By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer
I don’t care who reported what. I don’t care what the “original plan” was. I don’t care who was right, who was wrong, how many times anybody wants to re-litigate the timeline of things. This much I know is true:
My God, it’s hard to just sit back and enjoy wrestling these days.
First, a quick recap. Ten days ago on Smackdown, Cody Rhodes was slated to announce his choice for who he wants to face at WrestleMania. He won this year’s Royal Rumble. He earned that right. Cody showed up. Told Roman Reigns he wanted to face him … and then got out of dodge to make way for The Rock, who did nothing except slowly walk into the ring, spend way too much time whispering something into Cody’s ear and stand there.
Cody left the ring as the crowd went crazy for a stare down between Reigns and The Rock. The implication was that The Rock had come to take Cody’s place in a presumed match with Reigns at WrestleMania. Nothing was announced. No public decisions were made. WWE did its best to suggest that every fan’s Mania hopes of Cody finishing his story were shattered.
Fast-forward a week and in the interim, nearly every corner of the Wrestling Fan World was ornery about the development. “We want Cody” became a hashtag, a trend and a chant. Fans ran The Rock’s daughter off social media as the narrative that Dwayne Johnson himself was being a selfish businessman by working his way onto the TKO board to demand he face Reigns at this year’s WrestleMania spread like wildfire. A bad taste was left in the mouth of wrestling fans far and wide. Even wrestlers from other promotions weighed in on the spectacle, using the “We want Cody” hashtag to add to the ground swell.
And then Thursday happened. WWE, taking advantage of the Super Bowl being in Las Vegas, booked the city’s most notable arena for a press conference (that, ironically, never showcased an interaction with a member of the press, but I digress). Everyone was going to be under one roof again. This time, Cody walked out with a microphone, said the word “bullshit,” and confirmed that he, indeed, was actually going to challenge Reigns at this year’s WrestleMania. The Rock and Roman left the arena together, suggesting a heel turn for The Great One, and the match everyone wanted to see was made official the next night on Smackdown.
Wasn’t that fun?
Actually, it was. The swerves, the unpredictability of it all. Cody adding another wrinkle to his story, another piece of adversity to face before he can finish it. The unforeseen move to make The Rock somewhat of a bad guy, complete with his “Cody crybabies” observation. It was everything that makes pro wrestling great. We laypersons couldn’t tell where or if lines were blurred, if this was the plan all along, if WWE pivoted after seeing the reaction fans had to Cody potentially not wrestling Roman at ‘Mania. It was great.
But goddamn, man. Did everyone have to be so bratty about the whole ordeal?
One thing this scenario is not is the Daniel Bryan obsession from a handful of years ago. That was just a guy to whom people gravitated. There wasn’t a family legacy attached to him. There weren’t decades of lineage and story and tradition and pomp and yes, circumstance. It was just a likable dude who fans rooted for. And considering this was before AEW was even hatched, the wrestling world ostensibly tried to hijack the WWE formula if only for their own entertainment at that time. Bryan just happened to be on the good side of that uprising.
Cody’s situation is different. First, nepotism. Then successes. Then failures. Then AEW. Now, a superstar. When you sprinkle on the history of his father and the WWE title, you have a deep well of story that deserves more coddling than the typical underdog-makes-good trope that pro wrestling so often utilizes. It’s a true feel-good tale that is so easy to root for because we’ve all been through hell and back for one thing or another in our lives. Cody’s story is earned. Bryan’s was defiant.
And that’s why the twists and turns to get to Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania were/are welcome. Or, they should be welcome. Forget the backstage news, the purported original plan, the things we think we know but probably don’t. All the matters is WWE erred toward winding roads over the straight, narrow path that pro wrestling so often ventures down. That’s a good thing … right?
So, why’d everybody have to freak out in the span of a week? Two months away from WrestleMania. One more PLE to go before we even start to see a ‘Mania card come together? I concede some amount of PTSD that longtime fans might have, considering how often it felt like the old WWE regime took glee in working against its fans. But, come on, guys. Let things breathe. First, it’s a debate about the definition of long-term storytelling. Then it’s the tribalism of which company does that better. Now, it’s “You didn’t give me what I wanted when I wanted it, so this is an abject failure.”
Make up your minds.
Sometimes, scripted products let you down. We all understand that. The Sopranos finale is still being talked about all these years later, and sometimes that’s for good reasons while other times, those reasons aren’t so kind. But it maintains a place in the popular culture lexicon because of its generational ability to craft a story. Did the Seinfeld series finale work? The consensus often says no, but that didn’t take away from the fact that it’s one of America’s funniest television series ever. Imagine if The Internet was what The Internet is today when Jim and Pam didn’t get together by the end of season one of The Office. The hashtags, protests and universal jumping-of-the-shark would be unavoidable.
And yet with those examples, we knew the content was finite. When a series was set to end, we knew that ending was coming way ahead of time. Pro wrestling never stops. Even when a story feels like it’s nearing its conclusion, the characters will all stick around beyond the supposed “blow off,” as they say, and perhaps the story that is ending can be revisited somewhere down the road. There’s levels to this stuff. We can have watered down, simple stories. We can have long-term tales soaked in intricacies. We can just have wrestling matches devoid of stories. Pro wrestling is a lot of different things, but it’s at its best when it zags when people expect it to zig.
It’s all to say, how about we chill out if we see something go down a road we don’t initially agree with in the world of pro wrestling. Death threats to a father’s daughter is beyond extreme and outrageously disgusting. Bailing on a product based solely on the most recent development in a narrative isn’t nearly as egregious, but still childish nonetheless. Do you like pro wrestling or not? If you do, give things time. If this is just another vehicle for you to feel like you’re smarter than others because only you know best about what should always happen within the confines of the genre, don’t talk to me about being a fan of this stuff. Debates are fun and essential when it comes to pro wrestling; throwing an entire company or an entire story under the bus before it is fully realized is short-sighted, unfair, and not nearly as cool as you think it is. For the sake of what? Clicks? Respect? Clout? None of that seems particularly attractive in a wrestling fan these days.
And so, as we continue to walk alongside Roman Reigns, The Rock, Cody Rhodes, and even Seth Rollins and their paths unfold in the march toward April, let’s not lose sight of the age-old belief that the journey is oftentimes far more interesting than the destination. And if we have to take a detour, or we realize our route wasn’t as convenient as initially promised, we shouldn’t throw fits about the simple reality that things don’t always go the way they were planned. That’s OK. It doesn’t mean the endgame won’t be fruitful and it doesn’t mean the destination won’t ultimately be reached.
It just means that things are unfolding in a way you didn’t prefer them to unfold. And sometimes, that’s for the best.