Just as rumors had previously suggested, Daniel Bryan followed the lead of John Cena by officially pulling out of WWE’s Crown Jewel pay-per-view in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. WWE wrote him off by moving his WWE Championship match against reigning champion AJ Styles to Tuesday’s episode of SmackDown Live, then booking a new match for Crown Jewel where Styles would defend his title against Samoa Joe. Recent reports, however, suggest that the company had some plans that would have allowed Styles vs. Bryan to be included in the Crown Jewel card without Bryan having to fly to Saudi Arabia for the show.
Citing a report from Dave Meltzer on the latest issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, WrestlingNews.co wrote the ideas were for WWE to tape the match in advance at an empty arena, or in front of a live audience at an establishment near WWE’s Performance Center in Florida. Either way, WWE was reportedly planning to insert AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan into Friday’s broadcast of Crown Jewel on the WWE Network, with only the fans watching at home aware that the match was taking place.
Ultimately, WWE decided against both workarounds, as none of them would have changed how Bryan didn’t want to go to Saudi Arabia for Crown Jewel. As noted by WrestlingNews.co, Meltzer wrote that WWE thought it was too risky to “fool the fans at home” with either plan, as the company couldn’t afford the negative publicity that could be generated by misrepresenting a pre-taped match as one that was being held live in Saudi Arabia.
On Tuesday, WWE went ahead with the scheduled AJ Styles vs. Daniel Bryan match on SmackDown Live, with Bryan tapping out of Styles’ Calf Crusher submission. According to WhatCulture, Bryan Alvarez said earlier this week on Wrestling Observer Live that this was the planned finish for the original Crown Jewel match. However, the publication added that the fact that Bryan, a babyface wrestler, tapped out of an opponent’s finishing move, had many fans concerned that WWE was punishing him for his decision to back out of Crown Jewel amid the ongoing controversy surrounding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
With Daniel Bryan officially out of Crown Jewel, AJ Styles is now scheduled to defend his WWE Championship against Samoa Joe on Friday night at the King Saud University Stadium in Riyadh. John Cena, who was scheduled to take part in the eight-man WWE World Cup tournament at Crown Jewel, also backed out of the event and will be replaced by Bobby Lashley, according to Sportskeeda.