5 WWE and AEW Wrestlers Who Have Benefited Without a Live Audience
The outbreak of COVID-19 made 2020 a difficult year for everyone. Now that some semblance of normalcy is returning it's impossible to ignore how much live crowds add to professional wrestling. However, that doesn't mean we should discount how much some stars have developed during a tough situation.
Yes, some wrestlers like Cody Rhodes, Big Swole and Otis thrive in front of a live audience, and they struggled without its energy to play off of. But there is something to be said about the stars who adapted and improved.
During a recent interview with Chris Van Vliet, John Cena spoke on this phenomenon and how beneficial it has been for some like the reigning WWE Universal champion.
"This time without an audience has allowed performers like Roman Reigns, for example, to unobstructedly mold his character. If you send Roman from city to city with paying audiences, there may be some audiences that don't even care what he wants to say. They just want to boo him or cheer him or whatever.
"Without that, especially when developing a character or trying to get your message across or trying to hand someone your business card. I think Roman Reigns has absolutely needed this time. In it, he had developed himself, his personality and found out who he is. So now when he goes back to live audiences, they're not confused. He spent this 15-month block defining who he is, and he's the one who can benefit from that."
This is an excellent point. The Tribal Chief has been invaluable on SmackDown, and he may not have caught on as quickly outside of the ThunderDome, as fans would have jeered him or reacted favorably to his return. In this environment, he and Seth Rollins, for example, have more control over their presentation.
Reigns is the easiest choice, but let's take a look at five other wrestlers in WWE and All Elite Wrestling who have improved dramatically without live audiences.
Apollo Crews is an extremely talented in-ring performer. That much was clear when he was a member of the NXT roster.
The 33-year old has an impeccable physique and he's a gifted athlete, boasting jaw-dropping strength and the acrobatic prowess of a cruiserweight. However, WWE never allowed him to establish a character that stuck.
This slowly started to change in April 2020, when he had his most success with the company up that point as the United States champion. But Crews excelled when he debuted a new heel character on the Feb. 26, 2021 episode of SmackDown.
In his new role, Crews went back to his Nigerian roots, sporting the colors of the nation's flag and adopting an accent. There are some problematic aspects to this characterization, but you can't argue with the results. For better or worse, Crews has a defined character, and he competed in his first WrestleMania match, wherein he won the Intercontinental Championship.
On the surface, it seems like Max Caster's braggadocious rap persona should fall flat on its face. Surprisingly, his savage bars and fresh comedic timing have made The Acclaimed one of the most entertaining acts on AEW Dynamite.
The time without live crowds gave Caster the chance to hone his character and ingratiate the fans at home. What initially came off a little corny grew into one of the highlights of the nights as his performances grew even more humorous and biting. It also helped that The Acclaimed's music videos made them unique in a stacked tag division.
At Double or Nothing, the 31-year-old finally had the chance to test his character in front of a capacity crowd. Caster didn't disappoint as the audience reacted to all of his jabs at Christian Cage when he entered Daily's Place to participate in the Casino Battle Royale.
The Long Islander is tailor-made to perform in front of a live crowd because audience participation is such a big part of rap music. Now that he's comfortable in this role, Caster will be a strong asset for AEW on its upcoming tour, especially in New York.
Think about this for a second. At the beginning of 2020, Bobby Lashley was in the middle of that head-scratching love triangle with Rusev and Lana.
By the end of the year, The All Mighty was a dominant United States champion and one of the most protected men in the company. It seems like an improbable turnaround, but with the help of MVP, Lashley became a legitimate threat again and created a dynamic stable in The Hurt Business.
As its no-nonsense CEO, the 44-year-old had the opportunity to reinvent himself during the pandemic era. He might not have been as successful in front of a live audience for the same reasons that Roman Reigns may have struggled when he returned. He simply needed the time to develop in the empty arenas, and it worked well for him.
WWE may have prematurely broken up The Hurt Business, but he still made history as he finally claimed the company's world championship. This is a position Lashley should have been in a long time ago, but the past year was instrumental in his ascent to the top of the card.
John '4' Silver
It seems like just yesterday when John Silver and Alex Reynolds debuted as lesser-known opponents for Proud and Powerful on the Oct. 16, 2019, episode of AEW Dynamite.
At the time, no one knew they would become popular members of the Dark Order. Honestly, who would have guessed that the stable would take off the way that it did? Nonetheless, Silver became the breakout star of the group thanks to some hilarious backstage segments on Being the Elite.
This positive buzz led to a fun match with Orange Cassidy in his debut as a singles competitor on an AEW pay-per-view card at Full Gear. He also had a great showing with "Hangman" Adam Page and a TNT title match with Darby Allin.
Silver possibly would have still turned into a fan favorite among viewers who keep up with Being the Elite. However, you discount the time he had to develop on AEW Dark or the fact that he utilized all of his television appearances so well. It helped him blossom into an up-and-comer who could conceivably be a consistent midcarder or a future TNT champion.
It's still kind of surreal that Bayley isn't a precocious babyface anymore because the Hugger character was her claim to fame. Nevertheless, The Role Model is much better as an antagonist than most would have expected
The former SmackDown women's champion turned heel in 2019, making the change official when she cut off her trademark ponytail and destroyed the Bayley Buddies on the Oct. 11 episode of SmackDown. However, she grew into her new persona during the pandemic era.
We already know that she is an exceptional in-ring competitor, but she got much more comfortable as a talker without the distractions from the live crowd. Bayley hasn't always adapted well to unexpected reactions from the audience, but she flourished in empty arenas. Even more, she emerged as a fully formed character with recognizable personality traits as opposed to just an emo version of the Horsewoman we knew with a new haircut.
As such, the first WWE women's Grand Slam champion became one of the company's MVPs during a difficult time and a consistently entertaining villain. One could argue that no other woman on the roster benefited more from the period away from a live audience.