By: AC Recio
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has affected industries around the world, including the entertainment industry – movies have been pushed back, concerts and events cancelled, and TV shows stopped production and instead aired reruns. But in one way or another, televised professional wrestling has managed to keep putting on shows every week by following safety protocols, regularly testing their employees and keeping event attendance at a minimum. Because of all these things, wrestling under the quarantine has been significantly different from what it was like before, as both wrestling promotions and wrestlers themselves have been doing things differently to adapt to the current situation. In this article, we share High Five highlights from wrestling in the quarantine era.
As a hybrid of sports and entertainment, professional wrestling thrives in audience reactions; the pop of an audience when a “babyface” (a hero character) makes a comeback after being beaten down, the chaotic jeers a crowd makes when a “heel” (a villain character) does something against the rules, the loud roar when a much awaited tag is made from one partner to another – all of these things bring a match to life for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching at home.
Wrestlers gauge audience reactions and decide what they can do to feed off of that energy – should the heel taunt the audience to get more boos? Should the babyface shout a crowd-pleasing catchphrase? Do the wrestlers improvise a chain of wrestling moves that they think will get even more cheers? These things and more are decided on the fly depending on audience reactions. But what can wrestling promotions do when crowds aren’t allowed to watch matches live? They compensate. Instead of aiming to get a reaction out of a live crowd, wrestlers are now aiming to get an reaction out of audiences watching at home, which is far more difficult.
Because TV sets are a one way medium, there’s no way for wrestlers to gauge audience reactions to decide what they do next. To compensate for this, wrestling matches have been made to be more entertaining, more fast-paced and more unique, with ridiculous premises that can easily go viral and start a conversation. An example of this is the Stadium Stampede Match from AEW’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view wherein the whole match utilized a football field and the surrounding area, including a bar, a pool, the bleachers and the backstage area, just to have an entertaining and memorable main event. Watch the video below to see just how crazy empty arena matches can be.
Speaking of compensating for empty arenas, wrestling has also taken cues from Hollywood to make matches more entertaining for viewers at home. Some promotions have even embraced pre-taped “cinematic” wrestling matches which incorporate elements of filmmaking like plot, cinematography and lighting to create a dramatic and movie-like mood.
Unlike the straightforward presentation of normal wrestling matches where fights are settled in the ring following a set of agreed upon rules, cinematic matches are structured more like a short film or TV segment and make use of camera angles, camera cuts, special effects – the rules are not as clear cut and the matches tend to be more silly, creative or absurd.
However, cinematic matches aren’t a new thing, with Lucha Underground laying down the blueprint for cinematic wrestling and the Final Deletion proving that cinematic matches can be landmark moments in modern wrestling. Watch the video below to see highlights from one of the latest cinematic matches that lit up the wrestling world during the quarantine.
Exposure for Underutilized Wrestlers
Wrestling promotions like WWE and AEW are multi-million dollar companies that have television deals, and as such, the main event wrestlers featured in their shows are stars in their own right, with some even appearing regularly as guests in late night talk shows and starring in their own movies. But since the pandemic started, travel restrictions and health concerns have left some main eventers unable to go to the wrestling venue and perform. This creates a problem since wrestling companies have a weekly TV spot to fill, but also brings an opportunity for underutilized wrestlers to take to the spotlight.
With less main eventers on-hand, wrestling promotions have to feature lesser knownlow-card and mid-card wrestlers in matches to fill in TV time. Some companies have even started bringing in freelance and independent wrestlers for one-off matches just to bolster their ranks. Aside from match opportunities, these wrestlers also get the chance to build up their fanbase, and if they’re good enough or lucky enough, get a run as main eventers themselves.
One such pair of wrestlers is Best Friends, the team of Chuck Taylor and Trent, named because of their onscreen gimmick (and most probably real life as well) of being the bestest of friends, who even hug in the middle of the ring. Although well-known in the independent circuit, they only made their international television debut last year and have been mostly fighting low-card and mid-card matches. But because of the opportunity they got from the quarantine, they’ve been featured in most of the tag team matches, won almost all of them, skyrocketed in the (albeit fictional) tag team rankings and received a tag team title match as well. Watch them show off their comedic chops in the video below.
Since some wrestlers are stuck at home due to travel bans and health concerns, they have less time on TV (some don’t even show up at all). Because of this, they resorted to developing their characters and furthering feuds in online “promos” – in-character interviews or monologues that promote upcoming shows, feuds or segments. Because of their online nature not being limited to TV guidelines and censorship, these online promos can also get creative in their presentation, giving wrestlers more freedom to express themselves and their characters. Watch an example of a promo for an upcoming wrestling appearance below.
Another offshoot of online promos made its rounds in social media sites recently, highlighting the absurd situation we’re in during this pandemic. Isolation Wrestling Federation (IWF), who claim to be the first “no contact, all holds barred” wrestling company, started parodying ‘80s and ‘90s wrestling in late March of this year. Despite calling itself a wrestling company, IWF is a parody Instagram account dedicated to uploading online promos – the “wrestlers” themselves don’t wrestle in actual matches (hence “no contact wrestling”), but only feud in a series of back and forth promos trying to one-up each other, all while wearing colorful wigs and costumes in front of a lo-fi VHS background and spouting silly catchphrases akin to wrestlers from the golden era of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Watch one of their promos below.
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Wrestlers Get Political
Due to the poor handling of the pandemic in most countries and the recent rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement because of police hostility against African Americans, wrestlers are using their influence to speak up against injustice. This wasn’t the norm before the pandemic started, but given that coronavirus has revealed incompetence from world leaders and systems of oppression, wrestlers have become more aware of these issues and are doing what they can to make a tangible change outside of wrestling like joining and donating to causes that they believe in.
Until further notice, 100% of my Merchandise profits will be going to one of the 3 Causes listed below:
Black Visions Collective https://t.co/EJIdFCZ7R9…
Reclaim The Block https://t.co/bhuV8fVoHk…
— Darius Lockhart (@DLockPro) May 29, 2020
I’ve been fortunate. None of that matters with what’s happening socially right now. I need to give back.
— SUGE (but they call me)🍍Pineapple Pete🍍 (@SugarDunkerton) June 1, 2020
Despite this not being related to wrestling, professional wrestlers expressing dissent is important and is definitely a highlight of the recent pandemic. Because of the influence that they have over hundreds of thousands of fans worldwide, wrestlers have the power to start a conversation and get people thinking about social and political issues that they normally would ignore or not notice. While some people may not know about police brutality and systemic racism, seeing a world famous wrestler that they idolize talk about these topics can help bring them into the fold and make them an ally in making the world a better place.
— Randy Orton (@RandyOrton) May 29, 2020
As with all things, the recent pandemic has brought with it both highlights and lowlights, not just in professional wrestling, but in every aspect of our daily lives. And with most of the world still in crisis mode, it’s important to find things to take comfort in – be it spending more time with our family or entertaining ourselves with mindless wrestling fun.