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17th of October 2018

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Here's why WWE fans are talking about the mysterious disappearance of a Saudi Arabian journalist

The WWE's deal with Saudi Arabia is under scrutiny from fans for a host of reasons, including the alleged murder of a dissident journalist.The WWE's deal with Saudi Arabia is under scrutiny from fans for a host of reasons, including the alleged murder of a dissident journalist.Image: AFP/Getty Images2016%2f09%2f16%2f8f%2fhttpsd2mhye01h4nj2n.cloudfront.netmediazgkymde1lza3.f09f1By Marcus Gilmer2018-10-11 20:49:10 UTC

UPDATE: Oct. 11, 2018, 6:55 p.m. EDT Updated to include statement from WWE.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi and reports of the Saudi government's involvement with his possible murder has resulted in outrage, but it's also had an impact on a group you may not have suspected: fans of WWE.

As more is uncovered about Khashoggi's disappearance, fans of the wrestling promotion are expressing growing discomfort with an upcoming event the company is holding in Saudi Arabia. 

While WWE fans are maybe the last group you'd think of in connection with the possible murder of a journalist by Saudi Arabia, the WWE has a lucrative deal with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that's led to vocal opposition from some fans, which has been given new fuel by the Khashoggi case.

Khashoggi vanishes

Jamal Khashoggi was last seen on October 2, entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. He was there to obtain marriage documents while his fiancee waited outside. He never emerged from the building and hasn't been seen since. 

The Washington Post, for whom Khashoggi wrote a column often critical of Saudi Arabia's crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, reported this week that a literal Saudi murder squad killed Khashoggi inside the consulate and smuggled his body out. 

The reports of his death got even more gruesome when a Turkish official reportedly told a close friend of Khashoggi's that his body was dismembered before its removal from the consulate. The Saudi government has denied these accusations, but the Trump administration is cranking up pressure over the mystery. 

WWE feels the heat 

The investigation into Khashoggi's possible murder comes just weeks before "Crown Jewel," an event WWE is holding in Riyadh on November 2, part of a long-term deal the company has with the Saudi General Sports Authority (SGSA) which was met with plenty of controversy and skepticism. 

The deal and these events are all part of bin Salman's "Vision 2030" plan, which aims to, among other things, invigorate and modernize the nation. That involves offering better entertainment options to inject some life into the economy and make residents just a bit happier.

Still, the deal and the shows have faced criticism for many reasons — from the fact that the shows disrupt ongoing storylines to the political implications of the deal. And some fans have taken to social media to express dismay at the approaching "Crown Jewel," especially in light of Khashoggi's disappearance.

I hope @WWE and @TripleH are paying attention to what’s happening in Saudi Arabia with #JamalKhashoggi. If the reports are true, that he was killed by the Saudi Government then WWE should immediately sever all ties with Saudi Arabia and cancel #CrownJewel.

— Blaine Shores (@bdshores) October 10, 2018

Senator Chris Murphy of CT (home of WWE HQs) says if the Turkish allegation of murder is true, “it should represent a fundamental break in our relationship with Saudi Arabia.” This could end up being troublesome for WWE's event deal with Saudi Arabia. https://t.co/nkUKoZDqMs

— Wade Keller (@thewadekeller) October 10, 2018

Everyone: "So, I guess all those puff pieces reporters wrote about Mohammad bin Salman were a bad idea considering the whole 'he had a journalist brutally murdered' thing, huh?"@TripleH: "Hold my Steveweiser." https://t.co/we6iZYoCqb

— Nima Shirazi (@WideAsleepNima) October 11, 2018

It’s time for the WWE to show some guts and cancel the show in Saudi Arabia

— Evan Roberts (@EvanRobertsWFAN) October 11, 2018

The controversy is also cropping up on "r/squaredcircle," the popular pro wrestling subreddit, where it's become a controversial topic because political discussion is usually verboten. One thread on the matter has generated over 1,300 comments so far.

There's real heat on the WWE for continuing to go forward with the event, though the organization doesn't show any signs of changing plans at this point. Mashable has reached out to a WWE spokesperson for comment but have yet to hear back.

That a new report from the Post suggests that bin Salman was directly involved in Khashoggi's disappearance only heightens the need for some sort of clarification from the WWE since the crown prince is a prominent figure involved in the WWE deal. 

Look, pro wrestling fandom will never be a bastion of progressive ideals. But the WWE has a wide reach, and not all fans fit a certain stereotype. And those fans have been consistent in making noise about what they see as an ethically messy interaction for the WWE.

A controversial deal

This isn't the first time WWE fans have expressed displeasure with the company's Saudi Arabia deal. That started with April's "Greatest Royal Rumble" in Jeddah, which featured dozens of the promotion's biggest stars in a five-plus hour event that aired stateside on the WWE network. 

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For starters, none of the promotion's women wrestlers were allowed to participate,due to Saudi law that greatly restrict women's rights. (It's worth noting reports indicate that women wrestlers earned a decent payday as a mea culpa for being left at home.) Add to that the kingdom's anti-LGBTQ stance and poor record on human rights and you've got a large segment of fans who weren't happy about the event. 

WWE’s response to the “backlash” of The Greatest Royal Rumble, which is essentially “we respect women and the LGBT community , but since they paid us and we decided to perform here, we are gonna exclude those groups because of this countries culture”

— Wrestling LAD (@WrestlingLAD) April 29, 2018

Paul Levesque, an executive vice president of WWE and the popular wrestler "Triple H," defended the deal, saying the company had to respect other cultures and even suggested maybe the deal could lead to positive long-term changes.

“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.

“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.

But the event wasn't without its messes. The Saudi General Sports Authority had to issue an apology because an otherwise innocuous ad that played on the jumbotron inside the stadium during the "Greatest Royal Rumble" featured women in the act of wrestling. And the event was under threat of attack by Al Qaeda for being "sinful." 

In the months after the "Greatest Royal Rumble," WWE announced it's first-ever all-women event, "Evolution," was happening Sunday, October 28. While Levesque denied the suggestion the event was in response to the women's exclusion from Saudi Arabia, some fans believe otherwise, especially since "Crown Jewel" was announced just days after plans for "Evolution" were revealed. 

Unpopular opinion, but it seems like they're giving women WWE Evolution as compensation for Vince booking 2 PPVs in Saudi Arabia.

— sad bitch energy™ (@shxrk_dxd) September 28, 2018

In the end, though, it's a good guess that the WWE won't deviate from its current Saudi Arabia plans — no matter how much pressure fans exert. While the company hasn't announced publicly what their long-term deal is worth, eagle-eyed observers combing through quarterly earnings reports estimated the company made somewhere in the neighborhood of $40-50 million on just the "Greatest Royal Rumble" alone. 

That WWE has its own ties to the Trump White House, which can't be underestimated either. Linda McMahon, former WWE president and CEO and wife of WWE chairman and all-around head honcho Vince McMahon, is a member of Trump's cabinet as leader of the Small Business Administration. 

So it seems the McMahons would take some direction from the White House, which has its own investment in Saudi Arabia thanks to the diplomatic involvement Jared Kushner has with the kingdom. For all his suggestions he's going to look into it, if Trump ultimately doesn't come down hard on Saudi Arabia, it's unlikely WWE will do anything to jeopardize their expensive deal. 

In a statement to Mashable, WWE said only "We are currently monitoring the situation.”

.@POTUS says US is investigating disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi and repeated that he does not favor stopping arms sales in retaliation. “We don’t like it, we don’t like it a little bit. What happened is a terrible thing, assuming that happened."

— Anita Kumar (@anitakumar01) October 11, 2018

And, at that point, it'll be up to those vocal wrestling fans to make a decision: to put action behind their words and abandon the company or to simply shrug it off and accept it as just another unfortunate cost of doing business. 

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