More than a year after taking criticism for omitting its female performers from a Saudi Arabian production, WWE is presenting its first women’s match tonight in that Islamic country.
The bout between Natalya and Lacey Evans during the “Crown Jewel” presentation in the Saudi capital of Riyadh appeared to be a last-minute addition to a wider presentation. The Stamford-headquartered company announced the match yesterday. WWE stars including Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins are also on the bill.
In April 2018, WWE stirred controversy by excluding its female wrestlers from its first Saudi-based event, citing respect for the rigid local culture that prevents women from displaying flesh in public. WWE featured a bout between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks last December in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, but the women were required to wear full-body suits rather than their usual skin-bearing two-piece outfits. WWE confirmed Natalya and Lacey Evans will be wearing similar outfits in their Riyadh rumble.
Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s chief brand officer, told TMZ Sports that the company had been working “a long time” to arrange for the presence of female wrestlers in its show, adding that several government officials were involved in the negotations.
“As a woman, as a mother, as just a person, I couldn’t be more proud,” McMahon said. “I am ecstatic, I am thrilled, I am many different adjectives to describe how I feel right now.”
It is unclear how many Saudi women will be able to attend this event. Under Saudi law, women can only attend sporting events if accompanied by a husband or male relative.