John Cena and Daniel Bryan have both been quietly written out of the “Crown Jewel” contest in Riyadh, after they reportedly refused to make the trip in light of the murder of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi earlier this month.
In a statement to HuffPost, WWE declined to discuss the specific reasons for the absence of Cena and Bryan, saying only that “we maintain an open line of communication with our performers and will address each situation accordingly.”
The wrestling entertainment company has faced increasing pressure to scrap the Riyadh event entirely since Khashoggi’s murder. In a mid-October episode of his HBO show, John Oliver accused WWE of giving legitimacy to Saudi Arabia’s “wall-to-wall propaganda” and willfully ignoring the kingdom’s human rights abuses.
The comedian doubled down on his criticism in a subsequent episode of “Last Week Tonight,” going so far as to create a mock promo for the WWE event:
“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,” the WWE acknowledged in its statement.
But money talks.
WWE signed a 10-year agreement with Saudi Arabia earlier this year worth somewhere between $450 million and $500 million, which ultimately seems to have persuaded the company to see “Crown Jewel” through.
“Similar to other U.S.-based companies who plan to continue operations in Saudi Arabia,” the WWE said, “the Company has decided to uphold its contractual obligations to the General Sports Authority and stage the event.”