WWE slammed for excluding women wrestlers in Saudi Arabia
Riyadh announced in March it signed a ten-year contract with the sports entertainment company to hold professional wrestling shows in the kingdom, and the first event, the Greatest Royal Rumble, takes place in Jeddah on Friday.
But fans are outraged that women wrestlers will not be part of the 50-name line-up.
Women used to have minimal roles in pro-wrestling matches but have become well respected wrestlers under the much-praised "Women's Evolution", so their absence from the Rumble is in stark contrast to WWE's progression.
On social media, fans have criticised WWE for yielding to Saudi Arabia's ultra-conservative customs, and said it had allowed Riyadh to use the entertainment as a "propaganda arm" to whitewash its repressive laws.
Recently Saudi Arabia has embarked on a wide-ranging programme of social reforms that includes boosting sports and entertainment and allowing women to drive.
However the kingdom still has the most oppressive restrictions on women in the world, including the male guardianship system.
On Friday, women are only allowed to watch the WWE show from the King Abdullah Sports City if they are accompanied.
Speaking to The Independent, Paul "Triple H" Levesque defended the decision to stage the landmark event without the likes of Charlotte Flair or Ronda Rousey. "You can't dictate to a country or a religion about how they handle things but, having said that, WWE is at the forefront of a women's evolution in the world and what you can't do is affect change anywhere by staying away from it," he said.
"While, right now, women are not competing in the event, we have had discussions about that and we believe and hope that, in the next few years they will be. That is a significant cultural shift in Saudi Arabia.
"The country is in the middle of a shift in how it is dealing with that – the position is changing, and rights are changing, as are the way women are handled and treated in society. We think that’s a great thing and we're excited to be at the forefront of that change."
Some social media users agreed the multi-year deal could mean women wrestlers will be part of future shows in the kingdom.
Last year, wrestling stars Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss competed in the first-ever WWE women's match to be held in the Middle East at a show in Abu Dhabi. But even then, instead of their usual revealing get-up, both wore full body suits in the ring to adhere to local dress codes.