Wrestling fans are fond of saying that WWE in particular does their best booking when they have to cancel things, think on their feet, and react quickly to circumstances. I’m not sure that idea holds much water anymore, in an era when Vince McMahon tearing up the RAW script hours before air has become the (rumored but widely accepted) norm. In any case, it’s definitely not true of the particular chaos that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to bring to the pro wrestling world.
Sunday’s Clash of Champions PPV was supposed to feature three women’s matches: Zelina Vega versus Asuka for the Raw Women’s Championship, Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler versus the Riott Squad for the Women’s Tag Team Championship, and Nikki Cross versus Bayley for the Smackdown Women’s Championship. When Baszler, Jax, and Cross were all quarantined, the division was left in disarray. Since Jax and Baszler are the current Champions, and the whole gimmick of Clash of Champions is that every match is for a Title, they just had to cancel the women’s tag mach.
Honestly, even if they’d been willing to do a non-title match, WWE breaks up female tag teams so fast that there’s hardly room for understudies. There are no more IIconics, Golden Role Models, Fire & Desire, Kabuki Warriors, or even Bliss Cross Applesauce (leaving aside that Nikki was also unavailable), and I don’t think many people would have been excited to see the Riott Squad fight Lana and Natalya on PPV.
Left without an opponent, Smackdown Women’s Champ Bayley issued an open challenge that was answered by… Raw Women’s Champ Asuka. We know Bayley and Asuka can work well together (if only because we’ve seen it more than once very recently), but it kind of just felt like there weren’t any other women backstage? Except of course for Sasha Banks, who was waiting to make her post-mach attack (which presumably still would have come if the challenger was Nikki Cross).
Then on Monday Night Raw, Retribution wasn’t around to cause their usual chaos, reportedly because they’ve also been quarantined due to COVID exposure. Now on the one hand, a couple of weeks off may be just what WWE needs to figure out how to redirect the widely mocked angle and move past fans’ initial negative reactions to the faction’s silly made-up names and cut-rate Bane masks. On the other hand, it might be the first step in Retribution being dropped all together, which wouldn’t bode well for the five wrestlers who got brought up from NXT for the angle.
Speaking of which, I hear a lot of people saying that the masks and silly names could be to those wrestlers’ benefit in the long run, because they can get repackaged under their own names after Retribution falls apart. It would be great if that’s true, but when I look at past NXT call-ups like Sanity, the Ascension, and AoP, it’s hard to get my hopes up.
Raw Underground was also left off the show, apparently because the COVID outbreak at the performance center left them without enough Superstars to crowd around that ropeless ring and make it look like a fight club. Considering Raw’s ratings without the Underground segment were better than they’ve been with it, it makes you wonder if we’ve seen the last of Shane McMahon’s little experiment.
This weekend is NXT TakeOver 31, and we’ll see how things go there. According to an interview with PWInsider, Triple H seems confident that it will be fine, and that they’re doing all they can:
As for right now, I’m very confident in that – that this Sunday’s card will [go on as announced], but this is a very sort of touch-and-go time, and at any given time, things can change, and you’ve seen that recently. The Performance Center is back functional. The talent is – you know, nobody can control this situation, and nobody’s going to be able to stop this pandemic, and COVID. We’re doing the best we can to keep our performers safe, our staff, our crew – everybody safe. So these situations where positives come up and we then go back and very, very extensively contact trace, and go back and quarantine those people – this is all for the safety and wellbeing of everybody.
And of course WWE isn’t the only wrestling company dealing with the effects of a pandemic. AEW’s Lance Archer has revealed that he tested positive for COVID-19, and there were a bunch more people conspicuously missing from last week’s AEW Dynamite, including Nick Jackson, the Butcher and the Blade, and Archer’s own manager, Jake the Snake Roberts. We’ll see who shows up tonight, on Dynamite and NXT respectively, but each of them seems to be just trying to come up with a full show each week.
Hopefully we’re getting closer to a day when things become normal again, when wrestling shows can tour before big live crowds, and roster members disappearing due to illness won’t stop happening, but it will stop seeming like a regular weekly event. In the meantime, here’s hoping both companies can get their current outbreaks under control, and go back to telling the stories they want to tell, instead of the stories they’re left with.