Quick Takes on WWE Taping WrestleMania 2020 in Advance, Stone Cold, AEW and More
WWE having to host another week's worth of Raw and SmackDown shows at the Performance Center in front of no fans didn't make this week any less newsworthy.
In fact, we have a much clearer picture of what is set to transpire at WrestleMania 36, along with when and where. In addition to the news that Rob Gronkowski will host the pay-per-view, it was revealed that it will take place over the course of two days for the first time ever and will reportedly be taped in advance at the PC.
Empty-arena shows can be entertaining if properly executed. All Elite Wrestling proved that Wednesday night with Dynamite, producing one of its strongest shows to date without having to rely on over-long recaps or replays.
Even with the highly anticipated Blood and Guts match being postponed indefinitely, the arrivals of Brodie Lee and Matt Hardy should be enough to satisfy fans in the meantime. WWE could learn a thing or two from how the new promotion put a show together under the unfortunate circumstances and knocked it out of the park.
This week's Quick Takes will delve into WWE taping WrestleMania, AEW's all-star edition of Dynamite, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's underwhelming return to Raw and more.
'Stone Cold' Steve Austin's Return to Raw Falls Flat
WWE should be commended for attempting to celebrate 3/16 Day on Monday's Raw despite the lack of live crowd, but that didn't make "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's appearance any less disappointing.
There was nothing the company could do about no one being in attendance for the episode, but surely it could have taken a different approach. Austin doing his usual shtick in an empty arena before going back and forth with Raw commentator Byron Saxton wasn't exactly riveting television.
The WWE Hall of Famer was presumably in attendance for the full three hours, so it was a mistake for the company to relegate him to the final 10 minutes or so for a throwaway segment. Considering half of the show consisted of the men's Royal Rumble match being replayed, that time could have used to show Austin performing wacky backstage antics at the Performance Center.
It didn't help that his interaction with Becky Lynch felt forced, especially after Lynch entered the building with her Stone Cold-looking semi-trailer truck. She looked like she was having the time of her life in the ring with The Texas Rattlesnake, but it's odd he hasn't crossed paths with Kevin Owens at all since Owens started using the Stunner last year.
Seeing Austin on Raw is always a treat because of how rare his appearances are, and while it was a bummer no one was there to give him the raucous reaction he deserved, WWE could have had him host the entire episode in order to make the most of his return.
AEW Nails Empty Arena Dynamite with Two Huge Debuts
AEW was originally scheduled to bring Dynamite to Rochester, New York, on Wednesday for what was expected to be an epic edition of Dynamite.
Of course, the coronavirus pandemic caused the company to change plans and bring the show to Daily's Place in Jacksonville, Florida, instead. Dynamite didn't have that same aura without the always-electric audience, but that didn't stop the company from putting forth a fantastic effort.
The Dark Order's Exalted One has been teased for many months, and the reveal couldn't have been better executed. The debut of Brodie Lee was a sweet surprise and served as the perfect payoff to the storyline.
Meanwhile, Matt Hardy's AEW arrival later on in the night was an even bigger shock. He had long been rumored to be The Exalted One, so when he wasn't, viewers were convinced he wasn't coming into the company anytime soon.
However, he popped up at the end of the episode and agreed to team with The Elite against Inner Circle at Blood and Guts. The reaction would have been off the charts had fans been in the arena, but it still made for a cool cliffhanger.
On top of all that, AEW filled out the crowd with wrestlers, who made noise throughout the evening. Cody also made it a point to acknowledge the state of uncertainty in the world while not dwelling too much on it.
Empty-arena shows for both companies are going to get old no matter what, but at least AEW managed to break away from the norm and provide fans with a much-needed escape from reality, if only for two hours.
Blood and Guts Being Delayed Indefinitely Is for the Best
AEW announced Blood and Guts, which is essentially the promotion's version of WarGames, during February's Revolution pay-per-view. It was confirmed soon after that it would feature five members of The Elite battling five members of Inner Circle.
Matt Hardy stepping in for Nick Jackson raised the stakes even higher. The heavily touted main event was supposed to go down Wednesday before AEW broke the news on social media that it was being postponed indefinitely.
All things considered, this was a smart move by the company.
There was no reason to rush into it anyway, but it wouldn't have been the same without anyone in attendance. Although there's still a chance that it is held within the next few weeks, it would be best saved for when AEW hits the road again.
In the meantime, AEW can continue to heat up the rivalry between the two factions and establish why Hardy agreed to team with The Elite. The rivalry wasn't at the point where it was worthy of happening inside Blood and Guts, so perhaps this enforced extra build will be a blessing in disguise.
Less Is More with the Pay-Per-View Match Replays
WWE has taken a unique approach to killing television time with Raw and SmackDown now that the Performance Center is the temporary home of both brands for the foreseeable future.
It started with SmackDown when WWE replayed the brand's Tag Team Championship Elimination Chamber match in its entirety. Considering the decision to move the show to the PC was made at the last minute, it was difficult to blame the company for relying on a recent pay-per-view matchup to help fill the two hours.
Unfortunately, the promotion did the exact same thing on Monday's Raw, replaying the men's Royal Rumble from January, complete with commercial breaks. It lasted nearly an hour and a half, ruining any momentum the show had coming off Edge's excellent promo.
It was understandable when John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt from WrestleMania XXX was shown in full on SmackDown because they are revisiting that rivalry. That said, it isn't ideal to rely so heavily on content that either isn't relevant or aired not too long ago.
With the Show of Shows coming up April 4, WWE should take this opportunity to showcase some of the greatest WrestleMania matches in history on Raw and SmackDown. It would also be an effective way of plugging WWE Network and everything it has to offer, as opposed to giving viewers an excuse to tune out and not want to stick around for the rest of the episode.
Pretending there's nothing different about the shows and that it's business as usual will not work in the long run.
A Taped WrestleMania Isn't Quite WrestleMania
WWE fans found out a lot more about WrestleMania 36 this week, starting with how it will emanate from the Performance Center in front of no fans as opposed to Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It was then announced that it will be a two-day event that's hosted by three-time Super Bowl winner Rob Gronkowski. This was in addition to the news that it would be filmed at multiple locations, similar to WrestleMania 2, in a way.
To top it all off, Mike Johnson of PWInsider reported that WrestleMania is set to be taped at the PC and whatever other venues the promotion has in mind. It isn't quite WrestleMania if it's taped in advance, especially in the age of the internet when spoilers are bound to leak.
If the results become readily available before the event airs, there will be a portion of fans who will have zero incentive to watch it. Having no one in attendance doesn't help, either, but that's the situation because of everything going on in the world right now.
It's a smart strategy for WWE to want to tape TV in case it otherwise can't, but WrestleMania should be left out. That can be the promotion's first big show back on the road regardless of when that might be. But WWE would seemingly rather get it out of the way while it can, even if it means sacrificing the special feel of the Show of Shows.
Prepare for the most bizarre 'Mania of all time if WWE's plans for the pay-per-view come to fruition.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.