Wrestling with Saudi Arabia

When does a professional wrestling show morph into international politics and propaganda?

How did you spend your Friday afternoon?

If you said watching an elaborate infomercial for Saudi Arabia in the guise of a WWE wrestling show, then congratulations! We think alike. Shhhh, don’t tell the boss.

WWE ran the “Greatest Royal Rumble” Friday afternoon live from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia during US work hours. I caught part of it live and watched the rest in the evening on replay. It is the first event as part of a major financial deal between the wrestling powerhouse and the oil-rich nation.

We won’t know how much WWE made from their deal until their next quarterly report to stock investors, but it’s safe to say it was a lot. We do know it is a 10-year deal. Rumors have said that it is worth 8 figures per year. One report claimed up to $200 million over the next ten years.

The presentation reminded me of a WrestleMania event – grandiose, elaborate, and 5 hours long. The show was stacked with every major wrestler the company had, and WWE pulled out all the stops on the pomp and circumstance, probably because the Saudis were footing the bill.

The show often felt more like a Saudi propaganda onslaught than a wrestling show. Probably because that’s exactly what it was. The desert oil barons didn’t shell out mega-bucks, because they are just huge fans of the squared circle. The “Greatest Royal Rumble” is a small part of the Saudi’s Vision 2030 program, purported to be a “social and economic reform” program, allegedly spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and necessitated by the negative economic effects of low oil prices. In practice, it looks like basic international PR.

The Saudi General Sports Authority has been a key element in the country’s “charm offensive” in recent years, and this show was no different. They intended to impress, and they did. Each major baby face wrestler and even some of the heels got massive pyro and fireworks displays, where this year’s WrestleMania barely had a sparkler. Heck, I’ve seen fewer fireworks at July 4th celebrations.

But while the flare was spectacular, perhaps the most memorable part of the whole show had to be the Saudi propaganda vignettes. They were unforgettable. Did you know Saudi women are now proud of their country? A high-ranking female official with the General Sports Authority told us so. Did you know that Saudi Arabia is advancing women’s rights? They proudly declared that women have recently been granted the right to drive. Wow!

It was all hilarious in a surreal way, being aired on the streaming service of a company that claims it is leading the way in the “women’s evolution” – a tagline WWE uses to champion itself. It’s especially rich considering women weren’t allowed to wrestle on the show or participate in any way.

Meanwhile, the broadcast announcers were tasked with telling the audience about how great Saudi Arabia is - ad nauseum. (I have no doubt that the entire company was given a red carpet welcome. The royal family knows how to throw a spectacular party for the sake of impressing.) But strangely, there was no mention of the beheading of Christians during commentary or any other inconvenient issues like that though. Hmmm.

WWE is a private business, and I am not going to complain about them doing business. Plenty of American companies work with the Saudis. And I don’t exactly blame the Saudis for using the WWE, since it makes sense from their perspective.

But the nauseating thing was how blatant the propaganda was and how hypocritical WWE was. And I will definitely complain about the effort to whitewash their murderous history of beheading anyone caught abandoning Islam for salvation in Christ, not to mention countless other abuses through the years. If Saudi Arabia is great, let the show and event speak for itself and own up to reality of the nation’s past. Whenever you have to be told how wonderful things are, they obviously aren’t.

WWE has long sought international markets outside of Europe for growth. They have targeted China and India in the past, but those have been slow to produce revenue. In Saudi Arabia, WWE has found some quick cash, and they are clearly happy to tow any line to keep it.

Perhaps this GIF resulting from the show sums up WWE's efforts here best:

Comments
No. 1-2
Nick Kammer
Nick Kammer

Editor

Thank you for commenting on this article. You are my new favorite reader. Those are good points.
Supposedly, the Saudi prince paying for the show also had a list of wrestlers he expected to attend, including Yokozuna and Ultimate Warrior. Both are obviously dead, which the prince didn't know. Baffling.

FloridaMan
FloridaMan

First thing's first, the wrestlers should've come in two at a time down two different ramps. It'd have made the match faster. They already tried a 40 man rumble and it was kind of a miss.

Second, why was there no outrage over the women being blocked from the card? Just a month ago they were raising hell over the fact that a pre-Mania battle royale was named after an abusive thieving pimp and now they're silent? What gives?