The Saudi Summary- The Best of WWE in the Middle East
In a couple of days, WWE are airing a PPV from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Ordinarily, in the lead up to a PPV, I dive into the Vault for a WrestleWatch review, but I'm changing it up this time around. This week's event, Super Showdown, is the latest in a series of events WWE are holding in Saudi Arabia, as part of a 10 year deal with the Saudi government. Saudi Arabia has launched a social and economic reform program called Saudi Vision 2030, and WWE's participation in this program has drawn a large degree of criticism from media and fans alike. Issues like the country's treatment of women are a factor, as well as the assassination of Jamal Khashooggi. This all casts a dark shadow over the whole business of WWE going to another country for a wrasslin' show. No such issues plagued WWE when they brought Super Showdown to Australia- just saying.
But I'm not going to delve any further into the politics surrounding WWE working with such a messed up government and society. Even after some controversy where WWE were prevented from leaving the country following the last Saudi show, Crown Jewel, WWE released a statement re-affirming their commitment to the 10 year deal. Vince is getting paid a ridiculous amount of money for these shows, so the WWE/Saudi partnership is not ending any time soon.
Controversies aside, the main reason I'm not doing a WrestleWatch Vault review of a Saudi Arabia show is that... they're just not very good. At all. Due to the amount of money WWE receive for running the shows, the production is Wrestlemania-worthy, taking place in stadiums, using more pyro than the last 3 Wrestlemanias combined, and bringing along every legend and Hall of Famer that wants the massive payday. However, once you strip away all that glitz and glamour, the output from the wrestlers is generally at house show level. Take it from an Aussie who has been to a large number of WWE house shows, it's not a good thing. Sometimes we hear about how wrestlers have more fun and freedom at house shows, and we see some cool clips or photos online from time to time of some pretty cool stuff. I don't know if it's because the wrestlers are really tired from a long flight, but most of the house shows I've been to in Sydney have seen most of the wrestlers do the bare minimum, phoning it in with their signature spots and generally looking like they couldn't give a fuck. And that's largely what we've had with the Saudi Arabia PPVs. You'd think they'd up their game a little considering these events are broadcast on the WWE Network and are canon- to a degree- but nope. I don't know if it's a form of silent protest, I don't know if they're tired from the flight, or maybe it has something to do with the harsh weather conditions in Saudi, but the quality of the wrestling is far from Wrestlemania standard, even when the production and general aesthetics are on par or occasionally better than the Show of Shows.
So, the plan for today is to take a look at all the Saudi shows, and try and pick out 10 matches worth watching. Diamonds in the rough, if you will. There's been 4 televised events, so surely we can get something worthwhile out of it all? Let's do this.
10) Casket Match- The Undertaker vs. Rusev- Greatest Royal Rumble 2018
The Undertaker has been a Wrestlemania staple for many years. Particularly in the late 2010s, his wrestling appearances have been confined to the Granddaddy of Them All. Father Time gets everyone, and Taker hasn't delivered matches befitting his legendary status for quite some time. He main evented Wrestlemania 33 against Roman Reigns, and while it was given a lot of bells and whistles, it wasn't a performance worthy of the main event of Wrestlemania, and that's sad to say given that he's one of my all time favourites and one of the greatest ever. But even the Deadman can't turn down a big bag of cash, so he strapped on the boots to work with the Bulgarian Brute. The match almost didn't happen- Taker's wife, Michelle McCool, got offended at a comment Rusev made to TMZ reporters hyping the match, where he referred to Taker being old. So, Rusev was briefly pulled from the match and replaced with Chris Jericho. Cooler heads prevailed and Rusev got his spot back, with Jericho participating in the 50 man Greatest Royal Rumble match instead. And you know what? It turned out pretty good. Coming off a 3 minute match against John Cena at Wrestlemania 34, which was a glorified squash, Taker put in a shift here, seeming motivated, hitting all his big moves with intensity, and Rusev sold it all like a million bucks. Worth watching just to see the Undertaker get his groove back after some lacklustre performances.
9) WWE Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match- Seth Rollins vs. The Miz vs. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe- Greatest Royal Rumble 2018
Seth Rollins was in fine form in 2018. It might have been the best year of his WWE career as far as consistent quality matches goes. He held Raw together as the Intercontinental Champion, and the four way ladder match at GRR was a fine example of that. Not the greatest ladder match of all time, but given the talent involved, it was always going to be worth a watch. Worth watching just to be reminded of how talented Seth Rollins is, and what a workhorse he was as Raw's secondary champion. Miz, Balor and Joe all deserve credit too for holding their own as well.
8) Randy Orton vs. Triple H- Super Showdown 2019
This was a fine example of two absolute pros doing their thing. In an era where we see a million dives and Canadian Destroyers up and down the card, Orton and Hunter took it old school and used the KISS principle- keep it simple, stupid. Orton kept his deliberate pace and worked the neck, they trade finisher attempts and get all their signature moves in. It could have benefitted from shaving a few minutes off the run-time, but it was probably the best non-gimmick match Triple H has had for a few years. Crowd gets popped with the RKO to send things home. Not a classic, but really nice to see psychology used, with neither man rushing anything. I was watching the Broken Skull Sessions interview with Big Show the other day, and he talked about how he gave a piece of advice to younger wrestlers- "the biggest pop of the match should be the finish"- and that's what Orton and Triple H did here. They started slow, warmed the crowd up, and had them into everything in the closing stretch. Really good stuff.
7) Mansoor vs. Cesaro- Crown Jewel 2019
Mansoor is a wrestler from Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis are nothing if not patriotic, giving him a superstar reception on every appearance on these shows. He got a lot of time here to show what he could do, and opposite a veteran like Cesaro, he looked incredible, despite his relative inexperience. He hit some dazzling moves, and when Cesaro was on the offense, his selling was on point, garnering sympathy from the audience. And when he got the upset victory over the former United States Champion... the crowd went BANANA!
6) WWE Intercontinental Championship- Andrade vs. "The Demon" Finn Balor- Super Showdown 2019
This was a high impact, high intensity match. One of the only times I can recall in Finn's WWE career where the Demon persona was more than just a lick of paint, he actually brought an increased intensity to this one, and Andrade was right there to meet him. Flat out fun, with some great near falls. They managed to get some "oohs" and "ahhs" out of a crowd that normally sits on their hands unless it's Mansoor or a legend. Bit of a hiddem gem here.
5) Natalya vs. Lacey Evans- Crown Jewel 2019
This was a historic match- the first time women were allowed to wrestle in Saudi Arabia. Concessions were made- both ladies had to wrestle in full bodysuits instead of their usual attire- but hey, progress. It had a really unique feel too- as both Nattie and Lacey put their face/heel alignments to the side and simply had a competitive, technical wrestling match. I really enjoyed it, it was the best Lacey has ever looked in a match and the crowd response made it feel like something special, as did the emotion from the wrestlers. I could see tears welling in their eyes, you could see how much affecting that change in the culture meant to them. All the feels!
4) Team Hogan vs. Team Flair- Crown Jewel 2019
Hard to argue with the sheer star power in this one. Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair were the "captains" of each team, but essentially served as managers, shouting encouragement at ringside. So likely they were the highest paid cheerleaders in history. As for the match itself, it showcased a large number of prominent wrestlers on today's roster, most notably Roman Reigns, who got the win for his team. Rusev and McIntyre brought more of that smash-mouth style, Ricochet and Ali flew around the place... this match had a little something for everyone. It kind of existed in its own little universe, not really mentioned after the fact, but it was a fun, somewhat clusterfucky multi-man tag.
3) Goldberg vs. The Undertaker- Super Showdown 2019
Not recommending this because it's a great match. It was actually pretty terrible. But there's something weirdly fascinating about it, like seeing a car wreck. It started off fantastic. Big time spectacle with the entrances, we had an early Spear, Taker sits up, cool cool cool... and then Goldberg cracks his head on the ring post and everything falls apart from there. In a weird way, it sums up the WWE/Saudi partnership- all this extravagance trying to mask the fact that it's a total shit-show. I was looking forward to this match so much when it was announced, it was one of my personal dream matches, one I used to play all the time on Smackdown: Here Comes The Pain. It certainly has replay value, just not really the good kind. Definitely needs to be seen though.
2) The 50 Man Greatest Royal Rumble Match- Greatest Royal Rumble 2018
This was just madness. Shows that the Saudi Prince really just wanted everything to be massive, bigger, better, grander than ever before. 40 Rumble entrants was too much in 2011, 50 was just ridiculous. Again, just one of those matches that needs to be seen. I was wondering how they would get 50 entrants, turns out it's super easy, barely an inconvenience. Between NXT, 205 Live and the stars of Main Event, we managed to get the numbers, no sweat. This genuinely had some greatness around it though. Daniel Bryan, who had just recently returned to in-ring competition, set a new record for time spent in a Rumble Match, clocking in well over an hour. There's also a nifty little sequence between Bryan and Kurt Angle which made me wonder "what if?" Bryan actually stayed active throughout the vast majority of the match, taking very little opportunities to rest in the corner as past Rumble Ironmen have done. And, of course, there's Titus World-slide. It even caused the usually uber-professional Michael Cole to lose his shit laughing at the botch. Good times.
1) Braun Strowman vs. Bobby Lashley- Super Showdown 2019
Who would have thought that the most impressive match from the Saudi shows would be Braun vs. Lashley? The weather was 100 degrees plus (fahrenheit), and all the wrestlers were clearly affected by the heat on this show. The super heavyweights were pouring sweat in this one, but that didn't stop them from keeping a breakneck pace, executing some astonishing power moves, and giving the audience everything they had. I loved this. Strowman and Lashley had unbelievable chemistry- they also had a Last Man Standing match at Extreme Rules which kicked all the ass.
So, there we have it. The best of the Saudi shows. It was honestly difficult to get to 10 matches. I had 9 pretty well nailed on, but I was struggling with the final spot. So many matches on these shows just kinda happened, they were just there, nothing special or memorable about any of them. Eventually settled on Team Hogan vs. Team Flair getting slotted in there, but it's not a strong recommendation for that one. And a couple are there for the "so bad, it's good" factor.
I realised in looking through the match cards that nothing from Crown Jewel 2018 made the cut. It was a truly awful show. The only somewhat redeeming factor was Shawn Michaels having his first match back in over 8 years. He swore he'd never come out of retirement- and WWE have tried in the past- but ultimately that Saudi money did it. HBK looked pretty damn good, all things considered, but even he couldn't save the DX vs. Brothers of Destruction tag match- Triple H tore his pec on the first bump, and Kane and Undertaker could barely move as it was.
Crown Jewel 2019 was the best of the Saudi shows to date, with most of the matches that didn't make the cut on this list still being pretty decent. I'm cautiously optimistic about Super Showdown 2020. If they book it correctly and Big Bill doesn't crack his head on the ring post again, Goldberg vs. "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt could be a ton of fun. Really looking forward to Miz & Morrison vs. The New Day, they've worked extremely well together since John Morrison's return to WWE. And finally, we're getting the long-anticipated end to the Roman Reigns/King Corbin feud! Joy to the world!
I hope this list provided you with some decent viewing material, enjoy the wrestling!
Until next time, take care,