An action-packed trip to Saudi provided plenty of talking points for the WWE faithful – our King Of The Ring Andy Spoors summarises the very best of a big night in Riyadh as Crown Jewel ruled.
The controversial Crown Jewel PPV ended in shock as a major championship changed hands to cap off a topsy-turvy night of action from Saudi Arabia. But the week in the Middle East would end in typically controversial style, as rumour and innuendo ruled supreme.
Much has been made of WWE’s partnership with Saudi Arabia but rather than wading in to that murky political world, we prefer to concentrate on the action in the ring than what happens outside it.
The second Crown Jewel and fourth Saudi event to take place in a multi-year agreement, this iteration was by far the most impressive in terms of action.
Previous events have been labelled as glorified ‘house shows’, a result of no title changes and very little consequence to storylines outside of the three to four hour show, halfway across the globe.
With the inclusion of Cain Velasquez, Tyson Fury and veterans Hulk Hogan and Rick Flair, the media spotlight was well and truly on a company that has never been afraid of making headlines.
Velasquez faced off against WWE Universal Champion Brock Lesnar, in a rematch from their brutal UFC bout nearly nine years ago, to open the show.
With Velasquez reportedly carrying a serious injury, the match was a blink and you’ll miss it affair – Rey Mysterio taking to the ring with a steel chair and gaining some retribution for weeks of blindsided attacks from Lesnar.
The tag team turmoil match, finally shone a light on a spotlight deprived division.
Each team won an opportunity to showcase some character: Heavy Machinery and The Revival, in particular, getting some much needed exposure.
Gallows and Anderson were the last team standing, gaining the unenviable task of transporting a comedically large trophy back to the States after being crowned ‘Greatest Tag Team In The World’.
Humberto Carrillo emerged victorious from the preshow battle royal to earn a shot the US Champion AJ Styles.
A valiant effort by the upcoming Mexican Superstar and great experience in front of a huge crowd, should help Carrillo no end.
Hometown hero Mansoor had a fantastic night against workhorse Cesaro in a match that not only attempted to push the former’s journey to stardom, but ignite a crowd reaction.
As predicated, Cesaro made Mansoor look like a million bucks but the inevitable win for the local lad was still met with the loudest cheer of the night.
Tyson Fury embraced all the pageantry associated with professional wrestling, emerging to The Isley Brothers’ It’s Your Thing and dressed in local garb to a huge firework display.
It may have been a clunky affair but entertaining nevertheless. Fury’s first and possibly last jaunt into the wrestling business ended in a knock out punch to Braun Strowman and a subsequent count out victory.
After much fanfare, Lacey Evans and Natalya made history.
Their outfits may have been heavily modified, but take nothing away from a monumental moment in not just WWE history but a nation’s history too.
The emotional embrace at the end of the match may have been out of character for Evans but it was touching to see just how much it meant to both women.
From a fan’s perspective, it was great to see two women outside of the usual go-to group of Lynch, Charlotte, Banks, Bayley and Bliss help create a moment that will feature prominently in years to come.
The main event of the night saw The Fiend challenge one last time for Seth Rollins’ WWE Universal Championship.
After drawing the ire of the WWE Universe and beyond for their last match at Hell In A Cell, expectations were understandably more tempered then previous matches featuring The Fiend.
Once again the stadium was bathed in a red light, that seems much more distracting than enhancing.
The match itself was another brutal affair between the two – tables splintering, chairs bending round bone and weapons aplenty throughout.
The real shock was the saved for the final moments of the night. Taking a plunge into an electrical stand, most might have feared the end of The Fiend.
But a recovery that Michael Myers would be proud of in any Halloween film, saw The Fiend rise up one last time and apply a Mandible Claw to the champion for the three count and crown a new Universal champ.
The drama seemingly wasn’t over for the WWE Superstars that had made the long journey to the Middle East.
A tight turnaround should have seen talent fly to Buffalo, New York in time for Smackdown a night later but rumours began to spread early on Friday that there had been a hold-up at the airport that had severely delayed take off.
As the hours slipped by, it became obvious that the delay would have ramifications for Smackdown and an expectant audience took their seats back in Buffalo.
It should be noted that the issues that faced WWE employees returning to the US on time, may not have been the political dispute some had speculated as WWE announced an extension of their Saudi partnership through to 2027.
As always, when their backs are against the wall, no one thrives more than WWE.
Calling on NXT to kick off the next PPV, Survivor Series, the yellow and black brand helped create an exciting show the likes of which haven’t been seen in years on Smackdown.
Indirectly, Crown Jewel may have provided the catalyst to steady the ship and thrust one of the best brands in the business into the spotlight.
The next month already looks to be an exciting and unpredictable ride with new feuds and a new champion to lead the way.