WWE to hold first women's match in Saudi Arabia

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The WWE announced Wednesday that it will hold a women's match in Saudi Arabia for the first time as part of its Crown Jewel show scheduled for Thursday in Riyadh.

The match will feature WWE performers Natalya Neidhart and Lacey Evans (real name Macey Estrella-Kadlec) performing inside the ring at King Saud University Stadium, as part of a spectacle that will also feature lineal boxing heavyweight champion Tyson Fury and former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez wrestling on the card.

"It's always been a goal of ours, since we started this deal in Saudi Arabia over a year and a half ago, so it's been a part of that process," said Stephanie McMahon, WWE's chief brand officer. "We couldn't be more proud that tomorrow night we are going to make history with the first ever women's match in Saudi Arabia."

WWE's expansion in the Middle East has pushed the company to adapt its product to suit each region. A December 2017 match between Sasha Banks and Alexa Bliss in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was a process six years in the making, according to McMahon. Holding the match required both performers to adapt their typical ring attire to cover their arms and legs, in line with the law and religion of the region.

Thursday's match will be performed under similar circumstances.

"WWE is a global brand in 180 countries and 28 different languages," McMahon said. "And It is absolutely important that we respect the culture of the countries where we perform. Lacey and Natalya will both have different costuming. I have not seen what their costuming looks like, but I do believe their arms and legs will be covered, in a similar fashion as Sasha and Alexa were for that match in Abu Dhabi."

The WWE signed a 10-year agreement with the Saudi General Sports Authority in early 2018 to bring major shows to the country. There was public backlash against the deal from the outset because of the strict Islamic rule of law enforced by the Saudi monarchy, especially in the treatment of women and the LGBTQ+ community.

Leaving a growing WWE women's roster behind for those shows, especially in light of the growth of women's wrestling in the United States and elsewhere in the world, was a major point of contention for WWE fans. McMahon expressed her hope that the effort invested in making Thursday's match a reality will lead to more progress.

"Hopefully moving forward, we'll have multiple women's matches," said McMahon. "It's not always easy, the decisions that go into business partnerships... WWE believes that we need to be a part of the change. And if you're not a part of the process, then you sort of sit on the sidelines and I'm not sure that you can necessarily impact change and make it happen. That's something that we've been striving for."