The biggest bad guy at WrestleMania is coronavirus

FILE – In this Jan. 9, 2018, file photo, Paul “Triple H” Levesque participates in the “WWE Monday Night Raw: 25th Anniversary” panel during the NBCUniversal Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif. While real sports have shut down in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, WWE has pressed on and is set to run this weekend its first WrestleMania in an empty arena. “We just feel like it is the right time,” WWE executive Levesque said. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

WrestleMania planned for Gronk Gone Wild.

Rob Gronkowski is set to host WWE’s signature show. But the frivolity — and perhaps the physicality if a wrestler dare gets in the retired New England Patriots star’s face — is now playing strictly to an audience of TV and streaming media viewers.

For WrestleMania ticket-buying fans, that’s as unwelcome as a steel chair to the back.

Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, the scheduled site of WrestleMania, is closed.

While real sports have shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, WWE has pressed on and continued to produce programming three nights a week. The shows have featured a mix of classic matches, interviews and even empty-arena matches. 

WrestleMania has run in front of massive crowds inside football stadiums every year since 2007, and Sunday’s show was set to take place at the home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. WWE stood firm that the show must go on and largely moved a card highlighted by stars Brock Lesnar and John Cena to its performance center in Orlando, Florida.

WWE also spread the card for the first time in WrestleMania over Saturday and Sunday to make room for roughly 16 matches. WrestleMania is $29.99 for each night on pay-per-view. and it also streams for subscribers on the WWE Network. The WrestleMania kickoff show airs on FS1 and ESPN has also aired classic WrestleManias to hype the big show.

“We just feel like it is the right time,” WWE executive and wrestler Paul “Triple H” Levesque said. “We’re slightly different than other sports or entertainment where you have to travel massive groups of people to other cities, then take those massive groups of people and transport them to other cities.

“It’s really difficult to do, even without fans, in a safe and effective manner. For us, it was trying to continue to try and put on the product and do it as safely as possible, and we feel like we’ve been able to do that.”

Levesque said most of WrestleMania has been taped, though there are “live components” to the two-day show.

The card has been besieged by rumors of major match shake-ups, notably the apparent removal of top star Roman Reigns, who disclosed in October 2018 his leukemia had returned. Reigns was scheduled to face Bill Goldberg but declined on an Instagram video to get into details of his withdrawal.

Levesque said there were “no ramifications” for any performer, staff or crew who declined to participate in WrestleMania or other events. He added no performer to his knowledge has tested positive for the virus and the company has adhered to social gathering and CDC guidelines.

WWE, propped by billion-dollar TV deals and lucrative deals with Saudi Arabia, is surely shaking its head at the sudden downturn.

This week’s “Raw” sunk to a decidedly low 1.92 million viewers, yet enough to rank in the top five of cable rankings for the night.

“My initial disappointment and rage turned into, wait a minute, that’s a very selfish way of looking at it,” McIntyre said. “People are sitting in right now and need something right now. WWE is providing it to them.”

Perhaps not for long. Florida issued a statewide stay-at-home order Wednesday that could put WWE down for the three count when it comes to future TV tapings.

“We can do so many different things and really get outside the box on stuff,” Levesque said. “If there’s a way for us to do it, we’ll continue for as long as we possibly can.”

So strike up the theme music, ignite the pyrotechnics and let the sounds from the sofa serve as the soundtrack for this year’s show.

“WrestleMania won’t be the spectacle that it would have been,” Levesque said, “but it will be a spectacle nonetheless.”