#CancelCrownJewel: It’s Time for WWE to Re-Examine its Relationship with Saudi Arabia

WWE Crown Jewel logo

Just last Tuesday, WWE made a huge announcement as they continued their build to Crown Jewel, the second of two major shows being held in Saudi Arabia in 2018.

As part of Smackdown Live, WWE revealed that Shinsuke Nakamura would be facing the returning Rey Mysterio in singles action for the World Cup. That same night, Jeff Hardy and Randy Orton had qualified for the tournament, joining John Cena, who received an automatic entry, and Kurt Angle, who qualified by winning a battle royal the night prior.

With the announced Nakamura/Mysterio dream match, promotion and excitement were at an all-time high, but unbeknownst to WWE at the time, while they were preparing for Crown Jewel, an international crisis was just starting to bubble.

Jamal Khashoggi, U.S. resident, journalist and government critic with ties to the Saudi royal family, who was reporting for The Washington Post, walked into the Saudi consulate over a week ago and never walked out. According to Turkish reports, Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered by assassins, a serious allegation that Saudi officials have vehemently denied. Those same officials allege that Khashoggi, who was there to obtain marriage documentation, left the consulate the same day he arrived. There is no security footage or proof one way or the other right now to support or disprove the allegations (though Turkey claims to have unreleased audio of Khashoggi’s torture and murder).

The world, especially the United States, wants answers. And until those answers exist and the truth comes to light, relations between America and Saudi Arabia are tense and will likely only worsen by the day. Now of course, the United States government doesn’t really have a say with what those in the private sector choose to do, including American businesses and their foreign dealings. But in light of these atrocious allegations, private companies are taking it upon themselves to cut ties with Saudi Arabia and the royal family.


Crown Jewel
Credit: IJR

That brings us to WWE, Crown Jewel and the 10-year, multi-million dollar deal the company signed to produce events in Saudi Arabia, much like Greatest Royal Rumble and November’s upcoming show.

Stephanie McMahon recently said the reason why WWE has been so successful is because the company listens to its fans. Of course, WWE doesn’t always listen to its audience and as some would say, they probably listen less than 50 percent. But, if the company was wise, this would be one of those times where they should listen as its not just fans imploring WWE to do the right thing and #CancelCrownJewel. In addition to loyal viewers, members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee are calling for the company to not just postpone and/or cancel Crown Jewel, but to really re-evaluate the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia.

“There should be a pause,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said in an interview with IJR. “I want a complete rethinking of our relationship.”

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) took it one step further, suggesting that because of Linda McMahon‘s cabinet position as head of the Small Business Administration, the U.S. government should take a bigger role in seeing to whether Crown Jewel should go on.

“Private enterprise is private enterprise, different than a governmental entity,” he said. “But because [Linda McMahon] is part of the president’s cabinet, it falls into the grey area where the administration really should give it some through and maybe even prevail upon them not doing it.”

Greatest Royal Rumble Fallout

Greatest Royal Rumble
Credit: WWE

To some fans, if WWE chooses to go ahead with Crown Jewel, that will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That’s because this is not the first element of controversy that has surrounded WWE’s recent deal with Saudi Arabia.

The backlash began prior to Greatest Royal Rumble when it was announced that the women would not be making the trip as they were not welcome on the card. At the time, Triple H defended the decision saying that change was gradual and that he was confident that in the near future, the women would be wrestling in Saudi Arabia much like they had in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. However, it’s hard to see that being the case as after a WWE ad that featured female wrestlers in their wrestling attire aired during the Greatest Royal Rumble, the Saudi General Sports Authority apologized to people who watched the show and basically said, it would never happen again. This is a pretty easy conclusion to draw. If the Saudi officials don’t want ads to air with women in them, it seems completely unlikely that they would ever allow women to perform live in their country.

And while the absence of the women was the most glaring point of controversy both leading up to and after Greatest Royal Rumble, it certainly wasn’t the only. Syrian-born Sami Zayn was reportedly kept home from the event due to his cultural roots. Two presumed-to-be royals almost got into a fight in the stands. Commentary espoused pro-Saudi views. Ariya Daivari noted that he received death threats due to a segment he and his brother Shawn did which painted their native Iran in a negative light. Not to mention the 10-minute propaganda ad touting the country’s advances and the Vision 2030 plan that aired in the middle of the broadcast.

But despite all of these issues, WWE, which reportedly received around 45 million dollars just for the Greatest Royal Rumble, opted to still go ahead with plans for Crown Jewel.

That begs the question, does WWE have a red line or line in the sand as to what it would take for them to cancel Crown Jewel and rethink their partnership with Saudi Arabia as U.S. senators are urging? If not mistreatment of women or human rights violations, perhaps murder will serve as that point of no return. If not, it certainly should.

What Happens if the Crown Jewel Goes On?

Early Sunday morning, it seemed WWE was taking a step in the right direction as mentions of Crown Jewel and links to buy tickets were removed in various places from the website. However, what appeared to be early action leading to the show’s cancellation was merely a mistake. According to Dave Meltzer, WWE is still planning to go ahead with Crown Jewel as scheduled. They even announced that two more World Cup qualifying matches will be taking place this week on Monday Night Raw as Seth Rollins will face Drew McIntyre and Dean Ambrose will face Dolph Ziggler for two of the remaining four spots.

With seemingly no plans to cancel or even postpone the event, WWE is putting itself in a bad position, not just with fans, senators and investors, but with their own talent as well. According to Bryan Alvarez, who has said he’s talked with several wrestlers, most of them don’t even want to go to Saudi Arabia but know they have no choice.

As of right now, the wrestling world much like America, is still waiting on answers. But that being said, if answers haven’t come by November 2nd, it would no doubt be in WWE’s best interest to postpone or cancel Crown Jewel. There is much more at stake than the money here as continuing to go ahead with an event while these allegations hang over head, is showing the wrong image for a company that has prided itself on encouraging and informing global change at the highest levels. The Khashoggi murder allegation has brought to light other ways that Prince Muhammad bin Salman has been, as The Economist wrote, “more of a rogue than a reformer.”

Perhaps Saudi Arabia is not as committed to reform and modernization as America once believed and if that’s the case, WWE is getting into bed and cozying up with an unknown entity and one that shouldn’t be trusted. And they are doing so at a dangerous level. It was recently reported that Kane, who is currently the Mayor of Knox County, Tennessee, will be at Crown Jewel in a tag team match with the returning Shawn Michaels, who is coming out of retirement to wrestle for the first time in 10 years. Kane was also at Super Showdown and in order to facilitate this as well as his Crown Jewel appearance, WWE gave $100,000 to the Knoxville Public Safety Foundation, a charity that helps local police and firefighters in times of need.

Simply put, if Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi assassins, Kane, a U.S. elected official, was essentially paid in blood money. That’s not a good look for the mayor and it’s not a good look for WWE.

As it stands, WWE’s position has been weak at best. The company offered a brief and less than satisfactory response, merely noting that they are “currently monitoring the situation.”

If Twitter is any indication right now (just search #CancelCrownJewel to see how people feel), for fans, that answer isn’t good enough. We’ll learn a lot about what WWE chooses to do based on how promotion for the World Cup is treated on this week’s RAW and Smackdown. Vince McMahon and his company have a decision to make and it’s a decision that will have far-reaching impacts. If it turns out Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi officials, a wrong decision could have devastating consequences as well.