Hello everyone and welcome. You've landed on Planet Kayfabe and on this edition I'm reviewing WWE's part pay-per-view part Saudi sponsored propaganda puff. Yeah, I'm mostly going to talk about the show but the controversy can't be ignored and I'm certainly not going to shy away from it. Agree with my takes or not, you're reading this and you're not wasting your time. You're not going to get wishy-washy PC bullshit. For better or worse you're going to get 100% of me full-on with my very real thoughts on all of this and you're welcome to say your piece in the comments section, or on Twitter or leave a message on my answering machine because it's all about freedom of speech, freedom of expression and trust me, I have a lot of thoughts to express.
Before I get to the show, I know some people boycotted this event going in including a former NoDQ contributor and a couple of well-known podcasters and while I understand their decision, to me it doesn't make a ton of sense because if you're subscribed to the WWE Network, they're getting your $9.99 whether you watched this show or not. It's not like the old PPV days where you could just chose not to buy it. You'd pretty much have to cancel your account before this billing cycle began (which may have meant no Wrestlemania for you) and then sign up again afterwards if you really wanted to teach WWE a lesson, but hey they're getting tens or perhaps more possibly 100's of millions of dollars just for this show, so they'll keep chugging along. However their decision to run a Saudi sponsored event, good business decision or not, is totally open to scrutiny especially with this company constantly patting themselves on the back for how progressive they are and how accepting they are with treating women and the LGBT community fairly in their environment. Then they go somewhere where women are second-class citizens and gays would simply be executed. Not just that they went there, but that they are dealing with the Saudi government. This isn't a private sector business deal where they are reaching out to a market hungry for WWE's brand of entertainment, no, they are dealing with their government and took guaranteed big money to pretty much put all their "Women's Revolution/Evolution" and GLAAD handing Balor Club merch on hold for a bit.
Paul Levesque commented on women not being on the card in what felt like a very company script statement:
"I understand that people are questioning it, but you have to understand that every culture is different and just because you donít agree with a certain aspect of it, it doesnít mean itís not a relevant culture...You canít dictate to a country or a religion about how they handle things but, having said that, WWE is at the forefront of a womenís evolution in the world and what you canít do is affect change anywhere by staying away from it..."
Yeah that "forefront of a women's revolution" is a corporate buzz phrase we've all heard on TV a thousand times and is also hardly true since women's wrestling in Japan has been taken seriously for 50 years and in the United States, TNA featured the best mainstream women's wrestling in the country about 10 years before WWE suddenly realized girls could wrestle too and put them in more serious roles, but whatever. That's not my point. I get that while they are on their soil the WWE has to respect their laws, but there was no reason for WWE to agree to this. Pretty much bending over for the Saudi's for a few days and put them over are some all-inclusive evolving culture just so Vince can get some extra coin to fund the XFL or some shit (speculation on my part, but it wouldn't shock me) I also find it funny how Levesque says "you can't affect change by staying away from it" right after saying that they're just there to put on a show and not to try and influence change in their culture. Whatever. The whole thing felt dirty from the start and this show didn't do much to ease my concerns so lets get into it.
WWE Greatest Royal Rumble live from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
John Cena defeated Triple H in a singles match (3 stars)
They pretty much worked a traditional old-school match which benefits both guys who are in their 40's and have their limitations. It was a good, traditional good-guy vs. bad-guy match. Wisely went on first and the crowd was pretty hot for both, since they are big stars, but especially John Cena since he was the babyface and has been the face of WWE for about 16 years. Nothing fancy here, but it wasn't bad. Just a match that you'd likely see at any house show in the mid-2000's only this had pyro and went about 15 minutes.
Cedric Alexander (c) defeated Kalisto in a Singles match for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship (2 stars)
The crowd didn't give a shit about this match since they aren't really big stars. They "ooo" and "ahh" for a couple flashy moves but that's about it. They also don't care much for submission holds, last match included. Here I really started to notice more WWE experimenting with different camera angles. I don't know why but it had more cuts than my wrists as a teenager. I figured they were trying to cut away from the guys in front who were just kind of standing around chit-chatting and not even watching the matches (again, first match included) until it got to around the end which looks really bad on TV.
Anyway these two worked hard, but the crowd gave them nothing and it was a decent C'weight match that you've seen a bunch of times by now. Woo. Next.
Bray Wyatt and Matt Hardy defeated Cesaro and Sheamus in a Tag team match for the vacant WWE Raw Tag Team Championship (2 and a half stars)
Again it didn't seem like the fans had much interest in these guys. They kind of half-heartedly got into the "DELETE" chant, but I don't think they knew what to make of the character, kind of like many of us when we first saw Matt go BROKEN. Like I figured the Woken Warriors won the Raw tag titles and Bray seems to be on some upward momentum after a couple of years of being in the shitter which is funny because he was a world champion going into last year's Wrestlemania but it still felt meaningless. The Bar had a good run. Now it's time for Matt and Bray.
Jeff Hardy (c) defeated Jinder Mahal (w/ Sunil Singh) in a singles match for the WWE United States Championship (1 and a half stars)
Jeff was fairly popular. Jinder got a lot of boos. No shock there. I know some people though Jinder might get cheered... I don't know why? I guess because he's not American and wears a turban people thought the Saudi audience would cheer him? Well... It wasn't enough if that's the case. The match was pretty shitty and went just over 6 minutes. It had a pretty cringe worthy botch too where Jinder was out of position for the Whisper in the Wind which caused Jeff to miss him by like a foot but Jinder fell anyway after he looked behind him and saw the Jeff had done the move. That's pretty bad. Commentary tried mopping up this mess, but there was no hope. Good job; good effort Cole and company but Jinder f***ed up hard and even they couldn't save him. Luckily for Jinder it would probably end up being only the 2nd most shared .gif of a botch tonight and also luckily for Jinder the match didn't go much longer. Jeff picked up the win to retain the US Championship which will also remain on Smackdown.
The Bludgeon Brothers (c) defeated The Usos in a Tag team match for the WWE SmackDown Tag Team Championship (1 and 3/4 stars)
On Twitter I predicted all the babyfaces would win. I didn't think the Usos would win the titles back but I expected a DQ or some bullshit. The Bludgeon Brothers won in about 5 minutes so yet another short match. The opening match would actually end up being the longest match on the card other than the Royal Rumble match itself.
During this match Cole had the next big botch of the night. More of a slip of the tongue where Rowan was squeezing one of the Uso's heads with the palms of his hand and Cole said the move was made famous by the "late, great Sgt. Slaughter". I know almost every other wrestler from the 80's is dead, but Slaughter is still very much alive, so it was a pretty embarrassing slip for Cole which I'm sure he felt shitty about afterwards. But hey, he had to spew some nonsense earlier about how Saudi Arabia is an evolving culture celebrating diversity and acceptance to other beliefs which is more a crock of shit than that gaff about Sgt. Slaughter.
Seth Rollins (c) defeated Finn BŠlor, Samoa Joe, and The Miz in a Ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship (3 stars)
No rainbow colors for Fin Balor here. I guess he didn't like the idea of having the match being interrupted by government officials so he could be arrested and await a decision on if he should be execute for possibly being a homosexual or sympathetic to homosexuals... Wise move.
They all worked pretty hard and put on a decent show. I liked the finish where Balor was going for the belt but Seth came from outside the ring, jumped on the ladder and quickly climbed up to grab the title to retain the championship. It was a well-welcomed change of pace from the now cliche slow climb and alligator arm the belt for 5 minutes until someone is punched off the ladder.
Somewhere between matches they showed a video package of Matt Bloom and other WWE Performance Center coaches holding a tryout with a bunch of guys (literally, again no women) training to become WWE Superstars. Cut to the ring there is 4 of what I guess they decided were the cream of the crop even though they looked like a bunch of dudes and there was one tall, gankly looking douche who thought he was already Hulk Hogan because he's on TV.
The Diavari Brothers came out, still as foreign heels in a foreign country singing the praises of their home country, Iran (both born in Minnesota in real-life) to a ton of heat. They were laid out by the prospects to a good reaction with nothing fancy. One did a standard, seen it a million times, plain as day scoop slam and the gankly tall one who they probably like the most milked the crowd for what felt like a f***ing half hour just to do a standard toss over the top rope. Uhh... Woo. I guess I can't bury it too much. The like crowd ate this up. The locals went over in the end, of course. Text book feel-good segment for the fans in attendance.
AJ Styles (c) vs. Shinsuke Nakamura ended in a double count-out in a Singles match for the WWE Championship (3 stars)
It went about 14 and a half minutes. Turns out even in Saudi Arabia they hate double count out finishes. While fans here usually boo at what they consider a non-finish for a championship match, here the fans were just quiet. It was a pretty good match that I probably would have bumped up in rating if it had a real finish, but since this is pretty much a glorified house show and glorified government propaganda you're not going to get the finish to this feud here.
The Undertaker defeated Rusev (w/ Aiden English) in a Casket match (2 and a half stars)
Before the match they aired a video package highlighting The Undertaker's long career. The Undertaker, who still has a better hairline than Baron Corbin, was pretty popular here, again not a surprise since he's been a big star since the early 1990's. Like the other matches, there isn't much sustained heat. They pop for the signature moves and entrances and that's about it. In particular they were pretty quiet when Undertaker was selling. They just aren't really into the story of a match I guess. Funny... many think it's just the hardcore fans who are high spot freaks and give f***all about psychology. Psychology has put these fans to sleep all night. If this match was the match we got at Wrestlemania between Undertaker and John Cena they'd probably love it.
It didn't take much to put Rusev away. One Chokeslam and into the casket he went, where he would lay for a moment while Aiden English would run-in to take a Chokeslam and Tombstone Piledriver for his troubles. Normally I'd expect Rusev to take this time to escape the casket while his buddy took a hit for him, but nope. He was laid out by the Chokeslam and laid to rest along with Aiden English together in the casket. Bell rings. Match over.
I'm sure most of you weren't exactly expecting Rusev to win, but he really didn't come off as a star here in the loss, but it is what it is. I guess it's a better spot than being in the 50-man Royal Rumble match, but I don't care what some people say... Losing to a top star doesn't elevate you just because you were in the ring with a top star. What is this match going to do for Rusev if next week on Smackdown he eats a surprise roll-up from R-Truth or whatever? I'm not saying Rusev should have gone over, but he wasn't portrayed like he even belonged in the ring with Undertaker. At least the Jericho match that was once promoted wouldn't have hurt anyone and would have had more star-power. Here, you pretty much got The Undertaker out there playing the old hits to his old fans and riding out on top. Can't argue with the reaction, though. The live fans loved the finish.
Brock Lesnar (c) (w/ Paul Heyman) defeated Roman Reigns by escaping the cage in a Steel cage match for the WWE Universal Championship (1 and a half stars)
Roman came out first as the challenger to a decent reaction. I was expecting better but it was 3 hours into the show by this point. It certainly wasn't a John Cena or Undertaker reaction, though. Brock came out next to a... reaction. I don't know. Some fans clapped. Some were giving the thumbs down. When they were announced in the ring neither guy really got booed or that huge of a reaction, so I don't know what to make of that. I guess they can say at least Roman wasn't booed.
So, there ya go. Roman was over in whatever African country they went to and at least not-hated in Saudi Arabia. That'll show the other 95% of their fan base that boo's him in the USA, Canada and United Kingdom. Yeah, smarks! See! He's over!
Yeah, sure. Whatever.
The match started off the same dull formula as their Wrestlemania match. Brock too Roman to Suplex City and his his finish. Roman hit a few Superman Punches. After that shit show it then normalized into a standard cage match... Until Roman his 3 of his signature Spears in a row and Brock kicked out at 2.
Roman tried to escape through the door but Heyman slammed it in his face which lead to Brock hitting -- what else? An F-5 and Roman kicked out at 2 as if he was kicking out of a swinging neck breaker. No struggle. No emotion. Just big moves and kick... Again. Paul threw a chair in the ring and Roman hit his fourth Spear. Immediately covered and a kick out at 2. Commentary is actually keeping track of how many finishers were hit as if this is a good thing that they're just doing their big moves and kicking out of them with as little drama as possible.
With the chair introduced, Roman used it and signaled for the Superman Punch, so again zero wrestling moves before alternating to his other finish, yet again. Brock tried to get up by the ropes to where Roman went for, that's right, another Spear only this time the cage broke and the referee ruled that Brock landed outside first so he retains to win the match by escape of the cage. That's it. The ring announcer told the fans that Brock won and was still champion to a tepid cheer, I guess. It didn't seem like they cared. The match lasted 9 minutes.
The "controversy" is that while Brock landed outside the ring first, Roman's feet touched the ground before Brock's did. Cole said the rule is both feet have to touch the ground. Corey tried referencing NFL catch rules, which makes sense. Brock's back clearly hit the outside of the ring which in the NFL would count as down even if his feet were up in the air. So, I don't see the controversy, plus WWE "rules" aren't set in stone and fly by the seat of their ass for the most part. It was also a "rule" that you had to defend the title at least once every 30 days and how many times did Brock break that rule and it was never addressed? Whatever. I thought the match sucked and unlike the previous match it didn't seem like the fans cared that much either. They weren't bored but they weren't that into it.
50-man Royal Rumble match titled "The Greatest Royal Rumble" won by Braun Strowman (3 stars)
I'm not going to analyze the whole thing. Because it's 50 men instead of 30, the intervals were sped up. Daniel Bryan entered at #1. The fans were into his "Yes!" bit. They seemed much more into him than Roman Reigns... Well, would ya look at that. Daniel Bryan in this match made Rumble history in lasting 1 hours, 16 minutes and 5 seconds. A record that may never be broken. He would continue on to be in the final 3 with Braun Strowman and Big Cass before being eliminated by Big Cass as part of their feud. It's nice to be tall, huh?
The match would become most memorable for entrant #39, Titus O'Neil, making us forget about that Jinder botch against Jeff Hardy when he ran to the ring and tripped when he got to the mat area and fell flat on his face while running full speed and his momentum carried him under the ring. Good thing it was just a traditional apron and not their usual LED boards (which I think look obnoxious anyway). Corey Graves was f***ing dying here, too and I don't blame him. Cole brought up Titus' similar spill when he first came to NXT (much different from the NXT we have today) where he had to run with a beer keg and ended up falling face first. On Twitter he said something about making money so I guess this is going to be his gimmick sort of like Sponge Bob splitting his pants. He's just going to come out every week and Shock Master us every week. They showed the re-play what felt like 10 times and commentary was in a fit of laughter. I have a feeling we haven't seen the last of this.
It's also worth noting Elias' shtick was over well enough here. A lot of the non-main eventers didn't get much a reaction, but Elias' "WALK WITH ELIAS" bit was popular. Shane, because he's Shane took a big bump when he was on the top rope and Braun choke-slammed him (or threw him by his shirt) from the turnbuckle over to and through the announcer's table. In a much less funny botch Bobby Lashley tried getting Big Cass up for his stalling suplex. He couldn't lift him right the first time, tried a second time, got him up for a breif moment but the two collapsed and Cass landed right on on his head while crashing into the ropes. It was pretty ugly. It seems like this night from talent to commentary was plagued with botches. Graves was quick to call it a Brainbuster. Hey commentary mopped that one up better than Jinder's botch that couldn't be defended from any angle. This one I'd say was worse in terms of danger but Jinder's was still more cringe as in it made wrestling look very fake. At leas this move looked like it really hurt.
Cass, who came in at #49 eliminated Bryan and later Strowman would eliminate Big Cass to win the match. Strowman entered at #41 and was in the match for a respectable 22 minutes and eliminated an impressive 13 competitors which beat Roman Reigns' record of 12. Post match was the trophy presentation and a championship belt. Braun is a good winner. I'm happy for him and in the last year he's been WWE's most over babyface. At least on Raw because you could argue AJ and not Bryan is back who is probably the most over overall between both shows. Even though it's "just a trophy" it's still a kayfabe accomplishment that can never be taken away from him. They'll always be able to say "Braun Strowman won the largest Royal Rumble match ever" so it's a great shot in the arm for him and I'm sure he will be in the world title picture before long. If I was booking this match, I pretty much would have done it the same way. Let Bryan be the workhorse/iron man where he sets the record for longest lasting entrant and have Braun Strowman look dominant in a victory. Of anyone in this match, Braun benefits the most. You could say he's already over, but I feel this could make him. Anyone can get over for a year or so, but this is the kind of title that could propel him as a more serious main eventer than he's been in recent months while he's pretty much been relegated to WWE's "plan B" if Roman is busted for steroids or gets injured which is funny since its clear Strowman is more popular, has more charisma and is surprisingly more likable and very good with the young fans despite his previous monster heel persona and very tough exterior.
Okay, that's the show. Time for the wrap-up.
Any comments made about the propaganda shouldn't be mixed up. When I reference Saudi Arabia I'm not talking about it's citizens, I'm referring to the political elites who spin this bullshit on their people and on us for 5 hours. There's even a few NoDQ visitors who were there and I think it's great that they were able to experience a huge WWE event.
Early in the show they aired some video package that reeked of pure government propaganda bullshit and I felt like taking a bath afterwards. They had happy music playing and show some woman sitting in a parking lot playing with gears on a car like I'm supposed to think that's some big deal while her husband or whatever is monitoring her. Whatever. They had some chick who looked like a paid actress or a model saying she's never been happier as a woman to live there. Whatever. Who are you trying to kid. This whole package was them pissing on my leg and telling me is open minded, culturally diverse rain. The bottom line is they told WWE keep your women at home and they did. They've spent YEARS now patting themselves on the back for being so progressive in pushing women in wrestling and on this day WWE sold out and bowed down to Saudi elites to make an easy buck.
I'm not calling for them to change their laws or their religion or their culture. I don't live there. Do what you want. That doesn't mean the WWE, who touts themselves as fore-fronting a "women's revolution" and honored a local LGBT group at Wrestlemania suddenly decide to do business with a government that treats women as second-class citizens and executes gays and cross dressers and anything remotely gay you can think of pretty much. Look, this is just my opinion. If you think I'm being unfair, whatever. That's your opinion, but like I said at the star, this is my column and I'm not going to water down my feelings. I'm not sorry if I did buy their cute little "THIS AIN'T YO DADDY'S SAUDI ARABIA, HOMEBOY! WE WOKE UP IN THIS BITCH" propaganda video package and all the other bullshit commentary was forced to throw out there about cultural diversity. Look, it's simple I don't care what hip new prince is in town. Their law is a faith they've followed for 2,000 years and unless they change that and separate church and state like we do in the US, they're not going to become a westernized culture and if they don't want to -- fine, but WWE are total hypocrites if they're going to preach one thing in the States and to the rest of the world but at the same time take money from a government that has a completely different stance on those issues.
So, I guess to be clear in closing, its really WWE that I have a problem with here. Not Saudi Arabia and certainly not its citizens. This was a gov't sponsored event. Not a consummerist event. I'm sure any wrestling promotion would have taken the money they got for doing this, but given all the props WWE gives itself over here for portraying itself as a psedo-progressive bleeding heart hug-fest this event has hurt their credibility and it's funny... Everyone was all up in arms when they announced the women's Battle Royal at Wrestlemania was going to be made in The Fabulous Moolah's honor but a lot of people have been pretty quiet about this. So, I don't want to hear it from anyone. Next time someone blows up because some mom & pop baker in Bumfuk, Missouri didn't want to make a cake for a gay wedding citing religious reasons I'm going to wonder how you felt about WWE taking money from a government that executes gays because I haven't heard shit from anyone who likes to hop on these issues whenever a story like this gets media traction in the States. Triple H, I agree to an extent, the WWE shouldn't be out there to change a culture or a foreign government. However the WWE who sells one thing to it's American base and the rest of the fans around the world doesn't need to take a pay day to pretty much be a propaganda vehicle just to give off the false impression that they're a changing culture. If it was changing that much, WWE would have been able to do business in the private sector there and have real fans sitting in those good seats so I didn't have to have the image of some guys casually standing around barely paying attention in a spot that's usually occupied by the most hardcore and engaging fans of WWE. WWE has every right to do this, but to drive my point home, given all they've been pushing from a public relations standpoint the last 3 years here in America, the decision is very much open to scrutiny. The only problem is nobodies like me who have 800 Twitter followers are going to be the only people talking about it like this because it's wrestling and the mainstream media doesn't give a shit about wrestling which affords them certain luxuries of sneaking under the radar. Can you imagine if this were the NFL though especially with the PR issues they've had with women the last few years? Yeah. Not even close when put into perspective.
That's all for me. Hopefully not for good. I'm "KC" Paul Matthews. Follow me on Twitter at @PlanetKayfabe. I give this event a 4/10. The matches ranged from bad to just pretty good. If you want to watch for the 50 man Rumble match and all the fireworks they shot off throughout the show, I suggest it. Otherwise you didn't miss too much if I put this show in a vacuum.
Take care everyone, for Planet Kayfabe and NoDQ... Enjoy your weekend.