Was it the Greatest Royal Rumble? Well.. it was fine! Yeah! I’ll even go as far as saying it was pretty good! The Pretty Good Royal Rumble. It was a fresh, new idea with a WrestleMania calibur card in an unconventional setting. The city of Jeddah welcomed WWE Superstars graciously and it’s fair to say that the first ever 50-man Royal Rumble was a success. Of course, the Saudi Arabian event was marred in some controversy primarily due to the traditions and laws of Jeddah.
The GRR seemed like more of a promotion for Saudi Arabia than for WWE, since for most of the show, the locale was referred to as the “progressive” city of Jeddah. While many of the viewership had to step out of their own cultural bubble to really view Jeddah as progressive, it was clear they were making an effort to be more inclusive. The most glaring omission of the show was the absence of women’s matches. For those of us used to seeing at least one or two women’s matches on a major event, something felt empty in Jeddah. Hopefully, with baby steps toward progressive ideas, there may be a day when we see women able to wrestle in Saudi Arabia. It’s just highly doubtful that will be anytime soon.
About a year ago, WWE held a live event in the United Arab Emirates and showcased their first ever women’s championship match. Even though the athletes were made to wear long gear that fully covered their bodies, it was at least a step in the right direction. However, where these may be considered progressive for that region, airing this show in the western world is a bit jarring and can feel like a step backward. In these situations, it’s very important to have perspective. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will a Saudi Arabian Women’s Championship match.
If the most memorable moment was Titus O’Neil tripping and faceplant-sliding under the ring in what can be considered one of the best wrestling bloopers in history, there were some other subtle comments and actions that WWE took to promote women in wrestling. For one thing, a promotional video for women’s matches at Backlash was shown in the stadium. Despite the best efforts to quell the Women’s Revolution in the King Abdullah Stadium, fans in attendance were still shown footage of women in the ring and showing some skin. It may not seem like much, but it was about as far as WWE could push the envelope.
Also, Michael Cole took what came off as a light jab at the local laws during The Great Khali’s entry in the Royal Rumble match. Khali is nothing short of a major celebrity in that region, so Cole mentioning that he was once eliminated from a Rumble by a woman was a welcome poke at the male-dominated event. Yes, Beth Phoenix once eliminated The Great Khali from the Royal Rumble; a moment you’re not likely to see mirrored in the progressive city of Jeddah.
Another noticeable change came in Finn Balor’s wardrobe. Recently, Finn had been donning a rainbow colored emblem on his ring gear. The pro-LGBTQ garb and entrance that was so warmly received at WrestleMania was nowhere to be seen at The Greatest Royal Rumble. When confronted about going back to his typical black and white colors on Twitter, Finn claimed that the rainbow colors were only meant to be temporary and that he hadn’t worn that gear in weeks. Now... I don’t think anyone would blame Finn and WWE if they didn’t want to promote LGBTQ pride on Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. But I would assume there’s not a law against wearing rainbow colors on a jacket (is there?). Alas, promoting homosexuality in such a strictly religious city probably wouldn’t be taken in stride. Once again...to quote What About Bob?: “Baby Steps.”
When the dust and sand is settled, the Greatest Royal Rumble’s pros outweigh the cons. It’s healthy for the rest of the world to view a culture much different than their own; and if it encourages progress for women and all people in Saudi Arabia to have a spotlight shone on them, so be it. If WWE continues to hold events in the middle east, one would have to think it could result in some cultural progress. Pro wrestling makes an unlikely champion of equality, but sometimes you have to just take what you can get. All in all, I think this year’s inaugural Women’s Royal Rumble was objectively better than The Greatest Royal Rumble. There. I said it. If the people of Saudi Arabia really want to experience the absolute “GREATEST” that money can buy and that WWE has to offer, there’s no way they can exclude women. Consider that a challenge. You don’t know what you’re missing, Jeddah!
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke