Change impacts people in different ways. The entire world has been undergoing some form of change or adjustments, which can result in either positive or negative reactions. The Coronavirus has brought about such change in every walk of life. The sporting world is no different. Currently the NBA and NHL playoffs are being contested in “bubbles” after a lengthy hiatus. However, despite every sport being forced to stop, the WWE kept going, but made the necessary adjustments.

They moved all their shows to the Performance Center in Orlando. Because of restrictions, no fans were allowed. It was boring, but fans were given the option to follow the shows if they so desired. The company tried to make it exciting, but without a crowd, it was tough to get into the action. The night after Mania is considered “must see tv” because of the boisterous and crazy crowds. That night always has a wrestler or two debut from NXT. This year, fans at home saw the arrival of Bianca Belair. Under normal circumstances, the arena would have gone wild with her appearance but, there was no live response, and I felt really badly for her.

About a month after Mania, the WWE decided to experiment with “fans”. The audience, however, was made up of only a few NXT talents. They also decided to construct plexiglass to separate the “fans” and the performers (think of the NHL). They booed and cheered, and banged relentlessly on the plexiglass, but again it did not feel the same. However, while I know they are considered “developmental” wrestlers, I am sure they were able to learn ways to improve their craft from watching their peers in the ring. But, things really took a positive turn on August 21, 2020.

That night’s episode of Smackdown aired live from the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida, or as WWE now refers to it – the ThunderDome. Instead of having fans attend, the company decided to have fans appear virtually. The arena has pyrotechnics, lasers and everything one would expect from a regular show. And, I am sure the superstars are excited to work in front of a crowd again, even though it is a “virtual” audience.

The first major event at the Thunderdome was Summerslam where Asuka regained the Raw Women’s title by defeating Sasha Banks and the Fiend emerged as the Universal champion by upending Braun Strowman. The big shocker occurred after the main event when Roman Reigns returned and relentlessly attacked both competitors. It seemed from his actions, he returned as a heel. This is a change in Reigns’ television persona that fans have wanted for years. The official confirmation of the turn transpired on the August 28th Smackdown.

The episode was built around a “contract signing” for the title match at Payback on August 30 between Reigns, Strowman and The Fiend. Strowman and the Fiend signed, but Reigns did not. Fans saw him looking over the contract…..with Paul Heyman. Gasps were heard from the virtual crowd.

At Payback, Reigns still had not signed the contract, and he waited for the most opportune time to appear. When Strowman and the Fiend were down, Roman appeared on the ramp with Heyman. Paul held the contract while Reigns signed it. The minute he entered the ring, he pinned Braun to become the new champion. It will be interesting to see what happens with the new champion going forward. I think the heel turn has already done wonders for him and adding Paul Heyman, who is a great talker, will only make it better for the new Roman Reigns.

After Summerslam, Keith Lee debuted on Raw and entered into a rivalry with Randy Orton. Their first match was at Payback which Lee won. I always believed Keith Lee had the talent and charisma to be a big star on Raw or Smackdown. For the company to immediately place him in a major story with one of their top stars, it means that they see big things in Keith Lee.

The contract at the Amway Center runs until the end of October. My hope is Vince McMahon extends it to the end of the year to give his superstars a level of security. Maybe some real fans will be allowed into the arena, even at a much smaller capacity adhering to social and physical distancing guidelines. I am happy the wrestlers are performing in an arena setting again, and in front of a crowd, even if reactions are delayed. It gives everyone – fans at home, and the rosters, a small sense of normalcy.

How long this will continue is anyone’s guess. If everyone follows guidelines and takes all the precautions, hopefully we will all be able to enjoy our sporting events more. While we are all feeling the Coronavirus impact in different ways, we must always remember to do whatever it takes to protect our families and friends. This virus is not choosing who to attack. Everyone is vulnerable. Please stay safe. Wear your masks and maintain the six-foot distance.

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