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WWE flexes sports entertainment muscle at WrestleMania

Associated Press logo Associated Press 4/1/2017 By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
FILE - In this March 29, 2015, file photo, Bray Wyatt is upended by his opponent, The Undertaker, at Wrestlemania XXXI in Santa Clara, Calif. The WWE is set for its annual sports entertainment extravaganza Sunday, April 1, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. John Cena, the Undertaker, the Miz and the Bella Twins all have big matches on the show. (AP Photo/Don Feria, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this March 29, 2015, file photo, Bray Wyatt is upended by his opponent, The Undertaker, at Wrestlemania XXXI in Santa Clara, Calif. The WWE is set for its annual sports entertainment extravaganza Sunday, April 1, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. John Cena, the Undertaker, the Miz and the Bella Twins all have big matches on the show. (AP Photo/Don Feria, File)

The World Series never would have a 52-year-old pitch in Game 7.

FILE - In this April 6, 2014, file photo, Brie Bella and Nikki Bella, known as the Bella Twins, compete during Wrestlemania XXX at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans. (Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for WWE) © The Associated Press FILE - In this April 6, 2014, file photo, Brie Bella and Nikki Bella, known as the Bella Twins, compete during Wrestlemania XXX at the Mercedes-Benz Super Dome in New Orleans. (Jonathan Bachman/AP Images for WWE)

But Major League Baseball doesn't have a dead man like the Undertaker.

FILE - In this July 23, 2016, file photo, WWE Champion "The Miz" greets fans before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch before the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians baseball game in Baltimore. The WWE is set for its annual sports entertainment extravaganza Sunday, April 1, 2017, in Orlando. John Cena , the Undertaker, the Miz and the Bella Twins all have big matches on the show. (AP Photo/Gail Burton, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this July 23, 2016, file photo, WWE Champion "The Miz" greets fans before throwing out a ceremonial first pitch before the Baltimore Orioles and Cleveland Indians baseball game in Baltimore. The WWE is set for its annual sports entertainment extravaganza Sunday, April 1, 2017, in Orlando. John Cena , the Undertaker, the Miz and the Bella Twins all have big matches on the show. (AP Photo/Gail Burton, File)

Could a 50-year-old NBA star return after a 13-year layoff and become the MVP in the Finals?

FILE - In this March 8, 2016, file photo, World Wrestling Entertainment star John Cena talks about Wrestlemania returning to Orlando, in Orlando, Fla. The WWE is set for its annual sports entertainment extravaganza Sunday in Orlando. Cena, the Undertaker, the Miz and the Bella Twins all have big matches on the show. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File) © The Associated Press FILE - In this March 8, 2016, file photo, World Wrestling Entertainment star John Cena talks about Wrestlemania returning to Orlando, in Orlando, Fla. The WWE is set for its annual sports entertainment extravaganza Sunday in Orlando. Cena, the Undertaker, the Miz and the Bella Twins all have big matches on the show. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)

No, but the NBA didn't sign Bill Goldberg.

Imagine a hot NFL prospect, a No. 1 draft pick, billed as a franchise savior that has all the tools to win over fans, only to find him voraciously booed even as big wins pile up.

Pushed as WWE's ultimate good guy, Roman Reigns has instead become the wrestler fans love to hate.

Reigns, Goldberg and the Undertaker have fueled WWE to ratings numbers and attendance marks most major sports would envy, and the company is set to flex its sports entertainment muscle Sunday at WrestleMania. WWE is headed to Orlando, Florida, for the outdoor extravaganza that will see the culmination of feuds built on "Raw," ''Smackdown Live," and, well, a reality show on E! Entertainment Television.

Hey, it can't be wrestling without a good old-fashioned catfight.

John Cena, long the WWE's biggest star, competes in a mixed tag team match with girlfriend Nikki Bella (star of "Total Bellas" on E!) against The Miz and his wife, Maryse. The Miz, once a fixture on MTV's reality-show circuit, crafting his future character on "The Real World," has become one of WWE's more reliable top acts, with mouthy promos that have him taking shots at Cena and Bella's seemingly made-for-TV relationship.

"We're just going to smack the crap out of Cena and Nikki Bella," The Miz said.

There are signs that Cena, used to championship gold around his waist in the wrestling ring, may put a diamond ring on Bella's finger after the match. One more hint this could be a match made in heaven: "Today" show co-host Al Roker is the guest ring announcer for the mixed tag bout.

So to recap, the guy from "The Real World" and his wife from "Total Divas" fight the co-star of "Trainwreck" and the girl from "Total Bellas" while the weatherman from "Today" announces the participants.

WWE pulled back the curtain on its operation decades ago, and yet it still packs a punch at the box office for WrestleMania. The roughly six-hour card has a few matches worthy of the main event: The Undertaker, in what could be his final match, wrestles Reigns; Goldberg fights former UFC champion Brock Lesnar; "Triple H" Hunter Hearst Helmsley fights Seth Rollins in an unsanctioned bout; Shane McMahon takes on A.J. Styles; and Bray Wyatt defends the WWE championship against Royal Rumble winner Randy Orton.

Musical performers include Pitbull, Flo Rida, Stephen Marley and LunchMoney Lewis.

But — putting the sports terminology in sports entertainment — WWE seemingly underseeded its biggest stars.

Cena vs. the Undertaker and A.J. Styles vs. The Miz were the bouts fans wanted to headline the card, with the former seen as a dream bout and the latter worthy for the men who carried "Smackdown" to its most critically acclaimed season in years. Styles instead gets demoted into a match against the 47-year-old McMahon, who will take a beating, take an insane stunt dive (off the roller coaster prop, perhaps) and take the 1-2-3 like he does in every match. WWE fans have long grown accustomed to Shane-O-Mac stealing a spot from a deserving star in a main event match.

The Miz, who pinned Cena in a 1-on-1 WrestleMania bout in 2011, said he was happy with his more mainstream bout.

"I do whenever something is there and people are talking about it and making noise about it. Why deny the magic," he asked. "It's funny, when it was announced as a mixed-tag match, people were like, you're kidding me. Cena deserves to go against the Undertaker, Miz deserves to go against the WWE champion. This is below them. And then, once it started, people started going, 'Oh wait a second,' people are telling me this is the match people are looking forward to most. People care."

Fans care — and fork over cash to catch the action. WWE makes the show available on its own network for $9.99 a month — it's $64.99 on pay-per-view — and new subscribers this week got WrestleMania for free as part of a promotional trial at WWENetwork.com. The final "Raw" before WrestleMania peaked at 3.426 million viewers in the second hour of the show. More than 80,000 fans attended last year's WrestleMania in Dallas.

WWE fans invaded Orlando for a variety of events this week.

Diamond Dallas Page, 1996 Olympic gold medalist and former WWE champ Kurt Angle, and "Ravishing" Rick Rude were among the wrestlers inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Friday night. The NXT feeder system holds a live card on the network Saturday night and the weekend is capped by WrestleMania — which runs its card miles away from Hogan's Beach Shop off International Drive. Hogan, as in, Hulk Hogan, the wrestler who used his 24-inch pythons to stamp the first WrestleMania on the sports map in 1985.

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