On Friday, WWE presents its latest grim propaganda exercise—sorry, pay-per-view that is equivalent to or perhaps exceeds WrestleMania—in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
That is a strange and quite brave promotional gambit. WrestleMania 35’s duration exhausted many, but Kofi Kingston’s WWE Championship triumph over Daniel Bryan entered the pantheon of Grandest Stage classics. That emotional story, of Kofi’s heart and agility overcoming Bryan’s technical mastery, is a difficult one to “exceed”—particularly since Bryan, WWE’s best in-ring talent, is not actually making the trip.
Conspicuously, Bryan is now an intermittent lower card presence on SmackDown Live, the show he elevated in his riot of a reign with the hemp WWE Title. That is because the shadow of the imminent Super ShowDown has darkened his star power. The precedent of Crown Jewel, and its disruption of the Bryan vs. AJ Styles programme, confirms that the General Sports Authority demand a defence of WWE’s flagship prize on its Vision 2030 commercial. Of course, Bryan reclaimed it a fortnight removed from that rotten, hilarious show—but, even in a hypothetical situation in which he catches fire as a babyface again, the WWE/GSA relationship strips him of it.
This was a personal decision Bryan made of his own volition. Nobody forced him to miss out, relax. The GSA, however, has forced Sami Zayn and Aleister Black to miss out. Sami’s Syrian ancestry is deemed offensive, as are Black’s “religious in nature” tattoos. Many of Black’s tattoos are drawn from his interest in the occult. Pointedly, however, Black’s most striking tattoo is inked on his back. Speaking to the UK’s Daily Star last year, he revealed its inspiration: the folkloric figure, Lilith, was “the first woman to ever rebel against paradise. The reason she is there is for equality, equality for every man and woman.”
If Black is ever considered WWE or Universal Championship material, he will not capture either belt in late spring or mid-autumn. The performer will find himself banished to a dark room, alongside his main event prospects, 7,500 miles away from the scorching desert sun.