Wrestling legend Harley Race has passed away today at age 76.
Race referred to himself as “the Greatest Wrestler on God’s Green Earth” and he had every right to do so. Harley is one of only 6 men to be inducted into every major wrestling hall of fame and is considered to be one of the best pro-wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots.
During the 1970’s and 80’s Race dominated the NWA and his 7 NWA Worlds’ Title reigns stood as a record until overtaken by Ric Flair. Harley went on to hold the NWA title 8 times and was the first ever NWA United States Champion. His rugged, tough style of wrestling earned him the reputation as one of the toughest men in the sports history.
Race joined the WWE in the 1980’s and had an infamous match under the moniker of ‘King’ Harley Race against the Junkyard Dog at Wrestlemania 3 in front of over 93,000 fans. In 2004 Harley took his rightful place in the WWE Hall of Fame. He remains one of the biggest names to ever grace the sport of professional wrestling and his legacy will be felt forever more.
Rest in Peace Harley Race, our thoughts go out to his family and loved ones at this time
During today’s WWE second quarter earnings conference call Vince McMahon was asked about the recent hires of Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman and what this means for the creative direction of the company.
During his answer Vince referenced AEW without mentioning them directy, this is what he said:
“We’re gonna be a bit edgier, but still remain in the PG environment. We won’t come anywhere close to going into another level. That will be something we do in terms of the direction of content, more controversy, and better storylines. “
“At the same time, we’re not going to go back to the Attitude Era. We’re not gonna do blood and guts, such as being done on perhaps a new potential competitor. We’re not going to go back to that gory crap that we graduated from. It’s a more sophisticated product.”
The CEO of WWE also mentioned TNT, AEW’s TV Network by name during the call. He said ” I can’t speak for TNT, but I can’t imagine they would put up with that” whilst talking about a bloodier product.
WWE has, this morning, released a major press release about the future of the creative development and the trajectory of their two flagship brands. Below is the full release from WWE:
WWE® NAMES PAUL HEYMAN AND ERIC BISCHOFF EXECUTIVE DIRECTORS
Stamford, Conn., June 27, 2019–WWE (NYSE: WWE) today announced that it has named Paul Heyman as Executive Director of Monday Night Raw and Eric Bischoff as Executive Director of SmackDown Live, newly created positions reporting directly to WWE Chairman & CEO Vince McMahon.
In their executive roles, Heyman and Bischoff will oversee the creative development of WWE’s flagship programming and ensure integration across all platforms and lines of business. The creation of these roles further establishes WWE’s ability to continuously reinvent its global brand while providing two distinct creative processes for its flagship shows.
With more than 30 years of experience in the sports entertainment industry, Heyman served as President of ECW from 1993-2001, securing pay-per-view distribution for the company as well as a national cable television deal with TNN. After his time with ECW, Heyman joined WWE’s Creative team and is widely credited with helping launch the careers of many current and former WWE Superstars.
Bischoff is a former WCW President and New York Times bestselling author. During his WCW career, Bischoff oversaw the signing of some of the biggest names in sports entertainment and helped create and develop the NWO storyline. He was also instrumental in securing a television deal for WCW Monday Nitro on TNT and WCW Thunder on TBS. After WCW, Bischoff co-founded Bischoff-Hervey Entertainment, a production company that launched TV reality shows and mobile games.
WWE wishes to create “two distinct creative processes for its flagship shows.” with Bischoff working closely with Fox executives when Smackdown makes the jump in October
In case you missed it, AEW are running their second major show, called ‘All Out’, in Chicago on August 31st in the same arena as the show which started all of this last year ‘All In’.
Tickets for All Out sold out in a mere 15 minutes this past Friday but this is not the biggest news coming out of this. Whilst a great achievement selling out the 10,000 seat Sears center, the real achievement is how many people were actively trying to buy tickets for the event.
The early estimates for numbers of tickets that could have been sold to the event are totalling upward of 137,600. More than 70,000 people were waiting in the virtual queues at any one time to try their hand at getting All Out Tickets.
Dave Meltzer said on WON that he has never heard of such demand for a wrestling show and that it is unprecedented and likened it to the UFC’s Silva fight in Brazil which had demand of around 150,000 for a 16,000 seat arena.
Wrestlemania this year, while a legitimate sell out at over 75,000 tickets took weeks to become a full sell out. This is on on the heels of the fact that this Sunday WWE are holding their Stomping Grounds PPV and are struggling to sell tickets.
WWE have, as of writing, been offering buy one get one free on tickets as well as handing out free tickets to the neighbouring area and have closed off several sections of the Tacoma Dome. Ticketmaster.com still shows dozens of tickets available in every section of the building that is open for sale.
Call it beginners luck if you want, however it is undeniable that AEW is sought after right now and has a traction behind it which WWE has lacked for some time.
Jon Moxley (formerly Dean Ambrose) has just had his second post-WWE interview following his internet-breaking interview on Talk is Jericho last week.
Moxley appeared on Wade Keller’s show and spoke in depth about what he feels the problem with WWE and Vince McMahon is, his lackluster feud with Brock Lesnar and the infamously awkward interview he had with Steve Austin.
Speaking on Vince McMahon’s impact on WWE’s creative process in 2019 Moxley had the following to say:
“It’s a shame. I’m telling you that’s the problem. I was just there; I know the ins and outs. He’s a problem. It’s a shame because there’s so much great talent. There may have never been more talent there. All the wrestlers are awesome. The pool of talent is incredible and the resources they have with the television and the Network. It should be so great. And the one guy screwing it up, I think, is Vince. Everybody seems to like NXT. I’ve never been there to see how the days go, so I can’t speak about how it is in NXT. But everybody seems to like the show. What’s the key ingredient that’s missing? Vince. He’s the guy who ‘created wrestling.’ Now he’s the guy who’s holding his own company back. He needs to step aside or take a break. Maybe he should let Hunter run things for a month and see what happens.”
“I have all the respect in the world for Vince because nobody works harder. But Vince is supposed to be a genius. There have been moments where I was wrong, and Vince was right — I had a match with Seth Rollins at SummerSlam, and I want to build to a moment where I got him where I want him, but I have to punish him. My idea, which sounds ridiculous now, I wanted to take a pair of pliers from under the ring and go rip his tongue out. I was convinced it was a good idea. We pitch it to Vince and he goes, ‘No, it’s too much.’ He said, ‘Could you Curb Stomp him?’ It was perfect. It was the most over thing in the match. After the match we’re like, ‘Ol VKM is still the man. He’s still a genius.’ — I always try to give him the benefit of the doubt,” said Moxley. “Even when I go to the ring and I think an idea sucks, but it’s Vince’s idea, I’m going to try my best because I might be wrong and Vince might be right. More often than not, I go out there and I go, ‘Nope. This idea sucks.’ Over time and looking back, I didn’t see a lot of this ‘genius’ that is Vince McMahon. In the 80s he was a genius when he created Hulkamania and took over the territories. In 2019, I don’t think he knows what the f**k is going on. He needs to figure it out or step aside.”
H/T to Fightful.com for the transcription
Moxley is definitely not done with his interviews and has an awful lot to get out about his years with the company. This interview with Wade as well as last weeks Jericho podcasts are a must listen.
Last March WWE and the Saudi General Sports Authority announced the start of a 10-year partnership as part of Saudi Arabia’s ‘Vision 2030’ campaign, a public relations and economic programme aimed at boosting and repairing the image of the Saudi government on the world stage.
Next week, on June 7th, WWE will return again to Saudi Arabia for ‘Super Showdown’ which they are touting as “being as good as, or better than, Wrestlemania“. This event will feature The Undertaker taking on Goldberg in what many have called a once dream match.
Several superstars will miss this trip, including Daniel Bryan who has expressed his desire not to travel back to Saudi Arabia after feeling uncomfortable there previously. Also not returning will be Kevin Owens as well as Sami Zayn due to his Syrian heritage and Aleister Black because of his religious iconography on his tattoos.
The first event under this deal, the Greatest Royal Rumble, was held in April 2018 and was not met without controversy. First of all came the propaganda throughout the broadcast which attempted to signify an open and diverse Saudi Arabia under the leadership of the new Crown Prince, a video which received staunch criticism back in the west.
In addition to this, women were unable to compete at the event due to
the strict Sharia applications within the country. So much so that WWE ran an
advert during the GRR which featured female superstars which the
Saudi Authority publicly apologised for, for showing “indecent” women.
The money WWE is thought to have made from these events in Saudi Arabia is rather staggering. Although they do not publicly reveal the amount received from each event, estimates can be easily made through analysing the quarterly financial reports WWE release. The Saudi deal is included within the “other” figures of the quarterly reports alongside other programming such as Total Divas, WWE Studios etc and Q2 and 4 of 2018 saw huge spikes of financial growth. It can be estimated that for the Greatest Royal Rumble WWE received around $50- 55 Million and tens of millions more for Crown Jewel. The second event is harder to estimate due to the revenue from the Australian Super Show falling in the same quarter.
Surprisingly WWE’s deal with Saudi went more or less under the radar
until their second event, Crown Jewel, came along and the tide suddenly turned.
In the weeks leading up to the event Saudi Arabia was in the middle of a huge
international incident when journalist Jamal Khashoggi was lured from his home
to a Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Khashoggi was then assassinated and
the order of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
When this information came out several high profile businesses withdrew
their support from the Saudi investment summit known as FII including the
Virgin Group, Uber, Google and Endeavour, the parent company of UFC. However,
WWE’s deal with Saudi Arabia remained, and so became a focal point of a lot of
media attention; this included a piece by HBO’s John Oliver, who criticised WWE’s
continued support in this video:
The backlash before the event even began was immense; four U.S senators,
including Senator Chris Murphy of WWE’s home state of Connecticut urged WWE to
reconsider and said that the brutual murder of Khashoggi “should represent a fundamental break in our
relationship with Saudi Arabia”.
However, during the company’s Q3 earnings report WWE announced
that it would continue to hold the Crown Jewel event despite the huge pressure
being placed upon them by outside forces. During the 3 conference call many
questions were asked of the board regarding the event and they refused to
answer any of them, pointing instead to the statement within the report.
Why is Saudi Arabia
The killing of Jamal Khashoggi is the tip of the iceberg of
the controversies surrounding Saudi Arabia and was simply at the forefront of
the press at the time WWE were planning the Crown Jewel event.
It is stated by Human Rights Watch that Saudi Arabia is responsible
for a plethora of human rights abuses stemming back long before the current
Crown Prince through to today and are constantly ranked
among the most repressive nations in the world for rights and civil liberties.
HRW reports that in 2018 the Saudi regime detained peaceful activists for no reason and without trial for long periods, many of these dissidents have been imprisoned for criticising the government or advocating for reforms. In 2018, 148 people were executed, 59 for non-violent drug offences. Campaigns of unlawful airstrikes continue and repression of women and homosexuals and other minorities continues.
decision by the Crown Prince in 2017 to lift the ban on women driving was met
with Global applause – making headline news around the world. Despite this,
Saudi Arabia is still the most gender-segregated nation in the world and women
still face an uphill battle in the country. They have an inability to make
major decisions without permission from their male Guardian, the Saudi dress
code is also of strict Islamic interpretation and reportedly leads to
harassment from the religious police if not followed to the strictest degree.
is not just women who are subject to high levels of discrimination, under
sharia as interpreted in Saudi, consensual homosexual sex remains punishable by
death. Between 2011 and 2012 the government is said to have arrested over 260 people
for the crime of homosexuality.
In 2014 a 24-year old Saudi man was given 450 lashes for using Twitter to
arrange dates with men.
In the first few months of 2019 alone a mass execution of 37 men took place on April 23rd throughout the country. The majority of those executed were from Shia communities and were convicted following unfair and “sham” trials. These executions have received international condemnation in the weeks following.
Just two weeks before WWE head back over to Saudi the regime has received yet more international condemnation after arresting 3 scholars, These arrests and executions have been condemned by the UN, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.
One thing must be remembered here, it is not the fault of the Saudi fans, they deserve to see their favourite stars compete. However, Saudi Arabia are not bringing the WWE to their country for the fans, they are bringing them over as part of a propaganda campaign for Vision 2030. If it was for fan experience, the floor of the stadiums at these shows would not be reserved for the royals and be half empty as a result.
WWE are not going to cancel these shows unless they are ordered to do so by the United States government following a serious international incident. If the Jamal Khashoggi assassination did not tip the scales then at this rate nothing will. Since the Saudi deal WWE’s engagement has been down across the board, whether it’s related we’ll never know but one thing is for sure – WWE fans and wrestling journalists alike are disappointed by this deal.
Whether WWE truly believes this to be the case or not we do not know, but it is rather telling that the company will not say the name of the host country in the promotional videos. WWE is well aware of the PR disaster this deal has been but there is no chance of it stopping now.