World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE has historically never been a company on the favorable end of social issues, and their recent deal with Saudi Arabia is no exception.
Their first event in Saudi Arabia took place in April and was called “The Greatest Royal Rumble,” which is a spin on their classic event just named the Royal Rumble.
This event was controversial amongst wrestling fans mostly due to the fact that because of archaic laws in Saudi Arabia, the female WWE wrestlers were not allowed to perform at this event. Female wrestlers such as Becky Lynch and former UFC champion Ronda Rousey are among the most popular performers the company has to offer, male or female. In addition to the women, another wrestler who performs under the name Sami Zayn reportedly was barred from the show due to his Syrian heritage.
The event went on and was ultimately not that big of a deal in the grand scheme of things so another was set for Nov. 2 and would be called “Crown Jewel.” This event became even more controversial due to the death of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi Arabian journalist. I won’t delve in to all of the details of Khashoggi’s death, but in brief he used his platform to be critical of the Saudi government in american publications such as The Washington Post and was murdered during a visit to the Middle East. The murder was believed by many to be perpetrated by the Saudi government in retaliation to his writings, and I believe the evidence supports this.
After the Saudi government’s pathetic attempt to cover up the murder, people began to call the United States’ relationship with them into question. Specifically in relation to the topic of this column, the WWE came under fire.
As the show approached the push back against the show was coming from the general public instead of just wrestling fans like the last one. That first show and many of the non-wrestling things on it were revisited such as video packages aired during which praised Saudi Arabia as a progressive country because women can now drive there. Nevermind the fact that women in many other countries have been able to drive for decades and that women in Saudi Arabia who protested for this right were arrested for speaking out and still have yet to be released.
A few performers, notably one named Daniel Bryan pulled out of the show even before the Khashoggi killing because of the previously mentioned situation with Sami Zayn and the countries treatment of homosexuals. In Saudi Arabia, homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. How incredibly progressive of them.
The company still pushed through despite all of this and went on with the event. I watched it for the sake of this column and it was bizarre from top to bottom. I won’t fully get into why I thought the show was terrible, but a few of the reasons include a main event where the total age of the four men in the ring was a combined 206. These men were nearly killing themselves in a failed attempt to have decent professional wrestling match. Triple H, who is 49 years old and admittedly someone I am a big fan of, tore one of his pecs early on and somehow managed to complete the match. Shawn Michaels, who came out of retirement after nearly ten years for this event, busted himself open attempting a diving move from the inside of the ring to the outside. Overall, I thought it was just very sad to watch men who were once my heroes desperately cling on to any ounce of youth they had left.
Wrestling aside, the show featured none of the Saudi propaganda from the first, in fact I counted a total zero mentions of the words “Saudi Arabia” throughout the entirety of the broadcast. This is interesting because the always make it a point to state where they are, especially if it is a foreign country.
To get into another reason that this show was bizarre, the event was built around what they called a “world cup” tournament to prove who the best wrestler in the world was. Every wrestler in this “world cup” tournament was from America and it was won by Shane McMahon, who is in fact not a wrestler and was not even a competitor in the tournament because wrestling is wacky. In maybe the biggest case of irony in this whole thing, Shane McMahon took to Twitter moments after his big victory to promote a movie produced by his wife called “A Private War.” What is this movie about? Well it is the story of Marie Colvin, a journalist who was killed by a hostile foreign government. Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.
Overall though, does this shock anyone? It should be a surprise to anyone who is a fan of professional wrestling. I am a lifelong WWE fan and this is far from the worst of their offenses. We’re talking about the same company who had a performer, Owen Hart, literally die in the ring live on pay-per-view in 1999 and then continued the show less than 30 minutes after the incident. Men who Hart had been friends with in real life were forced to wrestle on the very blood splattered canvas on which he had just tragically lost his life.
Despite all of this, I find it difficult to not watch. The WWE has made it a point to sign wrestlers from all over the world who made their names in other companies who I’ve followed for years and I don’t want to stop enjoying their work just because they work for people who I find to be morally bankrupt. I can’t fault the wrestlers either. The WWE is the largest professional wrestling company in the world and it provides the best financial opportunity in the industry for them. I am happy that they now have the chance to make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year while doing what they love even if I don’t care much for those in charge. As a fan and an optimist, I just hope that things will change for the better but as a realist I doubt it ever will.