There has been a lot of rumor and innuendo (hey Conrad) about WWE’s travel issues following last Thursday’s Crown Jewel event in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. As most of you know by now, a lot of wrestlers that were scheduled to be at Smackdown on Friday didn’t make. People like Vince McMahon, Brock Lesnar and Hulk Hogan (with Ric Flair) all left on private planes while about 12 wrestlers left on a flight that took off as scheduled, but they didn’t get back to Buffalo in time. Another flight was delayed due to reported mechanical issues.
What we do know is there likely was a legitimate money issue. It was reported by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer that WWE likely want’s paid for the Super Showdown show in Saudi Arabia on June 7, as of September 30. When WWE had their third-quarter earnings call last Thursday, they mentioned getting $60 million after September with Meltzer noting that was likely the money owed by the Saudi Arabian people that run WWE’s events there. Due to the money issue, Vince McMahon apparently didn’t start Crown Jewel on time in Saudi Arabia, but after the money was paid, it began airing within an hour of the original start time.
It was also mentioned by Meltzer that some of WWE talent that was stuck in Saudi Arabia didn’t believe the story that there was a mechanical failure with the plane. Meltzer talked about how some people were so upset they couldn’t wait to get out of WWE, they felt deserted and they felt like pawns in the situation. The rumor is that the Saudi Arabians may have been mad that WWE cut the feed of Crown Jewel due to money, so somebody may have prevented the plane from leaving on time. If that’s the case then Atlas Airlines saying there was a mechanical problem is odd, but again that’s all about conspiracy theories.
What we do know is Luke Harper was not happy in this Instagram post, and Curtis Axel shared the same sentiment on Twitter. The #NotTop20 hashtag is likely in response to the wrestlers that got leave Saudi Arabia on an earlier flight while others had to wait. There will probably be a lot of stories about this trip in the coming days, weeks and months ahead.
All of the WWE superstars and staff on the last flight home made it back to the US on Saturday afternoon. They won’t be in the US for that long because WWE’s annual November tour of Europe begins this week as well.
There is at least one wrestler talking about the situation: WWE United States Champion AJ Styles, who is part of the Raw brand.
Styles regularly posts when he’s about to play video games on Mixer and that leads to fans asking him a lot of questions, which is what happened yesterday. Since the Saudi Arabia travel story was fresh in people’s minds, Styles gave his perspective. Thanks to WrestlingInc for transcribing some of what Styles said.
Styles on what happened when they tried to leave after the show:
“We were supposed to leave after the show. We got to the airport, they weren’t letting us board. What was the problem? Not really sure, heard there was a fuel truck in the way, the guy who drove the truck had left to go home. I know, this makes no sense. Why would the fuel guy leave if he knows he’s got a plane that’s leaving? Then there were some paperwork issues. Finally, after at least 4-5 hours, we get on the plane. Then they found something wrong, the fuel or something or another was broken. People can say what they want, ‘It wasn’t broken.’ But I talked to the pilot. On that 14-hour flight the pilots, I guess they take naps as well. We were all chatting, sitting around on this flight and he said, ‘Listen, there was a problem. That’s a real thing.'”
“The problem was, we spent all that time, from one o’clock all the way to six or eight in the morning, waiting to board this plane, they are telling us we can’t go anywhere because the pilots and everybody had timed out. They can only go so long before they are not able to fly because they’re not able to go 24 hours at a time. They had to go back to a hotel, we had to find a hotel.”
That’s coming from Styles talking to a pilot that said there was a problem and that’s a real thing.
Styles also commented on people overreacting to what happened:
“Were there guns? Were there people yelling ‘EVERYBODY OFF THE PLANE!’? No, that never happened. My wife called me in a panic, she’s scared to death. I go, ‘Babe, listen, we’re just not able to go anywhere. It is not a big issue, nobody has threatened to kill us.’ There was none of that going on. Nobody was going to get murdered, it never happened. There was no threat of physical harm or anything like that.”
“It is almost blown up, as if, we were on the verge of being killed. That wasn’t the case. I don’t know what happened between Vince and the King, the Prince or whoever it is. That’s not my job to say anything, my job is to go to work, my job is to get home. Was I pretty angry about not going home because I missed my son’s wrestling match? You have no idea. But, if this is out of our hands, if it is out of the pilot’s hands, then there’s nothing we can do.”
Styles explained why he’s not mad about it:
“There is no point in getting mad, getting angry about something I have no control of. I’m home now, and I’m happy to be here. We’ll find out as we go along why things happened, or we won’t. I don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, it is just going to be what it is going to be.”
Styles had some final comments on the situation:
“I’ll deal with it when I need to, but I’m not going to throw WWE under the bus, that’s not how I work. I am a guy who’s committed to making the best product that I can and it is not going to do me any good to throw good people under the bus. There are a lot of good people that work for WWE, and I will not make them look bad. There are a lot of people that were on that plane with me. Until I know more I’m not going to say anything. And if I did find out, and I was offended, I will go to the source, believe me on that one.”
You can watch the video of AJ Styles saying all of these things last night on his Mixer channel right here.
TJR Thoughts: I think the fact that AJ shared the news that he talked to the pilot that confirmed there was a mechanical issue is an important point in this. There are still fans that are going to believe conspiracy theories and think that WWE superstars and employees were threatened while in Saudi Arabia, but it certainly doesn’t sound like that. Everybody is going to believe what they want, I guess. I appreciate AJ sharing what he did.
It will be interesting to see if WWE goes back to Saudi Arabia for the two shows they do every year per their agreement. If WWE isn’t getting their money on time then that’s going to have a negative effect on the relationship. There are also WWE superstars that may not want to go back for more since they spent more time there than they were supposed to.
This post is going up on Monday morning. Perhaps at Raw this afternoon, Vince McMahon or others in management will talk to the wrestlers about what happened.