Recently, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) carried out its first show in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi citizens, mostly elites, were treated to the male-soap opera athletic display that is professional wrestling. Such an event has never taken place in in the Kingdom before. But the audience didn’t get the full WWE experience, the women’s matches were obviously banned from taking place due to rampant “immodesty”. It seems the WWE was more than happy to accommodate the censoring of women. (Reports say they were still paid for the event.)
The event comes as Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman is attempting to liberalize the country, particularly the entertainment industry. Earlier in the month cinemas were legalized for the first time in 35 years. In a deal made with AMC theatres, Hollywood movies will be permitted in the country. Although, most are expected to be heavily edited for content. In fact, Black Panther became the first Hollywood movie to be shown in the country since the ban.
Interestingly, the WWE event was the first to permit both women and children into the audience.
As with anything that has anything to do with the Saudi Kingdom, the show was not without controversy. Like any overseas tour for the WWE, the event was politicized. I’m not complaining mind you, I’m merely pointing out a fact. At one point an Iranian flag was put on display for the crowd to boo. The Daivari Brothers who are both Iranian-American confronted four Saudi wrestlers with an Iranian flag. These Saudi wrestlers were amateurs picked by the WWE to do the show since they don’t have any Saudi performers.
The completely unknown Saudi wrestlers with no future in the WWE proceeded to destroy the two brothers which are established assets. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been enemies for some time. Both countries are in opposition for influence in the Middle East. The Saudis mere puppets of US imperialist power, while Iran is a stalwart defender of anti-imperialism and self-determination in the region. Undertaking this kind of angle (to use a pro-wrestling term) is to be expected.
Saudi Twitter users expressed their outrage at such a blatant display of the Iranian flag at a Saudi event. While the crowd expectedly boo’ed the Iranian display, the Twitter outrage was simply nonsense. The whole angle was set up to make Saudi Arabia look strong in the face of the “terrible” Iranians. The Saudi fans must have missed the point.
From a pro-wrestling standpoint, the stunt made no sense. Four unknown wrestlers just buried entrenched performers. They were made to look weak as they were defeated by amateurs. This lowered their value and standing in the company. (This concept might be hard for those with little knowledge of how the pro-wrestling industry works.) Instead, established WWE professionals come off looking like they’re unable to handle their own against amateurs. If this angle were done properly, a WWE regular would have carried out the beating. (I can hear Jim Cornette cringing already and rightfully so.) Unfortunately, as I said previously there is no such performer on the roster.
From a political standpoint, the bashing of Iranians is wholly S.O.P. for an international wrestling event. Politicizing such pro-wrestling matches is old as pro-wrestling itself. In another lifetime ago, Canadian pro-wrestling star Bret “The Hitman” Hart was roped into doing an entirely anti-American angle that played quite well. He was the first pro-wrestler to be hated inside the US and loved outside of it.
Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri, a.k.a. The Iron Sheik is an Iranian American who frequently played the villain to the American patriot character throughout the 80s and the Iran Hostage Crisis. On a nightly basis he would be resoundingly defeated by the American hero, or he would steal a victory from his opponent in a dastardly way. Later he would return as an Iraqi sympathizer during Operation Desert Storm.
We certainly couldn’t do a history of political heels (to use more pro-wrestling terminology) without mentioning Nikolai Volkoff (Josip Nikolai Peruzović) the superstar from the Soviet Union. His mission was to humiliate the capitalist Americans pigs in the ring by cheating them out of their hard earned wins.
Iranians were no doubt angry at being portrayed in such a way during the event. We mustn’t forget the context in which this angle takes place. Iranians being attacked in Saudi Arabia, being portrayed by Americans in an American company. Two countries that have set themselves upon a direct course to destabilize and carry out “regime change” in Iran. While Iran has every right to be offended at the display, they shouldn’t take it too seriously. This is just professional wrestling after all. It has always been an act of theatre that becomes politicized when it serves a dramatic purpose.
I wonder how WWE CEO Vince McMahon feels about pandering to the country that has murdered some odd 14,000 Yemenis via bombings and other attacks. Probably the same as he felt supporting the US during their imperialist conquests in Afghanistan and Iraq when he put on shows in paying tribute to the occupying troops.