Somewhere in the chaos of quarantine, living in fear, normalcy lost to no end, professional wresting became the beacon of hope. And surprisingly, it emerged from the WWE, a company oft-criticized for its inability to adapt, overcome biases, and understand the changing world around it.
Yes, this company and its fledgling stock value…plunging network subscriber and ratings base…seeming laggard in all things…did what no other sports and/or entertainment product in the world could muster. It forged on. It not only did so, it excelled.
As we all hunker down till seemingly no end, WWE did the unthinkable. It had the audacity to conduct WrestleMania. It did so while some of its top stars succumbed to injury or health restrictions. It surged forward when the ‘right’ thing would’ve been to reschedule. Eighty-thousand paid fans – myself included, within 5 miles of Raymond James Stadium – knew the cancellation of the WrestleMania inevitable.
WWE then doubled down on the brazenness. They gave us two(!) nights to spit in the face of this event that should not be aired. In their practice facility, no less. Forced us to forget ventilators, social distancing and Zoom teleconferences for the weekend. And hell yes, they succeeded.
Some athletes found themselves defaulting to playing to the camera. Others had their ‘WrestleMania Moment’ in a seeming vacuum. But where others wouldn’t dare, WWE provided 6 hours of stellar wrestling, escapism, memorable moments, and a chance to laugh, smile, cry…and unleash a genuine ‘holy shit’ moment as Kevin Owens forced happiness down our throats. Drew McIntyre did what we never imagined. The Undertaker, AJ Styles, Bray Wyatt and John Cena offered imaginary tales we longed to hear. Edge and Randy Orton fought way too long, but for US.
Athletes did their best to not get caught in the sterilization. Referees, managers, and advocates all dove into the deep end. Awkwardness be damned: titles changed hands, rivalries renewed, storylines evolved…when the world could care less. Alexa hugged Nikki. Otis pecked Mandy. I felt alive once more.
Call me petty: but for the first time in five weeks, WWE gave me hope. It provided the escapism I’ve searched long and hard for…but now realize escapism is not in reality rather how others translate it. Most of all, myself.
These past two nights was a defining moment not only for WWE, but also for entertainment, athletes, and – forgive the reach – people across the globe. WrestleMania 36 will forever live in my memories as the joy I needed most…and a company and its employees brave enough to offer it. Shame on me: two days ago I declared this an inevitable disaster. Shame on me for not thinking bigger and beyond the immediate.
Years from now…most may look back at these broadcasts as some weird, horrible science experiment. Those that remember these moments first hand will recall the joy in athletes faces doing the impossible, under the impossible.
Thank you, WWE. Thank you professional wrestling. Never have I been prouder to call myself a ‘fan.’