'This opportunity is historic': WWE announces women's match for Saudi Arabia show

Natalya and Lacey Evans perform at a WWE show. (Photo courtesy of WWE)

Despite a years-long movement which has seen women make tremendous strides in the company, female wrestlers had been noticeably absent from WWE’s events in Saudi Arabia due to the country’s strict laws limiting their rights.

Ahead of WWE’s “Greatest Royal Rumble” event in April 2018, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, WWE’s executive vice president of talent, live events and creative, addressed the issue head-on, saying that although women weren’t on the card for that particular show, the company was working toward that specific goal.

As WWE continued to hold events in the region — two more over the next 14 months — the scrutiny surrounding the company’s dealing with the country increased, but there was ground being gained regarding women participating in the event.

Last June, Natalya and Alexa Bliss were reportedly slated to perform on the “Super Showdown” card and were seen participating in community events ahead of the show. While the actual match never materialized, announcer Renee Young was allowed to provide commentary for the show — a first in the partnership between WWE and Saudi General Sports Authority.

Now, nearly five months later, Natalya and Lacey Evans will have the first-ever women’s WWE match in Saudi Arabia.

“Ever since we started having our events in Saudi Arabia about a year and a half ago, it was always our goal to have a women’s match,” WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon told Yahoo Sports. “We’re incredibly proud and excited that for the first time ever in Saudi Arabia we are having that. I think we’re going to continue to feature our women in our programming and our live events around the world, particularly in the Middle East.”

Despite McMahon, her husband Levesque, and WWE working toward this moment for 18 months, the company announced the match less than 36 hours before “Crown Jewel” was scheduled to take place.

Of the current storylines in motion on WWE programming, Natalya and Evans is one of the more solidified. The two have been feuding on “Raw” for the past several weeks and appeared to be a natural fit for “Crown Jewel.”

“Nattie has said before that this is definitely something she would want to be a part of,” McMahon said. “I think all of our women would have jumped at this opportunity, but it really is just a creative and storyline-based opportunity for these two women.”

While Natalya has eyed this moment for some time, it is arguably the highest-profile match of Evans’ career. The 29-year-old Marine Corps veteran is one of the up-and-coming stars in WWE and was featured in a three-month feud with Raw Women’s Champion Becky Lynch earlier this year.

“Crown Jewel” offers Saudi fans — among others — to be reintroduced to the “Sassy Southern Belle.”

“Lacey Evans has been very public about her daughter and how she wants to make her daughter proud,” McMahon said. “This is an opportunity for her to do that and show the world that you can make a difference if you believe in yourself and don’t give up. She has quite a background and has overcome a lot in her life. This opportunity is historic, she and Nattie are both role models for all of our daughters and sons, quite frankly. This is a huge opportunity for WWE to show the world the power of women.”

It’s a rare moment where Evans — one of the top heels in the women’s division — has broken character since she was moved from NXT to “Raw” and “Smackdown” late last year.

Both women will be required to alter their ring attire to fit the customs of Saudi Arabia. Similar to what Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss did in 2017 when they had the first-ever women’s match in Abu Dhabi, Evans and Natalya will likely wrestle in non-form-fitting, full-body suits.

The Abu Dhabi match provided somewhat of a blueprint for this match. The reception by fans during the match between Banks and Bliss is something McMahon referred to frequently as evidence of the growing movement both within WWE and globally.

“What happened in Abu Dhabi is part of a whole evolution that has been happening in WWE since about 2015,” McMahon said. “Yes, probably what happened in Abu Dhabi helped, but it really is all of the elements of the women’s evolution. It took us six years to be able to have our women have that match in Abu Dhabi.

Natalya and Lacey Evans perform at a WWE show. (Photo Courtesy of WWE)

“The crowd was chanting, men and women, ‘This is hope,’ which is not your typical WWE chant. When you talk about the momentum from the women’s evolution, it’s all of these different things that helped us get to this point to have this match in Saudi.”

The building of what WWE calls the “Women’s Evolution” has been powered by the fans. McMahon didn’t only refer to the Abu Dhabi match as the catalyst for the historic moment at “Crown Jewel.” In acknowledging the impact fans and female Superstars have had, McMahon cited 2018’s all-women’s pay-per-view event “Evolution,” as well as this past April’s WrestleMania main event featuring Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey.

She expects nothing different from the Saudi fans who are getting introduced to Evans and Natalya in person for the first time.

“It’s really interesting, the Saudi fans have been no different than any of our other fans around the world,” McMahon said. “It’s families, boys and girls, men and women, who come to watch the show. I expect them to react the same as any other audience.

“I don’t think we can really truly appreciate the gravity of what this means around the world. People are moved because of what it means, around the world, not just the region. This is an opportunity to show our fans that are in the stadium in Riyadh that this is an option. To show that the women belong on the same roster as the men.”

WWE “Crown Jewel” airs Thursday, Oct. 31 at 1pm ET on the WWE Network.

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