Solo teleported to ringside after he rang the bell? Even if you accept that the ref didn’t see him until after the match was over, it doesn’t make sense that he wouldn’t acknowledge that something was fishy. Maybe they do this later, but if it happens in the moment it’s much more powerful for the audience. We get to see that the ref knows he’s been duped, adding some intrigue to a potential future matchup.
Past that though, the ending doesn’t really set up a compelling future for Reigns-Rhodes. Roman Reigns Speared Cody Rhodes and pinned him in the middle of the ring. Yes, there was interference, but it was Roman’s move that ended things. This wasn’t a chickenshit heel picking up a dirty victory. This was a conqueror using his team to nudge him over the finish line. Why should Cody get another chance? And if he does, what about that match that told you he can beat Roman? Both wrestlers had outside help and only Reigns could finish the job. People might say “oh, they can give Cody the belt later,” and while that’s technically true, they can’t do it in a way that’s credible and believable after last night. The WWE Universe was ready to explode for the son of the son of a plumber and instead, the WWE writing team just wants to chase a number.
Does Roman Reign’s streak matter?
I think is probably the reason they let Roman win. They want to hit 1,000 days with him holding the belt and that doesn’t happen until May. My question is does that streak actually mean anything? Sure, he’ll go down in history alongside legends like Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, and Hulk Hogan, but who really cares outside the office at Stamford and I guess Reigns? John Cena’s longest title reign is just over a year. HBK maxed out at 231 days. Heck, The Rock’s longest reign was 119 days. That number matters in the short term, but the only time it’ll matter in the future is if someone else comes along to break it.
So, the WWE is effectively booking around something that most fans won’t care about. Reigns was a main-event player and probably a Hall of Famer before this started, which means there needs to be a reason for this. There has to be a plan for someone to knock him off and turn them into a megastar. We’ve already seen the WWE fumble the bag by giving Undertaker’s streak to Brock Lesnar for seemingly no reason. In fact, in many ways, that whole thing would’ve been much better if Reigns himself had ended Taker’s streak. That would have more than made him as the face of the company and been something that logically worked from a long-term storytelling perspective. Instead, Vince McMahon and his team went for shock value. Are they on the path to doing the same thing here?
That’s probably looking forward a bit too much at this point. Instead, let’s talk about why this desire to chase the streak doesn’t make sense beyond most casual fans not really caring about that massive number. I’ve said this several times, but through excellent storytelling, they’ve built up back-to-back credible threats to Reigns and the fans were massively behind them. Maybe I’m wrong, but they can’t keep doing that. Fans are already starting to get annoyed and I’ve talked to several people after the match that says they’re done with the WWE until Roman loses. And I don’t think it’s because Roman keeps winning.
Instead, I think it’s this focus on the number over the story. HHH can say whatever he wants about “turning the next chapter” on Raw this Monday, but you still have to deliver a story that makes sense and leaves people either happy or intrigued. By not only giving Reigns the win but doing it relatively cleanly with little opportunity for Rhodes to take issue with the outcome, you’ve killed both and there’s no going back. It is downright astonishing that this number has become so important. If I were chasing numbers, I’d think the bottom line is the most important. By not pulling the trigger on either baby face, I think they’ve left a lot of money on the table.
What if Cody Rhodes had won?
Now, I’m not just going to complain about things that should have happened. That’s not fair. I also want to (hopefully quickly) talk about what a Cody Rhodes victory could have meant and why a Reigns victory (had it been done well) might be better. I think the first thing to think about is what would Cody do next. Obviously, there’d be a rematch with Reigns, but let’s assume he wins that. Here’s where we have a bit of a problem, with Reigns being such a dominant heel for the past few years, the bad guy landscape is a little bleak. Is Cody the guy you’re going to rely on to build up credible heels? Maybe, but not without some exceptional character work from some of your other stars.
I think he probably has ready-made feuds with Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, but then you’d need to be developing some players in the background depending on how long he holds it. This might be the reason I would like a Cody run with the title because I do think he’s effective at putting guys over, win or lose. The WWE has done a good job the last few months building up great good guys, and it’d be nice to see more of the latter, especially if Reigns’ star had come crashing back down to Earth again.
On that note, what would Reigns have done if he lost? Well, I actually hope that he does the same thing no matter what. The Bloodline is an incredible stable that’s been extremely well-developed. I would even argue that the person that takes down Reigns needs to come from within, I just don’t know who could actually pull that off in a way that works. For me, the best course of action might to add one more guy to the mix and go the Evolution route of having it be somewhat a committee that takes the title from Reigns. That said, that means building up another star, which would take months. Plus, we just saw a committee try to beat Reigns and it didn’t work. Either way, the story of The Bloodline has dominated the WWE airwaves for months. If Reigns doesn’t lose the title as the group is disintegrating, then the WWE has wasted a massive opportunity.
Then the question comes was it better to keep The Bloodline alive and let them end Roman? I mean, we’ve seen Jey Uso tease a turn over the last few weeks, but they’ve yet to go all the way with it. Had Jey come out to help Cody, I think the WWE would’ve had an all-time moment on its hands, potentially making several people into megastars with one move. As it stands, part of me is glad that Roman won because it means we get to see that story end in a way that’s hopefully satisfying. Sure, that comes at the expense of an all-time moment for Cody Rhodes, but the company has hitched its wagon to The Bloodline for years. It would be a bit silly for them to drop it without a true explosion.
I realize at this point that I’m rambling a bit as I try to explain why maybe WWE didn’t completely screw the pooch, but the fact of that matter is that the outcome almost doesn’t matter because of how badly booked the end actually was. Either wrestler winning should have set up intriguing storylines that even someone like me who has never seen an indy locker room in his life could put together. Instead, we have this half-assed finish that helps no one and kills one of the hottest acts in town.
With all of this said, I am hopeful that HHH is right. The WWE machine, quite literally, never stops. Tonight, there’s going to be a new Monday Night Raw that shows us a snapshot of what’s next. I assume Cody will come out and talk about how he wasn’t beaten cleanly (though I would argue he was). Then, he’ll get a rematch at Backlash where he’ll lose and Roman will eventually drop the title to Brock Lesnar at Summerslam. After all, if you can’t make a WrestleMania moment at WrestleMania, you might as well go back to the Vinny Mac special and put the belt on Bork Lazer one more time.
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