(CBS Miami/CBS Local) — One year ago All Elite Wrestling was preparing to burst onto the international stage. Thousands crammed into the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas after scooping up tickets at warp speed. It took just four minutes for the inaugural Double or Nothing to sell out when tickets went on sale three months earlier.
The feeling in the arena that night was electric, and there was a sense of excitement that hadn’t been felt in wrestling since the Monday Night Wars era nearly 20 years ago. AEW had become the hottest wrestling promotion on the planet and seemed unstoppable.
That night Jon Moxley, fresh off an eight-year run that catapulted him to stardom in WWE, sent the crowd into a frenzy. Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega tore the house down, while the brother vs. brother match featuring Cody and Dustin Rhodes was something that will be remembered for decades to come.
The future seemed so bright that the thought of them ever performing in front of a less than capacity crowd was unthinkable.
But a lot can happen in 12 months. The entire world can change.
This year AEW will attempt to blow the roof off the arena once again for Double or Nothing. Only it won’t be in Las Vegas, it will be in Florida. And in a complete juxtaposition, the idea of a capacity crowd is unthinkable. The idea of any crowd is, actually.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced AEW to hunker down and shelter in place, as it has for the rest of the world. In this case, Daily’s Place. The Jacksonville site has become the company’s primary broadcast hub since the pandemic forced them to cancel their entire live event schedule.
After pre-taping a number of episodes, AEW has been broadcasting its weekly series AEW: Dynamite live from the venue that borders TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. It is also expected to remain their base of operations for the foreseeable future.
“It’s the safest decision to stay here [during] the pandemic and COVID as we move through it,” AEW Executive Vice President and wrestler Cody Rhodes said.
The company has gone to great lengths in an effort to keep everyone involved in the operation safe during the pandemic.
Some of the measures are forcing the backstage culture of wrestling to change. Rhodes acknowledged that handshakes are no longer permitted. To many of us a handshake is just a handshake, but in the wrestling world it can mean everything. It is a sign of respect and gratitude. Not extending your arm to shake someone’s hand can be interpreted as a sign of disrespect and has led to countless instances of friction among the roster for generations.
Similarly, Rhodes is opting not to shake hands or embrace fans who gather in the parking lot to watch the live broadcasts from afar. While he ventured out to greet the diehards who showed up this week, he also practiced social distancing.
Maintaining a healthy roster is paramount for AEW, which is going to great lengths to ensure the shows can continue should a crew member or talent test positive for the coronavirus.
Testing is being conducted off-site and under quarantine measures with members of the medical staff becoming the first to be screened, according to Rhodes. Should one of them test positive they will be removed and unable to come into contact with anyone awaiting testing.
To further mitigate the risk of an outbreak, talent and crew members are tested in separate locations by different medical professionals. Additionally, anyone who tests positive would be sent for a nasal swab to confirm the initial results.
“We have it set where it would not shut down production. I am absolutely not rooting for a positive test. We’re testing everyone who comes in our bowl,” Rhodes said. “So, if a positive test were to come forward it, would just indicate that the testing does work and the measures need to be taken.”
To date, all tests have come back negative, according to Rhodes.
“We have been incredibly fortunate,” he said. “Hopefully we have no positive tests moving forward.”
As the pandemic began to unfold, all members of the roster and crew were told that there would be no repercussions should they decide not to work while the outbreak was occurring. A number of wrestlers, including The Young Bucks, took AEW owner Tony Kahn up on the offer and only returned this week while wearing face masks.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.