It has attracted millions of fans from around the world. It has featured some of the biggest superstars from the world of sports and entertainment. It is the “Showcase of the Immortals.” It is WrestleMania.
And on April 4 and 5, it will be empty.
You read that right. WWE's biggest event of the year will take place from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando in front of empty seats and announcers.
“In coordination with local partners and government officials, WrestleMania and all related events in Tampa Bay will not take place,” WWE said in a statement on Monday, “However, WrestleMania will still stream live on Sunday, April 5 at 7 pm ET on WWE Network and be available on pay-per-view. Only essential personnel will be on the closed set at WWE’s training facility in Orlando, Florida to produce WrestleMania.”
Cancelled events and empty auditoriums are common-place in a world reeling from the coronavirus outbreak, but for wrestling fans, to know that the biggest show of the year will take place in such a fashion is not only unheard of, it is unfathomable.
WWE has had a history of handling situations by the mantra of “the show must go on,” as current WWE producer and host of “Something to Wrestle With” Bruce Prichard would say. In 1999, Owen Hart, legendary Canadian wrestler and brother of former WWF champion Bret Hart, tragically fell from the ceiling of Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. Even as medical personnel rushed Owen to nearby Truman Medical Center in Kansas City where he was later pronounced dead, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker battled for the WWF Championship.
In 2001, just days following the attacks on the World Trade Center, Vince McMahon opted to hold SmackDown! on September 13. It was the first large gathering of Americans following the devastating attacks in New York. WWF superstars and fans stood proud that night as McMahon said America refuses to be afraid.
The WWF/E has a history of bucking trends to continue to entertain fans. One can only imagine how much of a struggle it was for Vince McMahon to come to this decision. When SmachDown! aired from the Performance Center last Friday in front of no one, it was an almost uncomfortable to watch. Monday Night Raw did the same. As returning wrestler Edge addressed his WrestleMania opponent Randy Orton in front of empty seats, my wife stared at the screen, not knowing how to even describe the scene she was seeing. Under normal circumstances, when a Last Man Standing match is announced, the crowd would go nuts. But there was no crowd to speak of.
As of this week, WWE has announced that WrestleMania will take place on two separate nights, spanning both Saturday April 5 and April 6. Common sense says that even WWE knows that fans will not sit through a four to six hour television event with no crowd involvement.
It is yet another example of the novel coronavirus impacting every facet of normal life on the planet. To the company's credit, while the NBA, NASCAR, NCAA and so many others have outright cancelled events, the WWE is stepping up to provide at least some sort of escape for so many that have been confined to their homes as humanity weathers this storm.
The show must go on, right?
AJ Styles will face the legendary Undertaker. Drew McEntyre will challenge “The Beast” Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship. Bill Goldberg will defend the Universal Championship against Roman Reigns.
And no one will be there for any of it.