February 5, 2024

The Rock and Roman Reigns face-off on Friday Night SmackDown (Image via WWE)

Words: Mimi aka #TheWrestlingChic

Few matches have the potential to captivate, stir emotions, and shatter records like the main event of WrestleMania XL like The Rock vs. Roman Reigns. Let’s face it: since SmackDown, the topic has had timeline mutuals at each other's throats! An epic generational tug and pull, intertwined with ancestral legacies, personal grievances, and the essence of what it means to dominate the squared circle, this is not just a match; it's cinema. In the grand theatre of WWE, where narratives intertwine and characters evolve amidst the roars of an impassioned fanbase, the prospect of Cody Rhodes concluding his “saga” with Reigns at WrestleMania XL presents a fascinating subplot (but is it a saga?...). Yet, when we peel back the layers of spectacle and sentiment, the essence of what makes for truly compelling storytelling begins to crystallize, revealing why this particular culmination might not hold the pivotal significance some fans envision. Allow me to unpack some of my thoughts.

The Rock: From the Ring to the Red Carpet

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is more than just a WWE icon; he's a global phenomenon whose roots are deeply entrenched in the world of professional wrestling. Born into a legendary wrestling family, with his father, Rocky Johnson, and grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia, both Hall of Famers, The Rock was destined for greatness. Making his WWE debut in 1996 under the name Rocky Maivia—a homage to his father and grandfather—it was his charismatic evolution into "The Rock" that catapulted him into superstardom. Known for his electrifying persona, unparalleled mic skills, and catchphrases, he quickly became one of the most entertaining and dynamic superstars in WWE history.

But The Rock’s ambitions stretch far beyond the wrestling ring. He successfully transitioned to Hollywood, becoming one of the highest-grossing and most bankable actors globally. His roles in the Hobbs & Shaw as well as the Fast & Furious franchise, Jumanji and Moana showcases his versatility as an actor. Despite his Hollywood success, The Rock never forgot his wrestling roots. He's made several returns to WWE, including memorable matches and moments at past WrestleManias and other significant events, always receiving a hero's welcome from the WWE Universe. Let’s not forget his Young Rock, a self-narrated life story TV show; a homage to his pro wrestling upbringing. Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is a multifaceted icon whose impact on WWE and entertainment at large is immeasurable. His journey from a promising young talent in WWE to a global superstar is a testament to his undeniable connection with fans worldwide. This year's WrestleMania is not just about The Rock's return home; it's also about bridging wrestling with Hollywood, attracting audiences from both businesses.

Roman Reigns: The Resilient Tribal Chief

The Big Dog, the Head of the Table, the Tribal Chief! A formidable figure in the WWE, both literally and metaphorically. Like Rocky, Reigns comes from the same storied wrestling lineage, which boasts legends like The Wild Samoans, Yokozuna, Rikishi, and The Rock. He kicked off his WWE main roster journey in 2012 as part of The Shield, a trio of dark-clad renegades that included Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, becoming instant hits. After The Shield disbanded, Reigns embarked on a solo career that would change his life and see him as one of WWE's top faces.

That path hasn't been without its bumps. Initially pushed as the next “corporate pick,” Reigns faced resistance from fans, who weren't thrilled with what they saw as his forced ascension to the top. However, Reigns' sheer in-ring capabilities and, eventually, his compelling character work—especially his turn to a more psycho-villainous "Tribal Chief" persona—won many over. He’s headlined seven WrestleManias and ranks among WWE’s Triple Crown champions. In addition to presenting at various mainstream awards shows, he's also appeared in a few Hollywood roles. His ability to maintain a three-year storyline, particularly his alliance-turned-feud with his real-life cousins, has been some of WWE's most engaging narratives. His journey reflects not just the evolution of a character, but the growth of a performer who's become an integral part of WWE's fabric.

In WWE history, these two character transformations rank among the most compelling. Rocky Mavia versus The Big Dog; The Rock versus The Tribal Chief. Despite humble beginnings, both became extreme success stories after being rejected. By embracing heritage through three-year storytelling and adopting provocative personas, both redefined what it means to be a top-tier athlete. As a result, both re-establish themselves as the leading authority on what a professional wrestler can be, both then and now.

The Niche Appeal of Cody Rhodes

It’s no secret that Cody Rhodes has carved out a significant niche for himself within the wrestling world, given his considerable popularity. He comes from wrestling royalty, the son of legend Dusty Rhodes, one of the most profound wrestlers in pro wrestling history. With tenacity and a strong desire for wrestling excellence, Rhodes’ journey resonates with those who value the artistry and dedication of professional wrestling, remnants of his dad. Likewise, Rhodes has reinvented himself in the independent scene, even joining a new wrestling company. The transformation of "Dashing" Cody Rhodes into Stardust, to creating the American Nightmare, to introducing him to the WWE Universe is undeniable. Rhodes' ability to sell merchandise and generate buzz within this community is impressive, speaking volumes about his connection with the wrestling purists.

However, the realm of mainstream media is a vastly different arena. Unlike crossover icons like The Rock, John Cena, and even Batista, whose appeal transcends the boundaries of wrestling, Rhodes' influence largely remains confined within the wrestling bubble. While his contributions to the industry are noteworthy, they lack the widespread pop-cultural impact necessary to elevate WWE's storytelling to broader audiences beyond the wrestling ring. While his fans may deem Cody Rhodes' rivalry with Roman Reigns has its own merits and fan investment, it fails to carry the broader appeal that a superstar like The Rock brings to the table. Rhodes, despite his talent and dedication, does not have the same mainstream impact or the ability to draw in casual fans and non-wrestling audiences. It does not carry the same weight or potential for global reach as a marquee matchup as The Rock and Roman Reigns. 

The Rock arrives (Image via WWE)

The Drama Unfolds: A Masterclass in Storytelling

Storytelling in WWE transcends individual feuds or conclusions; it’s about creating moments that become etched in the collective memory of the wider audience. It involves characters that can transcend the wrestling world, story arcs that mirror epic tales, and moments that find their way into mainstream conversations. In this context, the conclusion of Cody Rhodes' storyline with Roman Reigns, though perceived significant within the wrestling narrative, may not align with WWE's overarching strategic goals. The company's focus is on crafting stories that not only captivate the existing fanbase, but also have the potential to draw in new audiences and make headlines beyond the wrestling news sites.

What makes the Rock-Roman matchup truly electrifying is the lineage of storytelling. The Rock, with his larger-than-life persona, represents WWE's rich history and connection to Hollywood's glitz. Reigns, on the other hand, embodies the evolution of wrestling, where character complexity and in-ring psychology reign supreme. The clash is not just physical; it's a battle of ideologies, eras, and legacies. The drama extends beyond the ring, with the potential for family allegiances to be tested, betrayals, and the inevitable torch-passing moment that could elevate Reigns to an even higher pantheon of wrestling greatness or perhaps, introduce his Achilles' heel. When a clean dethroning takes place, it means that the new champion has truly been "put over," and everyone wins.

An understanding (Image via WWE)

The Collision Course: Why It's Best for Business & Entertainment

From a business perspective, this main event is considered a wrestling and business blockbuster. The Rock's mainstream appeal, coupled with Reigns' dominance in the current era, is a recipe for record-setting ticket sales, merchandise sales, and global media attention. It's the kind of spectacle that transcends wrestling, drawing in casual viewers and solidifying WWE's place in the broader entertainment landscape. WWE's trajectory, especially as it eyes further global expansion and deeper penetration into mainstream entertainment, necessitates a blend of storytelling that appeals not just to the devoted wrestling aficionado but also to the casual viewer who might be drawn in by larger-than-life characters and compelling narratives that resonate on a universal level.

The narrative setup for The Rock vs. Roman Reigns is Shakespearean in its depth. It's a battle of bloodlines, with the Anoa'i family legacy hanging in the balance, adding a layer of authenticity and personal stakes rarely seen. The Rock, the prodigal son, returning to face Reigns, the reigning patriarch, is storytelling gold that writes itself, even on this short road to WrestleMania XL. In the grander vision of WWE, especially for an event as instrumental and monumental as WrestleMania XL, the focus must be on narratives that have the power to captivate a worldwide audience. 

WrestleMania XL's potential main event of The Rock vs. Roman Reigns isn't just a match; it's a seismic event that could redefine the landscape of professional wrestling. It's a testament to WWE's creative capabilities, as well as its ability to adapt and evolve, and its unerring knack for captivating audiences worldwide. For some fans, it's a dream match; for WWE, it's a strategic masterstroke, and for the entertainment industry, it's a crossover extravaganza that promises to be nothing short of legendary. In the world of WWE, where the lines between reality and fiction blur into a compelling narrative, The Rock vs. Roman Reigns embodies what makes wrestling an unparalleled form of entertainment. While Cody Rhodes has his place in WWE's tapestry, the sheer magnitude and crossover potential of Rock-Roman positions it as the undeniable centerpiece for what could be one of the most memorable WrestleManias in history. This match is what's best for entertainment, business, and the lasting legacy of WWE, as well as both men who come from this unique and incredible business.

Finally... (Image via WWE)

The Writer’s Personal Perspective on “Finishing the Story”

Those who know me well know I don't truly hate Cody Rhodes. What I’ve hated is the booking. Do I talk smack about him? Every opportunity :). Is my fire being fueled by my own flames? Absolutely. Could more details be added to this story? Maybe. Does said story involve Roman Reigns? Hell No.

Injuries after a long-awaited return are never easy. But returning from the injury at #30 in a Royal Rumble, then winning the next Rumble is. Am I supposed to believe that? I’m supposed to think he's better than my Tribal Chief, Gunther, and Seth Rollins, to name a few? No. The entire WWE roster has more legitimate grievances with the Tribal Chief than Cody Rhodes. For those who are not deeply engrossed in the world of WWE or professional wrestling, the arc between Cody Rhodes and Roman Reigns is like a square peg in a round hole. In my opinion, there is no emotional investment in a game without a clear story that resonates, especially with casual fans. Roman Reigns has been a masterful Tribal Chief, a character with a story rooted in family history, but Cody's quest is not naturally connected to Roman or the story he’s currently telling. Why Roman and not Seth Rollins? Rollins, with whom he feuded for almost three to four months, is now a champion, and who Rhodes beat the whole program?

Why not Randy Orton? It’s a storyline with teeth and meaning. Orton returns to seek vengeance on the Bloodline for past transgressions, dethroning Roman. This story is personal, intense, and relates to a history that even casual fans will understand. It would make sense for Orton to capture the title that eluded Dusty Rhodes; Cody and Orton feuding digs up feelings from the past when they were young. Cody then takes the title from the 14x decorated WWE champion that is Randy K. Orton. WWE's narratives can be as compelling as its matches; aligning the right characters with the right story is crucial to keeping the audience engaged. 

Let’s make it make sense, please. 

Be sure to check out BRP's content on our website and our Black Rasslin' Podcast Patreon for exclusive pro wrestling content.

Mimi, aka #TheWrestlingChic is a co-host of #TheBuckle aka #TurnbuckleTalk every Tuesday at 6:35PM ET and every Thursday at 8:35PM ET on The Black Rasslin' Podcast.

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