WrestleMania 39 will go in the history books as one of the best ‘Manias ever, delivering some of its best matches in many years. However, many chose to focus their attention on the finish of the main event, which came after a 35 minute emotional rollercoaster of incredible storytelling, action, dramatic kick outs and false finishes. Roman Reigns defeated Cody Rhodes to retain the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship.
The finish had many fans crying foul, leaving them disillusioned feeling that WWE had missed a golden opportunity to finish the Cody redemption story and end the story of the Bloodline saga. The fans’ negative reaction led to some saying that WrestleMania was ruined by its ending, which by extension left many believing that the whole show had been a waste of time.
The feeling filtered through to the famed “RAW After WrestleMania” when Cody was assaulted and destroyed by Brock Lesnar, presumably setting up a program between the two in the coming weeks and months. Immediately fans declared that Cody had been buried out of the main event scene and that WWE had wasted all the great work that they’d done over the last 8 months, and many had finally given up on the product. Some even decided to point the blame on the shoulders on Vince McMahon believing that this was all his doing and that his fingerprints had caused Cody to lose and be “buried” when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Triple H has a clear blueprint on how to build his big shows, he likes to build the story slowly and methodically with heroes having to go through preverbial hell to finally achieve the desired goal. Look at Triple H when he was in charge of NXT in its golden era from 2015-2019, storylines progressed bit by bit with slow steps being taken to further both characters and the story you were watching and it was built over a time of many months, sometimes even years.
The argument will be made that NXT Takeover shows, the big stages for NXT talent, were spread out over months, allowing The Game to slowly progress the big matches to a natural conclusion, but still the fact of the matter is that HHH likes to take his time and flesh the programs out and add more layers to the chapters of the story.
As example, the arc of Johnny Gargano from Tag Team Champion to the loss of his tag team titles, then being betrayed by his tag team partner, losing matches and being in a losing slump, haunted by the betrayal of his former friend, to then seeking redemption against his former partner at the cost of losing his own morality and values that he cared about, all combined with his chase to be NXT Champion took nearly 2 years with slow progression and subtle changes in both the story and in Gargano’s character, giving the story more depth. To quote Johnny Wrestling himself: ‘Sometimes you have to give in to the darkness in hopes of becoming something more’.
I know some will say that WWE itself has never done anything like this and to that the greatest example of the biggest superstar in WWE history, Stone Cold Steve Austin. Everyone remembers the King Of The Ring speech in 1996 and assumed that set him off to the top of the company, but he had to go through at lot more than that.
He slowly worked his way up for the next 6 months before facing Bret Hart in an acclaimed match at Survivor Series 1996. He then won the 1997 Royal Rumble before rematching Hart at WrestleMania 13 in what many say is one of the greatest matches of all time. Then for the next year he came up short in WWF title matches against the likes of the Undertaker and Bret Hart before recovering from a broken neck suffered at SummerSlam 1997, then going on to win the Royal Rumble for a second time which then finally led to his coronation as WWF Champion and face of the company at WrestleMania 14.
So it took the biggest star in the business nearly two years to reach the top (June 1996 to March 1998), and in that time Austin’s character transformed from a cocky trash talking heel slowly morphed into the take no prisoners anti-hero who was the most beloved superstar WWE ever had. That is the situation that Cody is in now.
Since his return to WWE at WrestleMania last year, Cody has only feuded with Seth Rollins for a stretch of three consecutive events before suffering a torn pectoral muscle which sidelined him for six months before his triumphant return at the Royal Rumble in January, which resulted in him becoming embroiled in the Bloodline story in the build to WrestleMania. In other words, Cody’s story has been too straightforward. Whilst it’s accepted that the pectoral injury certainly didn’t help Cody out in this case with him missing so much time, but the only story that had been told was Cody wanting to win the belt to achieve what his late father Dusty Rhodes never managed to achieve in his storied career. But now that he failed at WrestleMania there’s a beast shaped obstacle in his way to the inevitable rematch with Roman that he will need to overcome.
Now here is where the story will either hit a new peak or fizzle out, it all depends on how WWE decides to move Cody back to Roman and the course of events he’ll have to go through to get there. If you want him to eventually conquer the seemingly invincible bad guy, keep the story going until your hero figures out a way out of the pit, and here is where AEW took it’s biggest misstep and where WWE must not repeat that mistake.
In AEW, as you may remember, Cody had a stipulation that he could never again challenge for the World Title. After the initial furore about the situation, as fans contemplated about what Cody’s character would change now that he could no longer chase the new company most prestigious title, the reality was that nothing changed.
Cody simply carried on as normal and seemingly was put in positions that were designed to set him up to fail, and despite Cody’s incredible performances the fans slowly started to resent him with diminishing returns each time. For the rest of his run in AEW, Cody started to fall into the same issue that befell John Cena for many years, in that despite the crowds openly telling him to change his character or to turn heel, Cody would find different ways to say “I’m not turning heel”. And that stubbornness to make his heroic character work had the exact opposite effect that was intended, as the backlash against Rhodes got even louder despite Cody trying everything from infamously going through a flaming table, but despite every attempt from Cody to get the fans reinvested in him, it was ultimately for not.
Wether or not that was the driving force behind Cody leaving AEW to come back to WWE in 2022, it was a clear indicator that fans didn’t but Cody as a person who seemingly was oblivious to everything going on around him. And at this moment WWE need to be alert on how they use Cody. A feud with a heel Brock Lesnar seems like a slam dunk of a success, the heel Beast Incarnate against the lovable babyface hero seems too good to fail, but WWE can’t do the same mistake and just let Cody win and move on. Give him a depth of personality where he had to tap into the dark place in his heart – not only will it make the story believable, it will actually get the fans to support Cody even more than they already do now.
So in conclusion, sometimes you have to fall lower than you’ve ever been to stand taller than you ever could. Whilst witnessing Cody be cut down from his assumed coronation in the shadows of Hollywood has brought the dream to a crashing halt, fear not. That was only the prelude, the real story is about to begin and no story ever truly ends as long as it is told.