WWE Has Masterfully Handled Rock-Roman Reigns-Cody Rhodes WrestleMania Storyline

WrestleMania 40 takes place this weekend and anticipation couldn't be higher thanks to fascinating twists and turns.

1. It’s WrestleMania weekend and anticipation for the WWE’s Super Bowl seems to be at an all-time high.

Obviously, when you have one of the most famous people on the planet, and perhaps the most popular wrestler ever in The Rock, returning for a program, things are going to be good.

But the WWE still had to navigate some surprising waters and the end result is a home run.

The Rock’s return started out a little rocky (awful pun intended) because when he initially came back, he was setting up a WrestleMania 40 match against Roman Reigns. Remember this fantastic moment when The Rock first teased a feud with Reigns back on Jan. 1 just by saying one simple phrase?

But just a month later when The Rock returned to set up the WrestleMania main event, something wild happened: The fans weren’t into it. But that isn’t a knock on The Rock. That’s a credit to the WWE, the people on their creative team, Reigns and Cody Rhodes.

After Rhodes lost to Reigns in last year’s WrestleMania, fans were stunned and pissed. The WWE Universe fully expected Rhodes to “finish his story.”

Cody, the son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes, had left WWE after not moving up the ladder. He helped create a competitor to WWE, AEW. He then came back to WWE to do what his father wasn’t able to do: Win the WWE championship. Fans rallied behind the “finish the story” storyline. Rhodes became an enormous fan favorite, doing everything from accepting offers to be a fan's best man to accepting invitations to birthday parties.

When Rhodes didn’t happen at WrestleMania 39, smart fans realized WWE was setting up a year-long program to make Rhodes’s eventual win over Reigns be even more dramatic. So with Rhodes winning the Royal Rumble this year, fans expected a Rhodes-Reigns WrestleMania main event.

But then The Rock, after years of speculation about when he’d come back to WWE to work a program with Reigns decided this was the right time to return. The fans were not happy.

When The Rock appeared on the Feb. 2 SmackDown and Rhodes incredulously announced he was giving up his WrestleMania spot to The Rock, the fans were livid.

Think about that for one second. The fans turned on The Rock—The Great One, The People’s Champion, The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment—because they want to see Cody Rhodes finish his story.

That means WWE creative, as well as Rhodes, Reigns and Paul Heyman, did their job in building the Reigns-Rhodes storyline to this crescendo.

So the WWE adjusted on the fly, turned The Rock heel, gave us vintage Attitude Era-Rock and here we are with The Rock and Roman Reigns facing Cody Rhodes and Seth Rollins on Saturday night and then Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes on Sunday night.

For several weeks, hardcore WWE viewers fully expected The Rock to turn on Roman at WrestleMania and help Cody win the title. There were clues all over WWE programming. But the last two weeks, The Rock has given Rhodes violent, bloody beatings, so now the turn theory looks less likely.

That means nobody knows what’s going to happen on Sunday night. And when the fans don’t know what’s going to happen, that’s when the WWE has been at its best. And the company has been at its best over the last couple of months with this storyline.

2. The SI Media Podcast with Jimmy Traina returned Thursday afternoon after a week off and this week's guest is SiriusXM radio host, Chris "Mad Dog" Russo. Click in below to listen or listen on Apple or Spotify.

3. Speaking of Russo, you need to hear CBS's Ian Eagle explain on SiriusXM's The D.A. Show with Babchik what happened when Chris Russo attended Eagle's wedding.

4. On Jan. 5, Pat McAfee said the following during his daily ESPN show: “There are some people actively trying to sabotage us from within ESPN. More specifically I believe Norby Williamson is the guy who is attempting to sabotage our program.”

The headline on Traina Thoughts after that happened read, "Pat McAfee Made A Power Move And Won Big-Time."

Then, on Feb. 28, McAfee again ripped ESPN executive senior vice president of studio and event production, Norby Williams, this time calling him "a rat."

Here's what I wrote in Traina Thoughts after that incident:

"ESPN made it pretty obvious after the first time that McAfee spoke about Williamson that the network was going to back McAfee, and rightfully so. ESPN didn’t make McAfee do the fake apology thing. ESPN didn’t come out with any statements defending Williamson against McAfee’s accusations. And there wasn’t any disciplinary action taken against McAfee for calling out an executive."

Friday morning, ESPN announced that Williams is leaving the company.

That's another win for McAfee.

5. Speaking of McAfee, ESPN NFL analyst (and recent SI Media Podcast guest) Dan Orlovsky appeared on McAfee's show and was accused of letting one rip during the interview.

Orlovsky, who did the interview from his car, defended himself by blaming his windshield wipers.

Whatever the truth is, we have to give Orlovsky the win in the Fartgate scandal based on what he tweeted Friday morning.

6. I knew something was fishy! In Thursday's Traina Thoughts I told you about the fan who caught Shohei Ohtani's first home run ball with the Dodgers and traded it for a ball, two caps and a bat. I wrote: "The fan who caught Shohei Ohtani's first home run ball as a Los Angeles Dodger does not seem like a good negotiator."

Now the fan is speaking out and isn't happy about what went down.

7. RANDOM VIDEO OF THE DAY: The last-ever episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm airs this Sunday night as the show wraps up its 12-season run with a one-hour series finale. I hate being asked for my all-time favorite Curb scene because it's impossible to pick one. You have everything from the stop and chat to the chat and cut to the Krazy Eyez killa episode to Palestinian Chicken to the famous Halloween episode when Larry angers some older trick or treaters. You just can't pick one.

But for some reason, if you forced me to pick I always come back to this scene when Susie offers Larry a house tour. I've never ever wanted any house tour that someone has given me, so to hear Larry verbalize that perfectly encapsulates what Curb is all about. Throw in a classic Susie explosion and you have the perfect television scene.

Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on AppleSpotify or Google. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter,Instagram and TikTok


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Jimmy Traina

JIMMY TRAINA

Jimmy Traina is a media writer and podcast host for Sports Illustrated. A 20-year veteran, he’s been covering the media industry for seven years and writes a weekly column at SI, Traina Thoughts. Jimmy has hosted the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast since 2018, a show known for interviews with some of the most important and powerful people in sports media. He also was the creator and writer for SI’s Hot Clicks feature from 2007 to 2013.