This Friday’s “SmackDown” had mixed reviews from WWE fans after it was all but confirmed that Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson would take on Roman Reigns for the undisputed universal championship at WrestleMania XL at Lincoln Financial Field.

Cody Rhodes won the Royal Rumble for a second year in a row, which seemed to put him on track to face Reigns and “finish the story.” The former tag team champion pointed at the “Tribal Chief” after he finished on top at Tropicana Field, after all. But in the final segment of “SmackDown,” Rhodes confirmed he would face Reigns but not at WrestleMania this year. Instead, he introduced The Rock, who finished the show with and stared own his real-life cousin.

Yes, a Rock-Reigns main event is huge. It’s a match WWE wanted for years, and it’s one fans fantasy booked since Reigns declared himself the “head of the table.” It was one anticipated when The Rock made his return to WWE and hinted at a challenge on “RAW.”

Was this a match Johnson agreed to so that he could be made an executive of TKO, the publicly traded company that controls UFC and WWE, as well as gain the trademark to “The Rock?” One can only speculate. Is WWE using Johnson to try to maintain good press amid Vince McMahon’s federal investigation surrounding his sexual assault and sex trafficking allegations? Again, one can only speculate.

Story continues below advertisement

No Matchup Found

Click here to enter a different Sportradar ID.

The point is this match is happening, and it was another example of WWE undercutting its babyface stars. Sami Zayn is the most over wrestler on the roster? Well, he couldn’t win at Elimination Chamber in Montreal last year because it was Rhodes’ opportunity to win. Well, Rhodes can’t beat Reigns at WrestleMania 39 at SoFi Stadium because Jey Uso needs to break free from The Bloodline to become a big star. Well, he’s not that big of a star to beat Reigns, so he’ll lose but still have a popular catchphrase and move over and do his own thing on a different show.

    What do you think?  Leave a comment.

WWE wants to make Reigns the biggest star in its history, so he needs to chase a made-up “modern” record that Hulk Hogan supposedly has. Winning Money in the Bank or the Royal Rumble match are honors themselves and no longer are vehicles to make new stars as they once were. If you think that’s revisionist thinking or someone pinning for nostalgia, why are you excited about The Rock? Congratulations, you also think the Attitude Era was WWE’s greatest boom period.

But we must digress and look at where Rhodes goes next. There are four clear scenarios after Friday’s segment.

Story continues below advertisement

The story ends at WrestleMania XL
Rhodes will move on and try to explain on “RAW” on Monday why he will chase after Seth Rollins’ world heavyweight title, which Reigns buried Friday. It will take a lot since Rhodes already beat Rollins multiple times during his return run in WWE. The story could end with Rhodes beating Rollins again and giving him time to recover from his injury. WWE really needs a solidified Night 1 main event, and Rhodes versus Rollins would do the job despite how underwhelming it might sound.

Daniel Bryan 2.0
This is a long shot, but it’s worth at least addressing. Rhodes still is very over with the crowd. Daniel Bryan’s run at WrestleMania 30 happened due to crowd reaction and a rejection of WWE’s original plan of a Randy Orton-Batista singles match. Crowds hijacking shows to boost Rhodes could convince WWE to switch plans like it did with Bryan. This is highly unlikely since The Rock got an even bigger pop Friday, and the nostalgia for him is stronger than it was for Batista or Orton. It’s also a misunderstanding of why Rhodes is popular. He’s made to be a top guy in a company. His runs in Ring of Honor and AEW proved that. Rhodes is so good at putting other guys over and being an ambassador for a company. For some stars, the money is in the chase, but that is not the case for Rhodes.

Revenge for The Rock
Rhode left the door open for a future match. It’s unlikely The Rock will beat Reigns at WrestleMania XL, but anything can happen and plans always can change. If Reigns does retain his title and passes Hogan’s 1,474 world title reign, he could drop the title to Rhodes in the summer. WWE has big shows planned in France and Germany, so it could happen there. SummerSlam isn’t expected to be in a big venue, but it’s still a big premium live event for the match. If Reigns needs a break after WrestleMania, does it happen on Netflix? The broadcast plans for “RAW” in the fall are unknown due to its move to Netflix in 2025, and if WWE wants a big match to boost subscriber numbers for the streaming platform, Rhodes-Reigns would do it.

The story continues … in 2025
Does WWE just do 2023 again? Rhodes loses to Rollins at WrestleMania XL and again starts a redemption tour in the summer. It’s a very long wait, though Reigns fans seem to believe a year passes by in a month. WWE hasn’t announced where the next WrestleMania will be, but if it wants to telegraph Rhodes continuing the story next year, it can announce Mercedes-Benz Stadium or another venue in his home state Georgia. If this is the scenario WWE goes with, Rhodes fans just need to be patient again for him to beat the universal champion who beat The Rock.

Story continues below advertisement

Featured image via Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports Images