Cody Rhodes’s career has been defined by betting on himself to do the improbable. At WrestleMania 39, he’s poised for his biggest cash-in yet.
Rhodes will attempt to win the undisputed WWE universal championship when he challenges Roman Reigns in the main event of Night 2 of WWE’s signature event at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., this Sunday.
When he returned to WWE one year ago, Rhodes made it clear he was on a mission to fulfill his family’s destiny. He was back in WWE to do the one thing that his legendary father Dusty Rhodes was never able to do: become WWE world champion. It was a lofty goal—but no one should have doubted Rhodes given his track record.
There have been at least three pivotal moments in his career when Rhodes went against conventional wisdom and decided to bet on himself. The first was when Rhodes left WWE in 2016. Playing the comedy character Stardust at the time, Rhodes felt “dead inside” and like he was capable of more. The safe move would have been to stay in WWE, hoping that management would one day see him as the main-eventer he saw himself as. Instead, Rhodes left a stable job with the biggest wrestling company in the world and decided to chart his own path.
Rhodes found success outside of WWE, competing in promotions like ROH, NJPW and indies across the world. No matter if it was the Tokyo Dome or a small-time local event, Rhodes made sure to carry himself like a star. He treated every match as an opportunity to prove himself. With Kevin Owens helping to connect them, Rhodes formed a friendship with The Young Bucks. It’s a connection that would end up changing the course of wrestling history. Seeing that there was a boom in non-WWE wrestling, it was time for Rhodes to place another bet on himself. He worked with The Young Bucks to promote All In, a September 2018 event that would become the first non-WWE pro wrestling show in the United States to draw a crowd of 10,000 fans since WCW closed its doors in ’01.
All In was just the beginning. In 2019, Tony Khan launched AEW with Rhodes, The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega serving as executive vice presidents. AEW becoming WWE’s biggest competition in nearly two decades meant that Rhodes’s legacy was now secure. He would always be remembered as one of the most important wrestlers of his era.
But just three years later, Rhodes was ready to gamble again. In his most surprising move to date, Rhodes announced he was leaving AEW. He left behind an executive position and a comfortable spot in AEW to return to WWE. In AEW, Rhodes made the mistake of taking himself out of the world title picture. He was too focused on the management side of the business instead of the goals he still wanted to accomplish in the ring. Rhodes realized that mistake and made the world title his priority when returning to WWE.
Given the tribalistic nature of wrestling fans, Rhodes risked becoming a punch line if his WWE return failed. There were no guarantees that WWE wouldn’t sour on him once he got back in the company. But, aside from having to spend much of 2022 out of action with a torn pectoral muscle, Rhodes’s return has gone perfectly. He became the top babyface in WWE. He won this year’s men’s Royal Rumble match. And he’s now on the verge of ending the most dominant WWE world championship reign of the modern era. Rhodes has done the work to get himself to this point. Through sheer force of will, Rhodes made himself a WWE main-eventer. Coming from a wrestling dynasty and getting help from friends along the way definitely helped, but Rhodes’s story should be an example to wrestlers everywhere. You can accomplish anything if you’re determined enough.
Night 2 of WrestleMania 39 will stream live on Peacock starting at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday. Here’s a full rundown of the lineup, along with predictions for each of the six matches.
Roman Reigns vs. Cody Rhodes for the undisputed WWE universal championship
Is it a lock that Rhodes is going to defeat Reigns? With a title reign this dominant, fans won’t be certain that Reigns is losing until it actually happens. You can come up with reasons why Reigns might retain. A loss at WrestleMania means that Reigns’s title run would end just short of 1,000 days. That’s a significant milestone that WWE would be passing up on. And as much as Rhodes is a great option to conquer Reigns, he isn’t a perfect option. At 37 years old, Rhodes is the same age as Reigns. He’s not a young star who’s going to win the world title and then lead WWE into a new era.
But perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of good. There is no up-and-coming star in WWE right now who’s on the verge of becoming the next Steve Austin or The Rock. Rhodes is capable of being the face of WWE for the next several years. This is his moment to win the world title.
Prediction: Cody Rhodes wins
Bianca Belair vs. Asuka for the Raw women’s championship
Bianca Belair would have been better off if WWE decided to go with Rhea Ripley as her WrestleMania challenger. But despite a weak build, Belair vs. Asuka could be one of the best matches on either night of WrestleMania. Belair’s title reign is at the one-year mark after defeating Becky Lynch at WrestleMania 38. WWE has recently been focused on rebuilding Asuka into the most unstoppable wrestler in the women’s division. It’s a match that could go either way. Even if Belair manages to escape with a victory, it’s possible she loses the title to Asuka at May’s Backlash pay-per-view.
Prediction: Bianca Belair retains
Gunther vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Sheamus for the intercontinental championship
A triple-threat match gives WWE the opportunity to have Gunther drop the intercontinental title without actually losing. Gunther has had a year of total dominance on the main roster, never being pinned or submitted. That streak should remain intact until he challenges for the world title. Gunther would be a great SummerSlam opponent for Rhodes.
Gunther vs. Sheamus at Clash at the Castle was the best WWE match that took place in 2022. With another hard-hitting brawler added to the mix, they should steal the show again Sunday. Sheamus has been on a journey to win the intercontinental title, the championship that has eluded him throughout his WWE career. He’ll finally accomplish that when he pins Drew McIntyre at WrestleMania.
Prediction: Sheamus wins
Hell in a Cell match: Edge vs. Finn Bálor
Edge’s feud with The Judgment Day will finally come to an end when he faces Finn Bálor inside Hell in a Cell. It’s only the fourth time a Hell in a Cell match will take place at WrestleMania.
The Judgment Day turned against Edge when Bálor joined the faction last June. The most recent chapter of their rivalry saw Edge team with Beth Phoenix to defeat Bálor and Ripley at Elimination Chamber. Having Bálor take back-to-back losses would be a mistake, especially with Bálor using his “Demon” persona for WrestleMania. This is an opportunity for WWE to reestablish the Demon character as something special. WWE should be building up Bálor for a potential world title challenge.
Prediction: Finn Bálor wins
Brock Lesnar vs. Omos
Brock Lesnar vs. Omos seemed like a baffling booking decision when it was announced. From headlining WrestleMania last year to now facing Omos in the mid-card, it’s definitely a step down for Lesnar. But their feud has actually been pretty enjoyable. An unstoppable force like Lesnar vs. an immovable object like the (legitimately) 7'3" Omos is classic pro wrestling. Lesnar has worked hard to make the audience question whether he can actually beat Omos. This has a chance to be legitimately fun. If not, it’ll hopefully at least be a fun trainwreck.
Prediction: Brock Lesnar wins
WrestleMania Showcase match: Liv Morgan and Raquel Rodriguez vs. Natalya and Shotzi vs. Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler vs. Sonya Deville and Chelsea Green
It’s strange to see Ronda Rousey in such a low spot on the WrestleMania card. Rousey suffering a fractured arm may have contributed to that, but she doesn’t feel like the superstar she was during her first run with WWE. She’s just another person on the roster now.
There aren’t any official stakes to this Showcase match, but whoever wins will likely be in line for a shot at the women’s tag team titles. If Rousey isn’t going to need to take time off for her injury, she and Shayna Baszler should win. Rousey and Baszler challenging Becky Lynch and Lita is a match that should have been on WrestleMania.
Prediction: Ronda Rousey and Shayna Baszler win
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