WWE is set to return to Saudi Arabia on October 31 for yet another Crown Jewel event despite the usual whirlwind of controversy these events bring. The event will be the company’s fourth emanating from a nation mired in human rights travesties, including the criminalization of LGBTQ lifestyles.
But those issues haven’t dissuaded the company from taking millions of dollars from the Saudi regime in exchange for frankly lackluster events. Not even the alleged state-sponsored torture and assassination of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi last Fall could ice those plans.
Crown Jewel’s existence is enough to rile up a vocal portion of the company’s fan base with calls to cancel their WWE Network subscriptions. But WWE’s neverending quest to pack star power from outside markets onto their events will likely add a notoriously homophobic, transphobic, anti-semitic and misogynistic element to the already criticized event.
The company is expected to announce a match pitting resident hands-giver Braun Strowman against “lineal heavyweight champion” boxer Tyson Fury at a press conference scheduled for Friday afternoon ahead of WWE’s Smackdown show in Las Vegas.
Fury’s involvement in Crown Jewel is likely to incur some mainstream coverage for Crown Jewel, especially with Fury’s relationship with ESPN. The British boxer is one of a handful of major stars the sport has currently thanks to his battles with Wladimir Klitschko and Deontay Wilder. He’s also widely known for his trash-talking prowess, showcasing an ability to hype a fight that is sorely missed within the sport.
His mouth has also gotten him into hot water time and time again throughout his career. Fury has espounged incredibly gross opinions and conflations about LGBTQ people and women habitually over the years. During a 2015 interview with The Daily Mail’s Oliver Holt, Fury stated his belief that homosexuality should be outlawed and conflated homosexuality with pedophilia. “There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s pedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those first two would be legalized,” Fury said.
He targeted the transgender community in a 2016 video interview with SportsView London that has since been made private, calling trans people “freaks of nature” and conflating the normalization of trans identities with beastiality. “It’s like you’re a freak of nature if you’re normal. You’re the odd one out — nobody else. What’s normal? I’ll just get myself changed into a woman. That’s normal, isn’t it,” Fury said. “Today call myself Tysina or something like that, put a wig on. I don’t think it’s normal. I think they’re freaks of nature. I think it’ll be perfectly normal in the next 10 years to have sexual relationships with your animals at home — you know, your pets, your cats and dogs and all that — so that will be legal.”
His rants have also degraded women for feeling sexually empowered, stating he’d “hang” his sister for such acts. “There are these girls who want to open their legs to every Tom, Dick and Harry. But they are looked upon as rubbish in our community. We don’t do stuff like that. If I had a sister who did that… I’d hang her,” Fury stated. “She would bring disgrace on the family. It is a very, very bad thing to do. We don’t do that. Women have to be pure and respectful.”
Fury offered tepid apologies after many of these statements drew public outcry and calls for his banning from the sport, citing his Christian faith and Irish Traveller ancestry as the genesis of his beliefs. He’s also attributed “heightened media scrutiny” as a cause for his lengthy, disturbing rants.
Fury’s public statements haven’t all been so detestable. It should be noted that Fury’s openness about his mental health struggles and battles with suicidal thoughts during a 31-month absence from the ring were a breath of fresh air within a sport mired in toxic attitudes toward the subjects. But that willingness to be vulnerable doesn’t wipe away his alarming attitude toward marginalized communities. Especially when Fury has made little effort to change.
But Fury’s undefeated record and cult of personality supersedes his publicly stated views in the eyes of WWE. His chaotic work on the mic was lauded by the Monday Night Raw announce team with no acknowledgement of his past statements ahead of his show closing standoff with Strowman on Monday night. The moment felt like an underwhelming attempt to recreate the iconic moment between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Fury’s namesake, Mike Tyson. The company was criticized for bringing Tyson into the fold back in 1998, fresh off a prison stint for sexual assault and biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during a heavyweight title bout. But Tyson had at least done some form of atonement before his shoving match with Austin on Monday Night Raw. Fury walked into the ring carrying his baggage intact.
WWE’s acceptance of Fury without addressing his past also flies in the face of recent efforts by the company to promote LGBTQ inclusion. His first appearance on last Friday’s Smackdown debut on Fox came shortly after NXT UK wrestler Piper Niven came out as bisexual and the company added out lesbian Sonya Deville to the cast of the long-running reality series Total Divas. It harkens back to the compensatory attitude surrounding last year’s all-women pay-per-view Evolution, with the show coming across as a good act to counterbalance last Fall’s Crown Jewel event.
If the company is willing to plug its ears and run an event in cooperation with a regime that executes LGBTQ citizens and remains connected to the murder of a prominent Saudi journalist with U.S. residential status, then it should come as no surprise that it’s willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to Fury.