On March 11, 2020, NXT was held at the WWE Performance Center due to scheduling conflicts where Full Sail University was holding its Hall of Fame. Many of us thought “This will be interesting for a week and then, we’ll go back to normal.”
That was the last WWE show that properly (if you can even call it that) took place in front of a live crowd. While there have been people ringside for some tapings here and there, it isn’t exactly the same.
Obviously, the reason why is because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This whole coronavirus ordeal didn’t kick into gear until right after this show and it would go on to change everything in the world, including the professional wrestling business.
Since we’re on that anniversary, let’s look back on the past year and reflect on the good, the bad, the absolutely terrible, the confusion and everything else.
The PC is a Saving Grace
Prior to the pandemic, we had heard WWE was in the process of changing its headquarters to a new multi-million dollar facility. But that was in Stamford. Nothing seemed on the horizon for the actual in-ring product or the Performance Center.
WWE was incredibly lucky to have set up the ring for NXT at the Performance Center on that March 11th show, as soon after, SmackDown and everything else had to move to that facility out of necessity. This wasn’t the alternative to a clip show—it was how WWE would stay in business, essentially.
Had it not been for the Performance Center existing, who knows what condition WWE would be in today? Sure, the company has a mountain of logistical nightmares, creative booking fiascos, terrible decisions left and right, but at least it’s still functioning.
This situation proved that the PC is one of WWE’s most valuable assets and the the worst case scenario backup plan ready to hold down the fort (as it is a fort) for the company.
Not Good Enough
But it was clear from the start that the Performance Center just would not do. It was much better than nothing, as the PC is not a P.O.S., but the emptiness was such a jarring change for fans.
To be fair, I think that would have happened regardless. In fact, I’d argue starting with the PC allowed WWE to scale upward as time went on, helping fans digest things easier and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Imagine going from the ThunderDome now to the PC again, in comparison to the PC and then what we have now.
WWE quickly realized things would have to change and started work on phase 2. Full Sail University wouldn’t be available forever, either, so WWE had to find homes for that brand, 205 Live, Main Event, Raw and SmackDown as well as pay-per-views. That’s a tough task.
You’ve Been Thunderstruck
After several months, WWE had its answer: the ThunderDome.
With a larger arena, hundreds (if not 1000+) screens placed around the ring and some much better staging, this was a massive update to say the least.
For the better part of this pandemic, the ThunderDome has been WWE’s home for Raw, SmackDown, Main Event and pay-per-views as well as specials like the Superstar Spectacle event.
NXT needed its own home, though, which gave birth to…
Are you a Mac, or a PC? Or a CWC?
The Capitol Wrestling Center is the next evolution of the Performance Center. It serves much of the same purpose, but with some tweaks for a better presentation to the television product.
Frankly, I wasn’t expecting this. I assumed NXT would record out of the ThunderDome, since everything is on a different night, and classes would resume in the Performance Center as per usual. If not that, I figured the Performance Center would revert to the NXT tapings because it was the C-show and didn’t matter as much.
Little did I know WWE would reformat things, put some chain link fencing around the ring, add some ThunderDome screens and rebrand the building with a nod to the company’s past.
It’s not perfect, but I think we can all agree the CWC is also a big step up from the way the Performance Center shows were being filmed earlier in 2020. The amenities inside the training facility itself are still a mystery as that has never been fully fleshed out to begin with, let alone enough information to compare and contrast.
WWE’s content in the United States was set, but what about NXT UK? When the pandemic was declared a true state of emergency, everything across the pond was shut down indefinitely with even less of a plan and less resources available to work with.
I was always incredibly shocked the UK Performance Center never turned into the filming location. WWE had proven with the US building that it could be done and I thought for sure we’d get episodes coming out of the UK PC in no time. Then, months went by without a peep.
Eventually, NXT UK returned, filming out of the BT Sports Studios. This was decked out with a handful of ThunderDome-esque screens, though since all these episodes are filmed in advance, none of the reactions are remotely close to live.
None of it Feels the Same
For all its flaws, WWE has to be commended for its efforts in trying to restore some normalcy for the fans. This has been an undertaking no one in the company planned for or saw coming until it happened. Many other businesses would have simply crumbled, but WWE tried to find solutions.
However, while the ThunderDome is as close as WWE can feasibly get to recreating the previous environment, it simply isn’t the same.
While watching the first night of WrestleMania 36, I found myself so thrown off with the silence that I eventually put looped audio of WWE 2K audience sounds on very low in the background for the Edge vs. Randy Orton match in an attempt to convince myself it was back to normal. It didn’t work.
WWE even did the same thing for a while, using 2K clips. It was obnoxiously loud and hard to listen to. Since then, the sound mixing has gotten much better and feels more authentic, even though we know there isn’t a damn thing real about it. “This is awesome” just sounds strange coming from an arena that is clearly empty.
One of the alternatives to the ThunderDome and piped-in crowd noise approach was to take things in a more “cinematic” direction, filming matches as if they’re more like vignettes.