WWE has denied that the flight troubles coming out of Saudi Arabia following Thursday's Crown Jewel event had to do with the Saudi government owing money to the company.
Alfred Konuwa of Forbes reached out to WWE for comment and reports that they "swiftly denied" the owed money allegations that were first brought up by former WWE and current AAA announcer Hugo Savinovich. Konuwa added how WWE confirmed to him that their relationship remains strong with partners in the Kingdom.
Regarding how Crown Jewel started almost an hour late on the MBC Action Network in Saudi Arabia, WWE told Konuwa that the TV feed issues in the Kingdom were "entirely unrelated" to anything regarding a payment. WWE reiterated that mechanical issues were a cause of the flight delay, pointing to how Atlas Air, the charter company, also issued an apology for the mechanical issues.
As we've noted, Savinovich said during a Facebook Live video that while WWE blamed the travel woes on a mechanical issue, he was told that they had to do with WWE not being paid for two of the shows held in the Kingdom. He did not know the exact figure owed, but speculated that it could be between $300 and $500 million. He also said Vince McMahon retaliated on the Saudis by pulling the live Crown Jewel TV feed in the Kingdom. Savinovich also alleged that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman Al Saud was upset by Vince pulling the feed, so he ordered the WWE crew to be removed from the Atlas Air flight as it was preparing to take off to the United States. Savinovich claimed he heard this account directly from someone close to the situation.
It's worth noting that the figure of $300 to $500 million is really high as WWE has been estimated to generate $40 - $50 million per event in the Kingdom.
WWE Co-President George Barrios revealed on Thursday's 2019 Q3 earnings call with investors that WWE received a $60 million payment "for an outstanding receivable" at the end of the third quarter. Barrios did not specify on where the payment come from.
As noted earlier today, Hugo continued to push the narrative that there was more to the Saudi situation than a mechanical issue. You can read our report from his new interview with Hannibal TV by clicking here.
"It was a very difficult and dangerous situation because of the fact that Saudi Arabia had already been in serious trouble when they killed that reporter in Turkey at the embassy. So the boys were a little bit - not a little bit, they were very, very concerned," Hugo added in the new Hannibal TV interview. "Vince (McMahon) had left the country already and Brock (Lesnar) had his own plane. It was just about big, big money, millions of dollars that this guy did not send and Vince got upset and cut the feed for South Arabia.
"And that has the Prince upset, and it stopped them from leaving the country and got them off the plane," Hugo continued. "So basically what they're doing is they're originally trying to make it look like it was just a mechanical situation, but an executive from the company - well, my wife had died, so they were just calling to comfort me. At the same time, I was told not to mention any names but they were concerned, they were very concerned."
Savinovich went as far as to say that the WWE crew was "kidnapped" while waiting to fly out of the Kingdom. He affirmed that the talents are upset about what happened, and said there will be more people speaking out about the incident.
"A friend of mine that is from Saudi Arabia, that I've known for years and years since the era of VHS tapes that I used to do from Puerto Rico, he also gave me the scoop about what happened at the airport," Hugo explained. "So a lot of people will be talking more about it. The boys are very upset, so I don't know what the deal is."
"Of course, we always know that money talks. And if Vince gets the millions of dollars, and maybe the Middle East - that big TV contract, because it didn't happen and in one day he lost over 200 million dollars (in stock value). So, it's a very complicated situation but the talent was, you know, I don't want to use the word kidnapped but he ordered a kidnapping and the guys were stopped from leaving the country."
Dave Meltzer reported on Wrestling Observer Radio that WWE wasn't paid for the June 7 Super ShowDown event from Saudi Arabia, as of September 30. It was noted in the Q3 earnings call that WWE did receive $60 million after September 30, which is when the report closes, but before October 30, hours before the Crown Jewel event. Meltzer said there was "clearly money owed" by the Saudis. It was noted that because of the money, Vince didn't air Crown Jewel live in the Kingdom, but it ended up airing on a delay after the two sides made an agreement during the show. It was also noted that WWE talents were apparently aware that money was owed by the Saudis.
As noted, WWE Champion Brock Lesnar and Paul Heyman flew out of the Kingdom on Lesnar's private jet that he is given for these events, before the flight issues came up. WWE Hall of Famers Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Hart also left the Kingdom on their private jet. It's believed that Tyson Fury also left on one of the private jets, but Cain Velasquez was with the group that was forced to stay longer. Vince and his inner circle left Saudi on the WWE private jet, before any of the flight issues even came up.
As noted, WWE has denied to Forbes that the flight issues had to do with any money owed by the Saudis. They have reiterated that their Saudi partnerships remain strong.
Stay tuned for updates on the story.