Backstage Report On Why WWE Swapped The Rock In For Cody Rhodes At WrestleMania 2024

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson appears to have replaced Royal Rumble winner Cody Rhodes as Undisputed WWE Universal Champion Roman Reigns' opponent at WrestleMania 40. Despite being a much-discussed dream match, the timing of the announcement and shunting of Rhodes out of the picture has led to huge backlash from fans, and there's been some updates on the matter since.

Dave Meltzer wrote on the F4W Forum that it was Rock who pushed super hard to make his match with Reigns happen, and the change came to be when it was clear CM Punk and Brock Lesnar were both off the WrestleMania card. Rhodes was previously planned to challenge Reigns in a rematch of their WrestleMania 39 bout, while Punk was penciled in to face WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, and a Rock-Reigns bout was due to be made further down the line with either next year's WrestleMania or a potential Saudi Arabia show in mind. Meltzer floated the idea that the change could have been made to divert attention from Vince McMahon's sex trafficking scandal.

PWInsider later indicated that, per some of their WWE sources, Johnson put himself forward to "save WrestleMania" in the absence of Lesnar and Punk. Yet, still other sources reportedly believe he was going to push for this regardless, given his conditional $30 million stock deal with TKO is contingent on hitting milestones. Such milestones are speculated to have included a return to the ring, and Johnson felt the time was right to do so with the idea that Rock vs. Reigns will be the larger attraction. Therefore, it's possible that regardless of who won the Royal Rumble it was going to be Rock challenging "The Tribal Chief" in Philadelphia. 

Coincidence or coordinated?

WWE will be running a WrestleMania 40 press conference featuring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Roman Reigns, and Cody Rhodes at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. According to Dave Meltzer, the T-Mobile Arena was booked specifically because of Johnson's presence weeks ago — prior to the Royal Rumble. He further touched on the idea that WWE had brought The Rock back to divert attention from the ongoing sexual trafficking lawsuit against Vince McMahon and the company, reasoning that things were locked in prior to their finding out and therefore an unrelated happenstance. However, he believes WWE will prefer fans to focus on hating Dwayne Johnson pushing Cody Rhodes out of WrestleMania as opposed to the lawsuit. Meltzer concluded that the press conference will likely be the deadline for WWE to lock in its WrestleMania main event, and he hasn't been told a three-way is currently being planned. However, the card is subject to change right up until the last minute, however unlikely. 

Conflicting reports have emerged pertaining to whether The Rock had been brought back for Roman Reigns after CM Punk suffered a torn triceps in the Royal Rumble match. Punk, penciled in to face WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins, will be sidelined from WrestleMania and it was suggested that The Rock returned to save the show. Noting also that Brock Lesnar was dropped from creative plans when his name was tied to the sex trafficking lawsuit. Further reports indicated that creative had been made aware of plans to stage Rock vs. Reigns, even producing merchandise, as of the day of the Royal Rumble. That timeline would have rendered the Royal Rumble result moot in any case, and undermines the idea that this was to save the "Show of Shows" rather than an opportunity to trigger Dwayne Johnson's stock bonus. 

There has been talks of a power shift in WWE's hierarchy

Dwayne Johnson's apparent return to the main event picture in WWE has reportedly been followed by shifts behind the scenes as well. Having been elected to the board of directors for TKO, Johnson has been afforded a measure of power. In addition, former WWE head writer Brian Gewirtz has reportedly been brought in as Johnson's voice in the creative process, which has spurred a belief that, should the situation arise, Johnson could be in a position to take the baton should TKO see the need to restructure. 

Speculation is running rife around Paul "Triple H" Levesque in light of the sex trafficking lawsuit, given both his relation to Vince McMahon as his son-in-law but also his tenure with the company, both on the corporate side and in the ring. The company is named as a defendant in the McMahon suit, stretching beyond trafficking to assault and exploitation in graphic accounts from plaintiff Janel Grant, and has been accused of fostering an atmosphere of fear allowing for such incidents to occur without justice or reprimand. 

Furthermore, it's been reported that Johnson's return as a TKO board member was negotiated exclusively between him, CEO Ari Emanuel, and WWE President Nick Khan. It's possible that the Rock vs. Roman Reigns match, and subsequent switching of gears on Cody Rhodes' story, was a result of decisions made above Levesque, with his creative team assigned the task of laying it out for fans to see.