When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wrestling around the world had to adjust to new normals. Empty arenas, undercard wrestlers as the crowd, clap crowds. Wrestling as we know it disappeared in an instant. Since the very life of many companies depending on continuing to run during the pandemic, companies had to get creative with new tricks and ideas.
Sure, a lot of it did not stick, some people were turned off by the new wrestling experience—but all of it was not awful. Here are some of the best things wrestling did during the COVID-19 pandemic and ideas that may stick around once fans are back across the world.
One of my favorite parts of pandemic wrestling was when AEW went ahead and did a tournament to crown the TNT Champion.
I don’t know if there were ideas floating around to wait until some crowds, but either way, they went ahead with it. The matches were fun and added a lot to those Dynamite when everything was going to hell in April and May.
AEW had other tournaments as well: the World Championship Eliminator in October and November and the Women’s World Championship Eliminator in February. There was the Women’s Tag Team Tournament: The Deadly Draw. Another favorite of mine was the ROH Pure Title Tournament—part of ROH’s restart—between September and October. Now imagine those tournaments with crowds!
No matter the reason, tournaments should remain a constant in the United States. At the indie level, it’s hard to do, as the ambitious Spirit of Spaulding by St. Louis Anarchy showed. But, tournaments are always fun, there are different formats you can do (can be elimination based, round-robin style, by points), and I hope they continue into 2021 and beyond.
AEW and WWE have tons of hours of TV to be able to do this. Let’s hope the trend continues.
Personality Pieces About the Wrestlers
One of my favorite things from the ROH Pure Title Tournament (which funny enough, WWE did with the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016) were the videos introducing the wrestlers. They range from three to five minutes and the wrestler explains who he is, where he came from, his background either in training or in wrestling, and why he is going to win. Simple, effective, straight to the point. These were part of a new format for the pandemic era shows.
These videos made me appreciate the matches more, made me think of what the booking plans could be based on who said what and why, and made me care about the wrestlers. For example, I did not know much of Wheeler Yuta or Rust Taylor, but after the video and performances, I started to even see what they were up to after this tournament.
I like that AEW has started to implement this aspect in its programming. When the Varsity Blondes wrestled the Young Bucks, I actually cared after the Blondes promo. I learned more about Preston Vance and Evil Uno before their TNT title matches. You don’t have to do this with everyone and they don’t need to be five minutes long, but we need these videos and promos to care. This should be done more and not simply as a way to fill up time.
WWE: Please Let Your Wrestlers Show Their Personality
This one is a lesson for the big company.
One of the best parts of WrestleMania 37 was the rain delay on Night 1. Why? Because they had to improvise. Since they started the show at 7pm and it was raining, WWE filled time by letting their wrestlers go out there and talk without a script. We saw Braun Strowman talking like a human being without catchphrases. The New Day and Kevin Owens were awesome. Bobby Lashley and Drew McIntyre had their own improvised angle. Even Bianca Belair was good and added to the main event.
(The less I say about Seth Rollins, the better.)
That short rain delay had more memorable moments and promos than previous years of WWE. It’s a shame that this was edited out of the official replay. Still, this proved that not all wrestlers need to be handcuffed to a stupid script. Obvious lesson, but hey, we have proof that it can work.
More Original Arenas
Do you know who had the amazing empty arena experience last year?
AAA in Mexico.
They had the Auto Luchas shows which had a really cool vibe to them with the crowd being in their cars and honking. Nothing beats the shows on Tlaxcala and San Pedro Cholula. AAA made an alliance with the Federal Tourism Secretariat to tape shows in historic towns as a way to promote tourism in Mexico with Lucha Libre, creating some of the coolest looking events in wrestling in 2020 and 2021. This idea of going outside of arenas even worked for NJPW in August 2020 for Summer Struggle in Jingu, which had one of the coolest backdrops at the Jingu baseball stadium.
I’m always open to more interesting shows in interesting places in wrestling worldwide. They should keep doing this even when the crowds are back and can yell.
The Correct Way To Do Cinematic Matches
I fucking hate cinematic matches. Sadly, they are here to stay, as evidenced on Double or Nothing 2021.
Since cinematic wrestling is here to stay, I hope companies follow the footsteps of Sting and Darby Allin vs Brian Cage and Ricky Starks without the spooky music. Or Vincent vs Matt Taven from the ROH 19th Anniversary Show. Just have people beating each other in unusual places without music.
Wrestling Companies Coming Together Is Fun. Who Would Have Thunk It?
Again, I don’t work for any of these companies so I don’t know when the plans to open “forbidden doors” were started, but they opened in the pandemic and I hope this keeps happening. AEW had KENTA and Yuji Nagata in some of the coolest moments of Dynamite in 2020 and 2021.AEW also had Ren Narita and Rocky Romero in AEW Dark. There were partnerships with TJPW and other Joshi companies. Impact Wrestling had FinJuice and Satoshi Kojima. The Good Brothers are in AEW and Impact. And we can’t forget about belt collector Kenny Omega.
Even if these plans were far in advance already before the pandemic, I would argue the pandemic helped in creating these moments even more special since we had no idea who was coming. Since there is limited movement due to the pandemic, companies had to be very careful on who to send, especially those coming from Japan. I did not expect any of the NJPW guys in AEW, much less on Impact. I hope they continue doing these types of out of the nowhere surprises when everyone is back to normal.
I like that the companies are working together and not sending the main event guys or trying to create dream matches out of the bat. It’s young wrestlers and veterans just trying to prove their stock with different opponents and taking the risk of crossing the ocean or state to prove it.
If there was no pandemic we would probably have gotten joint shows fast, but I like that they were forced to slowly open the channels and carefully choose who is passing through them. The pandemic has made all of the companies sharing talent be more judicious about who to send to do what, and I hope this continues in the future. I don’t like the idea of randomly sending a main eventer. Obviously, I would like to see Kazuchika Okada or Tetsuya Naito in the US, but I think that sending talent that’s on the down cycle or those trying to get more training is something that should be as equally important as a dream match or main event.