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'That's what makes it magic': The inside story on WWE's fan-driven WrestleMania pivot featuring The Rock - ESPN

CODY RHODES SAT in a director-style chair last November inside a production warehouse in Sylmar, California. The WWE star was in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley for a multimedia shoot for the WWE 2K24 video game.

Rhodes found out shortly before that he'd be on the cover of the game's box, the latest signifier that he had emerged as one of the faces of WWE — if not the face.

Two months later, Rhodes would win the Royal Rumble for a second straight year, the first back-to-back winner since the iconic «Stone Cold» Steve Austin in 1998. Even before that Rumble victory, which was supposed to earn Rhodes a title shot in the main event of WrestleMania 40, all signs pointed to Rhodes challenging Roman Reigns for the Undisputed WWE Universal championship on pro wrestling's grandest stage, just like he did in 2023.

Sitting in that production space back in November, Rhodes was asked about one potential obstacle in the way of another WrestleMania headlining spot: Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, one of the biggest superstars WWE has ever produced and Hollywood's highest-paid actor, who also just happens to be Reigns' cousin.

«I don't consider him in my way,» Rhodes told ESPN. «Maybe he is and I'm being naïve to it. Maybe he wants to get in, I don't know.»

Johnson returned to WWE on Jan. 1 and indicated in a promo that he was eyeing a matchup with Reigns, a bout wrestling fans had been salivating over since even before Reigns embarked on his record-setting title run in 2020. On Feb. 2, Rhodes appeared to step aside in favor of Johnson in a hotly debated segment on SmackDown when The Rock and Reigns faced off for the first time.

And WWE fans hated it.

Johnson, one of the most beloved wrestlers of all time, was booed. A «WeWantCody» hashtag