WWE WrestleMania XL Kickoff Show Recap: The Rock, Cody, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, Belair, Ripley, Punk, Big E

By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor


FEBRUARY 8, 2024

Panel: Michael Cole

-Michael Coe commented on an aerial shot of the outdoor football stadium in Philadelphia, Pa. that will host WrestleMania. Then they cut to an aerial view of the Las Vegas strip. Then they showed Paul Levesque arriving earlier in the afternoon. They showed Cody Rhodes arriving earlier. Cole talked about the fan sentiment for Cody that has been trending for days. Cole said, “It seems he’s chosen World Champion Seth Rollins at WrestleMania. Or has he? Cody on Instagram earlier said he has made his choice.” Then they showed Paul Heyman and Roman Reigns getting off of a private jet. Then they showed The Rock arriving last night. “Will Rock face Roman Reigns at WrestleMania? We find out now.”

-A video aired of WrestleMania history with big moments over the decades with some of the biggest stars, including Daniel Bryan and Sasha Banks, by the way. The narrator referred to WrestleMania 40 this year as the biggest of all time with new energy and unprecedented excitement.

-They showed the exterior of T-Mobile Arena and then the gathered audience in the arena. Cole introduced Pat McAfee. McAfee introduced Big E and C.M. Punk. McAfee said decisions will be made tonight that will be “talked about until the end of time.” Cole called Big E one of the most entertaining people on the planet. Big E said he’s just there to be sure Punk doesn’t get fined. “We love you, but you have a reputation and you fly off at the handle,” he said. Punk smiled and bowed to Big E. A “C.M. Punk!” chant broke out. Cole listed his accolades and said he’s most importantly the husband of A.J. Lee.

Cole asked Big E how his neck is. He said it’s doing well and he is grateful for everyone reaching out. Cole asked Punk about his triceps. He said he’s pissed that it’s not back at 100 percent a week after surgery. He said his mouth still works and his brain still works. “Let’s piss some people off,” he said.

Cole talked about The Rock joining McAfee earlier on his show. Fans booed. McAfee tried to get a “Rocky!” chant going. It worked, briefly. McAfee said The Rock called people who aren’t thinking about the big picture “Cody Crybabies.”

Cole said Punk had a similar story in 2013. Cole asked what he thinks should happen with the main event matches at WrestleMania. He said they could be in for one hell of a roller coaster ride. Punk used the quarterback analogy I’ve been using this week about a star quarterback such as Tom Brady replacing a quarterback to carried a team to the NFC Championship. He said he wouldn’t be happy, but he’d understand. He mentioned the value of “box office.”

Big E talked about how Cody related to people so genuinely. He said that’s what you want from someone who is going to be there every Monday. He said wrestling isn’t a meritocracy, but he’s the type of guy you want to put the crown on and say, “You’re the guy, let’s carry this company forward.”

-They went backstage to Jackie Redmond who said Rock is excited to address the media today where he said he plans to cement his Road to WrestleMania.

-Elsewhere backstage, Byron Saxton asked about Roman’s mood. Heyman mockingly said how happy they are to see Byron. He said the mood in The Bloodline is the same. He said Rock is the biggest star in Hollywood history. He said the hype is all about who gets to headline WrestleMania with Roman. He said until someone beats Roman Reigns, that’s where the main event of WrestleMania will remain.

-Cole asked McAfee who Roman wants to face. McAfee said he thinks Roman wants to find out who the Head of the Table is since they’ve been talking about that for their entire lives. Big E agreed, but he said he wants to see Cody finish his story. Punk said Roman wants The Rock because he understands box office. He said it’s not who Roman wants, it’s who he doesn’t want, and he doesn’t want Cody.

Cole said they have breaking news. He announced that WWE has teamed with Elon Musk’s Twitter/X to launch WWE Speed, a new series of rapid-fire short matches that last a maximum of five minutes. Cole then introduced Levesque who came out to his entrance theme.

Levesque talked about the first WrestleMania main event tag match and the celebrities. “It launched WWE from a small regional promotion to a global juggernaut you see today selling out stadiums all over the globe,” he said. He talked about the cable television boom, closed-circuit television, pay-per-view, direct-to-consumer streaming, and now a deal with Netflix for over 5 billion dollars. He said, “Along the way, it’d create global Superstars like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, Andre the Giant and Ric Flair, Bret Hart and ‘Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker, Mick Foley, Batista, John Cena, the list goes on and on.” Rock was booed a bit. He said it’ll be an all-new era for WWE this year at WrestleMania. He asked Las Vegas, “Are you ready?!”

He said they now start the Road to WrestleMania 40. He walked off the stage. Cole and McAfee replaced him on the stage. McAfee said, “That was awesome.”He threw to a video package on Bianca Belair.

Belair made her way onto the stage to her entrance music. She plugged their reality series on Hulu that just started. She then talked about the spectacle of WrestleMania with the best entrances, the best gear, and the best matches. She said that’s where she made history. She touted Sasha Banks as her opponent and later Becky Lynch and Asuka in subsequent WM matches. She said she won’t enter this year as champion, but you can’t spell WrestleMania without EST.

Cole plugged her involvement in the Elimination Chamber. Then he threw to a video on Rhea Ripley

Ripley made her entrance. “Las Vegas, Mami’s here,” she said. She said this isn’t any WrestleMania, it’s WrestleMania 40. She said she’s walking in and walking out as WWE Women’s Champion. She said it was no surprise to her that Bayley would choose to turn on her friends and choose to face Iyo Sky (she actually said “Iyo Shirai” by mistake) instead of her. She said she has a big match at Elimination Chamber in Perth, Australia first dealing with Nia Jax. She said she’ll be ready for whoever wins that Chamber match. She was interrupted at that point by Becky Lynch’s music.

Becky walked out and confronted her. Becky said you can’t have a big time press conference without Big Time Becks. She said as of Monday, she’s officially in the Chamber for the first time ever. She said that means she’ll win the Chamber for the first time ever, which means The Man will challenge her for her title at WrestleMania “where it will be Mami vs. The Man for the first time ever.” She said she has to get past Nia Jax first, though. She said she’s made a career of knocking top women off their spot “so Mami is going to learn what it is like to be a bottom because that is what happens when The Man comes around.” She threw the mic down and they had a staredown. Adam Pearce wedged himself between them.

Cole hyped the Chamber match and Rhea vs. Jax. He also plugged the qualifying match between Michin and Bianca Belair. They showed Seth Rollins arriving earlier at T-Mobile Arena. [c]

Cole threw to a video package on Seth Rollins. McAfee said he’s “seemingly the forgotten name in all of this.”

Seth danced onto the stage. He said it’s a party in there tonight. He waited for fans to begin singing his song. They did. (WWE was very strategic in terms of showing four sections of fans in the lower deck and the floor seats, but nothing else with the upper deck darkened.) Seth said he doesn’t make the decision who he’ll face. “I’m just the prize at the end of the road,” he said. He introduced Cody Rhodes, but instead Roman Reigns’s music played.

Reigns and Heyman walked out. They walked up to Seth. Seth feigned yawning. Seth said: “Hey folks, he showed up to work for once.” Reigns said, “And he showed up to work in his white shoes.” Reigns added, “Let’s talk about someone who matters right now.” A “Rocky” chant started with some fans. Reigns said, “Let’s talk about Cody Rhodes, the man who can’t make his own choice. Mr Hesitation.” He said now it’s his decision to choose who faces him in the main event of WrestleMania. He waved toward Seth dismissively and said, “Let’s get this bum out of here.”

Reigns said, “I choose…” Fans chanted “Cody!” Reigns said, “I choose The Rock.” Seth said, “That’s not how it works.” The Rock’s music played and he walked out. (They did show a view over Rock’s shoulders that showed the empty sections in the back of the arena here.)

The Rock waited for a while as random fans yelled and chanted, but nothing really stood out or gained momentum. He then said, “Finally, The Rock has come back to Las Vegas.” He then asked who thinks Roman is going to beat him at WrestleMania. Mixed, and seemingly muted response overall. There was a scattered “Yes!” chant in there somewhere. He asked who thinks The Rock is going to beat The Tribal Chief at WrestleMania. Mixed, muted response. A “We Want Cody / Rocky sucks” chant started. Rock looked a bit uncomfortable, I’d say. It just got awkward as Rock waited it out.

Rock lifted the mic and asked if they think Rock vs. Reigns will be the biggest match in the history of WWE. Fans booed. Rock looked like the air got taken out of him. Rock said, “The Rock loves the passion, so to members of the press, welcome. Glad you’re here. To the WWE Universe…” The loudest chant started: “We Want Cody! Rocky sucks!” Rock continued by welcoming Rock fans. He then said, “To the press and to the world watching, I introduce you to the Cody Crybabies.” Fans booed. Reigns and Heyman laughed.

Rock then said he had something to say, and like it or not, you’re going to respect it. He then turned to the big screen and said, “Take a look.” It was the family tree of The Bloodline with around 55 names on it. He said it’s an incredible family tree. He said The Rock’s grandfather and Roman’s grandfather made a blood oath: “Family forever.” He said it’s proof that there is only one dominant, powerful royal family in pro wrestling. (Boos.) He said if you think that The Rock and Reigns isn’t the biggest main event in the history of WrestleMania, then save your boos because if that’s what you think, “it doesn’t matter what you think.” He said WrestleMania 40 will be the Universal Champion vs. The People’s Champion “bound by blood.” He offered a handshake to Roman. Roman clutched his hand. They briefly hugged.

Cody Rhodes walked out and said, “Hold on, hold on.” He said, “This right here is bullshit.” Fans popped. Cody told Roman that he’s out there dictating WrestleMania 40. He said he has a lot of stroke, but it’s not Rock place to determine the main event. “It is mine,” Cody said, emphatically. “I won the Royal Rumble!” He said he and Rock had many conversations. He said he had many wonderful conversations. He said he has made his decision. He said at WrestleMania 40 in the main event, “I choose you, Roman Reigns.” Fans cheered. Roman looked shocked and said: “You must be crazy. You must be stupid or something, huh? This is a done deal. This is old news. Go over there with the number twos. The number two table will have you now. Loser bracket will have you now. You’re embarrassing yourself now.” He said last year was his moment and he’s only a chapter in his book. “You’re irrelevant, just like your dad,” he said.

Cody said if he wants to talk family, “How’s Jey?” He said his family are yes men and goons. He asked what it matters who’s at the head of the table when neither of them have been cooking for two years. He told Roman that if their grandfathers were there, they’d be ashamed of them. Rock stepped up and eyed Cody with a look that said he crossed a line. Cody stared back. Rock said, “Let me make something perfectly clear to you. When you talk about his family, you’re talking about my family. When you’re talking about his ancestors, you’re talking about my ancestors. When you’re talking about his blood, you’re talking about my blood. So now we have a problem.” He slapped Cody. Cody leaped toward him. Levesque and Nick Aldis immediately held him back. Pearce held Seth back. Pearce then physically restrained Cody and escorted him off the stage as he protested and yelled. Rock and Roman were yelling back at him.

-They went back to the panel at the desk as the camera focused on Rock pacing on the stage. Cole said Cody has chosen Reigns after all. Punk said Cody was too diplomatic and he wanted to see him bust him right back in the mouth. He asked the crowd who wanted to see that. “That’s what I would have done,” he said. Punk, in making the case that Cody earned the right to make the choice, said it wasn’t Rock who threw him over the top in the Royal Rumble. They showed Rock waving his finger. Punk said it’s Cody’s shot to call.

Big E said he doesn’t know where it’s going. “It looks like a tag,” he said. “We have, what, two months until WrestleMania and my eyes will be peeled.” Cole said McAfee has been with Rock. McAfee said Rock went to bat for his family and The Bloodline and smacked Cody in the mouth. He said it seemed Seth came to the defense of Cody. He said it’s almost like a little flexing from The Bloodline. “They wanted to remind the world,” he said.

Cole said Cody picked who he wants to face at WrestleMania. He asked Punk if that happens, can Cody finish the story. Punk said he can’t let Rock get away with slapping him. “He’s going to have to start swinging back. You can’t let a man slap you in the face and let him get away with it. I’d be ripping out eyeballs and I’d be punching people, even if I had one arm.” (It should be noted that when Rock slapped Cody, Cody immediately went after Rock, but Nick Aldis and Paul Levesque immediately stepped between them and held him back. Adam Pearce then stepped in and escorted Cody off the stage physically.)

Big E said Rock is not only the biggest star on the planet but also a member of the Board and has ties with Nick Khan. “He’s got a lot up against him,” he said. “Good luck to Cody.” McAfee said Roman and Rock were standing next to each other. “What the hell are they thinking about doing to WWE right now?”

Cole brought up Seth’s place in all this. He said he’s been disrespected for a number of weeks with them calling it the B-team and secondary title. Punk said he has no love lost for Seth because he “went on national television and said he hated my guts.” He said he has to stop with the stylist take the balls out of his purse and bust somebody in the mouth. There were a few boos that rang out.

Cole said Cody has to finish the story because “there’s not going to be a third chance.” Big E talked about where Cody was when he left the company after languishing in the mid-card. He said to have this much love and a fire in his belly, this is his year. “It’s right now, it’s not next year, it’s not Summerslam. You’ve got to do it now, so step on the gas and make sure it’s done”

McAfee asked Cole what they’ve learned, and asked if it is Cody vs. Roman. Cole affirms yes, it’s now Cody vs. Roman at WrestleMania for the Universal Title. He said Rock vs. Roman was a massive main event, “so what happens to that?” Punk chuckled and said he doesn’t know what’s official. He asked Cole if Cody vs. Roman is the match. Cole emphasized that it is Roman vs. Cody. Punk said Rock is on the Board, and Cody just got slapped by the boss. “His boss put his hands on him? I’m throwing hands,” he said. “I don’t care who it is?” Big E said WrestleMania is two nights, “so do we see both these matches at WrestleMania?” Cole said, “Who knows what happens? Where does Seth Rollins fit into all this. Who does he defend the championship against. It’s so up in the air.”

McAfee said this was announced just a few days ago and with a lot going on in Las Vegas, a few thousand showed up to show support for Cody finishing his story. McAfee said this was “the perfect presser,” but he still doesn’t know what’s happening.

-Redmond interviewed Levesque backstage. She asked for a comment on “what the hell is going on here.” He said moments like this are difficult. “A lot of people go into business for themselves,” he said. “It’s hard to say what just went on there.” He seemed disheveled, channeling Adam Pearce’s usual demeanor. He said there’s a lot of tension and a lot of egos. Rock, Reigns, and Heyman approached from behind. Rock walked up to Levesque and told Levesque to fix it because it’s not okay to talk about his family like that. “Have him talk shit about my family again, and that’s what happens,” Rock said. Levesque said it’s out of line. Rock said, “If you don’t fix it, we will,” he said. More words from Rock got bleeped.

-They went back to the panel. Cole chuckled and said Cody made his choice, so how do you fix it. Punk said they should solve it by fighting. “If Cody’s pissed off, he got his hands put on him, punch him in the teeth. That’s how you solve things. It’s pro wrestling, for god’s sake. Let’s go.” Big E said, “I second that. This is what we do. We build conflict. I want to see violence too.” Punk then went off on there being too many man buns since he returned and “a lot of them aren’t attached to men, if you follow my drift. Punch people in the face!” McAfee said they haven’t seen Rock like that in a while. “Is that the way WWE is headed? I love that promo,” he said. Cole then signed off.

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