While new champion Cody Rhodes deserves the praise he'll get, we also need to acknowledge the man he beat, Roman Reigns. Photo Credit: WWE/Peacock Photo Credit: WWE/Peacock

Aug. 30, 2020. With the WWE ThunderDome watching and in an otherwise empty Amway Arena in Orlando, Roman Reigns interrupted a Universal Title match between Braun Strowman and the champion, “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, making it a triple-threat match. He took advantage of his downed opponents to win the match and the championship.

Read that again. In WWE alone, think about how much has changed since that match took place. The ThunderDome and the pandemic-era crowds are thankfully a thing of the past. Sadly, of course, Wyatt — or Windham Rotunda — is no longer with us. Strowman was released from WWE, returned and has now been sidelined for a year recovering from a neck injury. But for everything that has changed, Roman Reigns being on top has been a constant.

Or, it had been a constant. If you’re reading this, you likely know by now that Cody Rhodes finished his story on Sunday, Night 2 of WrestleMania XL. He overcame The Bloodline with some help of his own, hit Reigns with three consecutive Cross Rhodes and pinned him in the middle of the ring. It’s probably the best finish to a WrestleMania since Daniel Bryan’s win at WrestleMania XXX in 2014.

Rhodes deserves all of the praise he’s going to get and frankly, so does WWE. While his loss to Reigns at WrestleMania 39 in 2023 was a shocker, Rhodes has otherwise been fantastically booked since returning to the WWE at WrestleMania 38 in 2022. Not only is he WWE’s top babyface now but he’s the best babyface WWE has had in quite some time. And that brings us back to Reigns.

Because, if you want your top babyface’s first title win to really feel like a big deal, you need something — a great heel champion. That’s what Reigns has been for nearly four years.

It wasn’t that long ago when WWE wanted Reigns to be the top babyface — the hero winning the main event of WrestleMania and standing tall, title raised above his head, in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans. Only, despite WWE’s efforts, it just didn’t work out that way.

Reigns as a babyface just didn’t click with fans like John Cena did. And remember, Cena himself was a polarizing champion.

It didn’t help that while this was happening, WWE was going through a dry creative period. Whatever touch Vince McMahon had with Hulk Hogan in the 1980s and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the 1990s was gone. Also gone were Hogan, Austin and The Rock, whose greatness covered up some creative shortcomings.

So, while it may not have been entirely his fault, Reigns spent the first part of his singles career in WWE as a failed babyface. It would have been easy to walk away from the business or just to continue down that road. But that didn’t happen.

Reigns worked through those failures and eventually reinvented himself. Gone was the over-the-top babyface, fighting for WWE’s fans, the same fans who soundly rejected him. In was the angry badass heel, railing against those fans. Over time, he built up an army that helped him vanquish every babyface challenger that came his way. Including Rhodes.

One of the potential drawbacks of his win over Rhodes at WrestleMania 39 was that Reigns had already defeated every viable challenger WWE had at that point. In several cases, he defeated them more than once. How was Reigns going to stay fresh as champion?

The dissolution of the aforementioned army — The Bloodline — helped keep Reigns’ run fresh over the last year. What also helped is that he had fewer dates. That served two purposes. One, it gave Joe Anoa’i — who has battled leukemia for much of his adult life — some much-needed time off. It also gave the fans another reason to hate Roman Reigns, a heel champion. Who wants to cheer for a champion who can’t be bothered to defend his belt — or even show up?

Reigns is not the champion anymore. But WWE is in a better place now than it was four years ago. Sure, a lot of that comes from McMahon’s departure, which has made WWE a better place in nearly every way imaginable. But it’s also a better place because of the man who led the charge on screen for the last four years. The man who reinvented himself from the failed babyface to the punishing heel. Knowing who Rhodes beat made his championship win, finishing his story, feel that much better.

And for that, the man who finished WrestleMania XL with his shoulders on the mat deserves our praise and yes, our acknowledgment.

[Photo Credit: WWE/Peacock]

About Michael Dixon

About Michael:
-- Writer/editor for thecomeback.com and awfulannouncing.com.
-- Bay Area born and raised, currently living in the Indianapolis area.
-- Twitter:
@mfdixon1985 (personal).
@michaeldixonsports (work).
-- Email: mdixon@thecomeback.com
Send tips, corrections, comments and (respectful) disagreements to that email. Do the same with pizza recommendations, taco recommendations and Seinfeld quotes.