The Coronavirus pandemic has provided the single most testing time in the history of WWE. We are about to enter unprecedented waters - Wrestlemania 36 will be taking place behind closed doors and over two nights. If that wasn't enough of a bombshell, in the last few days we've found out that the show will now be pre-taped, offering up a whole host of theories, ideas, proposals and rumours from fans and journalists alike.
Though the Wresltemania news has been disappointing across the board, it has found us in a position where we genuinely have absolutely no idea what is going to happen at this years Showcase of The Immortals. We could see a multitude of outcomes taped, guest appearances, returns and so, SO much more. But with Vince McMahon thrust into the most uncomfortable position he has ever been in, what can he do to make this years Wrestlemania memorable for all the right reasons?
A Brief Moment Of Escapism
First and foremost, this is the most important thing that will come of Wrestlemania 36. I have sat in my home over the last few weeks in utter disbelief, often in tears, at the state of the world right now. Lives have been lost with many more at risk, people don't know how they'll pay their next bills or if they'll even have a home to pay them in.
WWE may be doing everything they possibly can to avoid saying the actual word itself, but let's just be honest for a moment - Coronavirus has completely turned the world as know it upside down.
The almost worldwide cancellation of all things entertainment, social and sport related pales in comparison to everything happening right now. But what Vince can, and I'm sure he will, do with this years Wrestlemania is give people a momentary distraction. What we all need right now is something to loft our spirits and two nights of the best that WWE have to offer is the perfect way to do that.
I love wrestling. It is a force like no other. As much as it so often divides us, it has the power to bring us all together during hard times. The post 9/11 episode of Smackdown showed exactly how powerful WWE can be in raising spirits and even I, a 12 year old kid in England at the time, felt something very strong that day, as if we were all connected by something far more important.
Make Both Nights Feel Equally As Important
If all goes well on April 4 and 5, there is a chance WrestleMania could become a two-day event, which has its fair share of advantages. WWE hasn't had anything less than 10-match card for 'Mania in nearly five years. With the Raw and SmackDown rosters constantly growing, there is virtually no chance the event will be that short again.
The smartest option is to embrace the abundance of Superstars in the locker room to ensure every match receives an ample amount of time and, more importantly, to prevent the fans in attendance at future events and those watching at home from getting worn out too quickly.
Focusing on each individual night and maximising the talent available has its advantages outside of wrestling too. The bigger picture remains the chaos that COVID-19 has caused, so from a safety standpoint, splitting the card in two could also help to ensure fewer roster members are in one place at the same time. The two battle royal matches have already been cancelled due to safety concerns, which frees up a good hour of the show. Using this time to give the superstars a bigger platform can only lead to more classic matches.
Perfect Match Layout/Timings/Results
Make no mistake about it - there will be multiple endings recorded for most matches on the Wrestlemania 36 card in an attempt to cut out spoilers. Similar to when Johnny Gargano vs Velveteen Dream for the North American Championship had two endings taped, WWE will do everything to keep the fans guessing on the night.
What this also conjures up is the ability for Vince and Co. to make sure everything is absolutely perfect. The length of every match, every big spot, every surprise and the overall layout/structure of the card. Most importantly though, it now gives Vince ample time to plan out the outcomes of each encounter.
So many times, we have come away from Wrestlemania with more questions than answers. For every Kofi Kingston defeating Daniel Bryan, there has been a John Cena losing to The Miz, something I covered extensively in my previous article here. This is a unique opportunity for the hierarchy and decision makers of WWE to extensively plan out each individual match with the option to go back and redo the whole thing if it isn't going to work out long term.
No gut shot reactions. No rushing into anything. No Goldbergs going over Fiends. This could be the first in a very, very long time that we actually get the perfect Wrestlemania card in terms of giving the fans what they want.
Time To Think Outside The Box
It will be difficult to make up for the absence of fans during matches like Drew McIntyre vs. Brock Lesnar, Roman Reigns vs. Goldberg and John Cena vs. "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt. So many of WWE's biggest names rely on crowd interaction, including the likes of Daniel Bryan and The New Day, so finding a way around this will be interesting. As we've seen in recent episodes of RAW and Smackdown, superstars trying to interact with zero fans in the building can be very funny... but only for so long.
WWE should try presenting the matches in a different way and taking a more cinematic approach, which could make them even more enjoyable to watch at home.
WWE could also opt to hold some of the matches outside the confines of the Performance Center ring, not too dissimilar to the Ultimate Deletion match between Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy. How about Cena vs. Wyatt at the Firefly Funhouse? The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles in a graveyard? Play up to the characters backstories and personalities while giving us something different and memorable.
Guest Stars Aplenty
With no audience participation happening this year, WWE will seemingly be unable to pan the camera over to the levy of guest stars that they usually have in attendance. No NFL players. No chat show hosts. No families who won a competition. Nobody whatsoever.
However, the announcement of a pre-taped Wrestlemania now gives us the opportunity to not only see these big names, but also the opportunity to have them interacting with WWE superstars. WWE have a levy of global phenomenon friends and Vince McMahon is likely to have an open checkbook right now in an attempt to do everything he can to make Wresltemania a success. It's very likely we could see band performances still, backstage skits, 24/7 Championship nonsense and much more.
One notable absence this year is likely to be the Hall Of Fame class of 2020. The HOF inductees have always appeared on the stage at some point throughout the night, but with the ceremony rumoured to be taking place around this years Summerslam event, will the HOF be referenced at all during Wrestlemania? There is nothing to suggest that the newly announced Hall Of Famers couldn't get together in some capacity, record something for the fans before we see them this Summer for their official inductions.
The Gronk Situation
This has become a much more intriguing role for Rob Gronkowski in light of recent events. The energy that he brings, along with his enthusiasm, would've made him the perfect host in front of 80,000+ fans... except we no longer have 80,000+ fans.
As was evident on last weeks episode of Smackdown, Gronk with no live crowd doesn't exactly work. It felt super forced and a little uncomfortable to watch at times. Once again though, the arrival of pre taped segments could be a blessing in disguise for the legendary NFL player turned compere. Gronk no doubt has a very impressive contacts list in his phone and could lend on some true star power, the likes of Tom Brady perhaps, to bring even more eyes to the product.
Expect Gronk to have much more involvement than Alexa Bliss did at Wrestlemania 35. While Little Miss Bliss only made a few very short appearances throughout the night, I would fully expect Gronk to interact with superstars and commentators alike during the majority of the show. Make it feel a bit more like a true entertainment show, with the host introducing segments and guests. Give it even more of a grand feeling than Wrestlemania usually has.
There isn't much in professional wrestling that can get the heart racing and adrenaline pumping like an unexpected return. Think John Cena at the 2008 Royal Rumble or Matt and Jeff Hardy returning at Wrestlemania 33. The latter still gives me chills every single time I watch it. As fans we are used to seeing big returns on the Monday Night RAW following Wrestlemania and are often more excited for Monday than the PPV itself.
The main issue this year is obviously the lack of crowd reaction for those big returns on RAW. WWE could pre record some big returns knowing that millions of people will get to see them at Wrestlemania, before having those superstars appear on Raw almost guaranteeing huge ratings.
Could we finally see the return of AJ Lee? Her husband CM Punk has repeatedly stated that he doesn't work for WWE, and as recently as today it was reported that there is still a great deal of bitterness that exists between both parties. However, the same cannot be said for Lee.
AJ would be a huge addition to either of the womens divisions which have grown extremely stale as of late. One of the most influential female superstars of all time, who is often cited with starting the womens revolution, seeing AJ put on a clinic with the likes of Charlotte Flair or Becky Lynch would be must-see TV.
Another name worth mentioning for similar reasons is Nia Jax, who would add something different back in to the division in terms of her physicality and unique look. Since Ronda Rousey departed WWE, neither roster has managed to replace her dominance or personality.
Do we finally see the return of the much ridiculed Lars Sullivan? A monster in NXT, but a controversial joke on the main roster who has been hampered by injuries and "personal issues". Lars still had a lot left to offer in terms of being a dominant big guy, so why not give The Fiend an equally as terrifying follower to reintroduce this monster to the fans?
Personally, I am as excited for this years WrestleMania as I have ever been for any year before. There is so much intrigue, mystery and uncertainty around the event that it has led to many people writing it off already. I believe that Vince and WWE will do everything they can to knock it out of the park and WrestleMania will go down in history as one of the greatest in the events rich and storied 36 year history.