Move after move, Saudi Arabia is shedding its conservative skin by inviting the outside world in. One example of this is the fact that World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) female stars will lead Saudi Arabia's first-ever women's match — and that's happening on Oct. 31 (today).
WWE superstars Natalya and Lacey Evans were named as the stars of the kingdom's historic match. The announcement came during the Crown Jewel press conference which was held at King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh. The historic match is part of Riyadh Season's many events.
The latest WWE matches set to take place in the country come a year after Saudi Arabia's sports authority signed a 10-year deal with the entertainment brand, granting Saudis the opportunity to watch matches live in the kingdom.
The event has been in the works for a long time
In an interview with TMZ, the chief brand officer of WWE, Stephanie McMahon, said the women's match has been in the works for quite some time, explaining that WWE executives "dealt with several powerful Saudi officials behind the scenes to make it happen."
McMahon revealed that the women featured in the Saudi show will not "wear the usual flesh-baring outfits they rock in the U.S," but will don full-body suits similar to what the women wore in a match held in Abu Dhabi previously.
The WWE official noted that the outfit adjustments came out of respect for Saudi culture. "We need to be respectful of the cultures in the countries we perform in."
Evans, who'll be wrestling Natalya in the Saudi match, said she was excited to take part in the event. "When I signed up for WWE my goal was to really impact the world and the people that I can, and we're doing it one day at a time," she said.
Other than the women's match, Crown Jewel will also feature Roman Reigns and matches between several other wrestlers.
Mansoor, a Saudi wrestler who won in the WWE's largest Battle Royale in history, will be taking part in the events. When asked about his opinion regarding the first-ever Saudi women's match, he was all praise for it.
"I can't even begin to describe how much that means to me, how much it means to my little sisters, who love WWE, how much it means to my nieces, who love WWE and who fantasize and dream about being wrestlers and being superstars," he stated.
The wrestler said he always believed there'd come a time when women would be allowed to wrestle in the kingdom.
"When I grew up here, the idea of men and women even sitting in the same arena to watch a show was unheard of, we're having women driving now. The changes that have been in this country every single time I come back are astronomical and I am so incredibly proud that I am going to be there, I am going to get to watch the first-ever women's match in Saudi history. It fills my whole heart," he added.
News of the event left people divided
Many were also angered by the event's announcement because it comes at a time when local sportswomen continue to struggle to compete in their country. Though things have been slowly improving for Saudi sportswomen - who have been making leaps in recent months - they continue to be heavily shamed and criticized for taking part in sports events.
They had struggled for years to be granted the right to take part in international championships including the Rio 2016 Olympics. The kingdom sent its first female Olympians to London 2012.
Some hope that the WWE women's match will open up opportunities for Saudi female wrestlers to also be allowed to compete later on.