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Pro Wrestling with COVID Times


If there was ever a time in history that has tested the pro wrestling industry's resolve and core, it has been that of the past three months of COVID-19's effect on the world. We've seen the industry juggle, finesse, and go to various lengths and depths (like, maybe lobbying Florida officials??) to continue operating and producing shows for its fanbase. We've also seen an industry, typically in the role of removing viewers and fans from the sorrows of reality - again, at the core of its service, suddenly entangled within the real world's web and facing the exposed underlying culture and foundational business practices of inequality, social change, and long-time unethical "dues" it's relied on throughout its existence.

Yes, the last three-plus months have been quite strange for us all, and COVID did not spare the pro wrestling realm. 

I've had the opportunity to catch up on a LOT of pro wrestling during these quarantine times. Having fallen behind most of the products over the past few months, sometimes even disinterested or disconnected for long-stretches without care, quarantine allowed the time to catch up and see "if it was worth it".

After all, much of pro wrestling has gotten the pink slip as my disposable entertainment time becomes more of a premium availability in my life. It may sound snobbish, but grudging through a three-hour episode of RAW is now DVR material with an "eh, I'll get to it" vibe. Sometimes, I deleted them without as so much as seeing what I was missing. Even worse - caring for what I was missing. Which from tuning in later down the road, wasn't much.

As you can imagine, quarantine pretty much-placed pro wrestling on the table as entertainment to pass time, and allowed me to give it a real shot for honest consumption. Over the past three months, I've been able to get lost in the classics (can't give up on those moments) and thoroughly immerse myself into products I've been missing, passing on, or flat out ignoring. 

What I've learned over the past three months is that pro wrestling as an industry - especially one that is more TV show than live events these days  - has lost its ability to be episodic entertainment. In a world of binge-watching behavior and on-demand culture when it comes to television content and how we consume it, a hook of wanting to see more of the characters, personalities, and plots are void in the industry as a whole. Of course, there are some companies that are doing this better than others (see below), but collectively, the effort is aghast. 

And this is not said to be a snarky or critical fan who is relying on "inside" knowledge based on internet reports and news but simply as a fan who enjoys wrestling as such. It does become worrisome when key individuals and decision-makers within the industry make comments in interviews or podcasts that the audience has no idea what it wants or has "killed pro wrestling. There is some truth to that as wrestling fans haven't evolved much - but that's mostly because the core audience is still the same considering the average age of the pro wrestling fan.

The ironic part is, the pro wrestling industry itself has recycled what has felt like the same leading and creative minds for decades with periodic firings, releases, company changes, or "burnout-breaks" in-between rotations. 

We've seen, read, and heard the announcement of the same names being in charge of creative television for over two decades now. I don't hold anything against those individuals and minds, as experience is sure to help, but this does make me worried about the future of wrestling, or at the very least, the incarnation of the industry that could be present at this moment.

It's one of the reasons I find the current "COVID-19" era of pro wrestling to be a failure. For this, I'm not speaking in terms of the current entertainment value presented, but in aspect to the entire industry at-large and the big-picture of where wrestling is with me as. fan. From mid-to-late March into April, Pro Wrestling was the ONLY form of new content being placed on television. And while there are so many varying factors that could have contributed to the lack of interest or ability to gain (or regain) casual or past fans of the product (world view, economic climate, political climate, civic unrest, etc...), I just don't get the feeling that pro wrestling stepped up and filled a much-needed void. A void that many sports organizations and governing bodies realize is still there and are jockeying for position for the opportunity to fill it.

Of course, there is the blatant obvious factor - pro wresting is just weird without fans in attendance. The fan base is the biggest entity for pro wrestling. However, no entertainment industry has the means to push the boundaries in creativity the way it does. When wrestling wants to be super creative, it can be. We've seen it.

Nonetheless, let's give credit where it is deserved - the WWE, AEW, and Impact Wrestling have some terrific people who have worked tirelessly and in less-than-ideal situations to create, produce, and execute these shows to keep business going, to keep their brands afloat, and to continue to provide entertainment - all which this fan very much appreciates and is gracious for. And we've seen some very creative content throughout this time. That too is not lost on me.

As the world comes out of quarantine (sort of) and many of those competing options for eyeballs have schedules and plans in place to return to work, this odd, unique, and interesting period for Pro Wrestling seems to be coming to an end. And that's just as the industry is now coming under social review from the #speakingout movement and other various audits of years of racial inequality and contributing to systemic perceptions of black people.

Pro Wrestling had the chance to capture the nation - maybe the world - and save it from what has been an emotionally exhausting time. Instead, it will emerge with nothing more to show for it than a collection of odd tapings without fans, sad realities exposed behind its curtains, and a HUGE missed opportunity to have really done something truly special.

As a long time pro wrestling fan, that inability to do something that it did with such special reverence many times in the past is extremely worrisome.

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Here are a few other thoughts on Pro Wrestling during COVID:


WWE 

- If there was a company in wrestling that felt the least prepared in terms of visualizing a product without fans, it was the WWE. And that is saying a lot considering it is the industry leader. From the hard camera placement to the stage design, to the addition of plexiglass, to various weekly production adjustments, WWE felt, and continues to feel, like a consistent tinkering process.

By the way, the plexiglass is understood, but man does it come across weird. Ditto on the fake fans. But it is MUCH better than having the camera face a bunch of empty chairs. Whose idea was that?

- The WWE deserves major props on navigating the minefield that was COVID in the early-stages. Especially so in producing Wrestlemania 36. As stated earlier this year, considering the situation, I enjoyed what was Wrestlemania 36.

- Speaking of Wrestlemania 36, don't you just feel for talent like Drew McIntyre and Edge who missed out on a tremendous payoff to awesome redemption stories in front of a Wrestlemania crowd?

- Speaking of Edge, haven't his promos - sans live crowd - been absolute gold?

- I feel like when it is all said and done, Lashley's pro wrestling career will feel like two swings and a miss with WWE. I hope not, but his TNA run is looking really good right now, so much so, they're attempting to replicate it. No shame in that.

- Have I said how bad I feel for Drew McIntyre and his run as WWE Champion?

- You can roll your eyes at me for this coming thought (and that's okay! - I do agree that Edge vs. Orton in "The Greatest Wrestling Match Ever" was a clear reminder that great matches are still about storytelling and dram and not athleticism. Yes, I'm so old. Ewww.

However,  the match still had a ridiculous moniker. I never get when wrestling, within the realm of suspended belief, refers to terms and rhetoric (i.e. greatest wrestling match ever, or this will be a 5-star match!) of the bout being a contrived dance. Isn't the goal always to defeat your opponent as quickly and as soon as possible? But, I digress...

- Even with a limited roster, I currently don't have the feeling of there being a must-see persona on WWE television.


AEW 

- The complete opposite of the WWE, it felt like AEW knew exactly what it wanted the product to look and feel like once it got the go-ahead to run operation during these times. Using the wrestlers at ringside to advance storylines and their characters have been a creative touch that has added to the program.

- The TNT Championship is ugly. Yes, I understand that it isn't completely finished due to COVID times, but I don't care - that belt is ugly in its current status. Yikes.

- Chris Jericho on commentary is absolutely amazing. I could easily see Jericho moving to the desk once he wraps up this amazing career he has forged.

- Dr. Britt Baker has been one of the best highlights of Dynamite each week. I love everything about the persona and the attitude that makes the character. In a close second is (when it happens) Sammy Guevara singing "Judas" for Jericho's entrance.

- AEW has done a great job of giving most of their talent a storyline or a backstory to engage with. It's been refreshing and it makes the product easier to progress through. A good example of this was the introduction of Ricky Starks, who had an awesome intro package prior to his Ugly Belt TNT Championship match.

And yes, Ricky Starks is awesome.

- This may sound rather ridiculous, but the idea of keeping visible records and rankings continues to get better the longer the history of AEW goes on.


IMPACT 

- I've thoroughly enjoyed Impact Wrestling the most during COVID. Those feelings may be skewed as I don't have AXS TV, but I've been able to binge the shows through IMPACT+. While not perfect, the shows have felt the most continuous and intentional with cliff hangers and storylines right now. Just the opinion if this fan, of course.

- Moose with the TNA World Title claiming to be the real world champion has been great stuff. I've also been impressed by how much he's changed his outlook and persona - it's clear he's adjusting his brand for the long haul in the wrestling business.

- It's thoroughly a shame how the Tessa Blanchard run came to an end with IMPACT. It does leave a sour taste for this fan, especially when IMPACT strapped a rocket to Tessa Blanchard's career. The company has a history of consistently finding themselves in scenarios regarding talent who are holding significant titles.

-  I never thought I would say this, but I'm always left entertaining after Johnny Swingers leaves my screen. The gimmick is absolutely hilarious.

- The roster is incredibly thin. While it's amazing what they've been able to get done, the company is in dire need of some roster depth. Especially after the recent firings and suspensions.


NWA

- Well, with the resignation of NWA Vice President, David Lagana, I'm not sure what to make of the future of the NWA. I enjoy the product immensely and was looking forward to The Crockett Cup before COVID destroyed it all. With the above three companies still running operations through this time, the momentum for NWA really has come to a big halt.

- I do miss the Question Mark. Kahhhh-Rahhhhh-Teeeeehhhhh! 

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