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The Greatest Royal Rumble has got to be the strangest event WWE has produced in recent years. A few weeks after WrestleMania and one week before another WWE PPV; WWE has seemingly created a loaded show out of thin air; with world title defenses and matches with part-times stars like Triple H and The Undertaker.
The story of how the Greatest Royal Rumble came to be is both very simple and complex. The simple version is that the Saudi Arabian government is paying WWE a lot of money to host major events in the country. This is common in the middle east; and earlier this year Saudi Arabia announced a $64 billion investment in it's entertainment sector and is paying to have major Western entertainment acts, from Cirque du Soleil to Andrea Bocelli, perform in the country. WWE, which has run events in the Middle East before, is one of the acts being brought to the country.
The more complex story is that WWE is taking a lot of money from a government that is not particularly enlightened. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy run under Sharia law and lags far behind other major countries in a variety of fields, from human rights to income equality. I won't get into the governmental structure of Saudi Arabia and the numerous human rights violations that can be easily found in the news; just know that taking money from the government raises some moral questions about WWE.
Two major qualifiers have been issued by Saudi Arabia that WWE has readily agreed to. The first is the segregated seating at the event, which takes place at King Abdullah International Stadium in Jeddah. Tickets have two options, one for single men and one for families. To qualify for a "family" ticket, at least one female must be a part of the group. The tickets available for single men are all in the upper deck of the stadium, while the lower level tickets are reserved for the families. This has obviously upset single men, who quickly bought the estimated 10,000 reserved tickets, as they can't get a good seat and there are no longer tickets available.
The implication is obvious; the Saudi Arabian government wants the event to appear as being an event for families, particularly women, and not just for single men. A western event needs a western-style audience. Segregated seating is a really bad look; and it is something that would never fly at a WWE event in the US; but since WWE has taken the money from Saudi Arabia, they have agreed to play under their rules.
The second big qualifier is that WWE will not be allowed to use female performers on the show. Saudi Arabia's treatment of women is their most well-known transgression, and women only recently earned the right to drive a car, so I guess wrestling in front of a big audience is too much to ask. Again, WWE has readily accepted this condition so they could collect the money from the government.
The lack of women on the show has gotten a lot of attention, particularly because WWE has pushed hard the idea that they are being very progressive with their women wrestlers and just had three women's matches on the main card of WrestleMania. WWE even went as far as to promote a Sasha Banks/Alexa Bliss match that took place last year in Abu Dhabi as being a groundbreaking moment for women in the Middle East. How can WWE be so hypocritical in promoting women so hard, yet accepting the Saudi Arabian condition that women would not perform on a PPV?
My opinion is that anyone that really believed WWE promotion of their women's division was due because they truly wanted equality for their talent should take a step back and examine the industry that is professional wrestling. It is a business and WWE's goal is to make as much money as possible. At one point; WWE believed they could make more money promoting the female stars and it would also make them more attractive for investors if they came off as a progressive company that was giving equal opportunity to women. For the Greatest Royal Rumble, WWE believes that they can make more money by NOT having women on the show at all; since that was the condition the Saudi Arabian government has dictated. At the end of the day, it all comes down to money, and for the Greatest Royal Rumble, money has determined that women can't be on the show.
Now that doesn't absolve WWE from blame; they deserve to be criticized for being hypocritical in their public messaging. WWE doesn't HAVE to go to Saudi Arabia; they are in great shape financially and when their new TV deal is announced; their stock will likely be at an all-time high. WWE doesn't need the Saudi Arabian deal to get in the black and they can easily afford to say no in order to remain true to their public messaging; but the cash grab in the Middle East is more important to WWE then whatever their "principals" are when it comes to equality.
I hate the idea of people saying that you can't blame WWE for doing business with Saudi Arabia. Yes, many companies do business in the country; and plus there is a section of people who hate that people are trying to play politics and address social issues through wrestling. I get that; and I certainly don't want to talk politics in this column; but WWE has created this situation themselves.
Other companies may do business in Saudi Arabia; but how many of those companies have spent the last year marketing themselves as a progressive organization promoting women? WWE has intentionally brought social issues and women's equality into their own company; that wasn't done by meddling journalists or "social justice warriors." So when WWE tries to market themselves as a progressive group that treats women as equals, and then a situation like the Greatest Royal Rumble comes up, they deserve to be called out for their hypocrisy.
Lastly; one of the prevailing defenses for WWE has been that as Triple H claimed earlier this week in an interview, that they are working on getting women on the show in future years, and that this can all be spun as a triumph for WWE's progressive policy instead of a black eye. Boy, wouldn't that be nice! As Jim Ross said, they can't effect change if they are not there!
Of course; if WWE really wanted to effect change, they wouldn't be running a major show in Saudi Arabia without women at all. You want to really stand up for women's rights? How about telling Saudi Arabia that either women can be on the show, or your not interested in working with them? Again, unless WWE is in dire financial health they can afford to pass on this offer. But no, WWE is happy to cash the check and agree to whatever the government wants to happen. Not only does WWE look hypocritical, but they look weak, pathetic, and in serious need of a government to prop them up and dictate what the company is going to do.
The show itself is also bizarre. For one, there are major matches that could headline PPVs, such as The Undertaker vs Rusev in a casket match, and Triple H vs John Cena, and those matches have had literally zero build. Between Triple H and Cena, there haven't been any promos, or segments on RAW, or even a explanation for why they are having the match in the first place. The same can be said about Rusev and The Undertaker. You would think that having those type of matches on PPV would have fans really hyped up; but with no build it feels like they are happening on a house show.
The show is going to be built on the Greatest Royal Rumble match, which is being billed as a 50 man Royal Rumble. The weird thing about that match is that WWE hasn't announced any stakes for it at all. Part of the reason the Royal Rumble works as an hour-long match is because the stakes are very high; the winner gets a title shot at WrestleMania. Since the Greatest Royal Rumble match has no stakes at all; I'm not sure fans can remain interested in a 90+ minute match when there are no real stakes. I'm very surprised that they haven't at least announced the winner would get a title shot at some point.
One of the only matches on the card with any real build will be the Universal Championship match between Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns. After Lesnar unexpectedly retained the title at WrestleMania, for some unexplained reason Reigns was given a rematch in a cage match at the Greatest Royal Rumble. Lesnar apparently signed a contract extension for an undetermined length around WrestleMania; and the length of that contract will largely determine whether or not Lesnar retains his title again.
There is a belief that since the crowd in Saudi Arabia is going to be mostly (by law) families, they will be much more likely to cheer Reigns than the WrestleMania crowd (or really any normal WWE crowd) so it would be the perfect time to give him the title. Ultimately though; it shouldn't really matter how the crowd in the arena reacts to Reigns. WWE doesn't need Reigns to be really over in Saudi Arabia; the government is paying for the show so it isn't like they need a big drawing card for the Saudi Arabian market; but he does need to be really over everywhere else. The fact that one specific crowd might cheer him is irrelevant if the rest of the audiences around the world doesn't buy him as the top guy.
I was a little surprised to hear the reaction a lot of people had to Paul Heyman's promo on Monday; that it was boring and stale and they didn't really care. I thought it was an excellent promo; but there is no denying fans are tired of this storyline. Considering the storyline peaked at WrestleMania, and fans at WrestleMania were noticeably disinterested in the match, I'm not sure the feud really needed to keep on going.
The rest of the card will have to save the show; the ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship (Seth Rollins vs Finn Balor vs Samoa Joe vs The Miz) should be the best match on the show; and the WWE Championship match between Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles has at least some build to it; and under the right circumstances could be an awesome match. I'm not sold on the show being great; it is going to be around five hours long and features a lot of matches that haven't been built at all; so I'm setting expectations fairly low with the exception of the Intercontinental and WWE Championship matches.