WWE doing shows for the Saudi Arabian government this year rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, including us. Between the blatant murder of Jamal Khashoggi, the exclusion of female performers, and Saudi Arabia’s human rights record in general, getting in bed with them seemed like a very bad idea. Unfortunately, WWE had already made that bed, and as of now it looks like they’re still lying in it.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WWE has already nailed down the dates for two Saudi Arabian shows in 2019, one in May and one in November. That puts them in basically the same spots on the schedule as last year, when the Greatest Royal Rumble was in late April and Crown Jewel was in early November. So unless anything worse happens than being called out by mainstream pop culture figures and U.S. Senators alike, it looks like we’re about to enter year two of what’s apparently a ten-year deal between Saudi Arabia and WWE.
Aside from valid political and moral objections to the very idea of collaborating with the Saudi royal family, this doesn’t bode will for the company’s long term booking either. Both of the Saudi shows in 2018 were built like major PPVs, with angles on television and big stars of the past returning to promote their appearances. If WWE keeps treating the shows that way, it means all other booking is going to keep getting interrupted twice a year by whatever the Saudi Prince wants to see.
That’s particularly bad news for the women’s division. We saw in October how Raw and Smackdown were too busy building to Crown Jewel to do much promotion for WWE Evolution. If women aren’t allowed in the Saudi shows, and WWE spends weeks building those shows, then the women are going to keep missing out on more than just the shows themselves.
A continued focus on Saudi Arabia is also bad news for anyone who won’t or can’t go there for other reasons, like Daniel Bryan and Sami Zayn. For that matter, there are almost certainly LGBTQ performers in WWE who’ve never come out. With society evolving at the speed it is, they might have been thinking they’d be able to go public before too long, but now that would mean being unable to safely travel to Saudi Arabia, and possibly watching your career suffer if you don’t. I’m not here to speculate about who’s secretly gay in WWE (I have private conversations with my friends for that), I’m just making the point that this ongoing deal potentially has negative consequences for all sorts of people, not just the women’s division.
Of course it’s also possible that after the public shaming that accompanied Crown Jewel, WWE will stop making such a big deal about the Saudi shows, at least on American TV, and treat them more like freestanding house shows than heavily promoted PPVs. That would make things a bit more tolerable, but we probably won’t know until April if it’s the case. It’s also hard to feel too hopeful about even that possibility, when we’re so familiar with Vince McMahon’s tendency to do whatever he wants regardless of any public reaction.