Despite Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson remaining a beloved star for much of the broader public and for wrestling fans alike, fans are protesting a move he made ahead of this year’s WWE WrestleMania on Friday’s episode of “SmackDown” on Fox: stepping in to challenge Roman Reigns, taking what had appeared to be wrestler Cody Rhodes’ spot on the Mania lineup in a match that’s been built up for years. Video on WWE’s YouTube account of the moment has received more than half a million dislikes from viewers, compared with just over 100,000 likes.
The hashtag #WeWantCody trended over the weekend as fans demanded that Rhodes face long-running champion Reigns — he’s held the title for more than 1,200 days and will have held it for more than 1,300 by WrestleMania — rather than that match going to Rock. Rhodes faced Reigns at last year’s WrestleMania after returning from a real-life injury that kept him out of action for much of 2022, but he lost in the show’s main event.
Fans’ attention is also being drawn to this at the same time as WWE has faced negative press, with its founder and board chair Vince McMahon forced to resign in the wake of detailed, graphic sexual assault allegations in a lawsuit from Janel Grant, a former WWE employee. McMahon also remains under federal investigation. WWE may not be too hyped about fans’ frustration over the company’s creative decisions, but it may be seen as the better option compared with the publicity they’ve faced over McMahon.
As the contentious response spread across social media, Johnson posted early Sunday that he’s got “tough skin, love the passion.”
While the plan had been for Rhodes to win last year, the shift was made amid the merger between WWE and UFC under new corporate parent Endeavor, which formed TKO Group Holdings at the same time as last year’s WrestleMania. The creative move was ordered by Vince McMahon after he returned to the company as the deal was being put together, according to wrestling industry publications such as the Wrestling Observer.
Fans have anxiously awaited Rhodes “finishing his story,” as the promotion has promoted it, seeking to win the championship that his father — the late legend Dusty Rhodes — never did. While Cody Rhodes had been set to face Reigns, once wrestler C.M. Punk was injured, Rhodes was moved into the match that had been set up for Punk. At the moment, Rhodes looked like he was being set up to go against another of the company’s champions, Seth Rollins.
The fan pressure could potentially shift plans around the biggest show in the simulated sports soap opera world. Showing that the response is likely to become part of the storyline, while the hashtag began organically, WWE wrestlers have started to chime in on the response in their own tweets.
WWE wrestlers Logan Paul and Richochet were among those to post about the Rhodes controversy.
Richochet used the occasion to call out what he described as the toxicity of the internet wrestling community.
He later added that he would be all right with either Rhodes or Rock getting the match, but did write to chime in with the #WeWantCody hashtag.
Reigns is also the Rock’s cousin and this match, like the Rhodes one, had been discussed for years. But it coming at the expense of Rhodes’ multi-year journey is what set fans off.
The shift into this new direction appeared to begin on this past Monday’s episode of “Raw” in a segment with Rhodes and Rollins, but whatever happens next remains to be seen.