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How WrestleMania 33 gave WWE the direction it's been missing

John Cena's time is up -- the latest WrestleMania officially marked the beginning of the Roman Reigns era.

Now playing: Watch this: The world of pro wrestling: explained

Are you subscribed to the WWE Network? If not, the company hopes Roman Reigns will change your mind.

That was the big takeaway from WrestleMania 33, a pro-wrestling extravaganza watched by a packed Camping World stadium in Orlando, Florida and about 2 million more on the WWE Network.

You'll see many headlines on social media coming out of the show. John Cena proposed to his real-life girlfriend Nikki Bella (she said yes), popular Attitude-era tag team The Hardy Boyz returned to the WWE after an eight-year absence and Brock Lesnar beat Bill Goldberg to win the Universal Championship.

But all of those are trumped by wrestling icon The Undertaker in what looked to be his last match -- and more importantly, the fact that he lost to Roman Reigns.


In January of 2015, Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble, earning him a shot at the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 31.

The plan was simple. Back then, Brock Lesnar was the WWE world champ and had been written as a unbeatable monster. Roman was to be the studly knight in shining armour that would slay The Beast (as Lesnar's called) at WrestleMania, an act that would establish him as the WWE's leading man.


But there was a problem: The loudest, more hardcore fans wanted another wrestler, Daniel Bryan, to be that guy.

At the Royal Rumble that year, WWE chose Reigns over Bryan -- and that began a two-year struggle. WWE presented Reigns as a hero, but many fans rejected him at every turn.

As a result, WWE had to change course. Reigns ended up losing at WrestleMania that year, with the company delaying the anointing until the next year, last year, at WrestleMania 32. There, Reigns did indeed win the championship, beating Triple H. The vocal reaction was largely negative.

Fans haven't let up. Reigns lost the title last July after failing a drug test. Many hoped it was enough for WWE to change its mind, but it wasn't long before the main-event spotlight was back on Reigns.

"That decision [to make Reigns the "face" of the WWE] was made some time back," Wrestling Observer journalist Dave Meltzer told CNET. "Vince [McMahon, WWE CEO] put on the brakes two years ago thinking in another year he'd make it work. But they made their decision years ago and have always been convinced it's the right decision."

When fans boo Reigns, it's a protest. They're telling McMahon, "Choose another guy." It seemed the protests, at some points, were heard.

But last night WWE made it crystal clear: No matter what hardcore fans think, the company believes Reigns is the hero the general public wants. He's taking over from John Cena (who's been wrestling less and acting/hosting more in the last few years) as the face of the company -- whether fans like it or hate it.

The Undertaker is arguably the most respected performer in the modern history of wrestling. In the world of pro wrestling, beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania is the most prestigious honour you can earn.

It's so prestigious that Reigns is only the second person to do it, bringing 'Taker's WrestleMania record to 23-2. After the match, The Phenom left his gloves, hat and coat in the ring, likely symbolising retirement.

There's now no going back. Reigns is the man who retired The Undertaker. He's a top star for life.

WrestleMania 34 and beyond

As wild as WrestleMania 33 was, and as sad as Undertaker's retirement is, the business now looks forward to what's next.

Meltzer reported last month that the working plan for WrestleMania 34 next April is for Roman Reigns to headline against Brock Lesnar.

Those seeds were planted last night. Lesnar beat Goldberg in a four-minute blowout brawl to become WWE Universal Champion. Reigns got the biggest win of his career against Undertaker.

Plus, the only other guy to beat Undertaker at WrestleMania? That was Lesnar back in 2014. Their rumoured collision at next year's Showcase of the Immortals writes itself.

CNET's favourite WrestleMania 33 moments

Luke Lancaster: Savage pixie Alexa Bliss continuing to hit people super hard in Batman villain themed gear. Riddle Me Bliss: Who's the best part of the SmackDown women's division.

Eric Franklin: My favorite moment of the night, the one I keep watching over and over again is the Hardy Boyz's return. It totally caught me off guard and brought a huge nostalgic smile to my face.

Terry Collins: When Stephanie McMahon was bounced from the ring apron and went through a table during the great match between HHH and Seth Rollins. I totally didn't see that coming.

Daniel Van Boom: AJ Styles facing Shane McMahon was a very pleasant surprise for me. Shane countering the 450 splash with a triangle choke was particularly baller.

The WWE Network is the fifth-biggest video streaming service in the US, with around 1.6 million paid subscribers. On Sunday, the WWE put all its chips on Roman Reigns, hoping he'll shepherd the Network into 2-million-subscriber territory -- plus boost TV ratings and sell truckloads of merchandise.

When Reigns was scheduled to do battle with Lesnar in 2015, his winning the title was to be a coronation. It turns out Reigns' true coronation as champion of the wrestling world didn't even involve a title, and much to the disappointment of hardcore fans, there's no amount of booing that can undo it.