WWE fans might be better off pretending Crown Jewel got canceled.
The event went on as planned in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and those fans with low expectations entering the event likely walked out of it surprised—and not in a good way.
Where to even start? How about at the top, with Hulk Hogan making his return to WWE after being banned for several years. He hadn’t been with the company since 2015 after making racially charged comments, though over the summer, he was reinstated into the WWE Hall of Fame.
“Why not?” seemed to be the flavor of the day. With so much negative attention around the pay-per-view going into it, why not get the long-awaited Hogan return over with? Not that Hogan did much. He walked out, cut a brief promo and left, which was something to be thankful for at least.
And as for the World Cup Tournament, well, it’s only fitting the final had two Cleveland boys in the ring and both came out losers somehow.
No, it’s not a prank making the rounds online. Dolph Ziggler and The Miz ended up in the final. The latter suffered an “injury,” so SmackDown Live Commissioner Shane McMahon inserted himself into the match and won. He won. No, really:
CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?!
@shanemcmahon just DEFEATED @HEELZiggler to become the BEST in the WORLD at #WWECrownJewel! #WWEWorldCup https://t.co/nfGlpS4Sut
So for those keeping track, Shane McMahon now has the “best in the world” status. A non-wrestler in jeans won the World Cup, marking a weird end to a tournament supposedly meant to find WWE’s best wrestler.
What stings most about this one is how many directions it could have gone in to tell a meaningful story. Maybe The Miz comes back and finds a way to help get Shane fired. Maybe Shane calls out an unexpected name from the back. Heck, maybe Shane makes a snap decision and brings out Drew McIntyre. We all know the split with Ziggler is coming. We all know he’s getting a universal title push.
Instead, nothing. WWE will try to use this as a way to build for Survivor Series. Sure, but that’s something better reserved for Raw and SmackDown and completely unnecessary—for starters, look how much hype the Ronda Rousey-Becky Lynch match is already getting without shenanigans that ruin it for other talents.
And hiding behind “this is a house show” doesn’t work, either. It’s not. It was the central focus of both weekly shows for weeks. It’s a big-money overseas event broadcast live on the WWE Network and had meaningful main-roster things going down.
Like the squashing of Braun Strowman.
Maybe Strowman’s demise at the hands of Brock Lesnar and failure to secure his long-awaited crowning as universal champ wasn’t the worst part of the event. But it was outright ridiculous in its execution.
To pull the whole keep-him-looking-strong-in-a-loss strategy Strowman got hit in the back of the head with the belt by acting Raw GM Baron Corbin. The match started, Strowman took three F5s, another sent him out of the ring, he got back in it, threw a kick and took another F5 for the loss.
Laughable. This guy got hit by a car. He got thrown in a trash compactor. He had the set itself fall on him. But that title to the back of the head was too much. He couldn’t possibly recover enough in time to get some offense in against a Lesnar who was visibly 20 or 30 pounds lighter than he was during his most recent appearance in a match that had to check in around the 10-minute mark at best.
Like the silly Shane win, this isn’t setting up anything exciting. If Strowman is the top guy while Roman Reigns is out, he doesn’t work in an underdog chasing role. And with the way WWE botched Reigns’ triumph over Lesnar, failing to pull the trigger at the right times, this one doesn’t figure to be any better.
And the fact that Lesnar needed an assist from someone like Corbin in the first place doesn’t exactly make him look great. A monster like Strowman chasing a beast like Lesnar just doesn’t work.
And hey, a rematch between A.J. Styles and Lesnar is great! But go figure. WWE puts the top title back on a part-time talent and then makes his next match a—wait for it—non-title match. And maybe don’t go into that one expecting another instant classic because it will take place even closer to Lesnar’s next UFC fight, meaning he isn’t going to do anything too risky. Expect some sort of outside interference so Styles gets his win back. Yikes.
Don’t think we forgot about the main event.
Four part-timers with a combined age of 206 clambered into the ring and threw down what could have been a fun nostalgia match were it not for ring rust and Father Time.
It doesn’t even need flowery language or a big explanation. Kane‘s mask and wig fell off. Michaels busted his face on the floor. Triple H tore his pec and couldn’t properly go for half the match (so much for a match with Batista soon). Kane, surprisingly, looked lost and took what might be the worst Pedigree of all time to end the match.
Kudos go to Triple H for gritting through the match with an injury. And Michaels looked so-so at best. He would probably make for an interesting match against someone like Seth Rollins because they could carry him along now that he’s ruined the perfect retirement, but the mind can’t help but go back to the botched backflip on to the ground outside the ring.
It was a fitting end for a pay-per-view if there ever were one. Everyone involved in the main event had heart and did what they could, which is admirable, but that doesn’t mean it should have happened.
Somehow, WWE managed to put on a miserable show with one of the best rosters it has ever had while grappling with the constraints of nostalgia. Giving the show a big “no thanks,” as John Cena and Daniel Bryan did, isn’t something every wrestler on the roster can afford to do. But they look like geniuses for flexing the leverage they hold.
After all the drama surrounding the show, the guy with a theme song that chants “here comes the money” took home the title of “best in the world” at an event that almost got canceled but didn’t because it would hurt the bottom line. And because of that bottom line, part-time talents, a former banished talent and a longtime retired talent all made appearances.
WWE leaves Saudi Arabia worse off in more ways than one. Its top belt is back on a part-timer. A key part-time talent willing to still go is on the shelf with an injury. A supposed World Cup sacrificed the SmackDown roster for a silly Survivor Series storyline that will take a back seat to better matches on an already-stacked card. And the champion of that blue brand, Styles, doesn’t have any serious competition.
Most figured Evolution would rip Crown Jewel to shreds in terms of quality. But Friday’s event did more harm than anticipated, and fans aren’t going to forget it as WWE tries to write itself out of self-inflicted wounds.