Pro wrestler John Cena will not take part in the WWE Crown Jewel promotion Friday night in Saudi Arabia, an event that has been criticized because of the kingdom’s stance on human rights and because of the ongoing investigation into the death of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi, who disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.
WWE wrote Cena’s absence into Monday night’s episode of “Raw” when acting general manager Baron Corbin handed Cena’s spot in the World Cup field to Bobby Lashley, saying Lashley had earned his right to compete rather than simply being awarded a spot in the tournament, as Cena had.
Cena, a 16-time WWE champion who in recent years has spent time away from the ring while working on his acting career, has yet to publicly comment on his absence from the Crown Jewel event. He wrestled in WWE’s first major event in Saudi Arabia in April, the initial promotion in a 10-year partnership between WWE and the Saudi General Sports Authority. In an in-ring speech following his match against Triple H at King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jiddah, Cena said it was “an honor and a privilege” to participate in the event and thanked Saudi Arabia for “its unmatched hospitality.”
WWE in September announced its second Saudi Arabia card and had been promoting Cena as a participant in its first-ever World Cup tournament, which will take place during the Crown Jewel event.
Cena might not be alone in skipping Friday’s promotion. Sources have told PWInsider.com’s Mike Johnson that Daniel Bryan will not travel to Saudi Arabia, where he was scheduled to battle AJ Styles for the WWE championship. Bryan competes for WWE’s SmackDown brand, and more about this development could be revealed on Tuesday’s airing of “SmackDown Live.”
Turkish officials have concluded that a team of 15 Saudi agents was involved in Khashoggi’s killing, calling his death a premeditated crime. Khashoggi, a Saudi-born critic of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto Saudi ruler, visited the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 to retrieve paperwork for his upcoming marriage to his Turkish fiancee. His body has not been found; Turkish investigators say Khashoggi was murdered and then dismembered.
Nevertheless, WWE announced as part of its third-quarter financial report last week that it was moving forward with the Crown Jewel event.
“WWE has operated in the Middle East for nearly 20 years and has developed a sizable and dedicated fan base. Considering the heinous crime committed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, the Company faced a very difficult decision as it relates to its event scheduled for November 2 in Riyadh,” WWE said in the report. “Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia, the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event. Full year 2018 guidance is predicated on the staging of the Riyadh event as scheduled.”
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