Whether you were a super fan back in the day or you’ve never seen an episode, everyone knows what World Wrestling Entertainment is, and that’s the bottom line. Now, I’ll admit, I haven’t watched an episode of “Monday Night Raw” or “Smackdown” since I was 12; recently, however, I couldn’t help but wonder how the WWE has faced COVID-19.
Long before the pandemic, the WWE was my favorite thing on television; it was my favorite thing to discuss and my preferred way to spend Monday and Friday nights. I grew up watching legends like The Undertaker choke-slamming fools in the ring since before I knew how to multiply and divide. I had my own toy WWE championship belt wrapped around my waist, and I’ve given my fair share of elbow drops from the top rope (my family’s couch) onto my brother (sorry, Mom).
Inevitably, I grew out of it. Maybe it was the show’s direction that steered me away, or maybe I just moved on. One thing is for sure — the WWE thrived without me. Tons of children continued throwing themselves off their couches and trying to three-count the family dog. Kids from all over the world were cheering for their favorite wrestlers, and that brings me so much joy.
I can talk about the quality and dramatic shift the WWE took that keeps old fans like myself away, but that argument seems a little unnecessary today. Because when the world was struck with COVID-19, the future of things like the WWE were threatened, which can world-shattering for a child. Some boys and girls really look up to these superstars, and their absence can feel devastating in such isolated times.
Take wrestlers like Becky Lynch, who are absolutely crushing it in the WWE, empowering young women by packing stadiums and “turning gender roles on their head.” And WWE wrestlers aren’t just heroes in the ring; just look at the number of wishes wrestlers like John Cena have granted for Make-A-Wish. It’s not just “Stone Cold” Stunners and maneuvers off ladders. WWE has a genuine impact on both children and adults today.
Are They Taking Pandemic Precautions?
I had a few main concerns regarding COVID-19. Since the WWE clearly continued despite the outbreak, how were they going to ensure the safety of their athletes, and how do these superstars perform without a crowd?
First, let’s talk about safety concerns. There are conflicting reports over whether legitimate fans were permitted to watch actual tapings. When watching the show, you can see a handful of individuals in the crowd. Most seem to be paid talent and none of them are wearing masks. There are some reports, however, indicating that legitimate fans could attend, but were not allowed to wear masks. While there are clear discrepancies all over the internet regarding WWE’s safety measures, the visual lack of masks in both the crowd and the ring is concerning, to say the least.
What about the athletes? Much like any sport making its return during the pandemic, precautions must be made to keep people safe. This is a physical performance, there is sweat involved, wrestlers are at each other’s throats, and I haven’t seen a single mask unless you count Rey Mysterio’s.
While some superstars may be comfortable with it, these performers are also under contract. Who’s to say these men and women are capable of expressing their concerns without fear of losing their jobs.
Well, some are certainly speaking their minds. The WWE has been swept with new cases left and right. Earlier this year, an anonymous WWE talent unveiled some frustrations with the company’s overall handle of the situation.
The letter states that superstars are forbidden from discussing their cases with the public and multiple tapings were recorded a day, while many wrestlers were not tested until roughly the same time the anonymous letter was received. Apparently, “the show must go on” is a prevalent motto within the company. WWE never responded to the anonymous letter.
Is It Still Entertaining?
How does the WWE remain entertaining during the pandemic? I’ve watched a few dozen highlight-reels, and I must be honest, it can get hard to watch. But, hey, the WWE is doing what it can, just like you and me, right?
They have had to face some major challenges with the lack of presence in the arena. The show’s performers thrive off the crowd — it’s the whole point. These wrestlers try to generate a reaction from the crowd; that’s what made Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson the “most electrifying man in sports entertainment.” Whether you loved to love him or loved to hate him, The Rock got a reaction out of everyone.
That’s what makes watching the “new” WWE so sad. The performers are giving the best shows they can, but the energy is low with hardly anyone in attendance.
More recently, the WWE has implemented massive fan monitors in the crowd, where people from around the world can tune in and see their faces pop up in the crowd. This gives something that the wrestlers can work with, sure. Yet, it can get a little awkward and even jarring to see a bunch of pixelated faces spread across the arena.
There is an upside to this. We may not have to feel so bad for these superstars individually, since many of them have made their wrestling start in smaller arenas with smaller crowds than this. They still had to win people over, even if just a handful. Most of these wrestlers had their dreams come true the moment they stepped foot in the WWE, so I’m sure they are willing to roll with the punches.
That’s the same for all of us, right? Take what we can get and do the best we can? That’s what these athletes do in the ring. It’s the same story told over and over again: Get knocked down and get back up. I’m sure many die-hard wrestling fans will take what they can get right now.
Everyone is having to adjust. While I’m not sure I agree with the measures the WWE has taken during COVID-19, I do wish the roster the best of luck, and hope they remain safe, in and outside the ring.