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Cody Rhodes on real conflicts with The Rock: “I really don't like him”

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Cody Rhodes is happy to blur the lines between reality and fiction ahead of the biggest weekend of his career.

The WWE star headlines WrestleMania 40, a two-day event with Rhodes appearing in the main event on both Saturday and Sunday. On the first night, he teams up with rival Seth Rollins to face reigning WWE king Roman Reigns and Reigns' cousin, Hollywood icon Dwyane “The Rock” Johnson in a tag team match; On the second night, Rhodes and Reigns play one-on-one for Reigns' Undisputed Universal Championship.

WrestleMania has historically been the highlight of the WWE calendar year and the 2024 edition will have no shortage of drama as Rhodes looks to avenge his WrestleMania 39 loss to Reigns. The return of Johnson – one of the most successful wrestlers in WWE history – complicated matters and for a moment it looked like the A-list star would face Reigns instead, but fan outcry brought Rhodes back to his promised headliner status.

Rhodes appeared on The MMA lesson to talk about his relationship with Johnson and explain that he respects his fellow performer in the ring, even if he doesn't like him.

“I think The Rock has become so much,” Rhodes said. “Movie star, billionaire, philanthropist, business owner, department head, Under Armour, the connection, all that stuff. And if you ignore it, he is, above all, a professional wrestler.

“I don’t have to like him – and I really, really don’t like The Rock – but I have all the respect in the world [for him]. I can recognize another pro wrestler and he is one. It’s in there.”

It's unclear whether Rhodes is simply keeping up his act or expressing genuine frustration with Johnson's involvement, but their on-screen feud has undoubtedly captured the imagination of pro wrestling fans around the world. Rhodes earned the right to face Reigns again after winning the Royal Rumble last January, only to see him retire with Johnson's return to WWE television.

The segment, which saw Rhodes cede the WrestleMania 40 main event to The Rock, sparked immediate backlash from fans and sparked a checkered storyline that ultimately led to Rhodes regaining his match with Reigns and sparking a dramatic rivalry with The Rock .

When he heard that Johnson would be taking part in the company's WrestleMania plans, Rhodes insisted it didn't bother him.

“I kept telling everyone, 'I'm not going to bat an eyelash,'” Rhodes said. “I really meant it without batting an eyelid. After conceding the main event of WrestleMania to The Rock, still in there somewhere – it sounds so strange, maybe naive, maybe arrogant – I still thought I would find my way there. I still thought that. That's one of the reasons why I've been completely silent. I didn't want to give an opinion on it.

“I don’t want to go into the backstage details or anything like that. What was out there is what was out there. I just felt like I could still do it, and then luckily literally millions of people did, so I came back.”

While it sounds like Rhodes is making more of the on-screen drama than he should, it's important to remember that 12 months ago at WrestleMania 39, he played second fiddle to what was widely expected he would defeat Reigns and ultimately win the WWE's top title. (In narrative terms, Rhodes' point of view has been described as “bringing the story to an end.”)

As Rhodes recalls, the disappointment Reigns and his family felt when the decision was made to retain the belt was very real, to the point that a loved one expressed their anger by causing property damage.

“My mother-in-law, Jill Reed, tore down the suite they were all in,” Rhodes said. “Cursing, screaming. That the stakes are high, WrestleMania 39 – and for those who come from the MMA world and may not be entirely familiar with pro wrestling, there are parts of it that are so much more real than you could ever imagine, and that was just a real moment for everyone.”

There are a lot of big egos at the top of the pro wrestling world, and just as Rhodes was hurt by his previous failure at WrestleMania, he is just as inspired by how the past year has proven he is one of the names to look forward to The fans are most excited to give him the crown so he can lead the company forward.

It's this support that he believes has put The Rock in a difficult position.

“There’s no way I’m going to explain this to The Rock,” Rhodes said. “I don't need to fill the air with positivity about The Rock, but I will say this: I think it's really getting under his skin. The whole “We Want Cody” thing, the dislikes of the video, all of that, and I don't think he realizes that some of the people are shouting “diarrhea” or “Rocky Sucks” or “Die Rocky Die”, what whatever it is Some of them wear rock merch. They still believe that The People's Champ is below The Final Boss, but they just haven't done it [like] it at the expense of the investment we had made.

“I feel like he's going to find out that if he came on your show and told you he hated me, I would totally understand. I get it. I created this situation. The fans made it even bigger for me and brought me here to dance so that if he didn’t like me, I would get it.”