When news emanated last week that Daniel Bryan and John Cena were refusing to work WWE’s Crown Jewel event in Saudi Arabia on November 2nd after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered, there remained the question of how WWE would write them out of the script given that they were advertised for the show. Cena was to wrestle in a World Cup tournament and Bryan had a match against AJ Styles for the WWE championship.
The World Cup is a little easier to shuffle people in and out of than a WWE championship bout, so Tuesday night’s Smackdown episode brought a little more intrigue.
AJ Styles opened the show and called out his opponent Daniel Bryan and yada yada yada they opted to have their title match right then and there.
Styles won the match by tapping Daniel Bryan out, which raised some eyebrows at least by me to wonder whether Bryan was being punished for opting out of the event by having to submit. In pro wrestling canon, executing a submission is a greater show of strength for the winner and weakness for the loser than a win by pin count. (And then there’s another level where if you lose because of interference — losing “dirty” — it’s seen as not as bad as losing by pin.)
To answer the question of whether this meant that AJ Styles was also written off of Crown Jewel, WWE inserted Samoa Joe into Daniel Bryan’s place in the title match later in the show.
In all, it’s an impressive show of strength from Cena and Bryan. Yes, they have the leverage as stars who could make a great living away from WWE. And yes, this benefits their brands as virtuous babyfaces, which also benefits WWE. Nevertheless, this gesture by them will be remembered for a long time.