WWE stunned onlookers to finish WrestleMania 39, going away from what felt like the inevitable anointing of Cody Rhodes by having Roman Reigns retain his unified titles.
Much as fans might decry the result, though…WWE got it right.
To be fair, in a testament to the all-time storytelling to this point, WWE couldn’t get it wrong given the must-see narrative fallout from the main event.
But Reigns winning, even via a “dusty” finish due to Solo Sikoa interference, keeps the doors open for some historical moments.
Reigns’ march to 1,000 days as champion continues, setting him up for a likely defense in Saudi Arabia at King and Queen of the Ring 2023 before an inevitable main event at SummerSlam.
Along the way, The Tribal Chief retaining means there is still a real chance The Rock finally gets weaved into what started as a family-based storyline. And with so much meat left on the bone for the Bloodline story with The Usos losing the unified tag titles and Sikoa’s upswing, it’s hard to justify taking the straps off Reigns right now.
None of this means Rhodes is out of the picture, either. There will be whispers about him getting Lex Luger’d and such, but the reality is his whole upswing felt a little too predictable. For some fans, his merely entering at No. 30 in the men’s Royal Rumble match and winning it, just to get shooed in as the guy to dethrone Reigns, never vibed right.
Some will point to the fact that Rhodes’ father was often known as the guy who was endlessly in chase mode.
The parallel could be there eventually, but more notable is that’s just modern pro wrestling. It’s a brutal time out there trying to get babyface champions over, and if Rhodes immediately fizzled out after winning it on Sunday, WWE would be in a rut.
Right now? Fans want to see Rhodes win it more than ever, which is something sustainable WWE can properly slow-build without feeling rushed.
Fact is, WWE had two top babyfaces worthy of taking down Reigns. So much so, some fans were fantasy-booking ways to let Sami Zayn dethrone The Tribal Chief at a non-WrestleMania event, altering Sunday night’s finale to Zayn-Rhodes.
Look at Saturday night’s classic when Zayn and Kevin Owens took down The Usos. That felt earned through a year-plus of organic storytelling that simply wasn’t there Sunday night.
Rhodes isn’t done because of one setback that will keep him hot in chase mode. Fans are too smart these days to let that happen and the booking won’t.
That said, it would be hard to blame WWE and those involved if they wanted to go a thematic route.
The Bloodline story started with Reigns abusing Jey Uso, so maybe that ends up being the finale. Maybe it’s Sikoa assuming the role as the next dominant main event force as the dual champion fades out, either betraying or challenging his Tribal Chief.
Or maybe, just maybe, the plan is to make sure the one to end it is the guy who always seems to have Reigns’ number: Seth Rollins. Money in the Bank is on the way soon, too, after all.
Obviously, in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s main event, the most common reaction to Reigns retaining was rage or a bemused sense of being swerved. That’s understandable, given the groundswell of support behind Rhodes. But some reaction is better than none at all in pro wrestling.
Again, it’s hard to blame those at the wheel if they found the remaining story threads and possibilities around Reigns more appealing than Rhodes winning and the main event scene going right back to the usual babyface-champion-smiles-and-welcomes-all-challengers thing.
For a segment of fans, it’s unfair to accuse WWE’s habit of going for moments over storytelling to look at Sunday night and bemoan missing a moment when the long-term storytelling enabled by the result is so rich.
Given the possibilities for Rhodes, Reigns and the main event scene from here as one of the GOAT title runs continues, this wasn’t an old-WWE swerve just to bemuse fans.
This new Triple H-led creative team has more than earned a little trust from the WWE Universe and that extends to this, the idea being there is very much a concrete, long-term plan in mind and Rhodes’ loss is a part of that.
If what comes next is even half as good as the Bloodline story of the last few months, WrestleMania 39 will feel like an organic part of an all-time classic tale, even if the immediate reaction wasn’t overwhelmingly supportive.