Wrestlemania 36 Review & How Crowdless Shows Can Be Improved

First off, thank you WWE and all of its superstars and staff for still going through with Wrestlemania 2020 despite the Coronavirus world situation, and thanks for making it free for everyone to watch this year. For those who don’t know, this year’s Wrestlemania took place at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, and had no audience, due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve been a big WWE fan ever since I was a kid (I grew up in the 80s & 90s), but I haven’t been following WWE events or shows lately (the reasons why could be another article by itself). Since Wrestlemania is the biggest yearly wrestling event, I didn’t want to miss it, and I was quite curious on how it was going to turn out when I learned that there was going to be no crowd. Below are my thoughts on how it played out, along with thoughts on how it could have been improved.

When I started watching this year’s Wrestlemania, it felt sad because there was no crowd. I definitely felt something was missing, and that it was not the same. It sounded too quiet. Nevertheless, the show was entertaining, so I continued watching, and I began to get used to the idea. The WWE Universe/crowd usually gives life to wrestling matches, and you can hear hundreds of fans react, sigh, gasp, boo, cheer and chant along the wrestling matches, making them way more animated and fun to watch. The superstars themselves also usually interact with fans and get different types of reactions from them.

As I watched, the question in my mind was this:

Will the superstars change anything in their performance to adjust to the exceptional circumstances?

The answer turned out to be that some did adjust a little bit, but unfortunately most didn’t… and here’s what they should have done or should try to do to improve future crowd-less shows:

Improvement Suggestions

1. Have the superstars look at the main cameras… not at the empty arena!

There’s a big difference between having a crowd and not having one. When you have one, you usually look at them directly, pose for them, and try to interact with them in order to get reactions. This year, the crowd was at home, and the only way to actually interact with them is through the camera that’s reaching each and every one of them at home. Some wrestlers did try to look at the cameras, but for some reason their eyes were off-center and not straight at the camera, so they should be trained where to look exactly so that their eyes end up looking directly at the center of the camera. This applies to posing as well.

2. Add 3-4 or more screens near the ring, each with a conference call of 100 random fans, and dub their audio lightly over the show so we can hear some reactions.

What’s even better to do would be to raise their audio, and let the screens be big enough so that wrestlers could actually hear them and see them live as they wrestled. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and now is the time to innovate and adapt. Why not! Be creative. The online conference rooms can be open to the public on a first come, first served basis, or you can even sell the access to them in the form of passwords.

3. Have the superstars talk to the camera

The superstars can actually interact with the home viewers, the same way they usually do on live stories (ex. Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook…). This would make the viewer’s experience much better, and it would give us a closer and more personal look at the superstar. Best time to do that would be during the walk-ins, during the match (trash-talk or bragging), and at the end of a match.

4. Have the superstars talk more to each other during the matches & express more audibly

Trash talk (not necessarily dirty) would make things more interesting. Since the audience is watching from home, they’d all be able to hear it, unlike in a live audience situation. Have the superstars express more sounds when fighting (ex. groan/growl…), whether preparing an aggressive more or receiving one… but don’t over-do it. Make sure it sounds natural, not overdone… because the whole point is to make it believable.

5. Have more non-ring gimmick matches

Gimmick matches are perfect for audience-less shows because they can be anywhere that’s not a ring, and everyone can still see all the action… unlike in a live audience setting. The setting/location options are limitless, and these matches can be quite creative and innovative, perhaps adding a much needed dimension that has been missing from WWE for a while now.

6. Have more guest commentators

Add another superstar as a guest commentator via conference call… they would definitely add more life and noise to the show. It’s the chaos that adds a bit of life.

7. It’s ok if superstars address the current situation

Make use of the current situation. If you don’t, it’ll make them seem as if they’re from some other world unaffected by this one. The audience and superstars should be able to relate to each other. Some comedic superstar can even temporarily incorporate a medical mask in his gimmick and work a comedic angle with that. (ex. I could see characters like Santino or Sandow doing that).

I notice and suggest these things because in addition to being a long-time wrestling fan, I work in the creative domain, I have an eye for these things, and my job is to innovate, solve problems and improve products. 

Let’s now talk about the matches, superstars and Wrestlemania itself…

Based on how they interacted in these exceptional circumstances, you could tell who was an amateur/inexperienced, and who was a seasoned veteran. You could separate the “good” from the “great”. Anytime I mention “performance” below, I’m not talking about wrestling moves, I’m talking about general performance and interaction.

Wrestlemania Review

Night 1 – first few matches

The first few matches and performances were forgettable. The Kabuki Warriors were loud, which was good, but their opponents Alexa Bliss and Nikki Cross were kind of quiet… so that was a miss. Most superstars in these first 5 matches robotically acted as if they were in a crowd-filled arena instead of interacting with the cameras and adapting to the situation.

Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan

Performances started getting better from Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan and on… The buildup, chaos, chases, and way that the match started was great! Sami Zayn showed a lot of charisma, and had one of the best performances from this year’s Wrestlemania.

John Morrison vs Jimmy Uso vs Kofi Kingston

The triple threat match was very entertaining, and showed a lot of talent and crazy moves from all 3 wrestlers. I’d say one of my favorite moments from from this year’s Wrestlemania was when John Morrison walked the rope from turnbuckle to turnbuckle to deliver a risky move on Kofi. All 3 guys did a great job, and I definitely think that John Morrison is underrated and deserves a bigger push.

Kevin Owens vs Seth Rollins

Both guys did a good job trash talking one another. It looked believable. Highlight of the match was the big jump Kevin Owens took onto Rollins. 

Braun Strowman vs Goldberg

It’s always great to see Goldberg. The match was short, and Goldberg lost… which was disappointing because we like him, but Strowman deserves the win because he’s a beast and we like him too. There was no camera interaction, but it worked because the 2 were intensely staring each other down the whole time without breaking eye contact.

Undertaker vs AJ Styles – Boneyard Match

I was expecting a match, but got more of a movie instead. It was a good movie though. Here’s how my thoughts and feelings changed throughout the “match”. There were many brilliant scenes, ideas, and twists in the match, starting with AJ surprisingly coming out from the hearse instead of Taker. The production quality of the whole thing was great!  However, this was the first time I was exposed to this type of “cinematic match”… so I had mixed feelings. The music made it seem like more of a pre-recorded movie, and the replay/slow motion cam cuts of Taker’s chokeslam made it seem more of a pre-recorded movie as well. Here’s the thing, I’m not against cinematic matches if they become a trend (as long as they’re well done… check out Jim Cornette’s view on the topic, he has many good points). Here’s what you need to know though: when viewers realize that matches are pre-recorded, they lose the fear/suspense/mystery factor that makes them ask “omg is this a shoot or is it planned? Is he gonna be ok?”. This uncertainty factor is what usually keeps inside-educated fans interested. I understand that entertainment and making money are the ultimate goals though. Anyway, so after watching the match, I realized that I was quite entertained by it and enjoyed it, specially that the Undertaker won… but I was still undecided whether I actually liked that cinematic style match or not. I went on Twitter to find out what other fans thought, and was surprised to see that most fans loved it! This affected my decision, so realized that I liked it too (Marketing lesson here: if you promote something as loved by everyone, it’ll affect everyone else). However, would I enjoy watching such a match if other superstars that I didn’t care about were involved in it instead? Probably not… Just like when choosing what Hollywood movies to watch, you’d choose them based on the actors and the plot. 

Night 2:
Charlotte Flair vs Rhea Ripley

Through her performance, interactions, talking and all, Charlotte Flair shone and showed that she was truly great.

Next 2 matches

Next 2 matches were forgettable…

The Otis angle and him winning was sweet though.

Edge vs Randy Orton last man standing match

This was a great brutal match that mostly happened in the backstage areas of the building. It was good, but it could have been more creative. A lot more creative things could have been done in the gym area. I was wondering what other more creative superstars would have done if they were in that match instead. It was entertaining nevertheless, because you never knew what to expect.

The Street Profits vs  Angel Garza & Austin Theory

I was highly impressed and entertained by the Street Profits! This was my first time I see them, and these guys were very charismatic and interactive with the cams. They looked like seasons pros. The match was entertaining, and the ending with Bianca Belair was cute. Got to also point out that Zelina Vega’s outfit with the skull shoulders was awesome!

Bayley vs Lacey Evans, Naomi, Sasha Banks, and Tamina

I never knew what the big deal about Bayley was until I watched this match. It was the first full match I watched of her. She outshone the other divas in terms of performance and interaction, and proved that she actually deserves to be champ because she has what it takes to be great.

Bray Wyatt vs John Cena – Firefly Funhouse “Match”

Everyone was looking forward to this match, not knowing what to expect. It turned out to be a total mindf*** that left you with a “wth did I just watch” feeling. Nevertheless, it was quite entertaining! Wasn’t a match but more of a movie.  

Drew McIntyre vs Brock Lesnar

It’s always good watching Brock, but the match was forgettable, and it sucks watching Brock lose when you know he’s the toughest guy on the roster. Unrealistic.

Final words

In conclusion, if you’re going to continue to have crowd-less shows for the time being, why not try improving them using some of the above suggestions?

However, if these shows put any of the Superstars at the risk of catching the Coronavirus, please postpone these shows because the superstars’ lives and health are more important. Money can wait. Other solutions can be found. Perhaps have some sort of online interviews, live home reality shows, quarantine life, best of shows, promos, or fan QAs until things figure out.

Finally, good marketing move on making Wrestlemania accessible to everyone this year. The move opened my eyes to all the original shows available on the WWE Network… and I saw some interesting ones, so now I’m probably buying a subscription.

Thanks. Stay safe. 

Karim Muhtar

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