Since Coronavirus-Mania started running wild, we’ve seen bands and entertainers postpone or cancel tours and shows and nearly every major sports organization suspend or postpone play. Indeed, the fans/audience are such a huge component of live entertainment it’s difficult to imagine an event without them. Friday night, WWE left nothing to the imagination and actually broadcast their Smackdown Live show without any fans in the building.
Smackdown was originally scheduled to emanate from Little Caesars Arena. But the global pandemic forced WWE to move the broadcast location to their Performance Center training center in Orlando which was staged to look like a small arena. Although the show was certainly unique, it wasn’t unprecedented in the world of pro wrestling. Check out one of the matches from Friday’s audience-free Smackdown and then keep scrolling for three other times wrestling has taken place in an empty arena!
The first televised empty arena match happened between two wrestling Hall Of Famers in 1981. Before he was a lecherous color commentator, Jerry Lawler was the King Of Wrestling in Memphis, Tennessee. His feud against then-NWA World Champion Terry Funk was bloody and violent and culminated when Funk challenged Lawler to an anything-goes match in an empty Mid South Coliseum. Big mistake. Funk almost lost an eye!
WWE’s first foray into the idea of performing without an audience took place during Super Bowl XXXIII. Today he’s arguably the biggest action movie star in the world, but in 1999 Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was merely “the most electrifying man in sports entertainment”. The villainous Rock retained his WWE Championship in a match against beloved mad man Mankind (Mick Foley) where he sickeningly smashed a steel chair over Mankind’s skull almost a dozen times, legitimately concussing him. Mankind wanted payback and when WWE’s TV home, USA Network, gave them a half hour time slot to counter-program the Super Bowl’s Gwen Steffani/Stevie Wonder halftime show, he got his chance. “Halftime Heat” saw Foley and Rock battle in the empty arena, the backstage area, through offices, in the kitchen. Seemingly every nook and cranny of the Tuscon Convention Center. When a giant bag of concession stand popcorn becomes weaponized, you know it’s serious.
The Main Event Mafia was a stacked (but largely forgotten) team of wrestlers who were all bona fide Hall Of Famers. When two members, Sting and Kurt Angle, found themselves at odds with each other they decided to settle it the only way one settles such matters. By fighting in an empty TV studio. Fully dressed in wrestling tights.