WWE brings fighting, fashion, Smackdown, and more to Bridgestone Arena

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Major sports leagues plagued by abbreviated seasons and schedule stoppages have dominated the COVID-19 era. However, one company has yet to face this circumstance: World Wrestling Entertainment. On Friday evening, the 69-year-old sports entertainment company's popular WWE Smackdown program comes to Nashville's Bridgestone Arena. Since March 2020, the company has missed no weeks of televised programming.

Now, as the world adjusts to a prolonged "new normal," shows like WWE's highlight how athletics can still deliver evolved entertainment options in a challenging era.

Does pro wrestling still have soap opera elements? Sure. However -- amongst many things -- it now also features current WWE Smackdown Women's Champion Charlotte Flair wearing rare fashion snatched from New York's Fashion Week headlines and Paul Heyman presenting Brock Lesnar, arguably the most lucrative box-office draw in modern combat sports history.

Within a decade, Charlotte Flair -- the daughter of iconic wrestler Ric Flair ("the kiss-stealing, wheelin' and dealin', son of a gun") -- is a 13-time WWE women's world champion (currently the WWE Smackdown Women's Champion).

WWE Smackdown Women's Champion Charlotte Flair confronts Lita on the 1/14/22 edition of WWE Smackdown
WWE Smackdown Women's Champion Charlotte Flair confronts Lita on the 1/14/22 edition of WWE Smackdown

Flair's penchant for wearing haute couture from iconic fashion brands or jewel-encrusted silk and velvet ring robes to the squared circle is a direct homage to her father.

"If you call yourself 'The Opportunity,' you need to look like it," she said.

"As WWE superstars, it's important that we're always wanting to grow, evolve, and get better," she adds.

To that point, in recent months, the presentation of her character has elevated (along with those including current WWE Raw Women's Champion Becky Lynch, multiple-time WWE World Champion Seth "Freakin" Rollins, former women's champ Carmella, and veteran championship-level performer Bobby Lashley), benefitting from the strikingly outlandish work of New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles-based celebrity stylist and image consultant Troy "King Troi" Haynes. Alongside WWE's finest, he's also styled the likes of Tiffany Haddish, Nick Cannon, and Jazmine Sullivan.

A new era for sports entertainment

Never before have so many professional grapplers invested in the aid of a stylist and consultant as much as a wrestling trainer. But this isn't any typical era for the sports entertainment industry, either.

Women wrestlers were once just an afterthought at wrestling shows. But in the past 20 years, they've turned into main-event contributors and multi-million dollar earners who have shown the ability to move television rating and public interest needles for an iconic globetrotting brand.

"[Women] are multifaceted performers now who have earned the company's trust. and are -- just like the men -- now having more than just matches," says Flair. "We're also doing more non-wrestling in-ring segments, too. Also, we have outside-the-ring media appearances too. So that allowed for me to have a need [for King Troi's] work."

Brock Lesnar is a 300-pound mountain of a man who, in the past 25 years, is the only combat sports professional to have claimed heavyweight championships in WWE, Ultimate Fighting Championship, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

More: Why WWE superstar Brock Lesnar was on sidelines at Lipscomb vs. CPA DII-AA championship game

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In the past two decades, the suplex-loving powerhouse has stood alone as a uniquely compelling worldwide box-office drawing attraction in combat sports and sports entertainment. Yet, in the squared circle, one name has stood alongside or across the ring from him during that entire period: Paul Heyman.

As an on-screen character for the past five decades, Paul Heyman is not overselling his excellence when he says -- sans any note of humility, that he's "the best that's ever done his job."

For the most recent 20 of those past 35 years, he has portrayed the ultimate sanctimonious toadie seconding Lesnar as his "advocate" -- a lawyer-as-middle manager seemingly out of place in a CEO's expensive suit. Yet, behind the scenes, he's regarded as a progressive-minded creative with sharp business acumen -- he led his own outlaw-style company, Extreme Championship Wrestling, for most of the 1990s.

Currently, Heyman's character, as showcased with Lesnar, is a hybrid of both. Lesnar's in-ring success at times feels anti-climactic. However, his chances for victory feel significant even when faced with opponents like the previously-mentioned (and thickly muscled) renowned professional wrestler and mixed martial artist like Bobby Lashley or WWE's present 500-plus day holder of the Universal Championship, the aloof and aggressive Jason Momoa-lookalike Roman Reigns.

In this scenario, Heyman plays the shrewd businessman who simultaneously fears and loves the performer he loudly boasts as "[his] client, Brock Lesnar." Heyman's note-perfect character acting in his role makes everything surrounding Lesnar feel like less of a "one-sided wrestling match" and more of an homage to gladiatorial super-fights in the Roman Empire.

"We're at a rare and fascinating moment in [combat sports] history," says Heyman. "There are two fighters, Lesnar and Reigns, who can make valid claims to be both the greatest of all time and best right now. He adds that a fight between the two would "mirror the hype of [heavyweight boxing matches] between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier."

Royal Rumble

2022's first quarter sees WWE not slowing down. Their annual Royal Rumble event is scheduled for January 29. Following that is a February 19 trip to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, for the international debut of the Elimination Chamber event. The company's premier event, Wrestlemania, is scheduled for April 3 at the 100,000-plus person capacity AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas' suburbs.

When asked what, at the core, drives WWE's continued legacy of engaging entertainment, Heyman -- as expected -- makes a grandiose claim. He insinuates that, by having a business model that moves a step faster than the "universe, multiverse, and metaverse," the company succeeds by positively "[disrupting] history." Charlotte Flair adds a more straightforward bottom-line point at the intersection of sports and entertainment.

"Nothing compares to the feeling of being in front of our crowds," she said. "We're still the best of both worlds. It doesn't get any better."

WWE Smackdown at Bridgestone Arena

WWE Smackdown comes to the Bridgestone Arena on January 21. Doors open at 6:45 PM. Tickets are available via WWE.com.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: WWE Smackdown at Bridgestone Arena brings fighting, fashion and more

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