There was controversy at a Saudi Arabian airport as WWE wrestlers were “held hostage”. The wrestling stars were reportedly prevented from returning to the United States. However, the Saudi authorities had a good reason for the detainment, as there was a row over payment.
It was not uncommon for WWE superstars to travel to Saudi Arabia, as the company often staged events there. However, the move has been widely criticized by human rights activists. It intensified in the wake of the gruesome 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was blamed.
The latest of these WWE pay-per-view events, titled Crown Jewel, was held on Thursday. During the show, the WWE reportedly cut the live feed early, which left bin Salman thoroughly unimpressed.
According to Forbes, WWE commentator Hugo Savinovich suggested that WWE CEO Vince McMahon had called for the feed to be cut early. He believes that the reason behind it was because of missed payments from Saudi Arabia for past events. However, WWE denied such claims by Forbes.
The next day, however, as the wrestlers were set to return to the US, nearly 200 stars from SmackDown were held up at King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.
The delay meant the wrestlers missed a live event in Buffalo, New York, the following day. Apparently, the no-show was blamed on “mechanical issues” that stopped their 747 plane leaving Riyadh. A WWE spokesman declined to comment when asked about claims that the delay was linked to retaliation from Crown Prince Mohammed.
Dave Meltzer, a US journalist, tweeted: “Some notes since nobody can say anything. WWE had a problem in Saudi Arabia. Talent was not allowed to leave on their flight and most are still there. 20 people, 12 of which were talent, have left but the rest are still there.”
He added: “The talent felt they were hostages… nobody was harmed or anything like that. It’s a really tense story.”
Some people — including McMahon and British boxer Tyson Fury reportedly managed to leave Saudi Arabia on their own private jets.
WWE on Friday confirmed that wrestlers including Karl Anderson and Brian Myers sat on the tarmac for six hours — but continued to blame the late take-off on “mechanical issues.”
Atlas Air, the owner of the plane in question, issued a similar statement at the time, adding that “the aircraft is being repaired and will be inspected and certified before returning to service.”
Meanwhile, some wrestlers left waiting on the runway vowed never to go back to Saudi Arabia.
Anderson joked on Twitter: “You couldn’t pay me enough to go back… Well, that’s not true, I need a second pool, so…”