WrestleManias have always been kind of weird. They're the payoff shows to months of prior WWE storytelling, featuring matches that often culminate feuds in ways that stay in fans' minds forever. But they're also WWE waving a big sign that says "Hey! We're, like, a legitimate entertainment option, too! Please notice us!" And that's why you get stuff like Hulk Hogan tag-teaming with Mr. T, Mickey Rourke tussling with Chris Jericho, Shaq staring down the Big Show (who had recently "wrestled" with Floyd Mayweather), and rapper Flo Rida shoving Heath Slater (and Slater selling the move like it turned his skeleton into paste).
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Basically, a good chunk of WrestleMania is like if the Super Bowl's halftime show ended and the referee announced that the New England Patriots would now be taking on the tag team of Paul McCartney and Shakira, all while other teams that had practiced their asses off for years and years prior stand in the locker room and pretend to clap. Don't get me wrong, WrestleMania has given us some stunning bits of wrasslin' over the years (Last year's match between Daniel Bryan and Kofi Kingston? *chef's kiss*), but they're also weirdly needy.
But nooooo WrestleMania will ever be as weird as this year's.
The Coronavirus has played havoc on the "get a bunch of people in one place" industry, and this includes professional wrestling. Already having to move its several weekly televised events from stadiums to the empty WWE Performance Center, the WWE seemed dead set on continuing their "The show must go on" mentality until Hillsborough County in Florida threatened to pull the plug on them. And so they relocated their biggest event of the year from the Raymond James Stadium in Florida, and now it will look like the rest of the shows they've been putting on recently, only with a lot more pirate art.
And I don't know if you've ever watched pro wrestling without a crowd, but it's odd, y'all. Without people cheering and clapping and yelling "WHAT?" over the speeches that these bodybuilders have been forced to memorize, it becomes this weird performance art piece. Pro wrestling has always been pretty interactive, with the wrestlers showing off and sometimes adjusting their matches to get a better crowd reaction. But without a crowd, something seems inherently off, as if it's a mistake to even have it going. Like John Cena is gonna slap his head on the way to ring and say "That's what I was forgetting! THE PEOPLE."
WrestleMania has also been critiqued recently for its length, with last year's going over seven hours. That's a lot of wrestling, sort-of wrestling, talking about wrestling, and videos meant to show us how great wrestling is. Luckily, it's being split up into two days, now running for about four to five hours on both Saturday and Sunday. Wait, did I say "luckily?" I meant...actually, I don't know if there's a word for that. Someone asking me "Do you want seven hours of wrestling in an empty arena or two five-hour nights of wrestling in an empty arena?" sounds like a trick question.
And who will be the glue that holds the event together, the star personality that we can rely on to supply charisma when our attention spans are waning and the wrestlers are tired? Why, retired football player Rob Gronkowski, of course! He participated in a WrestleMania Battle Royale a few years ago and has just been friends with wrestlers, I guess. His announcement was marked by goofy dancing, so I can't wait to see what he does with ten hours in front of an empty arena if "hump the post on the way into the ring" was Plan A.
But what about the matches? That's what the people came to see ... before they were ordered to stay inside. Well, to adjust for the dead silence that will inevitably haunt the event, some of the matches are getting a "cinematic" treatment. Bray Wyatt and John Cena are having a "Firefly Funhouse" match, which sounds incredibly corny and I won't miss a second of it. A few years ago, Wyatt battered Randy Orton with various objects and tables in a "House of Horrors" match, with the house looking like the death shack from Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation. And that is my aesthetic.
AJ Styles, known as one of the greatest wrestlers that the world has ever seen and a man who once thanked Pokemon Diamond on the Nintendo DS for helping him win a Tag Team Championship, will be taking on WrestleMania mainstay The Undertaker in a "Boneyard Match." What the hell is a Boneyard Match? What the hell is a Boneyard? My guess is that it will be like Undertaker's classic Buried Alive matches where you win by depositing your opponent in a shallow grave and dump dirt on/near him. Only with less references to graves and death and anything that might be a bummer in the midst of a global virus outbreak.
The main events have been affected as well, with the planned match between Goldberg and Roman Reigns being shuffled, because Reigns has suffered from leukemia which, if you didn't know, severely messes up your immune system. So good on him to say "haha, nah" to being in close proximity to other sweaty dudes for a while. However, as of this writing, the WWE is still advertising a Reigns/Goldberg match even though Reigns has publicly said "I'm not gonna be there."
The other main event is Brock Lesnar vs Drew McIntyre, with the former being a former UFC champion and actual fighter who gets paid, like, so much money to stand around and infrequently throw people, and the latter being a handsome dude that's roughly the size of a refrigerator who fans have really taken a liking to. Sadly, if they go with Drew winning, it means that their classic WrestleMania champion coronation will be a lot of confetti and silence. The crowning event of Drew's professional career will look bleakly ironic.
So why not postpone the event to a date when they can actually put people in seats, especially since WWE seems destined to lose about $22 million dollars because of it? I have no clue. Tradition, maybe? This is WrestleMania 36, and the WWF/WWE has been holding these things annually since 1985. So maybe they think that moving it up their calendar will throw them off and that no one in their right mind would accept a WrestleMania IN SEPTEMBER. But as a wrestling fan, trust me. We totally would have.
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Daniel Dockery is a writer, but much more importantly, he's a pro wrestling fan. Check out his Twitter if you want.