WWE made history in Saudi Arabia last week.
This was after Crown Jewel, WWE’s pay-per-view event, held for the second consecutive year in Riyadh featured a women’s wrestling match for the first time in the Kingdom.
However, the event was not wrapped up without its fair share of controversy.
Not everything went according to plan when an unprecedented situation arose at the Riyadh airport on Thursday where more than 175 superstars, including production crew and employees were left stranded for almost a day after the flight failed to take off.
Bad day on Saudi Arabia, I hope to arrive before my birth…..
— “EL IDOLO” ANDRADE (@AndradeCienWWE) November 1, 2019
Atlas Air, the airline charter used by WWE issued an apology citing mechanical failure.
But the rumor mill kept buzzing over the weekend after several reports emerged suggesting that there is more to than what meets the eye.
According to Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer and former WWE Spanish commentator Hugo Savinovich the situation arose after WWE Chairman Vince McMahon got into some sort of disagreement while in Saudi Arabia and went to the extent of cutting the feed of Crown Jewel event as the oil-rich country had failed to pay the network for the broadcast.
As a result the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly retaliated by detaining a plane set to fly 175 WWE staffers, including numerous high-profile wrestlers, out of the country. All passengers then sat on the tarmac for more than six hours.
“It was a very difficult and dangerous situation because of the fact that Saudi Arabia had already been in serious trouble when they killed that reporter in Turkey at the embassy. So the boys were a little bit – not a little bit, they were very, very concerned,” Hugo added.
“Vince (McMahon) had left the country already and Brock (Lesnar) had his own plane. It was just about big, big money, millions of dollars that this guy did not send and Vince got upset and cut the feed for South Arabia,’ Savinovich told THE HANNIBAL TV.
“And that has the Prince upset, and it stopped them from leaving the country and got them off the plane,” Hugo added.
“So basically what they’re doing is they’re originally trying to make it look like it was just a mechanical situation, but an executive from the company – well, my wife had died, so they were just calling to comfort me. At the same time, I was told not to mention any names but they were concerned, they were very concerned,” he explained.
“A friend of mine that is from Saudi Arabia, that I’ve known for years and years since the era of VHS tapes that I used to do from Puerto Rico, he also gave me the scoop about what happened at the airport,” Hugo explained. “So a lot of people will be talking more about it. The boys are very upset, so I don’t know what the deal is.”
“Of course, we always know that money talks. And if Vince gets the millions of dollars, and maybe the Middle East – that big TV contract, because it didn’t happen and in one day he lost over 200 million dollars (in stock value). So, it’s a very complicated situation but the talent was, you know, I don’t want to use the word kidnapped but he ordered a kidnapping and the guys were stopped from leaving the country.”
Meanwhile, WWE released a statement ahead of SmackDown on Friday night and said that the entire fiasco was due to “mechanical issues”. But various reports and reactions by WWE superstars continue to dispute this theory.
After the delay in Saudi Arabia, several wrestlers expressed their anger on social media, claiming that they will not return next year.
“Larry, I’m home. I guess I didn’t want it enough to pay for my own charter, but I’m home now. #NotTop20,” Luke Harper posted an image on his Instagram account.
“Bad day on Saudi Arabia, I hope to arrive before my birth,” Andrade tweeted.
Kinda starting to think the WWE personnel is being held against their will in Saudi Arabia currently pic.twitter.com/45VJCX7qwT
— (brandon) |🐿 (@SirSquirrelz) November 1, 2019
The WWE/ Saudi situation according to WON pic.twitter.com/XjI5B4ubJP
— Syed Sardin (@adibzaini) November 3, 2019
At this point and time We need all the prayers… brother.
— Rusev (@RusevBUL) November 1, 2019
Couldn’t pay me enough to go back ..
Well that’s not true, I need a second pool, so…..
— Karl Anderson (@KarlAndersonWWE) November 2, 2019
Incidentally, WWE’s stocks have also plummeted following the controversy. Earlier WWE’s stock used to hover around $100 when executives started unloading shares.
However, on Tuesday morning, the price fell $2, before the market opened.
With this story developing at quick pace, WWE came up and denied the reports.
A spokesperson told Forbes’ Alfred Konuwa: “WWE was reached for comment and swiftly denied these allegations, confirming to me its strong relationship with its partners in Saudi Arabia. WWE tells me the feed issues were entirely unrelated to any issues with payment. They reinforced that mechanical issues were a cause of the flight delay and Atlas Air, the charter company, issued an apology in that regard as well.”
All said and done after Crown Jewel, WWE (NYSE: WWE) and the Saudi General Entertainment Authority (GEA) signed a new deal to expand their live event partnership through 2027 to include a second annual large-scale event.