WWE’s twice-yearly ventures to Saudi Arabia are never uneventful. The deal the company has with the KSA as part of the Vision 2030 programme has created quite the backlash towards these shows. However, they have also frequently been very dull affairs characterised by lazy booking, a lack of surprises, and an over-reliance on nostalgia, sometimes to disastrous effect (see Goldberg vs The Undertaker earlier this year or indeed D-Generation X vs The Brothers of Destruction last November for the sort of fiasco that has transpired on these infamous events). However, Crown Jewel 2019 had a slightly different feel to it with a bit more energy and focus on the current roster as well as a groundbreaking, historic first-ever match.
Pre-show: 20-Man Battle Royal for a Chance at the United States Championship
There isn’t a huge amount to say about this Battle Royal, with some routine eliminations happening over the first few minutes and nothing massively exciting or intriguing taking place until we got down to the final three. The only “highlight” before that point was a brief interlude between the Singh Brothers and R-Truth over the increasingly tedious 24/7 title. Once the match resumed, it was business as usual until we got to Humberto Carrillo, Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. The former Bludgeon Brothers would double-team the smaller Carillo until it was time to dump him out, only for Carillo to hang on and eliminate his larger opponents after Rowan turned on Harper. Carrillo had a strong showing that won him an opportunity against AJ Styles and the US Championship on the main show. More on that later.
WWE Championship Match: Brock Lesnar vs Cain Velasquez
After weeks of build within WWE, and a history dating back 9 years, Cain Velasquez challenging Brock Lesnar for the title in his WWE debut seemed like one of the hotter tickets on this show. As such, it was surprising to see it open the show, but the crowd reacted strongly. Cain’s choice of gear seemed like an odd choice, but they obviously had a faux-MMA concept in mind here, and that is very much how the match played out. After some brief circling and some tentative punches, Cain shot for a takedown, got on top of Lesnar but got caught in a Kimura for the lightning-fast submission. It was short, which is probably best given Velasquez’s inexperience, and there is definitely a story to build for a rubber match of sorts down the line. The post-match beatdown was pretty emphatic, but the interactions between Brock and Mysterio (and Mysterio saying the word “survive” umpteen times in a later promo) potentially sets up a match between those two at Survivor Series off the back of this. A hot opener that was all it needed to be and played to both men’s strengths.
Tag Team Turmoil World Cup match – Winners to be Crowned “Best Team in the World”.
This was a long match, but there were lots to enjoy and it never really dragged. Bobby Roode and Dolph Ziggler started things off with Lucha House Party at a pretty rapid pace with Gran Metalik and Lince Dorado both pulling out some impressive aerial work, and Metalik doing some great work using the ropes, but Ziggler and Roode would execute a clumsy Superkick-Glorious DDT spot for the first pin. Zack Ryder and Hawkins would be out next, but their night ended fairly swiftly too after an elevated Zig-Zag. Roode and Ziggler looked really good as a team for the most part here. However, Heavy Machinery would take Roode and Ziggler out of the running after Otis and Tucker (who were very popular with the live audience) hit the Compactor.
This felt like the moment that things ramped up, as The New Day entered the fray. There were power spots with Big E and Otis, Kofi would hit the Trouble in Paradise and this played out like a more traditional tag match. Otis would hit the Caterpillar on Kofi to a big pop, although it was short-lived and The New Day would pick up the pin shortly after. After dispatching The B-Team, The New Day would have an enjoyable back-and-forth with The Revival, who cut the ring in and dominated Kingston before he could get the hot tag, and although the SmackDown Tag Team Champions would be upset by a roll-up, the post-match Shatter Machine on Kingston meant The OC would overcome Kingston and Big E in short order.
The final match of this marathon bout was contested by The OC and The Viking Raiders. This was very physical from the off, with both teams brawling and both Erik and Ivar hitting their agile big man spots before Gallows and Anderson combined to hit the Magic Killer on Erik for the surprise win. With Erik and Ivar holding the RAW Tag Team titles, this gives The OC further impetus to chase the champions and build that ongoing programme. A good match overall, with the right team, winning and everything moved at a good pace.
Mansoor vs Cesaro
For obvious reasons, Mansoor was a big crowd favourite here, and Cesaro very much played the heel. Mansoor took a reasonable amount of the match, hitting a nice dive to the outside only to be caught by a vicious Cesaro uppercut. Cesaro clearly carried him to a very good match, but Mansoor held his own. The gut wrench counter from the top rope into a powerbomb by Mansoor was excellent and he has a pretty decent moonsault. A very good match although, at points, the commentary bordered on insufferable. Mansoor’s post-match promo was a near carbon-copy of the one he cut after winning the battle royal at Super Showdown, but it certainly roused the locals in attendance.
Braun Strowman vs Tyson Fury
Going into this show, few matches on the card held the sort of intrigue that accompanied Tyson Fury making his wrestling debut. From the video package to Braun’s entrance this had a really big fight feel, with two (literally) massive performers going head-to-head. However, Fury took things up a notch with a massively spectacular entrance that, stylistically, felt like it was right out of a huge boxing event. Fury got more pyro than anyone else on the show, and even some licensed music before he made his way out in traditional Saudi robe. It was pure pageantry, even if it felt like it bordered on being a bit disrespectful.
Once the bell rang, Fury surprisingly competent in the fundamentals but reverted to his boxing before long. He did however hit a kip-up, which was very impressive. Fury and Strowman didn’t do too much, but what they did worked well. There was a lovely call back to the Undertaker spot in Deontay Wilder fight as Fury did the sit-up. In the end, a Fury right cross knocked Braun to the floor, which led to a count-out finish, which was a bit cheap but everyone saves face, and it was a decent match considering who was involved. The post-match made it seem like things weren’t conclusively settled between these two, although it was widely reported that Fury was done after Crown Jewel, so who knows. Regardless, this was better than it had any right to be.
United States Championship Match: AJ Styles vs Humberto Carrillo
It was always going to be difficult to get too excited about this match, given that we saw the exact same pairing on RAW less than a week ago. That said, Carrillo had an excellent showing here. AJ Styles was out with Gallows and Anderson, but they weren’t really a factor in the match in any real meaningful way. Carrillo definitely felt like had more momentum here and played the plucky underdog babyface really well. His Lucha spots including a lovely flying arm drag and beautiful twisting dive to the floor (following a stiff-looking palm strike) were very well executed. The story of his knee injury and Styles taking advantage of that opening as the wily veteran was particularly well told and although he taped out to the calf crusher this did plenty for Humberto Carrillo, who has a very bright future indeed. Perhaps one drawback of this bout was the similarity to the story being told in the Mansoor/Cesaro match, but they were spaced out enough on the card that is a very minor gripe overall.
Natalya vs Lacey Evans
One of the big criticisms of the WWE shows in Saudi Arabia was the lack of women’s matches on the shows, due to it not being allowed by the Saudi government, something that was hugely at odds with WWE’s “Women’s Revolution”. However, that changed on this show as Lacey Evans and Natalya faced each other in the squared circle. There are of course caveats, as both women had to wear full bodysuits and oversized t-shirts rather than their normal gear, so it wasn’t the same presentation as the usual WWE women’s match, but it was certainly a start. From an in-ring perspective, this got off to a slow start as they adjusted to the limitations of their ring gear. Evans appeared to have abandoned her usual character for this (which was never explained), and as a result, this definitely had the feel of a more contrived publicity stunt. Evans would pull off her moonsault, which was definitely the high spot of the match (and was greeted by a “holy shit” chant from the audience, which is insane in 2019) before Natalya locked in the Sharpshooter for the win. After the match, both women hugged and they were clearly moved by the whole experience, so as much as this felt like an orchestrated bit of PR for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it was a real moment of breaking ground for those involved and, hopefully, a catalyst for change on some level.
Team Hogan vs Team Flair
While Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair may be too old and broken down to face each other, they did a hell of a job of upping the star power on show in an already jam-packed 5-on-5 tag match. The entrances were very well received with Roman Reigns, in particular, garnering a rousing welcome from the King Fahd International Stadium, although Hogan imitating the Reigns “fist” motion was beyond disturbing. Shorty G played the underdog to start things off with Shinsuke Nakamura, who looked more motivated than in a long time as the heels dominated with frequent tags. Rusev would get lots of time to shine in the early going too. Ali spent a large portion of the match as the babyface in peril until he tagged in Ricochet, who was wearing one of the worst outfits I have ever seen. Eventually, everyone would pair off to an extent with Reigns going after Baron Corbin, Rusev going after Bobby Lashley. Randy Orton would pull his old pose, and after an RKO kick-out, he teased the punt on Reigns. Perhaps the spot of the match came from Drew McIntyre who would hit a claymore kick directly into a kip-up, which was outstanding. The babyfaces would all execute dives to the outside in another stand-out spot before Reigns speared Orton for the decisive win. A fun, largely inconsequential tag match but exactly the sort of spectacle you’d want on this sort of show.
Seth Rollins vs “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt – Falls Count Anywhere – WWE Universal Championship
After the controversy that met the inconclusive finish to the Hell in a Cell match last month between Seth Rollins and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt, this match was given a stipulation that seemed to guarantee an outright winner. Falls Count Anywhere and the match cannot be stopped without a winner. The entrances looked very impressive in this setting, Wyatt’s especially. However, I would question the logic in having a lamp that resembles a decapitated head as part of things in this particular location. Unfortunately, as soon as the match got underway it became clear that the red light gimmick was back, and although it does give a unique presentation to proceedings it must be a woeful live experience. The match started at a fast tempo, with Wyatt no-selling much of Rollins’ offence. It became increasingly difficult to follow the action once they entered the crowd, due to the red lights. There was a whole heap of plunder in this match with tables, chairs, sledgehammers all used. Rollins tried to murder Wyatt at one stage, while Wyatt would miss a senton through the announce table. Rollins was not immune to tables though crashing through the stack of two tables he set up earlier on.
Eventually, things progressed to the stage where Rollins hit something in the region of ten stomps, effectively killing his finisher in the process before pushing Wyatt into a pit of electrical equipment. Some Pyro went off, which looked highly staged and overproduced. This was all a bit over-the-top, but the ending was masterful as The Fiend rose like Michael Myers in Halloween, appropriately, and decimated Rollins (who had been blinded by the pyro) picking up the win and the Universal championship. No one expected WWE to put the belt on The Fiend, and fewer would have expected a clean finish here. However, Wyatt has been effectively rehabilitated from the nonsense at Hell in a Cell and looked great going off the air with the title belt.
That was Crown Jewel 2019, arguably the best show WWE has put on in Saudi Arabia. The show was surprisingly well put together, with no major filler matches and nothing that felt out of place. Where the other similar shows have seemed to be almost non-canon in the larger WWE Universe, this felt important and actually relevant to the current product. If you look at this as purely a wrestling show, in isolation, it was actually one of the better WWE offerings in a while. Sadly, viewing it in such isolation is difficult for many and even with a strong on-screen showing here, and despite the advances with the women’s match, Crown Jewel will leave a bad taste in many a mouth.
All images courtesy of WWE