It took two sittings to watch it, because a five hour show is asking too much for anyone, much less anyone actually in attendance, but I just made it through watching the WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble special out of Saudi Arabia.
It goes without saying that I did not have high hopes for this special, therefore it was of zero shock and surprise that it turned out to be the mediocre, glorified house show that I figured it would be. The events of Greatest are for the most part non-canon to current storylines, but the performers still have to put forth the effort and the work to next to zero story advancement to the rest of the events that are happening in current WWE programming, which is about as zero-sum as it gets, considering the sheer amount of time, resources and physical effort necessary to hold what’s basically an unnecessary show.
The matches were almost all terrible, the performers were clearly jet-lagged, a step or more slow, and completely uninspired performing in front of a mostly confused and/or apathetic crowd. Predictably, zero titles changed hands, and the only notable thing that occurred in the entire show was the crowning of Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt as winners of the vacant RAW Tag Team Championships. The rest of the card was underwhelming and underperformed, and the 50-man Rumble match itself was loaded with jobbers, no-names and C-listers who would otherwise have no chance of performing regularly on the average North American tour rotation.
Not to mention the fact that due to the antiquated misogynistic Saudi culture, none of the WWE’s women were permitted to perform, much less any women really be present in King Abdullah Stadium without the supervision of a man, which is a little bit of egg on the company’s part, as they could have really made a global statement by refusing the show in the first place because of their cultural restrictions but whatever, that’s Saudi Arabia for you.
But the crowd itself was pretty lackluster, despite there being allegedly well over 60,000 in attendance. Almost the entire lower bowl of the stadium was reserved for the House of Saud royal family, who all sat in luxurious comfy chairs, while the rest of the pleebs were up in the regular seats and rafters, but were probably the more actual fans of professional wrestling. Unfortunately, the royalty is what the cameras pick up the most, and more often than not, they’re the ones not watching the action in the ring, and more likely milling about conversing in their own little sausage fests while their unsupervised children run around trying to get attention of performers.
Ultimately, I understand why the WWE held this event, but at the same time, I don’t. It’s very apparent that the more corporate and publicly traded the WWE becomes, the more important it is to the company to constantly be raising the bar higher and higher with “making history,” and it’s gotten to the point where making moments and making history has become higher priority than operating a well-oiled machine of a company.
Executing a show in Saudi Arabia is most certainly historic, because a wrestling show of this magnitude has probably never been held in Saudi Arabia in the first place. But I have to ask myself, aside from the WWE, what other promotion or company actually would have wanted to hold a show there in the first place? With its associations to the corrupt oil trade, terrorism and sheer proximity to possibly the worst region in the planet, it might be historic to hold a show there, but someone has to eventually ask what competition there ever was in the first place?
Personally, I’m not particularly fond of Saudi culture, seeing as how I think they’re misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic, classist and still stuck in the stone ages with lots of their beliefs, so I don’t really see why they deserve a show on their soil in the first place. They’re obsessed with opulence and having shit to gloat towards the rest of the world with, so I’m not entirely sure what benefit the WWE gets for holding a show and declaring it “the greatest” for a culture that probably doesn’t even appreciate it.
And it comes at a tremendous price too, obviously with the sheer costs of transporting all necessary personnel, equipment and production halfway across the globe. But the biggest casualties of this all are the performers themselves, whom sure, some of them might embrace the idea of history, but given the very well-documented nature of how overworked and exhausting the combined performance and travel of the industry gets, I have to question just how many of them really wanted to go versus the option of having their regular breaks from the business.
Out of the 75 or so superstars that performed on the card, I have to imagine that a good number of them probably would have preferred to have stayed on the western hemisphere and not have had to deal with travel, jet-lag and a shock to routine, only to be expected to be on RAW the following Monday.
It was no more apparent that most of the guys were off, from the mediocre performing and sheer number of botches throughout the entire card. John Cena vs. Triple H was sluggish and lacked any energy, Jinder Mahal blatantly whiffed miserably on a Jeff Hardy plancha spot, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura had a shitty double countout Dusty finish, and Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns had a terrible cage match that ended in yet another Dusty finish.
But nothing was more apropoic or so appropriate for the entire event than Titus O’Neil wiping out during his entrance to the Rumble match, where he tripped and fell face first not just onto the floor, but underneath the fucking ring itself. Without question, he’ll join the likes of Taka Michinoku in epic Royal Rumble wipeouts and the Shockmaster for pure moments of pro-wrestling embarrassment.
However, it goes without saying that poor Titus’s greatest botch was probably the marquee highlight of the Greatest Royal Rumble. It doesn’t matter that Daniel Bryan went 76 minutes in the ring, or that Elias eliminated Kurt Angle and Randy Orton, which could potentially segue into some storyline, because when the show ended, the only thing anyone is ever going to remember is Titus O’Neil tripping and falling underneath the ring.
As much as I’d hope that this was a one-off occurrence, apparently the WWE has something of a ten-year agreement with the Saudi General Sports Authority, so it’s safe to assume that something like this is going to happen several more times within that span. I wonder if the WWE will continue to shit on their own brands, and have a Greatest SummerSlam, Greatest Survivor Series, or better yet, a Greatest Granddaddy Spectacle of the Immortals Greatest Wrestlemania in Saudi Arabia too?
Hopefully, memes like Titus O’Neil will become the self-aware norm of these Greatest events in the future, otherwise it’s just way too much excessive programming that’s going to lead to a lot of fan burnout.