WrestleMania 40 lapsed fan's guide: The Rock, Reigns and Rhodes collide

Cody Rhodes: The Rock's return feels very 'Hollywood Hogan' (1:51)

Cody Rhodes talks to Stephen A. Smith about The Rock's legacy as well as what it means to be in both Wrestlemania main events. (1:51)

As a service to fans who have a general interest in WWE but might not have watched a match since the last time The Rock "finally had returned to Philadelphia" in 1999, we're happy to provide this FAQ as a guide to WrestleMania 40, scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field in the City of Brotherly Love.

Finally! The Rock has returned to WWE. He's in a main event at WrestleMania. Yet, after years of teasing it, he's not attempting to beat Roman Reigns, take his Undisputed WWE Universal championship and become the Head of the Table. Instead, he's tag-teaming with Roman on Night 1?

OK, did someone not smell what The Rock was cooking in interviews like this one with Stephen A. Smith?

Cody Rhodes apparently had some olfactory inconsistency. He did smell what The Rock was cooking briefly. But when the fans lost their appetite for it, Rhodes decided to rewrite The Rock's recipe.

Please recall that Rhodes had a chance to "finish the story" -- i.e. win the world championship that eluded his WWE Hall of Fame father Dusty Rhodes -- at WrestleMania 39 against Reigns, only to see his dream shattered by outside interference from The Wiseman (pending WWE Hall of Famer Paul Heyman) and The Bloodline's Solo Sikoa.

In the ensuing year, Cody had side quests against Brock Lesnar and The Judgment Day, aligned himself with former rivals Seth "Freakin'" Rollins and Jey Uso and eventually won the Royal Rumble in January by eliminating CM Punk to earn another shot at Reigns and the title at WrestleMania 40 -- if Cody wanted the match, that is.

There was no reason to believe it wouldn't be Rhodes-Reigns II at WrestleMania 40. Cody said after the Rumble that "I want to be back in the ring with Roman Reigns, and I want to finish the story."

On the next edition of SmackDown, Reigns asked for a decision. Rhodes stepped into the ring to say that he wanted to finish the story, take Reigns' title and take everything from him ... "But not at WrestleMania."

To quote those annoying fans still doing a bit from 20 years ago to interrupt every promo: "WHAT?"

Rhodes then revealed that he had been seeking counsel from someone who knows Reigns very well.

"If you smelllllll ..."

The Rock, who had previously returned to WWE on Jan. 1, walked down the aisle, shook hands with Cody and embraced him. Rhodes exited the ring, essentially ceding his spot so The Rock and Roman Reigns could main event WrestleMania.

But very quickly WWE learned that it shouldn't mess with Rhodes' story.

Wait, who wouldn't want to see The Rock lay the smackdown on Roman Reigns at WrestleMania?

Apparently, plenty of fans. The heel turn from The Rock started on "The Pat McAfee Show" with the term "Cody Crybabies."

The WWE Universe wasn't buying the change of heart from Rhodes. The perception that The Rock had "big timed" the Royal Rumble winner, interrupting Rhodes' story to continue his own, was unshakable. Especially since Dwayne Johnson had been named to the board of directors of TKO, the publicly traded company consisting of the UFC and WWE, just over a week earlier.

That cynicism was especially engrained for fans who recalled the situation back in 2013, when Punk's WrestleMania main event aspirations were dashed in order for John Cena to face The Rock instead. The people wanted Punk. That's not what they were given.

In a classic CM Punk move, he told Cody in their pre-Rumble promo segment that "right when you're about to cross the finish line and finish your story, [there's] a much bigger superstar that hasn't been around in a very long time coming to take it all away from you." Was he talking about himself or The Rock?

After Rhodes gave up his spot, WWE events were soon filled with chants of "We Want Cody" and "Rocky Sucks," the latter being something you don't want to hear when your conquering hero is seeking to take down the company's longest-reigning villain.

Those chants continued at the WrestleMania XL Kickoff media event in Las Vegas during Super Bowl weekend, where The Rock and Reigns were expected to cement their matchup.

The fans still wanted Cody to finish the story, so the WWE decided it was time for a rewrite.

What happened in Vegas?

Tensions rise after The Rock slaps Cody Rhodes

After Cody Rhodes decides to fight Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40, The Rock slaps Rhodes across the cheek.

Well, it certainly didn't stay in Vegas, if that's what you're asking.

The Rock offered a history lesson about his family, putting up a "Bloodline Family Tree" on the screen like it was a TED Talk about Samoan wrestling. Rhodes interrupted the news conference, calling the situation "bulls---" and proclaiming that he had decided to challenge Reigns at WrestleMania after all.

In the process, Rhodes referenced The Bloodline's ancestry a little too much for The Rock's liking, and he emphatically slapped Rhodes across the face, signaling a heel turn and aligning with Reigns, the person he was planning on beating the snot out of roughly 30 seconds earlier.

But hey, The Rock's been in the "Fast and the Furious" movie franchise. He knows it's all about family.

So the match was made: Cody Rhodes vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 40 for Undisputed WWE Universal Championship and the completion of stories, potentially.

And soon, another match was made: Reigns would team with The Rock on Night 1 against Rhodes and Rollins, who found himself in the middle of that Las Vegas news conference chaos.

If Rhodes and Rollins win, The Bloodline will be barred from ringside for the Night 2 main event. If they lose, then the main event is "Bloodline Rules," meaning run-ins and interference galore from Roman's compatriots.

If they're barred from ringside, why wouldn't The Bloodline just interfere in the match anyway, since the title can't change hands through disqualification?

Uh ... maybe the ref just won't see it. As usual.

Did we ever get a sufficient explanation, in storyline, for why Rhodes handed his spot to The Rock?

Not really. Rhodes responded to a very "Attitude Era" promo from The Rock on social media by claiming he was manipulated into giving up the match after The Rock convinced him that the people really wanted to see him against Reigns. Rhodes later said it was The Rock's arrogance at the Vegas news conference that finally broke him and made him retake the spot he'd earned.

Please read this terrific inside story from Marc Raimondi and Mike Coppinger that details the non-kayfabe pivot for WWE away from the match. Confusing and inexplicable as it was, the whole situation speaks to the changes behind the scenes for WWE that allowed fans to will a massive change like this into existence.

What about The Rock in all of this?

For all the concerns about his in-ring rust and whether his schtick translates to 2024 -- not all of them misplaced concerns, mind you -- there's no question that the magnitude of his star power has helped WWE pivot from an admitted mistake in judgment.

It's been a minute since we had a heel with this kind of old-school heat: The corporately chosen, entitled star whose violent attacks on the hero leave little kids crying out of concern for Rhodes' health.

But there's also been something decidedly new-school about The Rock in his use of social media to build the feud. It's not just dropping excessive F-bombs on Instagram: Witness a recent attack on Raw in which The Rock bloodied Rhodes with a weight belt outside the arena. The People's Champ later released a video, ostensibly shot by his own social media team, showing him continuing the attack after the WWE crew had said "that's a wrap" on the segment. That was ingenious.

If there's one main issue with the way this played out for The Bloodline, it's that The Rock's heel turn dimmed the spotlight on Reigns. We've been building toward Cody vs. Roman II for a year and that build ends with The Rock proclaiming himself as "The Final Boss" ahead of their match, which is what Roman had always been sold as vis-à-vis "finishing the story." Now Reigns feels like the penultimate challenge, which doesn't feel right narratively.

Perhaps that's the point. One could easily see a scenario in which Rhodes wins and ascends to his place as the company's babyface champion while The Bloodline continues to implode. The Rock usurps Reigns as Tribal Chief, Reigns is bitter about being pushed aside, and they finish their own story at (the next) WrestleMania -- perhaps as Dwayne Johnson always intended.

Speaking of Bloodline family drama, what's up with the Uso brothers?

Please recall back to last August at SummerSlam when Jey Uso lost the chance to become the new Tribal Chief because Jimmy pulled him out of the ring and superkicked him. Jimmy claimed it was to keep Jey from being corrupted by power, and Jey responded by superkicking the entire Bloodline before eventually "quitting WWE" and of course ending up aligned with Rhodes on Raw.

So at WrestleMania 40, we get Jey Uso vs. Jimmy Uso, twin vs. twin, Bloodline vs. exiled former member. But more importantly, we get "Yeet!" (Jey's catchphrase, which the crowd echoes) vs. "No Yeet!" (Jimmy's response to that catchphrase), making this perhaps the first match ever booked through sales of novelty T-shirts.

So Seth Rollins spends the entire year crushing it as the active heavyweight champion ... please tell me that he's doing more than just a tag team match with Rhodes.

Rollins defends the world heavyweight championship against Drew McIntyre, making this three title shots in six months for the Scottish Warrior against Seth. Perhaps that's why McIntyre has been as focused on CM Punk as he's been on this match.

It was McIntyre's Future Shock DDT that allegedly led to Punk tearing his triceps at the Royal Rumble, costing him the chance to main event WrestleMania for the first time. McIntyre has leaned into this rather devilishly, wearing a T-shirt depicting him celebrating at a grave with "CM Punk's WrestleMania Main Event" on the tombstone.

Truthfully, McIntyre's been on fire in his promos, including a recent one where he was giving a "eulogy," saying Punk's "brittle, fragile body failed him worse than it did in UFC" and that Rollins is a "cringe-lord" who "saw Jared Leto as The Joker and built his entire personality around him."

(Well, it was actually Joaquin Phoenix's Joker, but the point still stands.)

So, in summary: CM Punk is getting involved in this match somehow, unless you believe his duties will be limited to "special guest commentator" as currently listed by the WWE.

Who's challenging for the women's titles?

After Bayley won the Royal Rumble, she earned a title shot at WrestleMania. Things hadn't been going well for Bayley in her faction Damage CTRL, as Iyo Sky, Kairi Sane and Asuka were openly mocking her in Japanese. Too bad Bayley also speaks Japanese! After that shocking revelation, Sane and Asuka attacked Bayley, leaving her with no choice but to challenge her former friend Sky for the SmackDown belt at 'Mania.

Damage CTRL's Asuka, Sane and Dakota Kai are set to take on Bianca Belair, a returning Naomi and Jade Cargill in a six-person tag team match. Cargill made her WWE debut in January after leaving AEW. Few wrestlers have ever arrived in WWE looking more like they were born to compete there than Cargill. And it's hard to not imagine Cargill is the one that gets the pin on Sunday night. She's already on the poster for an upcoming WWE Premium Live Event this summer.

What about Rhea Ripley, the women's world champion?

She has a date with The Man, and no, we're not talking Dom Dom. By the way, congrats to Dominik Mysterio for getting married in real life and for Damian Priest for leading the boos when Mysterio grabbed a microphone at his own wedding. Fantastic.

It's Ripley vs. "The Man" Becky Lynch for the title at WrestleMania, after Lynch won the Elimination Chamber match for the right to face her. The build for this has been awesome: Two competitors that know their way around a promo, with Rhea as the cocky champion wanting to draw the fire out of Becky. And that she did on "The MMA Hour" where Lynch showed up to attack Ripley on the set. It's Randy Savage tackling Dennis Rodman in 1999 on "The Tonight Show" for the digital age!

These two haven't met in a singles match since 2019. They absolutely should steal the show on Night 1.

What are the other title matches at WrestleMania?

Night 1 has Intercontinental champion Gunther facing Sami Zayn. Gunther is building on his historic reign with the title, which will be around 664 days by the time WrestleMania hits, or 663 days longer than at least two of The Miz's IC title runs. It's a Gunther match and it's a Sami match, which means we can expect abject punishment and wonderful underdog moments of hope.

And chops. Many chops. We asked Zayn about them on ESPN's "The Drop" podcast this week, and he said Gunther's chops are "hard to explain" for him.

"It hurts, but it's almost more jarring than anything. You almost can't believe the reaction it has on your body," said Zayn. "Something about that chop, it takes your breath away and does weird things to your body."

The U.S. title is on the line as champion Logan Paul takes on Randy Orton and Kevin Owens in a triple threat match. Paul has been the champion since last October, and Owens has been chasing him and that belt ever since.

Orton returned from a long-term injury at Survivor Series, to the delight of the fans. At Elimination Chamber, Paul took an RKO from The Viper, feigned injury and then whacked him in the face with brass knuckles to cost Orton a shot at a WrestleMania main event. Which is generally not what we'd advise anyone to do to Randy Orton, but this being Logan Paul, he probably saw it as light trolling.

Please note that Logan Paul's Prime Hydration is the exclusive "official hydration drink partner" of WWE and the first partner to ever appear on the center of the WWE ring. Obviously, a clear conflict of interest to have a competitor in the match also sponsoring it. We need Congressional hearings on this, immediately.

There's gotta be a big tag team match, right?

Tag team ladder matches have a legacy of their own at WrestleMania. The mere mention of one conjures images of midair spears and stupefying dives onto stacks of ladders.

While there will be no tables and chairs in this match -- at least officially -- The Judgment Day (Finn Balor and Damian Priest) will defend their belts in a "Six-Pack Ladder Match" against five other tag teams.

From Raw, we have The New Day, DIY (Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa) and Awesome Truth, which pairs The Miz with R-Truth, perhaps the single funniest individual in wrestling today. From SmackDown, we have Grayson Waller and Austin Theory and New Catch Republic, which is Pete Dunne and Tyler Bate having adopted a moniker that shouts out wrestling from the 1800s.

Please note that Priest is still the owner of the WWE Money in the Bank briefcase and has said he was waiting for Raw brand champion Rollins to get healthy before cashing it.

Any multiteam matches at WrestleMania?

Of course there are. How else are they getting as many wrestlers on the roster as possible on the card, with the Andre The Giant battle royal having been relegated to SmackDown?

The Pride (Bobby Lashley and The Street Profits) will take on The Final Testament (Karrion Kross and the Authors of Pain) in a Philadelphia Street Fight, which is about as brutal a combination of words as one could string together for a match stipulation.

The other match continues the long-standing feud between Rey Mysterio and his son, former convict Dominik Mysterio. Rey will team with Dragon Lee against "Dirty" Dom and Santos Escobar, in a battle between the Latino World Order (LWO) and Legado del Fantasma. Dom continues to have heat with the fans that's slightly warmer than the surface of the sun, and we love to see it.

Speaking of crowd reaction, where's LA Knight on this card?

Last year's sensation, LA Knight, is facing AJ Styles in a singles match, stemming from some beef they started at Elimination Chamber. They have had some fun here. Knight was "arrested" for trespassing at Styles's house while looking for him. He also ambushed AJ after disguising himself as a security guard at SmackDown, complete with a wig.

Look, it's an excuse to watch Styles be phenomenal in the ring and Knight to probably get his revenge. Not everything needs to be a multiyear build to an operatic finish. Sometimes, you just watch to give 90,000 fans a chance to say "Yeah!" a lot.

It's WrestleMania. Do we have celebrities in attendance?

You mean besides the most electrifying man in entertainment today, The Rock?

We know Lil Wayne will be there. Multiple reports have talk show host Drew Barrymore appearing, potentially working with The New Day. There have also been reports that WWE has reached out to recently retired Eagles legend Jason Kelce, who will hopefully dress in his Mummers Parade outfit from their Super Bowl party in 2018 should he appear. Or bring his brother Travis and his girlfriend Taylor Swift with him. One of the two.

Finally, does this stack up to be a classic WrestleMania?

Obviously, a lot of that depends on how the WWE sticks the landing with the Bloodline vs. Cody Rhodes drama, which could wrap up as either a storybook ending or something completely convoluted to push the angle deeper in 2024. But the undercard behind those matches is so solid that it might make up for whatever disappointment lingers. Rollins vs. McIntyre, Ripley vs. Lynch, Uso vs. Uso ... we've got some potential show-stoppers here that at the very least are going to have the Linc rocking.

That said, if Cody loses again, it's not going to be pretty.