Rushonrock’s King Of The Ring and Wrestling Royalty co-founder Andy Spoors should be Florida-bound this week. But he’s building up to WrestleMania 36 from the comfort of his own couch…
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
From the moment Becky Lynch’s hand was raised into the New Jersey night sky to drop the curtain on WrestleMania 35, thoughts immediately turned to the next year’s plans. It wasn’t a particularly cold day to sit and watch almost seven hours of wrestling in Metlife Stadium. But the downpour that caught the majority of fans waiting to travel back to their hotels after the show certainly had the WWE Universe longing for the sunny shores of Tampa, when the Floridian heat would play host to Mania once again.
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
Having (easily) persuaded Rushonrock photographer and grapple fan John Burrows to realise his lifelong dream of attending WrestleMania in person, along with his son Reese, hotels were booked and tickets purchased. Idols would be met, beers drank (by at least one of us) and memories made. The countdown was on. But February brought the first tangible rumours that bigger forces were to intervene in the cruellest and most serious way. Coronavirus began to sweep the world. Flights to China and then Italy began to be cancelled. Neither the USA nor the UK had any reported cases of what soon became a pandemic. Sports events began to drop by the wayside. Serie A. Champions League matches. Formula One. Gigs up and down the country. Whole tours. The Premier League. And then a hammer blow. President Trump announced all flights from Europe into the US were to be cancelled excluding the UK and Ireland.
Frantic calls and messages to rearrange original flights and plans were made and executed. While seemingly every other major sporting event in the world fell by the wayside on the sensible advice of social distancing, WrestleMania curiously stood unabashed and very much still going ahead. It’s worth bearing in mind the full scale and seriousness of the coronavirus hadn’t really been reported at this point, so the disappointment and anxiety of seeing money and plans wasted was all too real for this reporter and the Burrows boys.
As the inevitable occurred and the UK was added to the no-fly list, the European contingent of the WWE Universe stood to lose out as Vince McMahon seemingly dug his heels in, taking extreme criticism from fans and detractors alike. A belated announcement came on March 16 as WWE announced that WrestleMania and all linked events would no longer take place in Tampa and would instead be moved to a closed set, more specifically the WWE Performance Center, a mere 88 miles away.
It wasn’t meant to be like this.
WrestleMania has and (fingers crossed) always will be the highlight of most wrestling fans’ calendars. Ask any aspiring wrestler and they will undoubtedly have a WrestleMania moment that cemented their dreams of becoming a Superstar in their own right. All those Mania moments would be very different if you were to take away the crowd in attendance. 90,000 Hulkamaniacs running wild as Hulk Hogan scoop slammed Andre The Giant. Gone. Daniel Bryan’s Yes! Movement celebrating the ‘Miracle on Bourbon Street. Gone. Stone Cold and Bret Hart brawling through the fans at WrestleMania 13. Gone. The idea of any wrestling taking place in an empty arena is alien enough, but the granddaddy of them all, the grandest stage, the showcase of immortals? Unthinkable. This is like playing the Superbowl in a sports hall or hosting Download Festival in a garage. So the question that most people now find themselves asking isn’t how will this work? But should WrestleMania go ahead at all?
Having reached the end destination of what feels like an emotional rollercoaster – now the event has been cancelled to the public and refunds begin to process – it’s much easier to speak with a level head and balanced viewpoint. The severity of coronavirus simply can’t be downplayed as the death toll rises and the number of people infected or even affected by the illness grows by the day. The idea of keeping employees in work for non-essential jobs seems ill advised at best or downright irresponsible at worst. The easy option and easy answer is ‘no, WrestleMania shouldn’t go ahead’. The fact that there are no fans and there are bigger things in the world to concentrate on right now confirm that view. Most importantly, the health and safety of WWE’s employees should be paramount. From Superstars to camera operators, everyone is putting themselves at risk by continuing to go to work with each other.
But had Vince McMahon taken the easy option in his life, WWE wouldn’t be the company it is today. As all gigs, festivals, sports events and mass gatherings in general fall by the wayside, professional wrestling has become something of a last bastion of live entertainment. Both WWE and rivals AEW have continued weekly programming as close to normal as possible. Sure, the crowds are gone and the magic with it somewhat but right now the world needs entertainment.
Provided WWE is sticking within the guidelines issued by local authorities, they should be praised for providing some sort of continuity and escapism in a pretty dark time. To avoid falling foul of new Florida guidelines and regulations, WrestleMania, for the first time in its history has been pre-taped from start to finish. One thing that WWE has proven time and time again, they are willing to push the envelope and when the chips are down they generally swing for the fences to deliver something special. From multiple locations on WrestleMania 2 to the gigantic AT&T Stadium for WrestleMania 32, every challenge issued WWE will always try and find a way to make it work.
We may not get to board a plane and become enveloped by the humid heat of Tampa. We may not be blinded by the bright production lights or feel the boom of fireworks as the sun sets and dusk whips around the Raymond James Stadium. It will be another year until John and Reese experience the roar of the crowd or the silent hush as a Superstar creates their WrestleMania moment that will live forever in video packages. But we will watch in the comfort of our home, with snacks aplenty and most importantly we will be safe. Safe in the knowledge that we can be responsible for our families, safe from spreading the virus. And thanks to WWE safe in the knowledge that we can still have somewhere to escape to and watch mouth wide open as the company and their Superstars do what they do best and entertain.
Sure, it wasn’t meant to be like this. But we will take what we can get and hope that WWE makes us forget about the four walls we are isolated in and transport us to larger than life universe. Now that is the way it is supposed to be.
Andy Spoors is the co-founder of the Wrestling Royalty Podcast