In one of the most surreal pro wrestling events in history, WWE attempted to continue building toward WrestleMania 36 during a global coronavirus pandemic by hosting SmackDown from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando -- without a crowd in attendance. While the promotion and performers gave their best effort to put on a show, the uphill battle of an event with no crowd energy overwhelmed in the end.
John Cena returned for the first time since being challenged to a WrestleMania match by "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt, closing the show with a promo promising violence, met by an interrupting Wyatt who promised the same. Jeff Hardy returned from a lengthy absence on the show, winning a short match, and much of the Fox broadcast was spent re-airing this past Sunday's Elimination Chamber SmackDown tag team championship match.
The event served as the first in what could be several events without a crowd in the Performance Center, with next Monday's Raw confirmed to air under the same circumstances and with WrestleMania's status still very much still undetermined due to the growing concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
Let's take a look at what went down on a truly unique edition of SmackDown on Friday night.
SmackDown results, grades
Triple H opened the show introducing the audience to the Performance Center and speaking to the history of the training facility. "This show will be different from anything you have ever seen before," Triple H said before the camera cut to the completely empty venue.
Sasha Banks & Bayley def. Nikki Cross & Alexa Bliss via submission when Banks locked Cross in the Banks Statement on Cross. Banks and Bayley came to the ring, immediately walking to the announce table where they spoke with Triple H and Michael Cole and demanded Paige, who Cole announced had "travel issues" getting to the show. Cross and Bliss came to the ring and issued a challenge. Asuka interfered, allowing Banks to lock in the submission for the win in the first match of a show that feels incredibly surreal with a completely empty crowd. Grade: C+
Roman Reigns was interviewed in the ring by Michael Cole. He addressed the oddity of coming to the ring with no crowd reaction before addressing critics who feel he "does not deserve" to be in the WrestleMania main event. "Now that I'm here, I'm not bowing down to anyone," Reigns said. "I'm taking what's mine." Reigns said he has respect for Goldberg but he's a part timer, and "we don't have time for that here." Grade: C-
Jeff Hardy was interviewed backstage by Kayla Braxton. Cesaro introduced Sami Zayn for a backstage interview of his own. but they were immediately told they had been bumped for an interview with Hardy. Hardy said he has a lot more to do in WWE before being interrupted by King Corbin. He revealed he has a match with Corbin later in the evening before Elias stepped in to perform a song, causing Corbin to walk off.
Daniel Bryan spoke to Drew Gulak backstage and said he is now willing to learn after their match at Elimination Chamber if Gulak is still willing to teach. Sami Zayn, Cesaro and Shinsuke Nakamura interrupted and pointed out they offered Bryan a chance to join them and he declined, but now Zayn is intercontinental champion. Zayn made fun of Bryan for asking for wrestling tips "from a nobody." Cesaro and Bryan agreed to a match later in the evening.
The SmackDown tag team championship Elimination Chamber match from this past Sunday's pay-per-view was shown in full. The Miz and John Morrison cut a short in-ring promo after the Elimination Chamber match aired.
Mojo Rawley spoke to Michael Cole and Triple H, confirming Rob Gronkowski has not signed a deal but "the rumors are true," and Gronk will be on SmackDown next week.
Daniel Bryan def. Cesaro via pinfall with a small package. After the match, Drew Gulak ran in to make a save only to be beaten down by Cesaro, Shinsuke Nakamura and Sami Zayn. Bryan eventually returned the favor and made a save with a suicide dive. A decent, short match that didn't give the men involved enough time to shine. Grade: C+
Jeff Hardy def. King Corbin via pinfall after a Swanton Bomb. During the match, Elias interrupted by strumming his guitar. The distraction allowed Hardy to hit a Twist of Fury before a Swanton Bomb to end things. Grade: C
John Cena was interviewed in the ring to close the show, and was asked about Bray Wyatt's claims his loss to Cena years ago was what started his downward spiral. Cena said people often blame him for their failures before listing all the setbacks he has had. "Why, after all these setbacks, does no one say, 'John Cena was buried?'" Cena said. "Because they know who I am." He admitted he accepted a challenge because he believes in the future of the WWE, and Bray Wyatt is not that future. "I want to invest in people that earn it each and every single day," Cena said. "The reason I took Bray Wyatt's challenge at WrestleMania is so I can take Bray Wyatt out of the equation."
Wyatt then interrupted from the empty seats. Wyatt said Cena is doing great being a Hollywood star with big muscles before saying he had him all wrong. "You see, I'm not sick," Wyatt said. "You are. I know why you came here, John. I know why you can't say no. You don't really think we think you care about the future, do we? John Cena cares about John Cena." Wyatt claimed Cena craves the spotlight, and he eventually began listening to the voices in his head after Cena broke him, allowing The Fiend to put him back together. "At WrestleMania, it's going to be a slaughter," Wyatt said. "You just don't know it yet." Grade: B