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WrestleMania XL: As Cody Rhodes chases championship, The Rock makes waves

PHILADELPHIA — For devoted pro-wrestling fans, this weekend’s WrestleMania XL is about Cody Rhodes “finishing his story.”

But as the WWE’s biggest event approaches Saturday and Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field, for the world at large, the return of The Rock may be just as big a draw.

Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, 47, takes a mid-workout mirror selfie, showing off his impressive lower body muscles while wearing his new sneakers for Under Armor. "I designed these shoes for my intense workouts. Now they're ready for yours. And now I'm ready to waddle outta the gym cuz my legs are like f*cking jello."
Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson via Instagram

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, 47, takes a mid-workout mirror selfie, showing off his impressive lower body muscles while wearing his new sneakers for Under Armor. “I designed these shoes for my intense workouts. Now they’re ready for yours. And now I’m ready to waddle outta the gym cuz my legs are like jello.”

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who parlayed his years in WWE into a career as one of Hollywood’s biggest action stars, is doubling down on Saturday with his first real match in more than a decade, teaming with his cousin, Roman Reigns, against Rhodes and Seth Rollins.

The next night, Reigns will defend his Universal championship against Rhodes in the latest chapter of a years-long family drama.

Orlando has a big stake in the WrestleMania legacy because most of today’s top stars were developed at the WWE Performance Center in East Orlando and competed in NXT, the promotion’s minor league that airs a live cable show weekly from the facility.

When WrestleMania itself took over the City Beautiful in 2017, even mounting a large championship belt high above Lake Eola, the big show drew a reported 75,000 fans to Camping World Stadium and added more than $100 million to the local economy.

So yes, even if you don’t follow the sport or the spectacle, it’s a big deal.

Johnson — OK, this is WWE, call him The Rock — has led an all-out media blitz to promote the show in recent weeks. You would think, given his movie-star stature, that wrestling fans would embrace him as a returning hero. But since being placed opposite Rhodes this winter, Johnson has had no choice but to turn heel.

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That’s because WWE hardcores are invested in the story of Rhodes, who since a return to the company two years ago has chased the dominant Reigns and his championship. Cody is the son of wrestling legend Dusty Rhodes and, in an insider twist, one of the founders of All Elite Wrestling, now WWE’s biggest rival. Rhodes challenged Reigns last year at WrestleMania 39 and lost, becoming an even more sympathetic figure in the process, and fans are eager to see him “finish the story,” to coin a catchphrase.

Rhodes’ matches are just two of 13 scheduled for the Lincoln Financial Field extravaganza. Rollins will defend his WWE world championship against Drew McIntyre. Rollins’ wife, newly minted New York Times bestselling author Becky Lynch, challenges Rhea Ripley for the women’s world championship. Bayley, one of the most-beloved crowd favorites in the early history of NXT, challenges Iyo Sky for another WWE women’s title.

Add that to dozens more independent events around the area, and it truly is the family reunion of professional wrestling.

NXT has its own showcase on Saturday afternoon — Stand and Deliver from the Wells Fargo Center. In that main event, rising star Trick Williams takes on his former mentor, Carmelo Hayes. Both men have spent a relatively short time on the NXT roster, but fans who show up or tune in every week can see their rising popularity. Shawn Michaels, who coaches NXT and oversees its storylines, said their growth is a direct result of their rising confidence.

“They’re both gifted, they’ve both charismatic, and they have that cool factor,” Michaels said. “But they’ve embraced the story, showing that emotion and that vulnerability. Put it all together, and that’s what has made this story so epic.”

Epic — that’s a good word for this week as a whole.

WrestleMania XL will air on the Peacock streaming service Saturday and Sunday nights at 7 p.m. NXT Stand and Deliver is Saturday at noon.

jreddick@orlandosentinel.com


Source: Berkshire mont

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