John Cena withdraws from WWE Saudi Arabia show

'You can't see me!' John Cena calls-off WWE Saudi tour amid royal rumble over Khashoggi
3 min read
31 October, 2018
WWE star John Cena has pulled out of the Crown Jewel tour amid ongoing pressure on Riyadh over the murder of a journalist.
John Cena had visited Saudi Arabia in April with WWE [AP]

World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star John Cena has withdrawn from the upcoming "Crown Jewel" event that will take place in Saudi Arabia's capital on Friday, amid continued pressure on the kingdom over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The 41-year-old decided not to attend the event, which came close to cancellation due to the Khashoggi controversy, TMZ reported on Tuesday.

Khashoggi, a Saudi Washington Post columnist who lived in self-imposed exile, was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on 2 October.

Riyadh's handling of the issue, as well as allegations that the Saudi government was behind the assassination, have led to a significant cultural and corporate boycott of the kingdom.

Riyadh admitted that Khashoggi had been killed almost three weeks after he went missing at the diplomatic building.

Last week, Saudi prosecutors said the murder was pre-meditated, contradicting an earlier Saudi claim that the journalist was killed during a scuffle. 

WWE announced on Thursday that the 'Crown Jewel' event on 2 November would go ahead in Riyadh, despite mounting pressure on Riyadh over Khashoggi's death.

"Moving forward with Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia was an incredibly tough decision, given that heinous act," chief branding officer Stephanie McMahon told Sky News last week.

"But, at the end of the day, it is a business decision and, like a lot of other American companies, we decided that we're going to move forward with the event and deliver Crown Jewel for all of our fans in Saudi Arabia and around the world."

The decision stands in contrast to that of several Western business and government leaders who pulled out of a major Saudi investment conference last week over Khashoggi's murder.

The Future Investment Initiative, which was dubbed the "Davos of the Desert", was boycotted by a number of influential figures, including US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the UK's Trade Secretary Liam Fox and IMF head Christine Lagarde.

Fans took to Twitter to blast WWE's decision, with some threatening to boycott the professional wrestling brand.

Cena's withdrawal indicates has added to obstacles faced by the WWE in the less-than-smooth run-up to Crown Jewel, however, the sports entertainment giant has moved quickly to replace him on the tour.

WWE announced on Monday Night Raw that Cena will be replaced by replaced by fellow star Bobby Lashley.

Cena had visited the ultra-conservative kingdom in April during a mega-show held at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium, where he addressed a crowd of 60,000 fans. 

"What an honour and a privilege it is to be allowed to be a 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," Cena said.

"And I also want to say once again, thank all of you for allowing me to be part of something so special."

WWE's increased interest in Saudi Arabia was initially touted as part of the kingdom's social reforms under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The Khashoggi affair, however, has served as a painful reminder to many of increasing authoritarianism under the 33-year-old crown prince.

On Wednesday, Turkey's chief prosecutor made details of the Khashoggi murder public for the first time, divulging that the journalist had been strangled as soon as he entered the consulate.

Gruesome reports in the Turkish media had previously alleged that Khashoggi had been killed and cut into pieces by a team sent from Riyadh to silence him. His body is still missing.