DUBAI: Saudi Arabia embraced ‘trashy’ Americana over the weekend, hosting a WWE Royal Rumble event for which a video clip of scantily clad female wrestlers drew euphoric cheers from men and women alike. The promotional video elicited a quick mea culpa from the governmental organizers in the Muslim kingdom with conservative mores. “We apologize to the viewers and attendees who watched the WWE event held in Jeddah yesterday, for the clips aired of women dressed indecently,” the kingdom’s General Sports Authority said in a statement Saturday. Such images, it said, were “banned” and would remain so.
That didn’t stop Saudi attendees from posting videos of the uncensored moment on social media. In a video posted on Instagram, a jumbo-trons in Jeddah lit up with the WWE’s latest promo video, which was also shown on big screens at the event itself, in which female wrestlers did not actually take part. “We’re not afraid of dreamin’ big, we’re not afraid to bring the fight. Wanted the best of both worlds, and it starts here tonight,” belted out female wrestling stars – washboard abs and cleavage on display, alongside their tattooed male counterparts.
A mixed-gender audience is still a novelty in the land of Islam’s holiest sites. But World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) enjoys a cult-like following across the Middle East. Stars like John Cena are household names and he got a warm reception on Friday night in Jeddah. Euphoric cheers from men and women could be heard throughout the event. The event would not have been possible before the meteoric rise of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has curtailed the power of the religious establishment and sought to cater to his generation’s desires. “We want to live normally,” the young prince told investors in Riyadh in Oct 2017.
The unapologetically staged event featured another cathartic moment, when the Iranian-American Daivari brothers entered the ring, waving an Iranian flag. Saudi Arabia and Iran are arch-foes in the region, respective Sunni and Shiite powerhouses competing for influence from Iraq to Yemen. But on Friday, the rivalry played out in a scripted crowd-pleasing segment. Just as four young Saudis – selected as WWE prospects at a recent tryout in Jeddah – entered the ring, the Iranian-American brothers showed up as spoilers.
“Uh-oh,” the announcer said, as a greased-up Ariya Daivari pushed one of the Saudis against the ropes. “I don’t see you doin’ nothing,” Daivari challenged. The Saudi paused, feigning shock, then pushed back – sending his opponent crashing to the floor and staring up in amazement. “Oh and a big kick! Faisal took out Daivari’s older brother,” the announcer shouted. The crowd broke out in cheers for the four young Saudis as the Iranian spoilers slunk away, clutching their backs and grimacing.
While the smack-down may have seemed like an immature take on the regional rivalry, it was in keeping with exaggerated WWE tradition. The spectacle earned the approval of The Iron Sheikh, another Iranian-American who earned his nom de guerre playing a generic Middle Eastern villain for decades in the ring. Following the Greatest Royal Rumble, he tweeted: “HOW COME EVWEYONE LOOK LIKE WANNABE IRON SHEIK?” – AFP