AEW & WWE have spent the last few months doing their absolute best to entertain the masses during the most uncertain times of our lives. Generally speaking they've both delivered, but there have been a lot of moments during this period that have either missed the mark or highlighted the inadequacies of the performers involved.
We've seen the usual slew of championship victories, debuts and returns, controversy and some truly unique moments along the way, but it all boils down to one question... would these moments have benefited from the inclusion of a live crowd?
In some cases, the lack of a live crowd presence has been beneficial. Some performers have played off the empty arena beautifully and created some truly hilarious moments. However there have been more than a few instances already where the occasion deserved to feel like a bigger moment - where it needed to be in front of a stadium full of fans that could've made it feel so much more important.
Here are my personal Top 5 best empty arena moments so far, and 5 of the moments that felt hindered by the lack of a crowd.
Great: Firefly Fun House Match
This is absolutely one of the most unique match concepts in any wrestling promotion in televisual history. At Wrestlemania 36, held in the WWE Performance Center, "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt faced off against John Cena in a Firefly Fun House Match. In this match, Wyatt used his Firefly Fun House to seemingly send Cena into different timelines.
Cena was forced to confront both Wyatt and himself, through the medium of his various personas. We were treated to "The Prototype" John Cena, "Doctor of Thuganomics" John Cena and even the fictional NWO John Cena. Ultimately, modern-day Cena succumbed to The Fiend's Mandible Claw. In a match that got a lot of positive attention from fans and journalists alike, WWE showed that a pre-taped match could be as much of a showstopper as a live one. This match would likely never have happened if the situation was any different, and we are much better off for it.
Great: Chris Jericho Commentary On Dynamite
The absence of Jim Ross and Excalibur at the AEW commentary table could have been a major blow to the AEW product at this time. While Tony Schiavone may be somewhat of a legend in the wrestling announcing world, it's a difficult job for anybody to do alone. Enter Le Champion.
Chris Jericho's wrestling expertise combined with his quick humor is a fantastic skillset for any commentator to possess. From his almost fluency in the Spanish language to his budding rivalry with Pineapple Pete, Jericho has been proven to be every bit as entertaining on commentary as he is in the ring alongside Schiavone in the AEW announcers booth.
Great: Lance Archer's AEW Run
There's been a good amount of hype surrounding the beginning of Lance Archer's run in AEW. Having already made a name for himself in Japan, and with one of the greatest talkers of all time Jake "The Snake" Roberts backing him, they clearly see a star in Archer. Unlike the debuts of Hardy and Lee, an empty arena could actually benefit Lance Archer in the early goings.
His first few matches on Dynamite against the likes of Marko Stunt and Colt Cabana were quick and painful, showcasing the brutality Archer possesses, followed by two great matches against the Rhodes brothers. The lack of crowd noise inside the AEW arena is only serving to accentuate the brutality of Archer's offense. He's being built as a beast in AEW, and the current environment is helping that cause tremendously.
Great: Boneyard Match
On a similar note to the fantastic Firefly FunHouse match, this one would likely never have seen the light of day if it wasn't for the COVID19 pandemic.
For a good few years now, The Undertaker hasn't exactly been putting in the best in-ring performances of his career. It would be nearly impossible to do so after over 30 years in professional wrestling. In that light, having his Wrestlemania 36 match with AJ Styles take place in a "boneyard" setting rather than a live audience proved to be a blessing in disguise for The Deadman.
By having a pre-taped fight instead of a regular wrestling match, the WWE production crew were able to showcase what makes Taker so great while also being able to hide his current day shortcomings. The Boneyard Match was the amalgamation of a Street Fight, Buried Alive match and a handicap match with The OC, all the while sprinkling a campy, horror movie styling to proceedings. The return of American Badass Undertaker was just the cherry on top of the first ever (and possibly only) Boneyard Match.
Great: Stadium Stampede
Quite often in modern day professional wrestling we find ourselves crapping all over an entire PPV until the main event comes along and saves the whole show. This could not have been more appropriate than at this years AEW Double or Nothing.
A massive spectacle, the Stadium Stampede Match saw The Elite (Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, Matt Hardy and Hangman Page) and The Inner Circle (Chris Jericho, Sammy Guevara, Santana, Ortiz and Jake Hager) introduced like legit sports athletes, complete with Jacksonville Jaguars cheerleaders. The heels embraced the gimmick, wearing matching jerseys, while Page was conspicuous by his absence until he rode in on horseback.
It was nonsense. It was over the top. It featured some great spots and gave many of the talent involved their standout moments in AEW so far. It wrapped up a lot of long term rivalries which started some 7 months ago, and even managed to seemingly patch up the differences between Omega and Page. This match quite obviously wouldn't have come to fruition if the worldwide situation were any different, as the two groups would have met within the Blood And Guts match to settle things once and for all.
Even if you're like me and aren't the biggest AEW fan in the world, you have to admit that this event was superbly booked, filmed, executed and raised more than a few smiles.
Crowd: Otis & Mandy Saga
Perhaps the most unlikely love story in WWE history, Otis and Mandy Rose were forced to have their saga unfold in front of next to no one. SO much time was devoted to this storyline and every bit of it was fantastic - heck it even proved to be the Smackdown Hackers first piece of business. It was a special storyline which we as fans found to be all too relatable, and there can't have been many people not rooting for Otis.
There are three particular moments from this feud which deserved to take place in front of the fans. The initial Hacker reveal, the eventual win for Otis and, of course, the very first kiss between the star crossed lovers. Can you even begin to imagine the volume of that crowd pop?
What I will say is that the lack of crowd allowed some real emotion to be shown in promos from Mandy, Sonya Deville, Otis, and Dolph Ziggler. Without having to worry about timing promos between cheers, boos, or the dreaded "what?!" chant, the TV audience could really feel what each of these characters were portraying. However, as much as the promos may have benefited this was still a moment that had been in the works for so long that the fans deserved to see it in person.
Crowd: Matt Hardy's AEW Debut
Much like Brodie Lee's debut, AEW simply suffered from unfortunate timing in this instance. In the past few years, Matt Hardy has reinvented himself with his "Broken" persona, and has endeared himself once again to wrestling as a whole.
When his beloved drone Vanguard 1 confronted The Inner Circle, shortly followed by Matt Hardy himself appearing in the rafters, the pop of the AEW crowd would have been enormous. The Inner Circle gave a hugely over-the-top reaction as only they can, but it paled in comparison to the reaction it would have received under normal circumstances.
Crowd: Drew McIntyre Winning WWE Championship
In the last few years, there have only been a handful of wrestlers in WWE that have been built up as credible threats to Brock Lesnar including the likes of Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman and Samoa Joe. By eliminating Lesnar during the 2020 Royal Rumble, Drew McIntyre was certainly catapulted on to that list.
At Wrestlemania 36, the two had a full-throttle fight, hitting each other with multiple finishers, until McIntyre finally dethroned Lesnar and won his first WWE Championship. In what should have been a career-defining, vindicating WrestleMania Moment, McIntyre was forced to earn his crowning achievement with next to no audience. While it was right of WWE to not wait and pull the trigger on Drew McIntyre's title win for a live audience, it must have been a bittersweet moment for the newly crowned champ.
Crowd: NXT Cruiserweight Championship Tournament
This one is a bit of a catch-22. The entire reason that this tournament exists in the first place is that current NXT Cruiserweight Champion Jordan Devlin is unable to travel to NXT to defend the title. In his absence, 8 of WWE's finest Cruiserweights were thrown into a round robin style tournament to determine the Interim NXT Cruiserweight Champion. If Devlin had been staying within the US at the time, this tournament likely would never have been seemed necessary.
Considering the tournament seemingly popped up out of the blue and lacked any real build, it has provided some fantastic, must-see matches along the way. Aside from the great matches we are seeing the resurrection of Drake Maverick, one of the recent WWE Release victims, as he battles to earn his way back into the company. It has not only made compelling TV, but every match he competes in is full of passion and heart not seen for a very long time.
A paying audience would have got behind Maverick in a HUGE way and made this road to redemption feel even more special.
Crowd: One Final Beat
Since 2017, Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa have been on a never ending collision course in NXT and it has proven to be far and away my favourite rivalry in WWE history. Ciampa turned on his longtime best friend Gargano the pair lost their NXT Tag Team Championships and the two have been at odds for the better part of the last 3 years since. The epic rivalry should have come to it's eventual conclusion at WrestleMania weekend, but unfortunately Ciampa's well documented neck injury delayed the eventual payoff to this blood feud.
Roughly one month ago we finally saw what we had been waiting all this time for and it was... a bit meh really. While the empty arena certainly had a cinematic feel to it, and they were able to explore all parts of the WWE Performance Center as the brawl escalated, it definitely should have been a much bigger moment. The brutal fight, and backstabbing finish featuring Gargano's wife Candice LeRae, was great television but it could have been an all-time NXT moment if an electric crowd was in attendance.
But wait there's more! WNW are excited to announce that WWE HOF'er Mick Foley and NXT's Undisputed Era are joining forces for a LIVE Zoom Q&A on May 28th! Tickets are only $17 through EventBrite and 100% of all proceeds will go towards the fantastic "Give Kids The World" initiative! Fans will have the opportunity to ask the team a question LIVE!
This truly is a once in a lifetime event and the best part is that it's all for a good cause! Join us and let's Give Kids The World!
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