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No ‘Mania’ for this fan of wrestling

I’m never quite sure whether professional wrestling stories belong in the sports or lifestyle section of the newspaper, but with concerns over the coronavirus, pro wrestling may be the closest thing to sports still appearing live on our televisions every week.

Friday’s Smackdown on Fox and Monday’s RAW on the USA Network both went on over the last week, but not exactly as planned.

The events, originally scheduled for Detroit and Pittsburgh, were moved to the WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando and staged with no live crowd.

It was certainly strange, considering big names such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Edge and Triple H appeared on the shows, but with no crowd reaction.

The news Monday was that RAW and Smackdown won’t be the only shows coming from the WWE Performance Center over the next few weeks.

WrestleMania 36, the Super Bowl of professional wrestling that draws record crowds every year has been moved from Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium to the Performance Center.

And no crowd will be allowed in.

Though I’m not always proud to admit it, I am a lifelong professional wrestling fan. This past November, my wife surprised me with WrestleMania tickets as an early Christmas present.

I have been to TV tapings and live shows before, but never an event even close to WrestleMania.

As the weeks went by, I watched the weekly shows with anticipation hoping the WrestleMania card would feature some of my favorites who don’t always appear at live shows.

The Undertaker, Edge, Goldberg, Miz (a personal favorite, don’t judge) and other big names were scheduled to have matches. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Batista were set to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame and be honored at WrestleMania.

Then everything changed. The world changed.

I have known for a few weeks that my wife and I would not be attending WrestleMania. Despite pleas from Tampa Bay officials, the WWE insisted the event would go on as planned until Monday, but it seemed obvious to everyone but the wrestling company that this was a foregone conclusion. An event with 80,000 people from all over the world sitting in close proximity could not take place.

I expected it would get postponed and rescheduled. Sure, I’d have to make different travel arrangements, but I had been emotionally invested in each match that was made, knowing I’d be there to see it.

Now, I won’t. Sure, a refund will soon be on the way once Ticketmaster sorts through the hundreds of shows canceled across the country.

Continuing the show at an empty arena may seem on the surface like a good thing for the majority of fans, ones that didn’t have tickets. But, how exciting will an Undertaker match or a Hulk Hogan promo be in front of some empty chairs? The live fans, and their reactions, are a huge part of the equation in professional wrestling.

For the weekly shows like RAW and Smackdown, it’s nice that the WWE has been able to provide some entertainment, but for a show like WrestleMania, it doesn’t seem right.

Michael Boytim can be reached at mboytim@altoonamirror.com or 946-7521

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