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SI:AM | Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson Is Back in WWE, and Not Everyone Is Happy About It

Good morning, I’m Dan Gartland. I’m anticipating angry emails because I’m writing about pro wrestling, yet I believe this story holds genuine intrigue for several reasons.

In today’s SI:AM:

🤯 Why the Lakers should trade LeBron

​​🥱 The predictably terrible Pro Bowl

🏀 College hoops update after massive weekend

If you’re reading this on SI.com, click here to subscribe to receive SI:AM in your inbox every weekday.

They smell what The Rock is cooking, and they don’t like it

One of the biggest stars in the history of pro wrestling made a surprise return to WWE on Friday and will headline WrestleMania 40 in a title match against one of the longest-reigning champions in company history—but fans aren’t exactly thrilled with the planned match.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson made a surprise appearance on last week’s episode of SmackDown, showing up in the final minutes of the broadcast to confront Roman Reigns, the undisputed WWE universal champion. The two didn’t exchange words, but the implication was clear: WWE is setting up a match between The Rock and Reigns at April’s WrestleMania in Philadelphia.

So what’s the big deal? Shouldn’t fans be thrilled that one of the most famous people in the world is set to appear at WWE’s biggest show of the year and wrestle his first match in 11 years? However, Johnson has just parachuted in and disrupted a story that WWE has been building for years.

In early 2022, Cody Rhodes left the wrestling company that he helped found, AEW, and returned to WWE. From the moment he came back, Rhodes made it very clear he had one goal: to win the WWE championship, something his late father, the legendary Dusty Rhodes, had never done. Rhodes boiled down his pursuit of that elusive title to a three-word catchphrase that he’d repeat almost every time he appeared on screen: “Finish the story.”

To make a long story short, Rhodes won last year’s 30-man Royal Rumble match to earn an opportunity to face Reigns in a title match at WrestleMania 39. It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Rhodes would win that match. Reigns had been champion for nearly three years. There was no better time for him to drop the title than against Rhodes in what would be a feel-good moment to close the two-night WrestleMania.

But then Reigns won. Rhodes’s story wasn’t finished. He spent the next several months building himself back up, preparing for another showdown with Reigns, which he earned by winning this year’s Rumble match. And then, before they could get in the ring again, The Rock swoops in and takes his place.

This development has not gone over well with fans, to say the least. The backlash has been swift and furious.#WeWantCody” was trending on X (formerly Twitter) all weekend. Even Logan Paul, who currently holds WWE’s United States championship, chimed in tweeting, “We want Cody.” At one point, the video of Friday’s SmackDown segment on WWE’s YouTube channel had 97,000 likes and 500,000 dislikes. It must be even higher now, but there’s no way to know. The dislike count has been removed from the page.

I know what the wrestling skeptics are thinking: Isn’t this just a bit of misdirection to add some drama to Rhodes’s pursuit of the title? Won’t Rhodes find some way to wriggle his way into the Reigns-Rock match and win the title in Philly? It certainly doesn’t seem that way.

Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer reports that the match against Reigns was included as part of the deal when Johnson joined the board of directors of WWE’s parent company, TKO, early last month. (Johnson also received full control of the name “The Rock” and $30 million in stock.) The question then is why WWE had Rhodes win the Rumble. It could have avoided this confusion by booking another performer to win the match and have them use the title opportunity to face world heavyweight champion Seth Rollins.

It now appears as though Rhodes will face Rollins in what would be a rematch of Rhodes’s WWE comeback match at WrestleMania 38. But Rollins’s title is not the one that Rhodes has devoted his comeback to pursuing. It’s a new belt that was only established less than a year ago, and Rhodes winning it would not satisfy fans yearning to see him “finish the story.”

Rhodes will eventually get his big moment, but will this detour make that moment more meaningful or will it cause some fans to lose patience and tune out?

The best of Sports Illustrated

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The top five…

… things I saw last night:

5. A pair of impressive plays by UConn’s Paige Bueckers.

4. A high-flying dunk by Anthony Edwards.

3. Bradley Beal’s 43 points (on 16-of-21 shooting) in his return to Washington.

2. The Celtics’ tribute video for Marcus Smart’s return to Boston.

1. Nikola Jokić’s fake that left Deandre Ayton completely frozen.

SIQ

Today is the anniversary of when the New England Patriots completed their stunning comeback from down 28–3 against the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Which Patriots player scored three touchdowns in the game, including the game-winner in overtime?

  • Dion Lewis
  • LeGarrette Blount
  • Julian Edelman
  • James White

Friday’s SIQ: The Pro Bowl was famously held in Hawai‘i for decades (all but two years between 1980 and 2016), but before then, which city hosted the first 22 Pro Bowls?

  • Los Angeles
  • Miami
  • New Orleans
  • San Francisco

Answer: Los Angeles. From 1951 to ’72, every Pro Bowl was held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. In ’73, the game was played at the new Texas Stadium near Dallas, beginning an eight-year run of new Pro Bowl hosts. The game was mostly played in domed stadiums or warm-weather cities, except in ’74, when the league decided for some reason that going to Kansas City in January would be a good idea.



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