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In March 2018, the WWE signed a 10-year contract with Saudi Arabia’s General Sport Authority (GSA) to hold wrestling events within the kingdom. On November 2, in Riyadh, WWE will air the latest of these events, Crown Jewel, following April’s Greatest Royal Rumble.
The November event has come under fire following the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey on October 2. Despite the Saudi government’s response to the incident, and the ensuing global controversy surrounding the murder, WWE has decided to push forward with the event, issuing this statement:
“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base. Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh. Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event. Full year 2018 guidance is predicated on the staging of the Riyadh event as scheduled.”
Here’s the most important fallout surrounding WWE’s Crown Jewel.
On October 30, Linda McMahon, head of the Small Business Administration under President Donald Trump, and former WWE executive, was asked by TMZ in Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport her thoughts on the WWE not cancelling Crown Jewel amid the Khashoggi investigation.
“If you wanna talk WWE, you’re talking to the wrong McMahon,” McMahon began, referring to her husband and chairman and CEO of the WWE Vince McMahon. She continued, “I don’t run it and I’m not responsible for it … ya gotta talk to Vince.”
McMahon’s response, despite being very short, made it clear she was distancing herself from the event and the WWE itself.
While fans and political commentators voiced their opinions on Crown Jewel, the stars competing in the event itself stayed mum. Then rumors began to fly about both John Cena and Daniel Bryan pulling out of the event. This past week, those rumors were seemingly confirmed when both were officially written out of Crown Jewel by the WWE, despite having high-profile matches scheduled for the show. Neither Cena nor Bryan has issued an official statement on why they aren’t competing.
The same week, the WWE added Hulk Hogan the roster of stars performing at the event. This addition hasn’t widely publicized by the WWE, despite Hogan making comments about going to Saudi Arabia in November this past month.
Throughout the build-up to Crown Jewel and the unfolding of the Khashoggi murder, stock in the WWE began to dip from September’s historic highs. WWE shareholder return has gone down 19.6 percent in the past seven days.
The response to Crown Jewel has been mixed, with fans on both sides of the issue. Many commentators and fans within the pro-wrestling community are lauding the stars for standing up for their values.
John Cena just got replaced for WWE Crown Jewel. So it appears that rumor that Cena refused to perform in Saudi Arabia in wake of Jamal Khashoggi's murder (and the backlash) is true.
— Chris Vannini (@ChrisVannini) October 30, 2018
WWE reschedules its #WWEChampionship match to tonight amid reports wrestler Daniel Bryan will not travel to Saudi Arabia for their controversial #WWECrownJewel PPV Friday. Last night on RAW, John Cena was officially pulled from the event, replaced by Bobby Lashley. https://t.co/GUfctX16yQ
— Trevor Robb (@TrevorRobb_) October 31, 2018
WWE and ECW wrestler Tommy Dreamer took to Facebook to voice his opinion, echoing a similar event in North Korea in 1995, claiming that, again, wrestlers owe the event to the fans, despite the politics involved.
WWE Hall of Famer Mark Henry voiced his disappointment in Cena for pulling out of the event. Talking with TMZ, he called the recent events in the Middle East “a horrible situation” when asked whether or not the WWE should’ve cancelled the Crown Jewel. When asked if he thought Cena and Bryan made the wrong decision by pulling out of the event, Henry said, “I wouldn’t ever say that person is making the wrong decision. I’d say, that’s not the decision that I’d make. I would stand by my guns and I would do what’s good for business.”
His rationale is that Cena and Bryan’s job is to wrestle and to leave the political decisions up to the countries involved, saying the wrestler’s commitment is to their fans.
“I’m a firm believer in not leaving people out to dry,” Henry said. “Our fans, they wanna see you. Give our fans what they want.”
Comedian and host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight John Oliver has been talking about the WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia extensively as part of his larger coverage of the Khashoggi murder.
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) October 29, 2018
Oliver even made a mock Crown Jewel promotional video criticizing the WWE’s decision to continue on with the event.
John Oliver BRUTALISES WWE pic.twitter.com/EhIg2ZV4PW
— Straight Edge Wrestling (@SEW_Podcast) October 29, 2018
As more and more companies are cutting business ties with Saudi Arabia, it is unclear whether the WWE will continue to honor its 10-year contract with the kingdom.
Crown Jewel is set to premiere on the WWE Network at 12 p.m. EST on November 2, with a kickoff show at 11 a.m.