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Cody Rhodes on his tense WrestleMania storyline with The Rock: ‘He means what he says’

Rhodes will have not one, but two matches at WrestleMania 40: a championship bout against Roman Reigns, and a tag-team match that will pit him against Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
/ Source: TODAY

Cody Rhodes will have another chance to finish his story this weekend on WWE’s biggest stage.

Rhodes will face the Undisputed WWE Universal Champion, Roman Reigns, on the second night of WrestleMania 40 on Sunday, April 7, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. It’s the same main event that headlined last year’s WrestleMania, where Rhodes lost to Reigns, albeit due to interference from Reigns’ family in his villainous faction, "The Bloodline."

This time, he has a new obstacle in his path to claim the championship and “finish the story” — that is, to hold the WWE title that his late father, Dusty Rhodes, never won during his legendary career. On Saturday, April 6, the first night of WrestleMania 40, Rhodes will team up with Seth Rollins to battle Reigns and the returning Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in a match that will determine whether "The Bloodline" will be allowed at ringside for the championship bout.

The Rock, Roman Reigns, Cody Rhodes and Seth Rollins.
Rhodes and Rollins face off against The Rock and Reigns on the first night of WrestleMania 40.Courtesy WWE

The events that led up to this tag-team match have made for a wild roller-coaster ride for fans. Rhodes had earned his championship opportunity by winning the Royal Rumble match on Jan. 27. But days afterward, he appeared to concede his spot in the WrestleMania main event to The Rock, setting up a dream showdown between The Rock and Reigns.

Or so it seemed. The backlash on social media was intense, with fans calling for justice for Rhodes. At a Feb. 8 press event in Las Vegas to promote WrestleMania 40, Rhodes declared he would face Reigns after all. He also ruffled the feathers of The Rock, who slapped him across the face.

“The pivot the WWE made and the pivot that I made, I think, has been in the interest of the company,” Rhodes (real name Cody Runnels) tells “I think if there were plans for Rock and Roman at WrestleMania 40, the backlash would have continued. And for me, I tried to be really quiet when it happened because at the time I had no grudge against The Rock, and at the time, even though I don’t like Roman Reigns, have all the respect in the world for him.”

“We heard the fans, we made the call, and I feel everyone’s on the same page now, at least in terms of, we’ve got a beautiful two nights of WrestleMania,” he adds.

Cody Rhodes
"I just had this confidence that it was going to work out. And I think sometimes that might be naive. It also might be arrogant. But that's why I didn't say anything," Rhodes says of his winding path to the WrestleMania 40 main event.Courtesy WWE

In a recent interview with, Johnson’s longtime WWE behind-the-scenes collaborator, Brian Gewirtz, shared a similar perspective on the fans rallying behind Rhodes, saying, “Once he won the Royal Rumble, then I think there was a certain element of, ‘Hey, don’t screw with us now.’ You can’t dangle the Royal Rumble win and then take it away. And I think everyone, Rock included, was like, ‘Yeah, they’re right. We should continue this story as it naturally would play out if this were real life.’”

Johnson has made the most of the creative pivot, transforming The Rock character into a heel (or bad guy). The Rock scoffs at the “Cody crybabies” who caused an uproar over the potential Rock-Reigns matchup, and has delivered profane messages to Rhodes and even his mother, promising to her he would make her son bleed and bring her to tears.

Rhodes has not backed down, calling him, among other things, a "whiny b----."

(The video below recaps Rhodes and Rollins’ feud with The Rock and Reigns. Please note language.)

It’s been a heated storyline, as far as what has aired on WWE programming. When asked whether it has been drawing from possible real-life tension between himself and Johnson, Rhodes answers, “I’ve told a lot of people if The Rock and Roman Reigns genuinely hated my guts, I would fully understand. I would. Because if they had this plan to do this big family presentation, and then my little self ruined it, I would understand their disdain.

“The suspension of disbelief in what we do, sometimes it’s hard to tell, but I can tell you from standing in the ring with The Rock when he’s talking, he means what he says,” he continues. “There’s a part of him that I think feels spurned that the fans chose me in the setting over him.”

However, Rhodes is quick to compliment Johnson as a “genius” who’s showing a new, vicious side of his character as he dubs himself the “Final Boss.”

“I think fans haven’t seen that. And from an outside-the-game perspective, that’s good for the show, and something new, something fresh,” he says.

Rhodes says he hasn’t had a “real conversation” with Johnson, who’s on the board of WWE’s parent company, TKO, about the storyline change, but hopes to after WrestleMania. ( has reached out to Johnson for comment. Johnson addressed his character turning heel on X after the Las Vegas press event, in response to what he described as “false clickbait” regarding his involvement in Maui wildfire relief efforts. He wrote, “I’m playing it up with our crowd as they boo. It’s what we do in our WWE universe, and we all love every second of it.”)

The Rock slaps Cody Rhodes at WrestleMania 40 kickoff event in Las Vegas.
The Rhodes-Rock rivalry shifted into high gear with this slap at the Las Vegas press event for WrestleMania 40.Courtesy WWE

Rhodes (along with Reigns and Rollins) now finds himself pulling double duty for WrestleMania 40, beginning with the tag-team match. He feels he has an edge over Reigns, who works a part-time schedule, and Johnson, who hasn’t wrestled in a full-fledged WWE match in 11 years. (The Rock won a match that lasted less than 10 seconds at WrestleMania 32 in 2016.)

“I know I’ve checked every box in terms of preparation and getting ready,” he says. “The Rock hasn’t been seen in the ring in 12 years. That could be a great thing for us. Or it could be a really bad thing for us. We won’t know until Saturday night.”

At the same time, he expects Johnson to exceed expectations, which he hopes will open up the possibility of the two of them having a singles match down the line.

“He’s going to supersede anyone who thinks maybe he can’t go, and that would make me even hungrier for a singles match. I think it’s there,” he says. “And I think with what we’ve seen on TV being a little — it’s far more personal in real life and on the screen than anything else that’s happening currently in wrestling. And so when you have those situations you might as well get in the ring.”

Rhodes says his family will be in attendance at WrestleMania 40, including his brother, Dustin Rhodes, who had a successful run in WWE under the ring name Goldust and currently wrestles for WWE’s chief competitor, All Elite Wrestling. (“The only thing is we hide my brother sometimes. We hide him just because — like last year, he can’t be ringside. There’s tons of guys jumping in this match. I think people might have expected him to be in there,” Rhodes says.)

The Rock and Cody Rhodes.
The Rock has been insulting Rhodes on the mic, and has even name-checked "Mama Rhodes" during the feud.Courtesy WWE

He notes that his mother has additional motivation to be at ringside, given The Rock’s repeated references to her on WWE television. She’s taking them in stride, in part because she’s been around the wrestling business for decades, and in part because she used to have dinner with Johnson’s mother when Dusty Rhodes partnered with Johnson’s father, WWE Hall of Famer Rocky Johnson.

“She’s seen blood, she’s seen violence. The Rock I don’t think shakes her, and maybe that’ll get under The Rock’s skin,” Rhodes says.

Of course, Rhodes will also have the support of the tens of thousands of fans who will be rooting him on at Lincoln Financial Field, plus all those watching at home around the world. As gratifying as it personally would be for him to win the championship on April 7, he’d also love to do it for all of them.

“They still believe, which is why I want to win at WrestleMania so bad. They believe. Even if I didn’t, they believe so much. And I do, but even if I didn’t, I owe it to them,” he says. “They’ve been there, and they disliked that Rock-Roman video (setting up their proposed match) more than anything on Earth. And then they started with ‘we want Cody’ and they got us to the main event. So it’s really for them.”

WrestleMania 40 will stream live on Peacock on Saturday, April 6, and Sunday, April 7, at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT on both nights. Peacock is owned by’s parent company, NBCUniversal. Read our guide on WrestleMania 40 here and our recent interview with Becky Lynch here.