John Cena

In this July 12, 2017, file photo, John Cena presents the Jimmy V perseverance award at the ESPYS in Los Angeles. While real sports have shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, WWE has pressed on and is set to run this weekend its first WrestleMania in an empty arena. WWE stood firm that the show must go on and largely moved a card highlighted by stars Brock Lesnar and John Cena to its performance center in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

As much as we look back now and say that we all saw the coronavirus outbreak coming, it wasn’t until the NBA suspended its season the evening of March 11 that it became real to most of us.

Over the next several days, the rest of the sports world — and, really, the country — followed the NBA’s lead, and now the entire sports world is on hold.

Well, almost the entire sports world.

Professional wrestling’s two largest promotions, the longstanding juggernaut World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the new-but-very-powerful-kid-on-the-block All Elite Wrestling (AEW), have plugged along and continued putting on their weekly shows. The only difference is they’re doing them in front of zero fans.

It’s not just their weekly shows: WWE is holding its biggest event of the year, WrestleMania, on Saturday and Sunday.

A legitimate argument can be made that it’s inappropriate or irresponsible for wrestling promotions to keep doing business. However, since they are, let’s move on to the next question: Should you watch WrestleMania?

The answer: Sure, why not?

The event will be strange, definitely, with no fans (WrestleMania has been moved from Raymond James Stadium, aka Tom Brady’s new home, in Tampa to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando). The reactions of a stadium full of fans is an important part of pro wrestling, especially at big events such as WrestleMania — the biggest of them all — so this weekend’s important moments and surprising finishes will lose some of their luster. In fact, the two-day event won’t even be live, and instead will be pre-taped.

So, the 36th installment probably won’t go down as one of the best in WrestleMania’s history. But the card itself is stacked, even considering reports that top stars such as Roman Reigns and Mike “The Miz” Mizanin will not participate.

Those who haven’t watched wrestling in a long time will see some familiar faces in this year’s WrestleMania. Edge, who returned from retirement after nine years in January, will face Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing match. Movie star John Cena still wrestles, and this weekend he’ll face “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt (who might be too scary for kids). Brock Lesnar, who has also been an MMA champion, will take on Drew McIntyre for the WWE championship.

For those who haven’t watched wrestling in a really long time, The Undertaker — the Deadman is still alive — will face A.J. Styles. Also, Goldberg will defend the Universal Championship, thought it’s unsure who his opponent will be. It was supposed to be Roman Reigns, but Reigns, who recently overcame a second bout with leukemia, said he is backing out. The WWE, curiously, has yet to confirm that.

That’s not all. One of WWE’s top story lines has pitted the self-righteous-but-evil Seth Rollins against fed-up-everyman Kevin Owens. Two of the best wrestlers on the planet, Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn, will square off for the Intercontinental title. Charlotte Flair — Ric Flair’s real-life daughter — will try to win the NXT women’s title from Rhea Ripley in what should be a brutal and physical showdown. The same can be said for the match between Becky Lynch, the WWE’s star over the past 18 or so months, and Shayna Baszler.

Oh, and Rob Gronkowski is the host of WrestleMania. Yes, that Rob Gronkowski. He’s only the host, but with him reportedly signing a deal with WWE recently, and the company’s next big event being Summer Slam in Boston in August (assuming we get the coronavirus outbreak under control by then), don’t be surprised if Gronk gets involved in a match (most likely the one between Elias and Baron Corbin) this weekend to get the ball rolling on a Summer Slam match.

Another thing: It has never been more cool to be a pro wrestling fan, and, if you aren’t, perhaps WrestleMania can be a launching point.

The product might not be as cool as the turn of the century when Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock were heavily involved, or when WWE and WCW were waging the Monday Night Wars in the mid-1990s. But, actually watching and following pro wrestling is no longer considered something that only social rejects do.

Part of wrestling’s current boom comes from there just being so much of it. It’s no longer just WWE. There are other promotions such as AEW, which has a show every Wednesday night on TNT, Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, Major League Wrestling, and even a reboot of the NWA, aka National Wrestling Alliance, which was wrestling’s monolith before WWE (then known as the World Wrestling Federation, or WWF) all but wiped it out.

Independent promotions are more accessible than ever due to the internet. Much like independent music, indie promotions possess a credibility that the major promotions don’t — for some reason, art is more legitimate if the artists aren’t making a lot of money. Maine has one of the country’s most respected indies, Limitless Wrestling, which consistently books some of the best up-and-coming talent as well as some wrestling legends. To get a taste of its content, go to YouTube and search for “Limitless Wrestling.”

There’s also pro wrestling podcasts, some that analyze the current product and others that look back at big moments and important people in pro wrestling’s history. If you’ve ever been a wrestling fan, you need to check out “Something to Wrestle with Bruce Prichard.” Listening to that three years ago was my gateway to watching wrestling again.

And, there’s the WWE Network. Not only can you sign up for a month trial that will allow you to watch WrestleMania for free (go to www.watch.wwe.com), you can also watch the WWE’s extensive library of wrestling. For instance, over the next month, you can watch EVERY WrestleMania.

You might be saying, “Pro wrestling isn’t a real sport.” That’s fair, it is staged, but there’s enough correlation, and we’re starved for sports, so just go with it. At the very least, it’s an athletic endeavor, probably more than it ever has been.

So, give WrestleMania a shot. It’s not like you have a whole lot else going on these days.

Sun Journal sports editor Lee Horton can be contacted at [email protected] He knows wrestling is staged, so no need to contact him about that.


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