WWE ran this week’s edition of SmackDown on Friday night from an empty WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. There was no crowd. No noise. Michael Cole provided commentary alongside Triple H as color commentator, as the show was produced with a skeleton crew. Paige, who was advertised for the show, missed it due to travel concerns.
There were three live matches, including the return of Jeff Hardy, who beat Baron Corbin in his first match in almost one year. Sasha Banks and Bayley beat Alexa Bliss and Nikki Kross and Daniel Bryan beat Cesaro. Also on the show, Mojo Rawley announced that Rob Gronkowski will appear on next week’s edition of SmackDown.
Of course, WWE was running the show from the Performance Center and without an audience due to the COVID-19 outbreak. AEW is set to run its next two Dynamite episodes in a similar fashion at Daily’s Place, a concert venue the Kahn family owns in Jacksonville. WWE announced on Friday that, as expected, this week’s RAW would also have to emanate from the Performance Center, without fans.
One of the most newsmaking parts of Friday’s show was that WWE continued to push WrestleMania. They continued to advertise the date and that the show would take place from Tampa. Of course, it’s not confirmed that the city of Tampa will allow WWE to even hold the show in the city during the COVID-19 outbreak. City officials were mum on whether or not the show would go on as planned during a meeting on Thursday.
Roman Reigns was on SmackDown and he did an interview with Cole about his upcoming WrestleMania match against Goldberg. In perhaps the best segment of the night, John Cena was interviewed by Cole and he was interrupted by Bray Wyatt, who he is scheduled to face at WrestleMania.
Overall, WWE did the best it could with the situation. The first 30 minutes of the show felt clunky and awkward, but after that, it felt like a WWE show. The second hour, in particular, things felt back to normal. The Bryan-Cesaro match was good and you barely noticed that it lacked a live crowd. Same for Hardy’s win over Corbin.
Then in the final segment, I’d argue that Cena’s interview with Cole benefitted from having no live crowd. If there was a crowd, Cena probably cuts a promo instead of getting interviewed. Then, instead of the serious and somber tone, Cena took at times in his answers, he would have yelled and screamed in a promo, feeding off the live crowd’s energy. It worked. It was better.
What remains to be seen is how long WWE will have to hold shows without a crowd at the Performance Center. But if Friday was any indication, they’ll be able to do so for as long as they need.