The Rock Wrestlemania WWE Screen grab: WWE

To say that the reaction to him seemingly being inserted into the WrestleMania XL main event hasn’t been what Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was expecting might be an understatement.

In the days since Cody Rhodes stepped aside — literally — to allow The Rock to apparently challenge Roman Reigns for the WWE Universal Championship, there has been no shortage of backlash from WWE fans. On Saturday, “WE WANT CODY!” was one of the top trends on X (formerly Twitter), while the clip of The Rock challenging Reigns on Friday’s SmackDown has become WWE’s most disliked YouTube video of all time.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, The Rock took to social media to address the controversy for the first time. Posting a video clip of his interaction with Reigns to his Instagram page, “The People’s Champion” praised the reaction of the fans in attendance in Birmingham, Alabama, before noting of the less receptive online reaction, “ps, tough skin, love the passion.”

“FEEL the mana,” Johnson wrote. “So f#%king blown away by this insane energy from the People. Undeniable – and one of the loudest ovations I’ve ever experienced in my career. Thank you Birmingham, Alabama, thank you WWE, thank you to the man himself, Cody Rhodes – and most importantly, thank you to the People. Our connection is unbreakable and our bond is ELECTRIC. ~ People’s Champ. ps, tough skin, love the passion.”


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The Rock followed up the initial post with two subsequent reposts of fans who were made ecstatic about his appearance in Birmingham. Based on the comments on his posts, they didn’t do much to quell the backlash from other fans.

For those who are understandably confused about why WWE fans would be upset about The Rock challenging Reigns in what many consider to be a dream match, you can read a full explainer here. Long story short, WWE had previously been telegraphing that Rhodes would complete his two-year story arc by dethroning Reigns at WrestleMania and fans don’t only think that Rhodes is more deserving of the main event spot, but are upset by the lack of logic in him stepping aside to give the position to The Rock.

For what it’s worth, the match between Reigns and The Rock has yet to be made official — although all signs point toward in happening at a WrestleMania kickoff press conference in Las Vegas this coming Thursday. This isn’t the first time that fans have revolted against WWE’s booking plans, and it will be interesting to see if the company adjusts by adding Rhodes to match or by even turning The Rock heel (making him a bad guy) between now and Thursday.

As for the reason why WWE pivoted from its original plans to have Rhodes challenge Reigns, many have theorized that in addition to it being a reaction to CM Punk’s injury (which will keep him off the WrestleMania card), that it is a ploy to distract fans from the latest headlines regarding Vince McMahon’s sex-trafficking lawsuit/federal investigation. Intentionally or not, WWE seems to have been successful in diverting the attention of its fans from much more serious news — at least for one weekend.

[The Rock on Instagram]

About Ben Axelrod

Ben Axelrod is a veteran of the sports media landscape, having most recently worked for NBC's Cleveland affiliate, WKYC. Prior to his time in Cleveland, he covered Ohio State football and the Big Ten for outlets including Cox Media Group, Bleacher Report, Scout and Rivals.