Crown Jewel 2021's Stacked Card Is A Worrying Indicator Of WWE's Priorities
WWE's top-tier card in Saudi Arabia tells us a lot about their motivations...
A few months ago, I wrote about how SummerSlam may have replaced WrestleMania as WWE’s big card of 2021. One look at the card for tomorrow’s Crown Jewel, and it’s clear that I was wrong.
WWE’s sixth controversial Saudi Arabia outing boasts its biggest card yet.
Edge and Seth Rollins inside Hell in a Cell, Roman Reigns defending his title against Brock Lesnar, two tournament finals - this would be a stacked show anywhere in WWE’s calendar. But the fact that it’s taking place in Riyadh says something rather soulless about the company’s priorities.
That’s not to suggest that Saudi Arabia has been devoid of big matches in the past. It goes without saying that bouts like Undertaker vs. Goldberg and DX vs. the Brothers of Destruction are gargantuan, but these showcases were a different type of ‘big.’
There was a definite novelty factor to WWE’s previous Saudi Arabia shows, the Greatest Royal Rumble being a perfect example. Yes, it may have been the biggest Royal Rumble on record, but it remains a footnote in the match’s storied history. The eventual winner, Braun Strowman, received a seldom-seen title belt and a comically oversized trophy, which was broken on TV at the first given opportunity.
Crown Jewel 2021 is not ‘big’ in the novelty sense we’ve become used to. It’s a legitimately stacked show. Part of the reason for this difference is that it exists firmly within WWE canon, if that is the correct phrase.
Whereas the results of previous Saudi Arabia shows could largely be ignored by fans who chose to do so, that is no longer the case. Crown Jewel 2019 and Super ShowDown 2020 signalled the beginning of this change, as both saw the Universal Championship change hands in the main event, the latter even occurring in the build to WrestleMania - although the less said about that, the better.
Crown Jewel 2021 is even more rooted in ongoing storylines. Lesnar and Reigns have headlined two previous WrestleManias together, and with such a fresh character dynamic this time around, the fact it hasn’t been saved for a later date is quite baffling
Likewise, Edge and Rollins’ intense feud looks set to climax at the event, and the build to the SmackDown Women’s title match has been given a lot of airtime across both main brands.
Although there’s been some discontent online, I’m surprised WWE haven’t suffered more of a fan backlash that this card wasn’t saved for a ‘big four’ pay per view - or at least one without Crown Jewel’s contentious background. This becomes especially surprising when we contrast the show with WWE’s last big event: Extreme Rules.
In many ways, September’s pay per view seemed far more akin to a typical Saudi Arabia show than this week’s card. It had a slew of title matches, none of which saw a Championship change hands, and a nonsensical main event finish with patronising supernatural elements. It even shared the slapdash quality of early Saudi Arabia events, with just one stipulation match on the ‘Extreme’ card betraying a lack of planning or care. The return of Sasha Banks aside, that whole event could have simply disappeared, and most of WWE’s weekly output would look exactly the same.
In hindsight, perhaps it makes sense that Extreme Rules was so casually thrown together, with WWE’s focus apparently so trained upon Crown Jewel. But the emergence of such a card also casts doubt upon the motivation behind recent TV decisions.
In recent weeks, we’ve assumed that the rise of AEW has been the driving motivation behind WWE’s recent interest in boosting their weekly product. PPV-level matches have been given away on free TV, with big appearances from the likes of Brock Lesnar also becoming more common. The return of the NFL and NHL, as well as the beginning of the MLB postseason have also been accepted as reasons for this. But the build towards Crown Jewel could also have been a key third factor, one we’re only just noticing thanks to the emergence of the show’s stacked card.
The answer to the question of WWE’s motivation may well come after tomorrow’s show. Will Raw and SmackDown continue to be more ambitious, or with Crown Jewel checked off the calendar, will things revert to a banal status quo?
A recent report from the Wrestling Observer has claimed that WWE intend to ‘ride out’ the AEW threat, feeling that it will eventually burn out in WCW fashion. Many will take this as bluster or arrogance from Titan Towers, but should it actually be true, the recent uptick in booking intent takes on a more sinister context. If AEW isn't seen as a threat, was this all just for Saudi Arabia?
This shift in the importance of WWE’s Saudi Arabia shows is a worrying trend, because it surely means that the next one will be huge as well. Last year’s Super ShowDown took place on February 27th, slap-bang in the middle of the fabled Road to WrestleMania, and saw The Fiend drop the Universal Championship to Goldberg. Should another Saudi Arabia event take place in a few months, with WWE now even more focussed on pouring effort into their bi-annual excursions, we could see disruption on a whole new level.
A lot of deserving wrestlers, feuds and storylines risk being tossed by the wayside for the sake of one lucrative night, and as fans, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’re being treated the same way.