What Coronavirus Means for WWE & Other Pro Wrestling
When WWE opened its Performance Center in 2013, the Orlando-based facility was meant to serve as a state-of-the-art training center for young talent to hone their craft. A place maybe even for superstars to work off ring rust from injury or time away. However, the PC ended up being a better investment than ever imagined in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
The pandemic has impacted all facets of life around the world, including the pro wrestling industry. With travel bans, event cancellations, business closures, social distancing requirements, sports season stoppages and uncertainty to when the situation will get under some kind of control, WWE had no choice but to move its many television shows into their own venue.
Viewers got a taste of what could be the new normal for the time being during last Friday’s Smackdown on Fox, which broadcast from an empty WWE Performance Center. The closed set was void of fans, with only personnel on the premises.
Raw on Monday had much of the same, with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin appearing in honor of #316Day. The visual of a Rey Mysterio or Daniel Bryan competing without crowd support, and a Becky Lynch or Edge cutting promos in utter silence was something to behold. NXT will follow suit, airing live on Wednesday at the center rather than its usual spot a few miles away at Full Sail Live.
Vince McMahon and WWE have a “show must go on” mentality, dedicated to their mission of bringing smiles to faces. This also means changing their plans for its biggest show of the year. Therefore, instead of WrestleMania 36 emanating from what would likely have been a record-breaking Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, it, too, will take place at the PC; again, it will be a closed set with only essential personnel on hand.
The company’s official statement read: “In coordination with local partners and government officials, WrestleMania and all related events in Tampa Bay will not take place. However, WrestleMania will still stream live on Sunday, April 5 at 7 p.m. ET on WWE Network and be available on pay-per-view. Only personnel will be on the closed set at WWE’s training facility in Orlando, Florida to produce WrestleMania.”
WWE not running WrestleMania and its other events like Axxess in the host city will have a crippling effect that trickles down to local economy and for other wrestling companies and wrestlers. The popular WrestleCon was forced to cancel, leaving promotions and wrestlers without a big pay day they count on.
A groundswell of users on social media are asking fans to come together, purchasing merchandise of their favorites online like at Pro Wrestling Tees to help cushion the blow. All Elite Wrestling’s Cody and Chris Jericho have put shirts on sale, with all proceeds benefiting the United Way COVID-19 Family Support Fund.
AEW has also been rocked by the global emergency, rescheduling events and moving the Dynamite broadcast Wednesday on TNT to an crowdless Daily’s Place in Jacksonville. The hometown amphitheater will have staff on hand with Jaguars co-owner and AEW head Tony Khan reportedly understanding if someone feels uncomfortable about showing up for work.
Impact Wrestling has postponed numerous events, including Lockdown and March Breakdown, as well as shelving its anticipated TNA: There’s No Place Like Home. Some Tuesday shows on AXS TV have already been filmed before the coronavirus conditions worsened. Star Ethan Page revealed Impact will pay its talent during time off.
Ring of Honor had its 18th Anniversary pay-per-view and Past vs. Present events in Las Vegas halted and cancelled its shows until May 31. New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW), Lucha Libre AAA, Major League Wrestling (MLW) and the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) have ceased events and taping schedules for the foreseeable future.
The wrestling community has been working tirelessly to help those affected financially by the recent developments. Independent promotions like Freelance Wrestling are looking to execute an idea of hosting a streamed event via IWTV (Independent Wrestling TV) from its Academy in the Pro Wrestling Tees warehouse in Chicago. Fans could then donate money to each specific wrestler through PayPal.
WWE’s Ali and Ruby Riott have lent monetary support to the endeavor. Black Label Pro is holding an “Empty House” event March 28 that will stream to help raise money for talent. Highspots Wrestling Network and FITE TV are other services that can ease boredom and support the cause.
No matter how dark a time or what is going on in the world, somehow, some way, there is pro wrestling, offering an escape and helping maintain some sense of routine. Mentally and emotionally, this can be important for many.