By Chuck Carroll
“What an honor and a privilege it is to be allowed to be part of an event like today. Regardless of what is going on in my universe, I was not going to miss this event for anything in the world. I want to send a genuine thank you to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its unmatched hospitality that extends far beyond this evening. I also want to say once again thank all of you for allowing me to be part of something so special.”
–John Cena, April 27, 2018.
Five months ago, John Cena stood in the middle of a ring in King Abdullah International Stadium with sweat dripping from his head and a smile beaming ear to ear. The 16-time World Champion and face of World Wrestling Entertainment had just disposed of Triple H at The Greatest Royal Rumble in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Moments after the referee raised his hand in victory, Cena grabbed the microphone to address the 60,000 fans on-hand to witness the historic event. Slowly and deliberately, he paid homage to the country nestled along the Arabian Peninsula, and every word was met with thunderous applause. His words had been carefully scripted, but seemed to flow effortlessly nonetheless.
Cena has never been thought of as anything less than a company man and has often gone above and beyond during a near 20-year career to cast WWE in the best light possible whenever asked. That night in Jeddah would be no different.
But when the WWE returns to Saudi Arabia for Crown Jewel on Friday, everything will be different. An encore performance would risk irrevocable damage to Cena’s skyrocketing career outside of the ring.
Many compare the WrestleMania main eventer’s trajectory to that of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who has become a dominant force in Hollywood and top global box office attraction since hanging up his boots. For Cena, committing to the controversial show is not worth gambling the starring roles, national television appearances, and a spot on the New York Times best-seller list. Not to mention the millions of dollars that come with all of them.
The 41-year-old is one of two top stars in the company who have put their foot down and are refusing to participate. Both he and Daniel Bryan were written off the show this week after reportedly informing WWE executives that they had no intention of performing at King Saud University Stadium.
Indeed, the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi in early October has changed everything. In the face of overwhelming evidence, Saudi officials have confessed that the killing of the frequent critic of crown prince Mohammad bin Salman at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey was premeditated. And it’s unfathomable that such a gruesome and heinous act was carried out without the prior knowledge of MBS himself.
A week ago, WWE officials opted to proceed with the event, despite a barrage of media scrutiny and mounting international pressure. But Cena and Bryan reportedly informed WWE of their decisions prior to that.
Multiple other talents and crew members have anonymously expressed their reservations about participating through the media but are traveling to Saudi Arabia nonetheless. The company says they have been listening to those concerns.
“As always, we maintain an open line of communication with our performers and will address each situation accordingly,” WWE said in a statement.
Interestingly, the biggest name in the history of pro wrestling will make his return on the show.
Hulk Hogan will host Crown Jewel, according to multiple reports. The wrestling legend had been shunned by the company since racially insensitive remarks he made were surfaced in 2015. At the time, he was stripped of his standing in the WWE Hall of Fame, and the company essentially erased him from their history, washing away many of the most iconic moments in the history of sports entertainment in the process.
Hogan was reinstated to the WWE Hall of Fame earlier this year.
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.