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Preview and Predictions for WWE’s ‘Crown Jewel’ in Saudi Arabia

Though the shows are ethically questionable at best, Thursday’s event is full of promising matches.

WWE’s financially lucrative but morally bankrupt relationship with Saudi Arabia will resume with Crown Jewel on Thursday.

The show, which is being held in Riyadh, will be the first time WWE has been to Saudi Arabia since the COVID-19 pandemic began. It will be the sixth pay-per-view event that WWE has put on in Saudi Arabia since signing a 10-year agreement with its government in 2018.

With two shows per year and each of them bringing in approximately $50 million in revenue, the Saudi deal is a cash windfall for WWE. But it’s a deal that has directly aligned WWE with a regime responsible for human rights abuses. The pro wrestling events exist as a form of “sportswashing,” with WWE allowing itself to be used as a public relations tool for an oppressive government that wants the world to see it as being more progressive.

Nearly every Saudi show has served as a reminder that WWE can’t distance itself from the actions of its business partner. When women were prohibited from wrestling in Saudi Arabia for the first three events in the deal, WWE chose to prioritize money over its “women’s evolution” movement. The company still went on with shows in Saudi Arabia even though some of the most popular wrestlers on the roster weren’t allowed to be on the card. And when Saudi Arabia finally decided to have its first women’s match in 2019, WWE pointed to it as a way they're helping to bring change to the country.

In 2018, WWE’s relationship with Saudi Arabia came under its most serious scrutiny following the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Despite Saudi involvement in the killing of Khashoggi, WWE chose to go on with Crown Jewel as planned just one month after his death.

The following year even brought a bizarre incident where the WWE roster was delayed in leaving Saudi Arabia following Crown Jewel. While a disagreement between WWE chairman Vince McMahon and Saudi officials was the rumored reason for the delay, WWE and Atlas Air released a statement saying that it was due to a mechanical issue with the plane that WWE had chartered.

The people of Saudi Arabia aren’t responsible for the actions of their government. WWE’s bringing marquee events to countries all around the world as a way to help build a diverse, global fan base would be a great thing if that’s what this was. But it’s not. It’s an egregious example of what happens too often in business: a company failing to show even the most basic level of decency when tremendous profit is at stake.

In the ring, the Saudi deal has produced some of the worst shows in WWE history. They’ve been defined by sad moments like Shawn Michaels’s coming out of retirement for a payday at Crown Jewel in 2018 and The Undertaker and Goldberg’s disastrous match at Super ShowDown in 2019. The atmosphere for the shows has been poor and has dragged down whatever matches did have potential.

That trend of lackluster Saudi shows is something that WWE hopes to change at this year’s Crown Jewel. On paper, it's easily the best card that WWE has put together for any Saudi show to date. It features WWE’s biggest stars in multiple matches that could serve as a WrestleMania main event. If Crown Jewel was somehow able to overcome the atmosphere issues that have existed for past Saudi events, it could be a strong contender for WWE's best PPV of the year.

The Crown Jewel main card begins at noon ET on Thursday and will stream live on Peacock in the U.S. (and the WWE Network elsewhere). Here’s a rundown of the lineup, along with predictions for each match:

The Usos vs. Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander

The pre-show match for Crown Jewel pits the SmackDown tag team champions against Shelton Benjamin and Cedric Alexander in non-title action. With The Usos holding the SmackDown tag team titles and Benjamin and Alexander being on the opposite brand, The Usos should pick up the win in this match.

Prediction: The Usos win

Universal championship match: Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar

For the first time since WrestleMania 37, the result of a Roman Reigns title defense isn’t a foregone conclusion going into the match. While Reigns is the favorite to retain, there’s a real chance that Lesnar will walk out of Crown Jewel as universal champion.

The Reigns-Lesnar story line has been the highlight of WWE programming since it began. The dynamic of a heel Reigns facing a babyface Lesnar works so much better than when they’ve feuded with each other in the past. With Paul Heyman stuck in the middle between his current client and his former one, this has been a genuinely compelling story with plenty of options of where to go next. There’s no doubt that Crown Jewel will take us closer to revealing Heyman’s true motivations.

The rivalry between Reigns and Lesnar isn’t going to end at Crown Jewel. There’s still more story to tell and more matches to be had. Lesnar’s continuing to chase Reigns, and being out for vengeance against Heyman, is the best path forward for this program.

Prediction: Roman Reigns retains

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SmackDown women’s championship match: Becky Lynch vs. Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks

While women weren’t allowed to wrestle in Saudi Arabia when WWE’s deal with the country began, this triple threat may end up being the match of the night at this year’s Crown Jewel. It’s three of the biggest stars in WWE facing off in a title match where the winner is far from obvious.

SmackDown women’s champion Lynch and Raw women’s champion Charlotte Flair switching brands in the WWE draft has left a title situation that needs to be resolved. Lynch and Flair can either both lose their titles soon, or they can swap their championship belts so that the correct title is on each brand. Doing the latter would diminish two of the most prestigious championships in WWE.

Banks winning at Crown Jewel would resolve one-half of the issue. She’s the only wrestler in the triple-threat match who will still be on SmackDown when the post-draft rosters go into effect on Friday. But with the Raw women’s championship situation still without a clear solution, this may drag out a little longer on both sides.

Prediction: Becky Lynch retains

WWE championship match: Big E vs. Drew McIntyre

Unlike the SmackDown women’s championship match, the WWE draft has made the result of Big E vs. Drew McIntyre obvious. Given that McIntyre is moving to SmackDown after Crown Jewel, there’s no chance that he’ll defeat Big E to win Raw’s top title.

Getting a fresh start on SmackDown after Crown Jewel means that McIntyre can lose to Big E without being hurt by it too much. Beating a top wrestler like McIntyre in what should be a great match will only help Big E as he continues to establish himself as WWE champion.

Prediction: Big E retains

No holds barred match: Goldberg vs. Bobby Lashley

Coming off three straight losses, Goldberg is in need of a win at Crown Jewel. The only way his character can be effective is if fans still see him as a threat and as someone who is capable of defeating today’s wrestlers despite his age.

The story of Goldberg and Bobby Lashley’s feud is also one that necessitates a Goldberg win. After Lashley defeated Goldberg at SummerSlam, he put Goldberg’s 15-year-old son, Gage, in the Hurt Lock. Goldberg then vowed to get revenge against Lashley and threatened to kill him when they faced off again. Lashley has to get back on the winning track after losing the WWE championship to Big E last month, but he can overcome a loss to Goldberg if he recovers quickly following Crown Jewel.

Prediction: Goldberg wins

Hell in a Cell match: Edge vs. Seth Rollins

WWE has received a lot of justified criticism for how Hell in a Cell matches have gotten diluted over time. An annual Hell in a Cell PPV has meant that WWE keeps having to go back to the match type, even when there aren’t feuds worthy of Hell in a Cell matches. There have already been four Hell in a Cell matches this year, with two of them taking place on free TV.

But Edge vs. Seth Rollins is a match that undoubtedly deserves to take place inside Hell in a Cell. They’ve had the type of personal rivalry that needs to culminate in a big stipulation match. If they work a match as intense as their feud has been, Edge vs. Rollins could remind people of what once made Hell in a Cell special. WWE legends usually go over at Saudi shows, so Edge should get the win against Rollins at Crown Jewel.

Prediction: Edge wins

Raw tag team championship match: RK-Bro (Randy Orton and Riddle) vs. AJ Styles and Omos

Orton and Riddle won the Raw tag-team titles from AJ Styles and Omos at SummerSlam and will hopefully move on from them after retaining the titles in this rematch. The 7' 3" Omos will likely be featured heavily as an attraction as he wrestles in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

Prediction: RK-Bro retain

King of the Ring tournament finals: Finn Bálor vs. Xavier Woods

On a card with a lot of big names and matches that have gotten more attention, Finn Bálor vs. Xavier Woods could end up stealing the show at Crown Jewel. Bálor and Woods are both really strong in-ring workers. Everyone knows how good Bálor is, but Woods is constantly improving and has shown that he’s capable of thriving as a singles wrestler when given the chance.

Woods has called winning King of the Ring a lifelong goal of his. After years of him lobbying to be part of the tournament, it would be a great moment to see Woods win it. For Bálor, winning King of the Ring would give him positive momentum as he moves forward following his loss to Reigns at Extreme Rules last month.

Prediction: Finn Bálor wins

Queen’s Crown tournament finals: Zelina Vega vs. Doudrop

The Queen’s Crown tournament has been a complete disappointment. What should have been a good way to showcase members of the women’s division who aren’t involved in the title picture has instead just been a tournament full of short, meaningless matches.

There’s no reason to believe that will change in the finals. Zelina Vega vs. Doudrop would have been a weak matchup at any point in the tournament, never mind in what’s supposed to be its biggest match. Vega being crowned queen and using that as part of her heel character seems to be the most likely outcome here.

Prediction: Zelina Vega wins

Mansoor vs. Mustafa Ali

This matchup of former tag-team partners will be the first time that two Muslims have ever faced off against each other in a singles match at a WWE PPV. Mansoor, who is from Saudi Arabia, has a 3–0 record in matches at WWE’s Saudi shows. Mansoor vs. Ali will be a showcase for Mansoor and another chance for him to get a win in his home country.

Prediction: Mansoor wins

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