Some thoughts from on the ground at Royal Rumble as we head down the Road to WrestleMania 39…
WWE is ready to strap a rocket to the back of Cody Rhodes and for good reason.
Cody Rhodes is the quintessential WWE Superstar. From an outsider’s perspective, the 37 year-old appears to have everything clicking and is primed for the biggest run of his career. Think of every single element that the company could possibly want in a franchise player —Cody fits the bill.
And it starts with his marketability. The American Nightmare has been hotter than a firecracker since making his return to WWE. Not even an 8-month absence due to injury could cool him down. They were moving so much of his merchandise at the Royal Rumble Superstore in San Antonio last week, it was nearly impossible to keep it on the shelves. They sold out.
If you missed your chance to get some, don’t worry. During his post-show media scrum Rhodes alluded to an abundance of new merch being made available to the public soon. A major reason why WWE is seemingly ready to pass the torch (and the Title) to Cody? He’s making and will continue to make the company money.
Speaking of that post-show media scrum Saturday night… what did Cody do there first? Just hours after winning the biggest match of his life, a match he’s dreamed of winning since he was a little kid, a match that puts him in the main event of WrestleMania, before saying or doing anything else? Cody took the time to put over the show’s main sponsor, Mountain Dew Pitch Black.
Someone should try this stuff he said, before taking a big swing of a Pitch Black and proclaiming it to be fantastic. The guy just gets it. All of it. He knows the importance of every aspect of the business. His passion for pro wrestling oozes out of him with every appearance he makes, both inside the ring and outside of it.
I can say this with no hyperbole whatsoever, there is no better storyteller in the business than Cody Rhodes. In the ring, on the mic, or behind a podium — it does not matter. The man has a wealth of knowledge and history he can pull from to make his work memorable. I now look forward to his press conferences, almost as much as the shows he performs on.
The way he works with the media is a true artform. He never responds to a question as though he’s annoyed or put off. Instead, he carefully considers what was asked before giving his answer with incredible detail and grace.
On multiple occasions now, I’ve witnessed Cody ask a member of the WWE public relations staff it’s ok to take a few more questions, when others would anxiously be counting the seconds until they could head for the exit.
That’s not a knock on anyone else specifically. The media obligations for WWE talent are insane. I would not fault anyone in the company for growing tired of talking to shlubs like myself. But you can tell Cody genuinely enjoys being there. It’s an absolute joy to watch that man work a room.
You could easily see him on with the late night talk show circuit with one of the Jimmys (Fallon or Kimmel), telling these incredible tales about his life on the road or getting choked up while talking about his Dad.
There have been many jokes told at Cody’s expense in recent years for the tears that well up in his eyes during his promos, but I love it. I love the emotion. I love the passion. I love that he cares that much about pro wrestling and building his own legacy instead of coasting by on his family name.
His mastery of the babyface promo is second to none, and then there’s that other thing I have yet to bring up. His matches are excellent. He’s the ultimate big arena performer.
Cody Rhodes is the perfect man to dethrone Roman Reigns and that’s why he won the Royal Rumble. This despite the Tribal Chief being smack dab in the middle of the best WWE storyline since Stone Cold vs. Mr. McMahon.
The culmination of that story, or at least this current chapter of it, appears to be set for Elimination Chamber. Sami Zayn is likely challenging Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal Title in his hometown of Montreal, even though many believe this Bloodline arc should end with Sami being the one to defeat Reigns at WrestleMania.
Not to put these two men into categories, because it’s not nearly this black and white. But you could make the case that a classic “peoples choice” vs. “company chosen one” situation is brewing here.
Any concerns that the rise in popularity of Sami Zayn would have any negative effect on Cody upon his return, however? Those were quickly squashed over the weekend.
There was no revolt Saturday. There was no rejection of Rhodes’ Royal Rumble victory. Quite the opposite. He was welcomed back with thunderous applause. And that’s because WWE played their cards just right.
By having the Men’s Royal Rumble Match open the show, the creative team eliminated any expectations of a Sami Zayn victory. Had the Bloodline split happened prior to Cody winning the match and then Sami no showed (or even worse, they put Sami in the match and he gets eliminated), they would have run the risk of having another Daniel Bryan situation on their hands.
There was no scenario where having Sami Zayn in the Royal Rumble without winning would have made sense or been good for business. This isn’t about Sami Zayn vs. Cody Rhodes. So keeping them away from one another was a smart decision.
He may not have punched a ticket to WrestleMania, but Sami Zayn had his moment. You could have cut the tension with a knife inside the Alamodome. 50,000 plus fans all on the edge of their seats, holding their breath, not making a sound, while they waited to see what Sami would do with that steel chair.
And believe me, what came out over Peacock pales in comparison to the roar of the crowd live when steel met the back of the Tribal Chief.
Closing the show with Sami Zayn’s Dr. King Schultz moment was absolutely the right call. For those who don’t know that’s a Django Unchained reference, and a damn good one. Arguably Tarantino’s best work, I highly recommend it if you can handle the subject matter of the film. But I digress.
Rhodes vs. Reigns is reportedly locked in for WrestleMania 39, but as we have seen before, plans can change. It will be fascinating to see how Sami’s story evolves over the next two weeks. Will the crowd be satisfied enough with Zayn getting a shot at the Tribal Chief in his hometown? Or will the groundswell of support for the former Honorary Uce be enough to force a course correction?
It’s happened before: Daniel Bryan, Becky Lynch, and Kofi Kingston. Will Sami Zayn be the next Superstar to upset the creative applecart? To steal a company line, never say never.
My guess is we’ll see Sami and Kevin Owens dethrone the Usos for the Tag Team Titles to close the first night in Los Angeles, and then Cody fulfill his lifelong dream in the main event of night two.
Regardless of how you feel about the situation, WWE is in a fantastic spot right now. They have two extremely hot babyfaces on their hands. It’s just a shame they only have one World Championship.
Rhea Ripley made the right choice by challenging Charlotte Flair
Rhea Ripley made history this past Saturday when she became the first woman to win the Royal Rumble from the No. 1 position. An already impressive performance was made all the more astonishing when Rhea disclosed in the post show press scrum that she wrestled a majority of the match after she dislocated her knee.
As I said on this week’s Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast, the closing sequence of the match, for my money, was the best ending to any Rumble in recent memory.
With all three finalists on the ring apron, Rhea Ripley ducked the mist from Asuka which inadvertently blinded Liv Morgan. The Nightmare then pulled off a really slick leg sweep through the middle rope to eliminate the Empress. Morgan managed to hit a Codebreaker on Ripley, who slipped and was left dangling from the ropes. But as the former SmackDown Women’s Champion felt her way along the top rope to claw at Rhea’s hands, Ripley was able to pull off one more feat of athleticism. She wrapped her ankles around Morgan’s head and tossed her to the floor with a Hurricanrana.
It was a truly brilliant sequence that was executed to perfection. I’m glad I was there to feel the energy of the crowd for that finish.
Rhea Ripley was the betting favorite to win the Women’s Royal Rumble heading into Saturday night, and WWE made the right choice by sending her to WrestleMania. Mami is long overdue for another opportunity to run the Women’s Division after her Raw Women’s Championship reign abruptly came to an end over 18 months ago.
Who was the woman that ended that reign? Charlotte Flair.
Who was the woman that defeated Ripley for the NXT Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 36? Charlotte Flair.
Which woman should Rhea have challenged to a match at WrestleMania 39? Charlotte Flair.
Yep, they got it right folks. My only complaint is that WWE creative only had her wait two days to make her decision. I specifically asked Rhea about this during the post show press scrum, because at the time, I thought it would be a tough decision to make for those in charge. But the more I thought about, the more the answer became clear.
I know it came as a shock to some and a disappointment to many when Rhea choose Charlotte this past Monday on Raw, but the more compelling story lays with the SmackDown Women’s Champion.
We all want to see Bianca Belair and Rhea Ripley kick-off a main roster rivalry that has the potential to last years. Ultimately, they’ll get there. These two aren’t going anywhere. Ripley and Belair are going to be cornerstones in the Women’s Division for the foreseeable future and will have many epic encounters. I’d bet a meaningful amount of money on it.
But before that chapter can begin, another one has to close. Rhea Ripley is coming for redemption at WrestleMania. Every single time that it looks like the Nightmare is ready to ascend to new heights, Charlotte Flair is there to send her tumbling back down. This is a match three years in the making.
Ripley needs this win over Charlotte and it needs to happen on the biggest stage of them all. She needs to slay the dragon, get the monkey off her back, kill her white whale — use whatever metaphor you like.
Now… if the Queen reigns supreme at ‘Mania again… Well, I’ll address it after it happens, but I’m confident Mami is walking out of Los Angeles with the SmackDown Women’s Championship.
Some other quick thoughts:
If Rhea is challenging Charlotte, then who does Bianca Belair face at WrestleMania? We’ll find out at Elimination Chamber in a couple weeks, but I have to suspect Asuka and her new dark persona are in line for a big push and the Empress will likely be next in line for the E-S-T.
I am genuinely curious what Becky Lynch and Bayley will be doing in Los Angeles come April. With two of the company’s top female stars seemingly out of the World Title picture, could their feud be stretched out another two months? Or is something else in the works?
While we still don’t know if Nia Jax is back in WWE full-time (Editor’s note: reports are she is not), I’ll break with seemingly everyone else and say I hope she re-signs. She’s exactly what SmackDown needs – a heat magnet to help get some of these babyfaces over. Put her against all these talented women that are still in the “getting to know you phase” with the audience, (Emma, Raquel Rodriguez, Tegan Nox, etc.) and see if they start cheering for them at the same time they are booing Nia out of the building. Say what you want, but the crowd is invested in Nia Jax. They love to hate her.
Reports are that GUNTHER will defend his Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania in a triple threat match against Sheamus and Drew McIntyre. YES! Sign me all the way up for that. Sign me up for Sheamus winning too.
It appears neither Stone Cold Steve Austin or The Rock will wrestle at WrestleMania this year and you know what? That’s perfectly okay. Reports are that John Cena, Brock Lesnar and Logan Paul will be on the card and that’s the perfect amount of part-timers getting the spot light. Biggest WrestleMania ever? I say showcase as much of you main roster talent as possible.
What did you all make of the Royal Rumble fallout? Let us know in the comment section below. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.
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