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How John Cena sacrificed himself for the WWE

Cena was last seen on the WWE Network proverbially passing the torch to Roman Reigns, who looks to be the company's next top star.

Storylines on WWE TV change every month, but the story of the company has been the same for the last three years: Can Roman Reigns lead pro wrestling into a new era?

Reigns scored a decisive win over John Cena at the No Mercy event in one of the biggest matches streamed on the WWE Network this year.

Cena, despite working part-time thanks to his flourishing Hollywood career, is still arguably the biggest star in pro wrestling. WWE wants Reigns to fill those shoes.

Cena passed the torch to Reigns on Sunday. Reigns now has torches from Cena, Triple H and The Undertaker. But is it enough?

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WWE

Hard Times

Not everything is well at WWE.

The biggest question going into Sunday's event: Why now? John Cena vs Roman Reigns has "WrestleMania main event" written all over it. It's Cena, the face of the WWE for the last decade, against Reigns, the heir apparent. It's an important story.

But the reality is the company is in need of big-match buzz. The latest WWE Network numbers, released in July, said that there were 1,568,000 paid subscribers as of June 30. That's down from the 1,661,000 fans that were paying for the Network in April.

It's not as simple as 100,000 people leaving. Instead, between April and July, there were 598,000 new subscribers but 604,000 who cancelled their membership, according to the Wrestling Observer.

In other words, there are more people losing interest in the product than gaining interest. This isn't unusual for the time of year. April's WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year, and there's often something of a slump in the months that follow.

No matter the reason, the WWE is a way off the 3-4 million subscribers it's long envisioned for the Network.

It's not just the company's digital business that's lagging, as attendance numbers are down as well, reports the Wrestling Observer. It's not been uncommon in the past few months for photos to circulate through Twitter of Raw and SmackDown taking place in front of half a crowd.

But amid all of this, one pattern has been clear: John Cena makes a difference. SmackDown ratings went up after Cena's 4 July return and promptly dropped after he moved to Raw in August.

Unfortunately for the company, though, Cena has other business to attend to. His match with Reigns looks to be his last for a few months, as he'll now be busy shooting a Transformers flick.

So, what now?

Sunny with a chance of Reigns

WWE, as it has for years, looks to Roman Reigns to lead the company into its next era. That era for all intents and purposes has already begun, with Reigns headlining the last three WrestleManias and arguably being the most consistently featured character on WWE TV since 2015.

But fans have yet to truly buy in. Reigns, cast as the top protagonist of the show, continues to be booed when he enters arenas around the US. More worrying are those WWE Network numbers, live attendance and TV ratings -- all of which are dropping.

It wouldn't be fair to blame Reigns for those drops. But it's clear that the company's audience, en masse, isn't totally invested.

Yet.

Reigns' star status is already solid following his beating, and apparently retiring, The Undertaker at WrestleMania earlier this year. WWE on Sunday doubled down: Reigns kicked out of all of Cena's biggest moves -- including a top-rope Attitude Adjustment -- and downed the 16-time world champion with a spear. Message sent.

Later that night, current WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar prevailed over Braun Strowman, halting the newcomer's monstrous momentum. The pieces for 2018's WrestleMania puzzle are forming.

The WWE's rumoured original plan for 2015's WrestleMania was for the unstoppable champion Brock Lesnar to fall to Roman Reigns. The storyline, thanks to fan rejection, was changed. Now, Lesnar is once again the unstoppable champion and Reigns has beaten everyone there is to beat except the former UFC Heavyweight Champion.

Would a renewed rivalry between Reigns and Lesnar spark enough interest to bring fans back to the Network, arena or TV screen? Looks like we'll find out next April.

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