TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – It should have been Tampa Bay’s long-awaited turn to finally host one of the world’s largest spectator events.
Unlike other sporting events and concerts that have been canceled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, the WWE moved WrestleMania 36 from Tampa to Orlando where it was pre-recorded without a live audience.
“I feel sorry for all my friends and talent that are wishing they are stepping out in front of 80,000 at Raymond James, but it just ain’t happening,” Tampa Bay wrestling legend Steve Keirn told 8 On Your Side.
As he watched WrestleMania 36 from home, Keirn said he knows many businesses in the bay area are hurting during the pandemic and missed out on a major economic boost.
“What a moneymaking opportunity it would have been for this whole city and this is my hometown,” Keirn said. “Hotels, restaurants, Busch Gardens, any attractions.”
The WWE said last year’s WrestleMania generated an economic impact of $165 million for the host region in New York and New Jersey, according to Forbes.
WWE Superstar Titus O’Neil said a week of events in the Tampa Bay community for children and families, as well as hospital visits, had to be canceled.
“So it’s not just the economic impact,” O’Neil said. “It’s also the social responsibility that we try to take everywhere we go.”
Before the second night of WrestleMania 36, O’Neil told 8 On Your Side he had something special planned. He became an impromptu host after Rob Gronkowski won a match.
“I think after this is all said and done, hopefully there will be a greater appreciation of teachers, there will be a greater appreciation of health professionals a greater appreciation for first responders,” O’Neil said.
Known in the ring as a Killer Bee, Brian Blair appeared in WrestleMania during the 1980s.
“And I wrestled in front of 90,000 plus people,” he said.
Blair also recalls early matches from his career wrestling in Tampa in front of nobody.
“We had to perform to the best of our ability to move forward,” he said. “So these guys find themselves in the same situation and they are making the not only most of it, they’re going above and beyond.”
Life as we know it may feel like a wrestler pinned to the mat, but Blair said it is important to stay positive.
“And realize this is a temporary thing,” he said. “You’re not going to see wrestling with empty crowds forever.”
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