21st Aug2020

Opinionated: The “No Fans” Era of Wrestling Will Be Looked Back on Fondly

by Chris Cummings

Wrestling fans. We’re odd sorts. We love pro-wrestling, and when we find something we love about it, we rave and we jump for joy and we shout from the rooftops about how good it is, but man oh man… if we dislike something? Look out. The modern day of pro-wrestling fandom is much different to when I first started watching wrestling back in the beginning of the 90s, when Hulkamania and Macho Madness were running wild, and thousands of Doomers, Warriors and Maniacs were chanting from ringside each week. It was a different time, not just in terms of the action we saw and the presentation of companies like WWF and WCW, but in terms of the fans. It was way harder to immediately give your opinion to the world back then. There was no social media, no blogspot or angelfire, no internet forums, no YouTube. If you wanted to share your angry and frustrated thoughts on the product, you’d have to tell your local buddies, or write for Pro Wrestling Illustrated. Nowadays, though, if you disliked a match between The Big Show and Jimmy Uso, you can jump on Twitter and rant away. “That match was hairy sack! I hate it! Cancel the Network!”. It’s a different time.

So, when the pandemic hit the globe and everything changed, we saw a change in how professional wrestling was presented. WWE, AEW and others, like IMPACT! decided to start recording their weekly television shows and even monthly pay-per-views in empty buildings with just the staff and talent present. No fans. How strange it was when it began, and to be quite honest, it’s still a strange thing to see now, months later. WWE began hosting their shows from their performance centre in Florida and AEW recorded their weekly Dynamite program at Daily’s Place in Jacksonville. Watching these shows, especially early-on, it was unusual to see these performers working matches without the energy, reactions and atmosphere of a crowd. The wrestlers are louder verbally, the action sounds different, and the lack of response to the moves and promos is unnatural sounding. Still, as time has gone by, it’s become easier to deal with, and the companies have found innovative ways to use the lack of fans as a way to do new creative things, be it cinematic matches or comedic moments. Still, no fans… it’ll never be as good as having a building full of folk.

Social media has been very vocal on wrestling for a long while, and with people on lockdown and the world changing around us more and more each day, people are even more outspoken about wrestling now than ever before. In the midst of all that fan chatter, there’s an awful lot of negativity, a lot of fans who despise much of what is being produced every week, and I think some of that negativity is warranted and some, frankly, isnt. It’s a fly by the seat of your pants scenario with a whole lot of improvisation. There has to be some leeway given to these promotions at a time where they don’t know what’s going to happen next, in the same way we don’t. Sure, some decisions have been terrible, and some have been harmful and short-sighted when it comes to releasing talent during a global pandemic, or not providing enough safely measures during filming, but in terms of the pure wrestling product we see each week, I think we’ll have a different opinion of all this one day.

Right now, there’s a lot of emotion going around, and we have plenty of time on our hands, but I do think a lot of respect should be given to the talent we watch weekly on these shows. Some of the matches lately have been mediocre at best, but some have been really good too. Some of the promos have felt weird or stilted. Some have been great. For every awkward interview with zero crowd response due to an empty location, there’s Randy Orton doing some of his best work ever. For every match that feels rushed or clumsy, there’s Keith Lee and Adam Cole tearing it up in NXT. For every injury or botch, there’s an exciting tag scrap between The Young Bucks and The Lucha Bros. It’s a mixed-up time, for sure, but I think in a few years, when hopefully this whole horrific situation is behind us all, we’ll have kinder things to say about the “no fans era” of pro-wrestling.

I think we’ll look back and think about the fact that when a lot of movies and television shows were shut down and cancelled for the year, and sporting events closed, and many other things were postponed, pro-wrestling was still there for us to try to enjoy each week. A much-needed distraction from all the worrying and unpredictable turns we were all experiencing in our lives. We could switch on Raw on a Monday, AEW and NXT on a Wednesday, SmackDown on a Friday, IMPACT! on Tuesdays. There was plenty of wrestling still there for us to watch, and while some of it was corny, and some of it was boring, and some of it was confusing, there was still a whole load of entertainment in the middle of all of that. WrestleMania this year was way better than anyone expected it could be, and we’ll look back on it as a bizarre thing that happened but one that actually made us all cheer and forget for a while. We’ve seen wrestlers like Cody, Asuka, Orange Cassidy, Keith Lee, Randy Orton and others shine bright during this era, and while there have been some questionable moments on a weekly basis, there’s still been things we’ve loved, reasons that we keep tuning in every week, reasons we still call ourselves fans of this weird, wonderful and consistent world. No fans in the arenas doesn’t mean there are no fans. We’re just a little quieter right now.

Not for long.


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