April 2nd is night two of WrestleMania 39. On that night, Roman Reigns will defend the Undisputed WWE Universal Championship against Cody Rhodes. It will be the 945th day of Roman’s era-defining title reign. To really understand how long his reign has been, here’s some of what was going on when he won the Universal Title on August 30th, 2020…
– The New Mutants was crowned as the top movie at the box office in the United States, pulling in just over $7 million that week.
– The top song on the Billboard charts, for the second consecutive week, was the oh-so-controversial “WAP” by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. The following day, it would be topped by Korean boy band BTS and their song, “Dynamite.”
– Two days earlier, the world was rocked by the shocking news that award-winning actor Chadwick Boseman passed away after a private battle with colon cancer.
– A week earlier, Mr. Brodie Lee would defeat Cody in a three-minute squash match to become the new AEW TNT Champion.
That’s a long time ago.
All the pieces seem to be in place for Cody to get his storybook moment, not only by dethroning Roman, but also by “finishing his story” and becoming the first member of his family to be a World Champion under the WWE umbrella. The story is there, the time and location are there… it just seems like the perfect opportunity to have Reigns lose.
The problem is… we’ve seen “perfect opportunities” before, and Roman came out victorious each and every time.
Elimination Chamber 2023? People SWORE up and down that WWE would see the momentum Sami Zayn had built up and would deliver one of the biggest pops in wrestling history by having Sami win the title in his hometown, even if an audible needed to be called to make the title switch happen.
Crown Jewel 2022? People SWORE up and down that WWE would trip all over themselves to deliver on a shocking result by giving Logan Paul the victory, putting the title change in mainstream news circles all over the world.
Clash At The Castle? People SWORE up and down that WWE would have Drew McIntyre win the title in front of his people in the United Kingdom, going for the massive pop, but also as a bit of a “reward” for Drew, who had seen most of the biggest moments of his career take place during the pandemic in front of little-to-no fans.
SummerSlam 2022, WrestleMania 38, and Crown Jewel 2021? People SWORE up and down that WWE would put the title on Brock Lesnar because, well, it’s Brock Lesnar.
SummerSlam 2021? People SWORE up and down that WWE would have John Cena win the title, breaking Cena’s tie with Ric Flair for the most recognized World Title reigns of all-time.
WrestleMania 37? People SWORE up and down that Daniel Bryan or Edge would win the title because Triple Threat rules would allow for a title change without Reigns being pinned or forced to submit, “protecting” him.
How different is this situation than the aforementioned matches? The first thing that probably comes to your mind is the fact that Cody Rhodes won the Royal Rumble this year. Of course, Brock Lesnar won it last year and still lost to Roman at WrestleMania, and the same goes for Edge winning the 2021 Rumble and losing to Roman at WrestleMania. All-time, men’s Royal Rumble winners are 16-12 in their WrestleMania title shots, which is a 60.7% winning clip, but far from a “sure thing” like it appears to be in the minds of some. If Cody is unsuccessful at WrestleMania, he will be the third Royal Rumble winner in a row to lose at Mania, and that would be the first three-year losing streak since four straight Rumble winners lost from 2008-2011.
Just thought I’d share those stats. You know I love me some stats.
Seriously, though, are we supposed to simply see this as a foregone conclusion that Cody Rhodes ends the show on April 2nd as the brand new Undisputed WWE Universal Champion?
When I think about the possibility of Roman Reigns retaining his title at WrestleMania, I ask myself what WWE is going to gain from that decision. What would have them make such a decision? Could it be money? No matter how much they are, or aren’t, responsible for these numbers, a company’s World Champion is always tied to their financial situation. You can have classic match after classic match, but if you’re the champion when business is down, your title reign won’t be viewed fondly in the history books. An example of that is when Shawn Michaels won the WWF Title at WrestleMania 12. It was a big story, and he was having some great matches, but it wasn’t too long after HBK’s victory that WCW caught fire with the nWo storyline, going on their famous streak that saw Nitro beat Raw in the ratings for 83 straight weeks. Was that the fault of Shawn Michaels? No. As I said, though, the champion gets the credit and the blame, depending on how a company is doing.
If it’s money, you have to look at WWE’s numbers for the period that Roman has been having this title reign. 2020 saw the company break their all-time records for revenue and net profits. Those records were broken in 2021, and 2021’s records were broken in 2022. I can’t stress this enough… the top guy in a promotion is going to get a huge chunk of the credit and blame for how well said promotion is doing financially. If WWE is breaking records and making money, hand over fist, then Roman Reigns is going to get credited for that. It’s not like Roman is simply lucky to be at the top and isn’t pulling his own weight. Listen to his reactions when he comes out. Look at how much Reigns/Bloodline merchandise you see at every WWE event. He might not be THE reason WWE is making all this money, but he’s damn sure a huge reason for it.
What happens if Cody Rhodes becomes the top guy? Cody isn’t exactly a nobody that people aren’t reacting to, but what happens to WWE’s financial situation? Will they make more money with Cody on top, less money with Cody on top, or the same amount of money with Cody on top? The key players in WWE’s front office clearly see something special in Cody, but is that enough to have them pull the trigger on crowning a new champion?
If not money, what about history? As I said earlier, Roman will make it through his 945th day as champion if he retains at WrestleMania. Is it safe to assume that he won’t lose on a random episode of Raw or Smackdown? I think so. The next event after WrestleMania is Backlash on May 6th. That’s day 979 for the title reign, putting him a stone’s throw away from the 1000-day mark. 1000 days as World Champion is something that has only happened five times in company history, with the most recent being Hulk Hogan’s very first WWF Championship reign that ended on February 5th, 1988. That’s over 35 years ago! 1000 days would also bring Roman close to passing Pedro Morales for the fifth-longest reign in company history. Morales held the title for 1027 days, from February 8th, 1971 to December 1st, 1973. Is it beyond the realm of possibility that WWE would want to have Roman own the fifth-longest reign in company history? Not to me, it isn’t. Being in the top five would be an incredibly huge milestone, and one that Roman could hang his hat on for the rest of time.
I’m not sure I could picture Roman moving beyond fifth place, though. To reach fourth place, he would need a reign of 1238 days. That means he would need to remain the champion until January 20th, 2024. If you want to be funny, that date happens to fall on a Saturday, which means… it could be the date of the 2024 Royal Rumble, and you know that factoid would be mentioned approximately two million times as we crept up on the 2024 Rumble. Just for shits and giggles, Roman would need to be the champion until September 13th, 2024 to reach third place. He would need to be champion until July 6th, 2026 to reach second place. For him to break Bruno Sammartino’s all-time record, Roman would need to be the champion until April 24th, 2028.
Again… I love me some stats.
Once you’ve looked at the financial aspect, and then looked at the historical ramifications, what about the booking ramifications in the short and not-so-short term? Forget about the exact number of days Roman has been champion for just a moment. If he isn’t going to lose to Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania, when is he going to lose, and who is he going to lose to? There are a bunch of different scenarios you can throw around, some being pretty likely, and others being more of the longshot variety. Let’s look at some that will probably have the most traction, shall we?
Option A – Roman cheats to beat Cody at WrestleMania, then loses to Cody at Backlash in a match with some sort of major stipulation attached: While Backlash is going to get some hype surrounding it because it takes place in Puerto Rico (the first major event WWE has held there since 2005) and will be hosted by none other than Bad Bunny, this one just doesn’t make a ton of sense to me. Can you imagine if we go through nearly 1000 days with Roman Reigns as champion, only to have him lose at a non “Big Four” event? Not WrestleMania, not the Royal Rumble, not SummerSlam, and not even Survivor Series. Backlash. Oh, don’t you worry, WWE… there will be plenty of backlash for your asses if you did something like this.
Option B – Roman beats Cody at WrestleMania, then eventually loses to another member of The Bloodline at some point: For the great work he’s been doing over the last few years, people have been calling for Jey Uso to be the one who finally defeats Roman Reigns. Now, there are plenty of rumors that Solo Sikoa could be in the middle of being built up to dethrone Roman. Jey is a much more “finished product” than his younger brother, but Solo is certainly being protected for something big in the future, whatever that may be.
Option C – Roman beats Cody at WrestleMania, then eventually loses to Sami Zayn at some point: This is for the “Sami has earned the spot” crowd. It’s also something that depends on what happens with the Usos vs Sami and Kevin Owens match at WrestleMania. For example, if Sami and KO win the titles, Sami probably isn’t going to be getting this shot at Roman too soon, unless WWE is fast forwarding to a plan where Owens turns heel out of jealousy. There are a lot of issues with this option. One, even with Sami remaining popular and the story staying hot, you’re not going to be able to replicate the magic of Elimination Chamber weekend. Would Sami still get a huge face pop if he pinned Roman at, say, Money In The Bank or SummerSlam? Of course. It still wouldn’t match what would’ve been an all-time pop in Montreal, though. There’s also the aforementioned issue of Sami and Kevin finally teaming up. Do they win the tag belts and then have Sami immediately go for a singles title? Do they win the tag belts, have a really short title reign, and then have Sami go for a singles title? Do they fail to win the tag belts and then have Sami go for a singles title? All I know is that, one way or another, I don’t want to see Owens (or Sami) turn heel at any point in the near future. So much work has happened to get us to this point. I would like to avoid going back to seeing them feud with each other for a while. Like… for at least a year or two, if not more.
Option D – Roman beats Cody at WrestleMania, then eventually loses to someone else that he’s faced in this reign before: Braun Strowman, Bray Wyatt, Drew McIntyre, Kevin Owens, Edge, Rey Mysterio, John Cena, Finn Balor, Big E, Bobby Lashley, Montez Ford, Shinsuke Nakamura, Brock Lesnar, Goldberg, Matt Riddle, Logan Paul… go ahead and take your pick. Some of those names would work out better than others, but at this point, most of them are nowhere near the level they would need to be at to be considered for this type of spot. McIntyre could work at some point. Same for Owens, although it seems like he has lost to Reigns 50 times since August 2020. Cena is always going to be popular enough with the WWE Universe for this to work. If Big E is able to return to the ring one day, he’s someone that could be accepted in this position. Lashley is a monster, and he can be believed as a worthy challenger for Reigns. Lesnar, like Cena, is always going to be popular enough with live crowds that a title switch to him could work. Montez Ford is someone you can fantasy book all you want, but he isn’t going to fit this profile for a long time, or at least not without a lot of booking work. That’s about it, really.
Option E – Roman beats Cody at WrestleMania, then eventually loses to someone he has never faced before: When you look up and down the current WWE roster, there are a few names that could be involved in this category. Above all else, Randy Orton zooms to the top of the list if he is able to return to in-ring competition. It has been nearly eight full years since Reigns and Orton have faced each other in singles competition. An Orton return would be a huge boost for the overall WWE product, and him being a new opponent for Reigns would be a major selling point. Once AJ Styles returns from his broken ankle, he could be a good pick here. Sure, he was down the card a bit when he suffered his injury, but it wouldn’t take much to get him back at the top. One promo from Reigns about there being nobody left for him to face, and one interruption from Styles… that’s it. The crowd would be invested. Sheamus, like Orton, is someone who has been around for a while, but hasn’t been working with Reigns a ton recently. Their last singles match was over five years ago. With Sheamus putting on what many feel is the best work of his career right now, that’s a match that could be a lot of fun. The most intriguing match right now, though, is Gunther. I would love to see Gunther and Reigns go at it, and the additions of the rest of The Bloodline and Imperium make for some extra matches that can come from a feud, but that “heel vs heel” thing can be very tricky in professional wrestling. Would you turn Imperium face for that feud? That could work. Otherwise, you run the risk of live crowds not knowing who to cheer for, as we’ve seen in countless matches and feuds between heels through the years.
It speaks volumes that we’re here, 900+ days deep in this title reign, but there are still numerous available options for WWE to keep it going should they decide to do so. We’ve seen month-long title reigns in the past that ran out of steam and direction.
Do I think Roman Reigns walks out of WrestleMania as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion? No, I don’t.
Would I be shocked if Roman Reigns walked out of WrestleMania as the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion? No, I wouldn’t.
This is one of the wildest, most predictable-yet-unpredictable title reigns that we’ve ever seen. I just wanted to look at what could happen if that latest “predictable” outcome became another “unpredictable” one.
Weekly Power Rankings
Kenny Omega vs El Hijo del Vikingo: What a show these two put on. Again, I’m not going to participate in the debate about AEW introducing (or failing to do so) new talents, because I’ve been there and done that. As a match, this was so much fun to watch. Lucha and Lucha-style matches aren’t going to be for everyone. That’s fine. I know people have complained about some of the high spots involving Omega standing around and waiting for Vikingo to hit them, but it really wasn’t bad. Lots of smoothness here. Lots of jaw-dropping moments. Omega is already looking to run away with Wrestler Of The Year awards for 2023.
Ilja Dragunov vs JD McDonagh: Every bit the hard-hitting affair you would expect out of these two. There have been complaints that the match ended in a No Contest, but I can forgive that if it’s serving a purpose and advancing some sort of story. That’s what this one did, getting Dragunov and McDonagh tied to the North American Title match at Stand & Deliver.
Rey Mysterio Finally Responding To His Son: You knew the crowd was going to pop huge when Rey finally decided he had enough of his son and committed child abuse, and sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Dom can say whatever he wants about Rey with no consequences. He can even say whatever he wants about his sister with no consequences. Telling his mother to shut up, though? That’s where Rey draws the line! In all seriousness, everyone did a good job here, including Dom reacting just as a child (you know what I mean) would react if they were hit by their father, even if it was something that was provoked.
Ricochet vs Chad Gable: In an alternate universe, these two are setting up for a 20-minute classic at WrestleMania for the United States or Intercontinental Title. As it is, we’ll just have to settle for matches like this. Lots of fun here from two men who really could, and should, have big years ahead of them in the post-Mania landscape.
Kenny Omega vs Jeff Cobb Being Announced For Dynamite: AEW gave us a first-time-ever match involving Omega last week. This week, they’re giving us a first-time-ever-in-singles-competition match involving Omega. There is added intrigue here with the match being for Omega’s IWGP United States Title. Omega will look to strengthen his grip on those Wrestler Of The Year awards here, and Cobb gets another chance to blow fans away with his otherworldly power game. *Birdman hand rub*
Cody Rhodes & Roman Reigns: Another week of good promos from these two. I like that the story being told is that Roman is trying to play his usual mind games with Cody, but that they don’t seem to be working. With everything that has been going on with The Bloodline over the last few months, Roman is showing signs of cracking for the first time in years, and it’s making for some incredibly entertaining television.
Cody Rhodes vs Ludwig Kaiser: There are two completely different camps here. On one side, you have the fans who are super excited to see Cody as a contender who is more than willing to wrestle anybody at any time, especially since Roman Reigns isn’t exactly wrestling on a weekly basis anymore. Those fans are glad to see all these good matches, with new opponents and fresh matchups everywhere. On the other side, you have the fans who feel that taking nearly 20 minutes to beat Ludwig Kaiser, as talented as Kaiser is, doesn’t make Cody look anywhere near as strong as he needs to be before WrestleMania. I can see both sides of the debate. Right now, I’m still a member of the first side. Cody is a big enough star, and more than popular enough, to have matches like this without being “hurt” in the eyes of the WWE Universe. Now, if he was having matches with Ludwig Kaiser, LA Knight, Chad Gable, Baron Corbin, etc. and having bad matches as he struggles to pick up victories? That’s a different conversation altogether. He keeps winning, and he keeps having really good matches. That’s what matters.
Logan Paul: Maybe it was Logan himself, maybe it was Triple H, or maybe it was someone else, but it was FINALLY understood that trying to make Logan any sort of face wasn’t going to work. Sure enough, he is doing his best promo work when he leans in as the douchebag that most people seem to think he is, anyway.
Randy Orton: It is being reported that WWE is bringing Orton to California for WrestleMania. That isn’t a guarantee that he’s going to appear on-camera, or even that he’s ready to return to the ring, but it’s a great sign when you consider that he’s been at home the entire time he’s been away. We might… might… be on the verge of seeing “The Viper” back sooner than later.
Bron Breakker & Carmelo Hayes vs Pretty Deadly: So far, NXT has gone with the story of Bron and Melo having a great level of respect for each other and wanting each other to be at their best for Stand & Deliver. For a company that ADORES the “can they coexist” stories, and makes the answer “no” 99.9% of the time, this is refreshing. With one more episode of NXT television before Stand & Deliver, I think I just guaranteed that Bron and Melo are going to have a heated pull-apart brawl now.
Austin Theory vs Montez Ford: If we’re ever going to get the Street Profits splitting up, this is something we could see again post-Mania with the United States Title on the line. I’d be fine with that. For now, it’s good to have Theory looking good against impressive opponents. He has a big match coming up this weekend, after all.
Butch vs Gunther: Four years ago, at NXT Takeover: New York, these two had a 25-minute Match Of The Year classic for the WWE United Kingdom Championship. For better or worse, they’re in entirely different situations now, but it’s still fun to watch them wrestle. With rumors that WWE is thinking about having Butch go back to being Pete Dunne again, could we see a push for the guy, leading to something else with these guys down the road? Time will tell.
Stu Grayson vs Jon Moxley: Did Jon Moxley just have a match on AEW programming and get through the entire thing without bleeding?!? That should be a much bigger news story than it is. This was good, but yeah, no blood? What gives, Mox?
Johnny Gargano vs Dominik Mysterio: Good stuff. Gargano has the “out” because of his injury, while Dom picks up a much-needed win, especially without a ton of interference like we usually see with The Judgment Day’s matches. Works for me.
Rhea Ripley vs Bayley: Remember what I said earlier about matches that feature heels taking on heels? We got a good example of that here. These are two of the biggest women in the sport, having their first ever singles match, and they fought in front of a quiet crowd that didn’t really know how to react. The fact that the match was put together so randomly didn’t really help matters much. It was a good match, but it just happened in a weird situation.
This Week’s Playlist: “Fatal Attraction” by 6LACK… “preach” by 6LACK… “Stories In Motion” by 6LACK… “Love From The Other Side” by Fall Out Boy… “Heartbreak Feels So Good” by Fall Out Boy… “Hold Me Like A Grudge” by Fall Out Boy… “Fake Out” by Fall Out Boy… “The Kintsugi Kid (Ten Years)” by Fall Out Boy… “What A Time To Be Alive” by Fall Out Boy… “So Much (For) Stardust” by Fall Out Boy… “Fighting Myself” by Linkin Park… “101 Razors” by Lloyd Banks & Method Man… “The Cleansing” by August Burns Red… “Backfire” by August Burns Red… “Dark Divide” by August Burns Red… “It’s Hell Down Here” by The Amity Affliction… “Until There Is No Longer” by Thy Art Is Murder… “Wide Open” by Ov Sulfur & Howard Jones… “Death Awaits” by Resolve… “Oxy Cotton” by Lil Wyte… “Ohio Is For Lovers” by Hawthorne Heights… “The Message” by Nas… “Affirmative Action” by Nas, AZ, Foxy Brown & Cormega… “If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)” by Nas & Lauryn Hill… “All That I Got Is You” by Ghostface Killah & Mary J. Blige… “Motherless Child” by Ghostface Killah & Raekwon… “Back At You” by Mobb Deep… “Keep On, Keepin’ On” by MC Lyte & Xscape… “Leflaur Leflah Eshkoshka” by Heltah Skeltah… “It Takes A Seven Nation Army To Hold Us Back” by Apathy & Emilio Lopez