Greetings, gang, and I hope you’re all doing well. Sitting around a couple of weekends ago I was watching Wrestlemania unfold on Saturday and Sunday night, and with the stay at home orders not only affecting us but everything else as well, I’ve come to a very definite conclusion, damn, crowds make a difference. See, with the emergence of Covid-19, wrestling companies such as WWE and AEW have found themselves facing down the same dilemma as any other major entertainment or sporting association, how do you have an event that relies so much on a live audience being present when there just can’t be a crowd in the building? Like it or not, the necessity for social distancing right now has changed the way we have to go about doing things, and it has drastically impacted one of my favorite forms of entertainment. For the past month or so, WWE has been running or pre-taping all of their weekly shows from their performance center down in Orlando, holding their matches and having their storylines unfold in front of an empty arena with the only the announcers and the necessary ring crew present to work the event. I haven’t actually tuned into WWE television for a while now, but with all the buzz and talk going around about how Wrestlemania, their flagship show, would play out under the circumstances, I thought I’d give it a look. And boy did I witness some shit.
Before I get into anything, I have to say that I was honestly surprised that this show got some of the decent reviews that it did, because to my eyes, it just wasn’t there. In the grand scheme of things, pro-wrestling has always been something that is driven by and thrives off the interaction with its fans, a hot crowd being able to drag a mediocre show up and a cold one bringing a stellar event down a notch or two. But with no audience at all in attendance to react to what’s going on in the ring it all just comes off as wrong, and sadly at times, horribly flat and boring. I’m not going to run down what I felt about the show match by match, because that could take a rather longtime indeed. But what I would like to do is give my thoughts and overall impressions that came to mind while watching whatever the hell this was, picking out a few highlights and match points where I feel is relevant, and if I don’t mention anything just assume I didn’t give a crap.
For starters, let me say that I have been watching and enjoying wrestling for the majority of my life, with the first thing I can remember being Hulk Hogan taking on Paul Orndorff on Saturday Night’s Main Event in 1987 I believe. I like to think that I have a pretty good history and knowledge base to draw from, and a as a fan I definitely know what I can take or leave. I’ve always enjoyed watching the matches themselves play out, but one thing that can sometimes be just as entertaining is watching the crowd reactions at ringside, the audience at some points even stealing the show at times. Back through the early 2000’s there was one couple that you could always see at the big WWE shows, and they were hard to miss with both of them be decked out in their bright neon shirts. Watching the guy react to the action when I go back to enjoy an old pay-per-view or two is hilarious, his excitement and enthusiasm contagious to those who were seated around him and almost more entertaining than anything that was going on in the ring. And who could forget the utter fervor and bloodlust of that old ECW ground, because damn, that was a passionate and savage fanbase if there ever was one. But with Wrestlemania taking place in a completely empty building this year there was absolutely none of those little nuances or exciting moments to enhance the backdrop and feel, and the show drastically suffered for it in my opinion.
As much as I wish I could say differently, this thing just felt like a string of glorified dress rehearsals rather than an actual show to me, with stretches of dead silence and long lulls that made the action a chore to get through at times. I thought that some of the most entertaining moments came with the opening match on the first night of the card, with Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross taking on Asuka and Kairi Sane. The match itself was pretty much just middle of the road in terms of a tag bout, but damn was it great to just sit back and listen to Asuka spout a slur of curses in Japanese. The other three ladies involved did and admirable job in the own rights, but it was Asuka’s shouts and vocalizations that really carried it through and added some much needed energy considering the lack of a crowd, and unfortunately, I thought it never really got any better from here.
Without a live audience in attendance I thought the rest of the show just fell flat over both nights, coming off as stale and bland, and at times, utterly friggin stupid. A good amount of the matches felt like they had absolutely no place on a show that’s supposed to be as big as Wrestlemania, seeming like they were just put there to pad out the card over a two-night stretch. Matches like Zane versus Bryan, Black versus Lashley, and a few of the tag bouts could have easily been carried out on Raw or Smackdown, and the ladder match for the tag titles should have been scrapped altogether when they saw they would only have one member of each team competing in the thing. Maybe a few enthusiastic bodies out in the seats would have really helped to get these moments over better for the audience at home, but since there were none to speak of, we’re only left to guess about that.
And then we get to some of the hokiest, most idiotic, bullshit I think I’ve seen in a long while, that being the Boneyard and Firefly Funhouse matches. Both were “cinematic” out of the ring segments that weren’t going to have a crowd viewing them live anyway, but I hate trash like this precisely because they take it away from being in front of the fans and throw it somewhere stupid. I won’t torture you with the specifics of these bits of garbage, as I think that just recounting the events alone might send me into some kind of traumatic flashback. It’s enough to say that both of these were bad comedy and boring fight scenes from the worst kinds of two bit action movies, and frankly it makes me embarrassed to be a wrestling fan and know that they even exist, as I enjoy it much more when the product is treated with some shred of respect and legitimacy. It boggles my mind that these two segments where received by most as well as they were, making me wonder if I’ve gone mad for not liking either of them or if everyone else is slowly slipping into insanity after being cooped up for so long. If you’re feeling up to it then go ahead and watch these two bits of painful nonsense for yourself, but don’t say that I didn’t at least give you a heads up, because they’re pretty damn harsh.
Finally, I want to give a mention to where I felt the lack of a crowd really hurt this show the most, those spots being the two big championship matches that we saw take place. One saw Braun Strowman take on Bill Goldberg for the Universal Championship, while the other had Drew McIntyre going after the WWE Title held by Brock Lesnar. They were both really quick, damn near, squash matches, with one big move being pulled after the other, and each ending in a respective title change. Strowman and Goldberg took place on the first night while Mcintyre versus Lesnar was the main event for the second, and the latter really suffered for it on several fronts. With Strowman and Goldberg being a quick sprint and running the way it did it really felt like the second title match was just a blatant rehash of the first, with very little difference in the tone or pacing. It wasn’t the first time they did this with the show either as each night also had one of the garbage cinematic matches that I mentioned earlier, but I definitely think it hurt the impact of the event the most right here. Strowman and Goldberg I could take or leave honestly, as Strowman was a stand in for Roman Reigns who dropped out over health concerns and the Universal Championship feels more akin to a glorified mid-card belt at best. But the WWE Championship is their flagship title for God’s sake, and it was a damn waste to have McIntyre walkaway with it in such a copycat fashion considering the push they put behind to crown him as the next face of the company. They needed to move something they had hyped up this much back to Summer Slam at the earliest, letting it benefit from the hopefully hot crowd that would have gone nuts for this. I think the roar and adulation for a McIntyre win would have been like a thundercrack in the building and made for one hell of a moment, but instead we got a dull quickie that fell utterly flat in front of a big nothing, and that was a insult to McIntyre and the fans alike, who both deserved better than this.
All in all, the absence of an audience and their much-needed energy really made for a rather forgettable Wrestlemania, with most of what we saw being an average endeavor at best. A lot of it could have been cut to tighten up the run time of a nearly six hour show when you take both nights into account, proving that quantity is still no substitute for quality. Looking back, there were only a couple of spots I can think of where the lack of a crowd really didn’t bother me at all, those being the aforementioned segment with Asuka and the match with Elias and King Corbin, as I feel the crowd would have dead silent during this snoozer or off taking a piss so it didn’t matter anyway. I have to agree with Mr. Jim Cornette with what he said in a recent podcast, either reschedule the thing altogether, or if you’re just too damn suborn, put some of the boys from the back and their girlfriends in the seats to make some noise and offer up some drastically needed feedback. In the end, pro-wrestling is something that has always lived on the shoulders of the fans that love it the most, and with none of them there to see it, it just doesn’t have that same spark or magic no matter what you do. With a show as big and special as they build Wrestlemania up to be, the brass at WWE should have respected their own product more, putting it off until everything has calmed down a little and they could have done the event right. I think that doing so would have made a 100% better show than what the outcome turned out to be, with a house full of happy and excited fans to lend their own enthusiasm to the television audience at home who so desperately needed it. But then again, I’m just a simple writer and wrestling fan in the end, so what do I really know about anything anyway. Until next time as always, gang, take care and be safe out there. Oh, and by the way, Edge and Randy Orton was thirty-eight minutes of atrociously boring hell. There, I feel better after saying that. Later.