This Cody Rhodes/Brock Lesnar feud needed the Universal Championship

Apr 2, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Cody Rhodes during Wrestlemania Night 2 at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 2, 2023; Inglewood, CA, USA; Cody Rhodes during Wrestlemania Night 2 at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

By now, you’ve probably heard every possible take on WWE booking Cody Rhodes to lose to Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 39. You’ve listened as legends justified the move under the familiar refrain of “let it play out” (or something similar). You’ve probably nodded along as others noted that WWE missed a great chance to cement Rhodes as the company’s top babyface. This discourse will probably continue until he finally wins the belt.

It certainly hasn’t died down since Rhodes started feuding with Brock Lesnar. WWE paired these two up after WrestleMania in hopes of giving Rhodes’ character some “adversity” to overcome while maintaining his momentum, which he did at Backlash and likely will again at the upcoming Saudi Arabia propaganda show.

For the most part, the program has served its purpose, but it’s hard not to wonder if this would’ve worked better as a title program.

Throughout this feud, WWE has only offered the vaguest of explanations for why Lesnar has a beef with Rhodes. The company has hinted at everything from Lesnar being upset about his placement on the WrestleMania 39 card to seeing the former ROH World Champion as an easy mark. Of course, Lesnar is now angry at Rhodes for scoring a fluke pin over him at Backlash, so it probably doesn’t matter what the original rationale was.

If the Undisputed Universal Championship were involved, however, fans and WWE wouldn’t need to worry about that, as the high stakes of the feud would be apparent. With a title on the line, it becomes more obvious why Lesnar would attack Rhodes. It also gives Rhodes something to put at risk besides his health. The “Cody topples the monster heel” story could’ve remained in place but with more on the line than “Brock’s mad at Cody for…some reason”.

It would also quell those folks who defended Rhodes’ WrestleMania loss by arguing that “The American Nightmare” would run out of compelling stories if he “finished” the one with Reigns. Of course, this was always ridiculous since the promotion could’ve got plenty of mileage out of Rhodes defending the belts as a fighting babyface champion.

Plus, the consolation World Heavyweight Championship that WWE just created probably wouldn’t need to exist if a full-time world champion was already in place.

Instead, fans have to watch WWE harken back to Rhodes fighting with an injured arm to make fans believe that Rhodes’ career is in peril (and because WWE needed to do something to give this rematch some extra juice). Yes, we’ve seen plenty of effective stories centered around babyfaces overcoming injuries — even in title programs — but many of those didn’t feel like needless overcomplications the way it does in this Rhodes/Lesnar feud.

None of these critiques take away from the bevy of good stuff we’ve seen from Rhodes and Lesnar in this storyline. It also doesn’t lessen the significance of Rhodes getting a second signature win over “The Beast Incarnate”, and it definitely won’t be remembered when (if) Rhodes wins “the big one”.

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Still, it’s hard not to wonder “What if?” with this storyline, especially when the “if” seemed like such a sure thing at the time.