No one’s really figured out how to do anything properly in this isolated new normal, and that goes doubly for sports. But against seemingly all odds, and weeks of deeply middling TV leading up to it, the WWE has stumbled ass-first into a wild success by turning what was shaping up to be a disastrous WrestleMania into one of the most truly batshit insane spectacles ever put to air.
Thanks to various social distancing and shelter-in-place orders issued across the pandemic-ravaged United States, WWE officials had to make a raft of last-minute changes to their biggest event of the year. Chiefly, that included shifting the event from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa to the WWE’s Performance Centre training facility in Orlando (reducing the attendance from over 70,000 down to a flat 0 in the process), and splitting the event up over two nights for the first time ever.
Additionally, the pandemic and subsequent quarantines forced several last-minute card changes, most notably including main event star Roman Reigns, who withdrew from the event due to being immunocompromised.
And yet it…. kinda totally ruled? It was insane to watch, all of it.
With no crowd, the matches that went off “normally” became interesting experiments in what performers are willing to put themselves through without the immediate endorphin payoff of a live response. Yesterday’s three-way ladder match between John Morrison, Jimmy Uso, and Kofi Kingston was a particularly egregious example of that, because falling 6-feet back-first onto a ladder without at least one person there to give you a small clap is some sort of headspace to get yourself in.
That’s not to say every match on the card was a 5-star classic. The men’s world title matches in particular – Brawn Strowman defeating the 53-year-old Goldberg for the Universal Championship and Drew McIntyre defeating Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title – were the kind of big meaty men slapfests that will never translate across to a setting where you can hear the un-greased bearings of an industrial ceiling fan squeaking overhead.
But the adjusted format also gave the WWE the space to let loose creatively, and boy did they ever do that.
Production staff took two opportunities to run with the “no crowd” concept as far as they possibly could, filming both the AJ Styles vs Undertaker “Boneyard Match” and the John Cena vs Bray Wyatt “Firefly Funhouse Match” on-location.
The former – aired yesterday – hid the ageing Undertaker’s clear physical limitations behind a graphic novel-ass short film fight pitting Styles and Undertaker against one another in and around an actual graveyard in something that wound up being closer to something Michael Bay directed than a catch-as-catch-can classic.
— WWE (@WWE) April 5, 2020
But the latter, the Firefly Funhouse Match, was something else entirely.
Essentially a scenario where a possessed children’s TV host traps John Cena inside his own prolonged psychological breakdown (yes, that’s a correct sentence), the entire thing started off weird and only fell further down the rabbit hole from there.
— WWE (@WWE) April 6, 2020
Unbelievably, it worked. The whole thing was a wild, deeply insane ride far beyond the half-baked brain dreams any armchair fan could’ve ever concocted.
And the response from punters online was overwhelmingly positive.
— Renee Young (@ReneeYoungWWE) April 6, 2020
— Bully Ray (@bullyray5150) April 6, 2020
— Corey Graves (@WWEGraves) April 6, 2020
So many little subtle jabs at the business in that #FireflyFunhouse Match.
Cena let them do a lot I never would’ve expected and Bray Wyatt has such a beautiful mind. pic.twitter.com/s2CulIllM0
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) April 6, 2020
— Ellis Mbeh #StayAtHome (@EllisMbeh) April 6, 2020
— ????????Killer Kross ⏳????❌ (@realKILLERkross) April 6, 2020
I never want a wrestling audience again. Going forward, wrestling needs to be cinematic matches liked the Firefly Fun House and Boneyard matches. Nothing you can saw will change my mind.#WrestleMania #FireflyFunhouse #BoneyardMatch pic.twitter.com/kl6jQHYQb8
— James, but quarantined???? (@Journeyman__jay) April 6, 2020
That was like, the most respect I've ever been given as a longtime WWE fan. A fucking masterpiece. #FireflyFunhouse
— Wai Ting (@wai0937) April 6, 2020
— Tom Campbell (@TomCampbell) April 6, 2020
The wrestling fan in me loves this.
The comic fan in me loves this even more.
— Jason Ayers (@JasonAyersWWE) April 6, 2020
Honestly, one of the most insane spectacles I personally have ever laid eyes on in the you don’t want to know how long I’ve been watching this shit for. Hats off to ’em, they found a bloody way.
— TDE Wrestling (@tde_wrestling) April 6, 2020
Same. BIG same.