How the Pro-Wrestling World Accepts The COVID-19’s Challenge

The coronavirus and the empty arenas are not stopping rivals WWE and AEW from having their shows go on.


Saad Khandakar

Pictured is a sold-out AEW show before the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Sports and Entertainment businesses from all angles, from the suspension of the NBA season to the closing of theaters worldwide. The world of professional wrestling, which combines both these industries, is not exempt. While major wrestling companies such as Ring of Honor (ROH) and New Japan Pro-Wrestling (NJPW) have announced cancellations, two billionaire-backed companies continue to air: World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and All Elite Wrestling (AEW). Even with the will and determination to keep fans engaged, the change of pace is clear.  

On March 13, 2020, wrestling had its first empty show due to the coronavirus pandemic on WWE Smackdown, which took place in the company’s Performance Center. This is the first time that WWE hosted a match in front of an empty crowd since 2019’s Halftime Heat, a special event that takes place without an audience. 

Since WWE’s show in March 2020, the importance of a crowd has become evident as per negative reviews. “Empty arenas do not invoke the passion and energy of the fans. Reactions of fans are much needed, as a wrestler-fan relationship is mutual in a successful performance,” said Asif Anzum ’21.  This was shown by WWE Hall of Famer Stone Cold Steve Austin in his return to Monday Night Raw the following week. Austin is one of the most popular figures to have carried WWE to its peak ratings during the late 1990’s. His entrance to the ring was always met with the loudest reactions until last month, when there was nothing but silence during his entrance and performance. The Texas Rattlesnake himself said in a backstage interview, “it was really strange to be in front of an arena with no people.” 

While people can criticize the audience-less shows, it is clear that the wrestling promotions are taking the time to put on shows for their fans. “I do respect WWE and AEW for trying to satisfy their respective fan bases with a degree of entertainment during this tough time,” said Nehal Hossain ’21. AEW, the new wrestling promotion that began last year, is taking advantage of the empty arena situation by having a few of their wrestlers stay ringside to bring out the aura of an actual “audience.” 

Though it may look like people are working live on television during these critical times, in truth they are not. Both WWE and AEW have been taping their shows so that wrestlers could avoid coming into contact with others. The companies also rely on interviews and backstage vignettes in order to focus more on the story being told than the wrestling, which is a full-contact sport. While the landscape of wrestling has been hit by the pandemic like the rest of the world, it still lives up to its signature motto: “the show must go on.”

“I do respect WWE and AEW for trying to satisfy their respective fan bases with a degree of entertainment during this tough time”, said Nehal Hossain ’21.