Behind The Curtain at WWE SmackDown

A WWE production is nothing to laugh at. For decades the global icon of professional wrestling…excuse me, Sports Entertainment…has been producing multiple and successful weekly television shows across several different networks of television and viewed by countless people across the globe. The amount of work that goes into setting up, fully executing, and then tearing down a production of this magnitude is both terrifying and amazing and it often goes unappreciated and unnoticed by us all.

This past Friday I was afforded the opportunity to work at the most recent WWE Smackdown event on the campus of Ohio State University, and this article will give all of you an idea of what goes on behind the scenes as I was fortunate enough to be present for and witness the WWE machine grinding away in all it’s sports entertaining glory.

I arrived at the arena around 5pm, ushered in thru a service entrance that most locals seemed to be using for their jobs they had inside the arena, However, it was apparent immediately that this was no ordinary event as there were 2 WWE superstars, that I unfortunately did not recognize, doing a photo shoot immediately to my left. And then to my right was the area where they would go on to shoot pre-taped interviews with The Usos and also Riddle and Nakamura, all led by the amazing and stunning Kayla Braxton.

So immediately, as a fan, I am overwhelmed with my location…I was dead center in the middle of everything “backstage WWE” and within just a few yards of the hallowed “Gorilla position.”

What followed over the next few hours took some getting used to. Casually seeing the Superstars we all know and love, and also the production staff some of whom are true professional wrestling royalty, just mingling about and casually chatting away with everyone was an honor to be privy to…and also just a bit overwhelming.

The general rule for the evening for myself and others in the area was “do not speak unless spoken to” and also “no cell phones at any time.” Both were fair and reasonable requests for sure, but it didn’t stop me from rubbing shoulders with and getting the occasional “whats up/how ya doing?” from so many Superstars, including Pat McAfee, The Usos, and The Miz among others.

My first encounter, and also the first of many times that I said “oh sh!t” out loud that night, was when I turned around and suddenly there was Michael Cole coming backstage from out in the arena where everyone was working on things for the evening’s show. And right behind him was, of course, Pat McAfee. Both said hi and went on by, obviously busy prepping for the show. I told them to have a good show while completely stammering over my own fandom and words.

Of note: the arena was off limits to all non-WWE employees prior to the doors opening for the public. However, I was able to get a quick glimpse of a few talents in the ring working on some moves and also a rehearsal for what would end up being, unbeknownst to me, the finish of the night’s show. Very cool things to see and experience all right out of the gate just after my arrival.

And from Kofi Kingston to Sheamus to Drew McIntyre and just about everyone on the Smackdown roster, sans Heyman and Reigns as they were not present, all the talent were extremely friendly but laser-focused on the evening’s events. There were multiple pre-tapes being done, including the scene with the Madcap Moss’ return in the ambulance. Multiple WWE staff working on hair and lighting, camera angles, directing shots, and basically just getting work done all evening long until the show went off-air.

It wasn’t chaotic or frantic, but controlled, detailed, and purposeful. It was very impressive the professionalism and attention to detail that everyone put in, including Moss who was working with producers on facials, body positioning, and whether he looked jacked enough for the shot. All of this was done under the nearby and watchful eyes of some of the greats from WWE history: Bruce Pritchard, Michael P.S. Hayes, and John Laurenitis. I was truly in awe of what was happening around me and how well-oiled this WWE machine truly is. I developed a new appreciation for this company that night.

Doors opened for fans around 6:45pm and everything changed. I was relocated to my “area” for the for the evening, just off to the side of Gorilla but out in the arena itself. I was given a monitor to watch the feed from the television cameras, but none of this changed the fact that I was still within arms reach of the Superstars we all know and love. Seeing these stars up close and personal is truly a sight to behold.

Some random notes from my experience:

РAttendance: floor and lower bowl mostly full; upper level tarped off/unsold; set/screen takes up 1/3 of arena so those seats went unsold as well. Heard the count was over 5,000 on the night. 
– Drew McIntyre is a MONSTER of a man, and just as nice as you’d hope.
– New Day is as funny and friendly off-screen as they are on-camera.
– Ricochet: damn, he small! But was always smiling!
– Raquel Rodriguez: as tall and as beautiful in person as you see on-screen. STAR.
– Aaliyah: Not over. At all. Arena was silent for her angle. Seems talented though.
– Producers are very hands-on: Jason Jordan, Tyson Kidd, Fit Finlay all working hard.
– Makeup and Hair aren’t just for the female talent!
– Safety is priority #1 – full medical team at ringside in the event of injury/emergency.
– Baron Corbin keeps to himself, still one of the hardest workers in WWE.
– OVER: Riddle, Usos, Miz, AJ, New Day, Drew.
– Most of the female talent seemed to travel together – all were quick with a smile!
– Talent leave all evening, most have drivers/valet but thanked everyone on their way out

What we, as fans, see on TV is just an absolute fraction of what the WWE does each and every week. This was very apparent backstage as some many staff members were doing so many different things, as talent had their own responsibilities from learning lines and match production, to their outfits, various looks, hair, etc. There were over 15 semi-trucks full of items used for each show and also electronic trucks for recording and television broadcast. Also of note were the countless local union members helping with setup and teardown of sound and lighting rigging and stage sets, all while our beloved talent mingles thru everyone and finds their way to the next town or off to home. It was truly a sight to behold.

As a fan, there is one last interaction I want to share with everyone that was from the dark match Main Event that aired after the Fox broadcast. The bout featured The Miz and AJ Styles, but its the “before the match” experience I had that I wanted to share with all of you.

I had ran to the restroom, near Gorilla, as the televised main event was happening. When I came out, both the Miz and AJ Styles were standing within 10 feet from me, in full gear and waiting for their cue to head out. I stopped in my tracks, and I was finally completely starstruck. I had spent all evening keeping my fandom at bay, but this was something special I was watching – 2 of the world’s biggest stars, who were about to face each other in the ring, standing there talking about family. Just shooting the breeze and talking about their families. It was as mesmerizing as it was humanizing to witness.

Note: Their dark main event was great, with Miz just sh&tting all over Ohio State which of course generated tremendous heat, as Miz always brilliantly does. And then AJ Styles comes out, making the save and doing an absolutely spot-on Stone Cold Steve Austin impression as he asked us all if we wanted to see him whoop Miz’s ass.

What came next was a deafening HELL YEAH from everyone in the building.

This experience was one I will never forget. Being a solid human being I followed all of the rules and have little to show for my time amongst the hallowed hall that is the WWE backstage area. But that doesn’t matter as I am thankful for the opportunity to be part of an experience that for many was just another show during the week, but for me was likely once-in-a-lifetime.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.