WWE on-air personality, Corey Graves, took to the After The Bell podcast this week to shed some light on the controversy coming out of Saudi Arabia last weekend regarding the company's delayed flight out of the Middle East.
Corey recalled the tedious process of the pilots attempting to locate what exactly the mechanical issue was with the plane. Once they had gotten everything situated, the flight crew was ready to clock out for the evening. Graves' story has many similarities to the story previously put out by WWE United States Champion, AJ Styles, however, Graves described exactly what took place with the "Saudi 20" as they're now known.
"As has been well publicized, there have been quite a few theories as to what actually happened," Corey said. "Long story short, and again, I'm speaking from personal experience. This is all I know - we got in the plane, we were all in our seats ready to take off. The flight crew (shout out to them by the way because they were awesome on the way over) came around and took our food orders for the flight, but there was some confusion regarding the pilots. I was seated in the upper deck right outside the cockpit. Pilots were going back and forth; there was some sort of mechanical issue. I am not an airline pilot. I can barely wind my own watch so I don't know exactly the ins and outs and why they all happen. We sat on the plane for a while, they shut the plane down, restarted it to see if whatever they were attempting to fix had worked, it hadn't worked. In the time to get all of this done, the flight crew had timed out and we were all informed that we would not be taking off.
"They de-planed everybody and then at some point, people from management came around and said, 'Hey, if we can get a group of you guys to SmackDown, would you be willing to do it? This is where it comes down to being a professional; we wanted to do it!" Graves exclaimed. "So, we've been given the nickname or the reported hashtag, 'The Saudi 20'. Depending on who you ask, 'It was the twenty most important people in the company'. That wasn't the case. What it boiled down to was the people who were advertised for Friday Night SmackDown on FOX. Your King Corbin, Roman Reigns, The Revival, New Day, guys that had advertised matches who did not want to let anyone down, including ourselves.
"I remember talking to Roman on the plane - Roman has not missed TV for any reason beyond illness or scheduled reasons. We all take a lot of pride in what we do. So when we say, 'Hey, this show is going down', that's what we do," Graves continued. "It had nothing to do with who was more important or who had the most cachet. There are a lot more important people than myself, and Michael Cole, and 'Sweaty' the camera guy that made it onto that charter. But the fact is, it was decided who was essential to make Friday Night SmackDown as close to whole as possible, and the efforts were made. Obviously, it didn't work out. But that was the effort."
Graves admits that he's disappointed in the WWE talent that took it upon themselves to complain about the ordeal on Twitter. He says that if any star is upset that they weren't included in "The Saudi 20", then that's on them. Corey also revealed that WWE veteran, Randy Orton, stayed calm and collected during the process.
"Which, understandably, lead to some of the talent, lead to some of the crew going, 'Oh my God, we're stuck here. This sucks.' And it did, it sucks! No one wants to be stuck in and FBO airport that doesn't even have a bar, or restaurant, or anything like that for hours on end" Corey said. "Nobody wants to be sitting on a plane, on the tarmac for hours on end. It sucks and there's no two ways about it. But all of these conspiracy theories that have been drawn up, and half of it comes from some of the boys that were on the plane. If you're that insecure and you feel so strongly that you're going to get on Twitter and complain that our flight got screwed up for whatever the reason may be? What's Twitter going to do? All it is is fuel for these journalists, so to speak, and then it gets on the internet and everyone puts their two cents into it and start coming up with their conspiracy theories.
"And if you're mad that your flight got delayed and you weren't one of the 'Saudi 20', you weren't important enough to get on the jet? That's on you. Quit crying about it on Twitter - you're a WWE superstar," Graves said. "This happens, this is part of our life, we all have travel woes, we all have travel issues. You know who wasn't complaining? Randy freakin' Orton. If anyone has the cachet and the right to speak his mind and raise hell, it would be Randy Orton. He's got a it of a reputation for doing that. But Randy got it; it wasn't that any of us on that smaller charter were more important than anyone else, it was about doing the damn show. It was about being a professional and delivering what was advertised. It was the company any maybe the network trying to decide who can make this show as close to whole as possible. But it didn't work out that way, and in the end, SmackDown turned out to be pretty awesome in the end anyway. SO all of your conspiracy theories, feel free to do it. There's nothing that's going to shut you up or make you silence your Twitter fingers. It is what it is."
You can listen to the full interview below. If you use any quotes from this article, please credit After the Bell with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.