Unless you are living in a cave on a deserted island, you are probably feeling the effects of the Corona Pandemic like every other person on the planet. In the space of a few weeks, the entire world feels like it has shut down. Social Distancing, isolation, Lock-outs and shut-downs have resulted in a world like none of us have ever experienced before. And the effects are being felt everywhere- shopping centers, restaurants, bars and clubs, sporting competitions and even the world of professional wrestling.
While every sporting competition in the world, including the Olympic Games, has closed down “indefinitely”, WWE and other wrestling companies have been keeping the dream alive by running their televised events in front of empty arena’s, including WrestleMania. The result has been a series of mixed reviews and some very awkward matches and television events. To be fair, it is great that WWE continue to present their weekly product, and have continued to push forward their story-lines, which for those of us that are life-long fans has meant we can continue to enjoy the product we love. But the other side of the coin is that the product has been significantly impacted. Some people enjoy the empty arena matches, other find the matches difficult to watch. Some wrestlers have really adapted well to the situation, others struggle without the response they are used to.
The WWE has been receiving increased criticism for the last few years for the type of product it has presented, and no matter whether you agree or disagree with the criticism, you cannot help but hear it. Meaningless matches, no character and story development, story-lines seemingly killed in an instant, Vince McMahon (and the rest of WWE) not listening to it’s audience and pushing stars down our throats…. These are just some of the criticisms that have been around for a few years now. But for all the criticism and struggles that have eventuated from WWE seeking to give it’s worldwide fan-base a weekly product, I think that there is a way that the WWE, and other companies, can turn this Corona Pandemic to their favor. I would like to offer 5 suggestions for how the WWE (and other wrestling companies) could use this Carona Pandemic to their advantage.
1. Take the opportunity to really explore the characters of the Wrestling Stars.
For many years now the WWE has been criticized for not really developing a lot of their characters. Some stars receive close attention. The development of Bray Wyatt in the last 12 months is a great example of this, but others get minimal attention. With no fans being in attendance, the WWE could take the opportunity to explore in detail the character of some of their stars. They could give us a chance to get to know the Superstar. Sit-down interviews would allow a deeper understanding of who they are and what they want to achieve in the WWE (for storyline purposes). An interview with Drew McIntyre on what he has had to overcome to become WWE Champion. Or an interview with Braun Strowman about why he broke away from Bray Wyatt. Or perhaps an interview with New Day about their friendship and why they have focused on tag team glory rather than turning on each other. Each episode of Raw and Smackdown could give a different superstar the opportunity to be featured.
2. Build some long-term story-lines.
The big appeal of professional wrestling is two superstars building to a massive match at an important event, preferably on Pay Per View. But the current pandemic means that there are no fans to draw to create an atmosphere. One answer could be to draw some story-lines out. Don’t build to a match now, or next week, but build to a match when fans will be back in the arena. Use interviews to build the heat between the competitors. Have debates and confrontations in different settings to build the story-line. Show one of the wrestlers training and preparing for the match- maybe even using some other talent to mimic their planned opponent. This would create some interest long-term and then, when fans are permitted to return to the arena’s, put on a blockbuster Pay Per View event that will have fans anticipating match after match.
3. Use the stars to review matches of their own and their opponents.
It did not take long for WWE to decide that they cannot run show after show with every match in an empty arena. WrestleMania used some “cinematic” approaches, while Raw and Smackdown have replayed previous matches that were in front of a crowd. To help make these more meaningful, the WWE could have wrestlers review their own matches: sit down while the match is running and critique their performance. Or have a wrestler critique the match of a wrestler he is building to face. Imagine Seth Rollins watching a match or 2 of Kevin Owens, pointing out how he would defend himself from certain moves, noting what he perceives as the weaknesses of Owens, and then when they finally meet in the ring the commentary team can point out the times that he is successful, or better yet unsuccessful, at following his own advice. It allows the WWE to show older matches in front of fans, but gives it an meaning for watching them.
4. Make use of “Enhancement Talent” to do “training matches”.
I am not suggesting all matches return to “jobber” matches we saw in the old school days, but utilizing some lesser known talents in enhancement matches could be very useful at this time. Firstly it means that the marquee matches will not get used up in the empty arena events. Secondly it can allow a superstar to be featured or develop his persona a little better by utilizing a few new moves or a strong finisher. Thirdly, it can allow some of the trainees in the system to get a little more experience in the ring with veteran talent guiding them. And finally, it can create opportunities for story-line progression with heel’s mocking their enemy while beating on a jobber. This type of match could also be used as a training format for a top superstar to prepare for an opponent down the track. A jobber could be of a similar build to the future opponent, or even a similar style of wrestler, which could create the perception that the in-ring superstar is preparing or scouting his future opponent.
5. Use some reality of the situation we are facing.
We are all faced with the impact of the Corona Virus- the isolation and social distancing, and WWE superstars are no different. We already know that Roman Reigns’ history of cancer is forcing him to self-isolate, possibly until this pandemic is over. So why don’t the WWE use this in their story-lines. Lay-up the fact that some superstars have been impacted and can’t get in the ring to do what they love, or get revenge of their hated enemy. Imagine the impact of a hated heel mocking an absent superstar, and for that star to do “at home” interviews about how desperate they are to get back into action and beat on their hated enemy. Or a star like The Miz who allegedly is ill at the moment and has to self-isolate. An interview of vignette of how he can’t wait to return to action to prove how great he is. With no fans in the arena, stories like this will certainly appeal to the viewer at home, as they can identify with the feelings being expressed.
While I don’t think this is the answer to every match on every show, I do believe that if the WWE, AEW, Impact, ROH or any other company was to incorporate some of these ideas, I think they could alleviate some of the perceived short-comings of empty arena events, and in the long run possibly even generate more interest in the current superstars and upcoming match-ups. Who knows, maybe the Corona Pandemic will be the launching pad of the next company leader who will take the company into the next era.