To paraphrase the late, great Jon Huber, it’s 2020. You know what that means. This year has meant something different to each and every one of us. But nobody expected the year to go this way. In a broad sense, back in January, no one thought we’d be living in a society, if not a world, defined by wearing masks and fearing the deadliness of a seemingly unstoppable virus. To narrow the scope, when this year began, wrestling fans expected the industry to largely carry on as it had been, with thousands of fans packing into arenas several nights a week. Many of us anticipated WrestleMania, the largest WWE show of the year, where tens of thousands of fans act as the live crowd for an electric show.
But then 2020 happened.
WrestleMania was held without any fans in attendance. The WWE Performance Center Era presented show after show from an empty arena. Eventually, the company used developmental workers as a mock audience. But needless to say, these events still stood in stark contrast to the ones we were used to seeing, where real fans added irreplaceable energy to even the most mundane episodes of RAW. The ThunderDome has restored some of this lost enthusiasm, but wrestling without live fans in the arena still doesn’t feel quite right. On top of all that, WWE’s booking this year has been criticized many times while RAW has reached historic lows.
No, 2020, from a wrestling fan’s perspective, hasn’t been perfect by any means. But as this challenging year comes to a close, it feels appropriate to raise a proverbial glass and thank WWE, and professional wrestling in general. This year has been rough, plain and simple, but wrestling has been an escape that we have desperately needed every step of the way. Earlier this year, the industry was surrounded with so much uncertainty. It felt all but certain that WWE would take a hiatus at some point. The fact that they didn’t take a break, even during the initial height of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been lambasted in the past. But by looking at the decision through a different lens, we can see that WWE, and other companies, weathered the storm to the best of their ability. By doing so, wresting remained a constant outlet in what has often felt like an impossible year.
Speaking on a personal note, professional wrestling, has been a light in the dark for me in 2020. Many of us have been struggling as, frankly, the pandemic is both terrifying and taxing. Dealing with those emotions has become a new reality. That being said, this year reached a new level last week, as my family had to put our beloved dog down on Christmas Eve. It was devastating, and we’re still grieving this loss, but being able to watch WWE Friday Night SmackDown the next day and host the SmackDown Double Down Podcast on Saturday helped me escape. Even for a brief two hours on Friday night, I could just sit back and enjoy another riveting episode of the blue brand. Despite the circumstances I was dealing with, the show put a smile on my face when Big E won the WWE Intercontinental Championship. So I can’t thank WWE enough for its constant presence in my life in 2020.
Looking back at the year as a whole, the cancellation of WrestleMania would have been crushing for many fans. It’s was meant to be the pinnacle of the past several months for the WWE Universe. While postponing the event may have been the safer route, this approach would have thrown off the company’s storylines and caused more logistical problems down the road. So WWE persevered and presented a WrestleMania like no other. Who could ever forget the incredible Boneyard Match, or the unparalleled Firefly Fun House Match? The limitations caused by COVID-19 allowed WWE to think outside the box and experiment. As a result, WWE offered two “matches” that defied everything fans had come to expect from in-ring contests. And both of them were absolutely delightful.
Likewise, this year’s WWE Money In The Bank show was innovative, too. It didn’t feature a traditional ladder match. Instead, WWE Superstars waged war inside the company’s headquarters, which led to several cameos and comedic moments. Some fans didn’t care for the presentation of this match, but for a company that’s often denounced for its lack of creativity, this show, along with WrestleMania, demonstrated an undeniable willingness to try something different.
In many ways, that has been the theme of 2020 for WWE. Time and again, the company has shocked the fans by doing things that we’ve never seen before. Let’s recap, shall we? In addition to the cinematic matches at WWE WrestleMania, we’ve seen:
- A man get thrown off a building (Rey Mysterio at Money In The Bank 2020)
- A Swamp Fight, where one man was set on fire and another seemingly drowned (“The Fiend” and Braun Strowman at Extreme Rules 2020, also known as The Horror Show)
- An Eye for an Eye Match, where a wrestler temporarily lost an eye (Seth Rollins and Rey Mysterio at WWE Extreme Rules 2020)
- A family drama fit for the big screen play out in the ring (Roman Reigns and The Usos at WWE Hell in a Cell)
- A monster-like man get burned alive (“The Fiend” at WWE TLC)
- A shocking cliffhanger where a woman begged to be set on fire (Alexa Bliss on RAW)
These are just a few examples. That’s not even mentioning the Street Profits’ video segments with the Viking Raiders, which were divisive but WWE deserves credit for their effort. In a less extreme case, Reigns’ work on WWE SmackDown has been remarkable. His character every single week is phenomenal, and it’s better than anything WWE has featured in recent memory. The combination of these unexpected deviations from the norm and Reigns’ heel run have been utterly entertaining in a year when we’ve needed distractions from reality more than ever before.
It’s fair to hope that the world will return to some semblance of normalcy in 2021. Maybe it will. But let’s hope that WWE continues to shake it up. For years, WWE’s definition of “normal” has caused fans to beg for change. Now, we’ve gotten it. WWE has made the most out of a difficult situation and in doing so, the company is showing its audience that it can still keep us on our toes. Hopefully, they’ll continue to do so.