Wrestling with Public Health: March’s Pro Wrestling News Roundup

A recap of the most important stories in pro wrestling from March and why they matter

Well… one of the craziest months most people alive will ever remember has finally come to a close. It feels a little strange to be upset about something like pro wrestling having been derailed when the world is fighting to stop the spread of a global pandemic. It’s infecting thousands more by the day and as health professionals and experts work to keep all of us safe, the best they say we can do is stay away from others, stay inside, and make a conscious effort to stay out of the way by occupying ourselves with something to pass the time.

Pro wrestling has always been that little escape for so many of us and seeing that tunnel fog up with the rest of our uncertainty — albeit temporary — has been a true shock to the system. But it’s also left us with plenty of news and updates around the pro wrestling world, as it scrambles like so many other industries to make the best out of a truly shitty situation.

Be safe and do your part to save the world by staying inside and watching old episodes of Monday Night RAW. Here’s a recap of some of the biggest news that happened last month.

WWE

WrestleMania Will Go On Despite Coronavirus Concern

What Happened?

The coronavirus pandemic all but stopped time across the world this past month. As we learned the virus was escalating, nearly every aspect of society that involves coming together in person (including the full week of independent wrestling shows scheduled around WrestleMania) shut down — but somehow, the WWE will still move forward with WrestleMania 36 this weekend. The show was moved from Tampa, Florida and will take place, without a crowd, at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando.

Why Does it Matter?

The WWE’s decision to stay the course and continue with WrestleMania is reportedly the same issue that’s plagued the company for decades and that issue is: What Vince McMahon wants, Vince McMahon gets — no matter what the fans, or anyone else, say. But this time, fans aren’t groaning at how the company is booking its favorite wrestlers, they’re legitimately worried about the health and wellbeing of the people being asked to entertain us on TV. Take a second to read Colette Arrand’s columns about the very serious risks that pro wrestling poses right now, during a time when every medical health professional is pleading for human beings to stay home to help save others. And fans aren’t the only ones stepping back or questioning why the WWE — and other companies — have continued to hold pro wrestling matches.

WWE

Roman Reigns & Other Top Stars Back Out of WrestleMania 36

What Happened?

This past week, arguably the WWE’s biggest modern day star in Roman Reigns — a two-time cancer survivor — dropped out of his WrestleMania match with Goldberg set for this weekend, likely because of the Centers for Disease Control’s warning that people with pre-existing conditions are more prone to contracting the virus. Reigns’ absence isn’t the only one, either: a growing list of talent are reportedly being kept off the card, from Dana Brooke to Rey Mysterio.

Why Does It Matter?

We’ve seen pro wrestlers speak up against their own company’s decisions in recent years, particularly when it comes to the WWE. In the face of a serious health issue, we’re at these crossroads again. It’s a sign of a changing landscape in the wrestling industry, one where wrestlers are slowly but increasingly fighting for more basic employment rights, but Reigns pulling out of WrestleMania is worrying fans for reasons beyond that: Why are pro wrestlers being put in a place to have to make this decision in the first place? In the midst of a worldwide health crisis over a highly transmissible infection and with medical professionals around the globe pleading with us to avoid being near each other for a little while, why is a non-essential entertainment industry based around direct human contact the last one to submit?

AEW

AEW, Others Also Continue Despite COVID-19

What Happened?

WWE isn’t the only company still pushing a “show must go on” mentality. AEW, which launched less than a year ago, is still continuing to air new episodes each week. The company, which premiered its weekly show on basic cable less than six months ago, is grappling with its own cancellations, modified matches, and questions about whether its taking the necessary medical precautions in continuing to produce content. Unlike the WWE, which has largely resorted to re-airing matches and in-ring interviews to build up what’s likely to be the worst WrestleMania slog we’ve ever seen, AEW is trying to be creative — especially in its use of Matt Hardy, who jumped ship to the company last month.

Why Does it Matter?

As Fanbyte’s Colette Arrand repeated throughout the month: It’s just insane that pro wrestling is still happening. It’s an understandable blow for AEW to have to cancel weeks — potentially months — of its programming five months into launching what many projected to be an industry revolution (and after bringing on so many new employees to help launch the show). And it should be noted that AEW canceled its Blood & Guts live event scheduled for March 25. But the move to keep producing weekly content still comes at human risk and has made for nothing short of an uncomfortable viewing experience. How can I watch Kenny Omega roll around a ring with Sammy Guevara without worrying about one of them infecting the other? And how can I laugh at Hardy and Chris Jericho’s nonsensical bickering when in the back of my mind all I can actually think about is how close they are and whether the spit from their yelling mouths is spraying far enough to infect one of them? While pro wrestling’s made it a point in recent years to be proactive about transmissible diseases, especially in its dramatic cut down on the use of blood, it’s befuddling to watch wrestlers grapple face-to-face, body-to-body, while the world’s biggest heel could potentially be invisibly standing in the ring with them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ykXEJB3nfWY

Independent Wrestlers Get Creative in a Time of Need

What Happened?

Not everyone in pro wrestling has failed to find responsible ways to keep wrestling going — take DDT making a unique effort to raise awareness about the virus by holding a falls-count-anywhere match in a hospital or GCW’s “social distancing match,” (above) although there’s definitely people around the ring who aren’t keeping their 6-feet distance (!!!). Strange events like DDT using wrestling to promote public health or Joey Janela and Jimmy Lloyd’s distanced match is a sign of the times: one where pro wrestling, like many other industries around the world, was boxed into a corner with very few options on how to move forward.

Why Does it Matter?

Independent pro wrestlers, like many other contract workers around the world, need help right now. It’s well-documented that most pro wrestlers don’t make a liveable wage to begin with and take that work away? Most indie talent — in the ring and outside of it — need some semblance of business to continue to make ends meet. If you’re in a comfortable position, maybe take a second to buy a t-shirt or donate to the many aid campaigns going on right now across wrestling, service industries, live entertainment industries, medical campaigns, you name it. Some WWE wrestlers like Rusev have donated portions of their paychecks to their coworkers who are out of jobs right now, while other independent wrestlers like David Starr are reminding fans that you can both support indie promotions and help do your part in staying inside by signing up for some indie streaming services and watching the lifetimes-worth of matches available out there.

Like the rest of our world, pro wrestling will be back to normal the sooner we can all slow down the spread of COVID-19. Stay safe, stay responsible, and help retire coronavirus by staying home.

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Sean Neumann

Sean Neumann is a journalist based out of Chicago, Ill. His writing on professional wrestling has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, ESPN, Pro Wrestling Illustrated, and more. Follow him on Twitter @neumannthehuman

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