The short answer? You can’t.
Sorry to be there bearer of bad news but in the words of the great Paul Heyman: “This isn’t a prediction, this is a spoiler”. The WrestleMania we know and love will be an utter failure if its current COVID-19 solution is deemed appropriate.
WWE made the announcement that due mitigating factors brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, the company’s marquee event would move from the 80,000-plus capacity Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, to the “only essential personnel will be on the closed set” capacity WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida.
The biggest sports entertainment spectacular in the world will be performed in front of zero paying fans.
Admittedly, the WWE has given us plenty of reason to doubt – cough cough, Saudi Arabia – in recent years but they deserve credit for putting public health ahead of profits on this occasion.
That being said, continuing with WrestleMania in this format only serves to cheapen the magnitude of the event and downplay the efforts of the performers on the night.
Why won’t it work?
For WrestleMania at the PC to work, WWE would have to forego the pomp, circumstance, celebrity glad-handing culture they’ve crafted, in favour of in-ring storytelling and actual professional wrestling.
Don’t get me wrong, the WWE roster is arguably the most stacked it’s ever been, but WrestleMania is built for spectacles, not wrestling matches.
This is no more evident than on the current confirmed card. No less than four matches include part-timers and it could be five but I consider Brock Lesnar as more of a full-time, limited-basis performer.
Of those four matches, John Cena and “The Fiend” needs the cinematic nature that has made Bray Wyatt’s character so enthralling.
Bill Goldberg’s weaknesses and physical limitations will only be accentuated against Roman Reigns if he doesn’t have a crowd to pop for his tired old spear-and-jackhammer routine.
Undertaker isn’t the performer he used to be and while AJ Styles could have a good match with a broom, Taker without the Deadman presence isn’t a sight I’d like to see.
Edge and Randy Orton is the only match that has enough momentum and natural animosity to carry over regardless of setting. I’d be excited about this match if it were in a Lygon Street speakeasy let alone a stadium.
Between these four matches, the inevitable handful of squash matches and afterthought battle royal bouts, there isn’t enough quality wrestling on deck to carry the bulk of a card without a live audience to engage the viewing public.
The SummerSlam solution
My solution isn’t simple, but unprecedented times require an unprecedented response. With no clear date of when large-scale public events will be allowed again, the best way to save the reputation of WrestleMania is to not have one at all.
Instead, SummerSlam should become the priority. Currently set for August 23, the five-month bridge would allow WWE to re-establish top stars, while giving them the time and more importantly the setting to culminate their feuds. The next step would be to move the event from the TD Garden – approximate capacity of around 19,000 – to a stadium nearby.
Without knowing the current booking status of the venues, Gillette Stadium in Foxborough and MetLife Stadium in New Jersey would be possibilities, and further inland you can also find previous WrestleMania venues Ford Field in Detroit and the Rogers Centre in Toronto.
This would increase the capacity to at least 70,000-plus and provide a suitable setting once the coronavirus scare has (hopefully) died down.
Two nights of glory
There’s an old rule in wrestling. If a match is cancelled, the replacement should either exceed it or provide something different. Taking inspiration from New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Wrestle Kingdom event earlier this year would do just that for the WWE.
For the first time in its illustrious history, the Japanese event was held over back-to-back nights in January this year, providing wrestling fans with a total of 20 matches, 11 championship bouts and six contests that went for 20 minutes or longer.
Compare that to a WrestleMania 35 show that crammed 16 matches into one night, resulting in only three matches of any substantial length, four of six and a half minutes or less and as a whole, a largely unremarkable show – a running theme for recent events.
A two-night card would be both different as well as exceed anything a typical WrestleMania could provide. Spreading the event over two shows would allow them to expound upon mid-card feuds that would otherwise be relegated to popcorn or comedy matches, WWE and Universal Championship bouts could be on held on separate nights to provide a true main event each evening, and a gimmick match each night would invigorate the crowd without feeling like overkill.
In addition to providing a better paced professional wrestling event, this would allow the WWE to get their typical WrestleMania skits and entertainment cross promotion out of the way without feeling like they’re shoving it down our throats.
Finally, by doing something different, WWE would be showcasing an ability to adapt they otherwise haven’t been able to over the past few years. The overly scripted nature of the product has led to many fans to think they don’t have a say, nor are they considered when it comes to what they want to see.
A two-night SummerSlam spectacular would tell fans “we value you, and you deserve something unlike we’ve ever done before for sticking with us during this unprecedented crisis”.
And that is how you fix WrestleMania without fixing WrestleMania.
And fast-track Killer Kross. The man is money.