Pro-wrestling thrust into Saudi controversy as calls mount to cancel event in Riyadh



World Wrestling star Rusev is greeted by fans during his match of the “Greatest Royal Rumble” event on April 27 Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Amr Nabil/AP)

In April, World Wrestling Entertainment, popularly known as WWE, hosted its first-ever Greatest Royal Rumble, featuring wrestling stars like John Cena, Triple H and The Monster Among Men.

The evening’s backdrop: the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia. Some 60,000 people attended, in what was supposed to be the first event in a long-term deal to bring more wrestling to the kingdom.

Now, the entertainment company is facing calls to cancel a Nov. 2 event there, following the disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and has not been seen since. The Post reported earlier this week that the Turkish government has told U.S. officials it has audio and video recordings that prove Khashoggi was killed while inside the consulate.

The Crown Jewel was set to be hosted in Riyadh next month as a collaboration between WWE and the Saudi General Sports Authority. “Following WWE’s sold-out Greatest Royal Rumble in Jiddah in April, this is the second event as part of a long-term partnership between WWE and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” WWE said in a statement in September.

But this week, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), told news website IJR that he would “hope that they would be rethinking their relationship with the kingdom especially with respect to events coming up in the next weeks like [WWE Crown Jewel].”

One of WWE’s co-founders, Linda McMahon, now heads the Small Business Administration. Her husband, Vince McMahon, serves as WWE’s chairman.

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) told IJR that “private enterprise is private enterprise, different than a government entity.”

“But because [Linda McMahon] is part of the president’s Cabinet, it falls into the gray area where the administration really should give it some thought and maybe even prevail upon them not doing it,” he said.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), told IJR “there should be a pause,” in WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia.

In a statement sent to The Post, WWE said only that they are “currently monitoring the situation.”

The Saudi government has denied the allegations about Khashoggi. On Saturday it issued a statement condemning and denouncing “the false accusations circulated in media reports on the Saudi government and other people in the purported relation to the disappearance” of the journalist. In an interview released Saturday, President Trump called Khashoggi’s alleged slaying “terrible and disgusting” and said there would be “severe punishment” for Saudi Arabia if the United States determined they had murdered him.

WWE wouldn’t be the only company to face calls to distance themselves from Saudi Arabia in the wake of Khashoggi’s disappearance. As The Post’s Jeanne Whalen wrote on Friday, “nearly a dozen tech, media and entertainment companies had backed out of a Saudi investment conference to be held this month, as dismay over Saudi agents’ alleged murder of Khashoggi spread to companies that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has tried to woo.”

But there could be quite a lot of money at play: Sports Illustrated reported that WWE may have earned $45 million from the Saudi government following the April event in Jiddah.

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