Corey Graves Says WWE’s Saudi Arabia Shows Are ‘Not About Politics For The Talent’

“Corey Graves‘ new podcast, After the Bell, is the first show on WWE’s podcast network, and the Smackdown announcer has been promoting it with various media outlets. As someone who works for WWE and is able to get exclusive interviews with talent, Graves promised in an interview with Sports Illustrated that he’s, “going to give an honest view of WWE and outside WWE. I’m looking to give a different perspective and give the point of view from within the machine.”

Another statement in the same interview, however, makes it look like After the Bell will really be, like the new WWE talk show The Bump, another outlet for the perspective of the machine, as one might expect from an official WWE podcast hosted by a current WWE announcer. Graves shared his and what he describes as the roster’s perspective on the upcoming Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia, the latest in WWE’s series of shows funded by the Saudi royal family:

“It’s a long, grueling trip over there, but most of the talent like it because it’s a pretty good payday. To me, it’s super exciting to have these totally unusual attractions like Cain Velasquez-Brock Strowman and Tyson Fury-Braun Strowman. If you take any sort of political feeling out of the equation, aren’t you, as a fan of WWE, aren’t you curious and excited to watch these attractions?

It is what it is. This is not about politics for the talent, it’s about doing what we do best on the planet all over the planet. Everyone that works for any company has things they love and things they don’t love, but what we’re all focused on is having to fly back to Smackdown in Buffalo the next day.”

But some WWE talent has expressed political objections to Crown Jewel, including Graves himself, who posted, “A drink to remember that no matter how bad WE think we have it, at least our women have rights and we all have freedom of expression,” after a previous Saudi Arabia show. Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, and John Cena have reportedly refused to work on these events. Sami Zayn has been barred from working on the shows due to his Syrian heritage, and Iranian-American wrestler Ariya Daivari received threats for participating in a segment that catered to Saudi nationalism.

These government-funded shows that feature “totally unusual attractions” so obviously have political significance that U.S. Senators asked WWE not to do the one right after the killing of Jamal Khashoggi (but WWE continued with the show anyway.) And this doesn’t even get into the issues that can be taken with how the Crown Jewel events clash with WWE’s work with GLAAD and women’s empowerment initiatives.

Basically, listen to After the Bell if you want more of Corey Graves’ voice and some exclusives with WWE talent, but don’t expect it to be a more “honest view” when it comes to WWE in a real-world context than the average company PR statement just because it’s delivered by someone with neck tattoos.