Think about how much has been canceled or postponed in the last three weeks (yes, it’s been three weeks since the Rudy Gobert incident). From March Madness to the College World Series, the sports world as we know it is a desolate wasteland. We’re seeing nothing but classic games and iRacing on television to fill a void that sports fanatics didn’t realize they needed.
However, there is one thing that has kept going while the rest of the world has screeched to a halt and that’s pro wrestling. The WWE and AEW have continued to churn out their respective product despite the COVID-19 pandemic and each to varying results. The thing that’s created a lot of the intrigue has been about how they can put on a show without fans.
When you look back at some of the greatest moments in WWE history, you can’t picture that without crowds. Imagine if last year, you saw Kofi Kingston finally win the WWE Championship after a decade-long journey and it happened in front of no one. The reaction from the crowd makes some of the best moments legendary and when you’re playing to an audience of none, it’s a real challenge for anyone who has plied their trade for their entire careers without a rabid crowd cheering them on.
However, this isn’t the first rodeo for pro wrestling to continue rolling on in the face of hard times in the United States of America. You just need to look back to 2001 and see a prime example of how they can provide at least some sense of normalcy in a time where the world is in upheaval. Just two days after 9/11, the WWE held Smackdown live in Houston, Texas (the plan was originally to tape it the Tuesday, but the events of that day changed the entire plan for everyone) and gave people a brief respit from the 24/7 news channels like Fox News and CNN.
Fast forward almost 19 years later, and the WWE went live on Fox with Smackdown just two days after we found out that Rudy Gobert was diagnosed with COVID-19. It was a bold decision that was handled properly at the time. However, the story kept changing at a rapid pace.
First, it was the city of Tampa Bay barring gatherings of more than ten people eliminating the idea of Wrestlemania being hosted at Raymond James Stadium. Then the city of Orlando followed up placing a shelter-in-place order effective last Thursday at 11 pm. The WWE then made the decision to tape all of their programming until next Wednesday, April 8th.
Then came a big blow to the card that was scheduled (many fans know the phrase “card subject to change” all too well). Roman Reigns, one of their top stars, pulled out of his Universal Title Match that was scheduled for Wrestlemania due to concerns about contracting COVID-19. The former Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket had returned to the company just last year after beating leukemia for the second time in his life, meaning his compromised immune system might not have been able to handle the virus entering his body.
That was followed up by several other WWE superstars being taken off the card for different reasons and led to numerous changes to a card that had taken more swerves than a storyline written by Vince Russo.
If it happened at any other point in the calendar, odds are the WWE would postpone their programming for the foreseeable future, but with Wrestlemania on the horizon, Vince McMahon wasn’t going to shut down his biggest show of the year even if the Four Horsemen (not that Four Horsemen) stormed the Performance Center. This is Vince’s baby and him keeping the wheels rolling even in trying times is something that many should embrace with open arms. It very well could be the last big live event that could happen for some time if the proper steps aren’t taken.