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John Cena, the top star in WWE most of the past 15 years, has opted out of participating on Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia this Friday. Whether Cena asked to be removed due to moral objections or for purely pragmatic public image reasons, Cena is off the show and out a big payday. Bobby Lashley was put in his place in a storyline twist on WWE’s Monday Night Raw program this week, a “favor” to Lashley by the acting G.M. Baron Corbin as a way of thanking him for beating up Finn Balor, a nemesis of Corbin. Corbin noted that unlike everyone else in the tournament, Cena didn’t win actually win qualifying match and was “gifted” the spot in the tournament. The announcers did not object to the decision or draw attention to Cena being removed by fiat.
Cena was called out again on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” program on Sunday night this week. It was the second time he was mentioned in a blistering story highly critical of WWE’s decision to continue to do business with Saudi Arabia after other U.S. businesses have pulled out of existing deals on moral objections of dealing with the Saudi regime. It is widely believed the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (known and marketed as “MBS”) was responsible for sending 15 Saudi henchmen to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to torture and murder and dismember a U.S. resident and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi who had been a high-profile critic of his home country Saudi Arabia’s policies, including its harsh restrictions on freedom of press.
The original HBO segment (embedded below) showed Cena standing in the ring at their first event in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, “The Greatest Royal Rumble,” gushing over the Saudi Crown Prince MBS and his “progressive policies.” He was the most prominent WWE personality to endorse the Saudi regime at that show.
Cena has not publicly commented on his decision. If Cena were to speak out against WWE continuing its relationship with Saudi Arabia, he could be concerned about making his colleagues look bad for not taking a similar stand, including several multi-millionaires who likely could have walked away from the payday without a significant hit to their financial independence and lifestyles including Undertaker, Kane (mayor of Knox County, Tenn.), Triple H (a WWE executive), Shawn Michaels (coming out of retirement on this show after years of vowing not to after being offered a massive payday for this event in particular), Randy Orton (who spoke out in favor WWE running an event in Saudi Arabia in a TMZ interview, citing the argument that it can help move the society toward being more open if U.S. entities like WWE are part of their culture), The Miz (who like Cena has aspirations to do more in Hollywood and is the star of USA Network’s hit reality show “Miz & Mrs”), and Kurt Angle (an Olympic Gold Medalist who probably has the least clout of anyone on this list and has gone through tough times, but as an Olympic Gold Medalist is, in many respects, the highest-profile person on this event).
Wrestlers with less accumulated main event six-figure paydays or who are shakier ground with their clout with top management might have feared ramifications if they protested rather than trusting WWE management’s decision. John Bradshaw Layfield told Busted Open radio last week that WWE wrestlers are independent contractors and would not be punished if they opted out of the show.
Believe in what you say, and what you do. If you say and do things just to create an image of what you want people to think, over time they will eventually see who you really are.
— John Cena (@JohnCena) October 22, 2018
Cena has more to lose outside of WWE than he does within WWE. His WWE career is winding down as he has shifted to trying to gain a foothold in Hollywood and in TV. He has guest hosted the NBC Today show ultimate times, has been a guest on “The Tonight Show” multiple times, and has been a featured actor in multiple movies including “Tranwreck” and “Blockers” along with voicing the lead animated character in “Ferdinand.”
There have been reports of Daniel Bryan also objecting to participating in the show. He is still being advertised as the opponent of A.J. Styles in a WWE Title match as of Monday night, but tonight on Smackdown will be WWE’s opportunity to write him off the show the way they did for Cena on Raw last night if Bryan is not going to participate on the event.
The World Cup tournament without Cena features Bobby Lashley vs. Seth Rollins and Kurt Angle vs. Dolph Ziggler in the A-bracket and Rey Mysterio vs. The Miz and Jeff Hardy vs. Randy Orton in the B-bracket.
CHECK OUT THE WADE KELLER PRO WRESTLING POST-SHOW COVERING THIS EPISODE OF RAW with guest cohost Matt Koon…