Middle East

Saudi Arabia hosts its first WWE women's wrestling match

WWE promotional image showing Lacey Evans and Natalya Image copyright WWE

Saudi Arabia has hosted its first women's wrestling match, as it takes steps towards relaxing strict rules on entertainment.

The contest, in Riyadh, featured WWE stars Natalya and Lacey Evans.

The pair fought in body suits and a t-shirt on top, in line with requirements for visitors to "dress modestly."

In recent years Saudi Arabia has attempted to shake off its image as one of the most repressive countries in the world for women.

The government lifted a long-standing ban on women driving in 2018 and made changes to the male guardianship system this August, allowing women to apply for passports and travel independently without permission from a man.

However, women continue to face numerous restrictions on their lives, and several women's rights activists who campaigned for the changes have been detained and put on trial. Some of them alleged to have been tortured in prison.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Former boxing champion Tyson Fury is also taking part in the WWE Crown Jewel event

Thursday's landmark match was part of the WWE Crown Jewel event which took place at Riyadh's King Fahd International Stadium, which can seat 68,000 spectators. Former boxing champion Tyson Fury also competed, defeating Braun Strowman.

Natalya won her fight with Lacey Evans. Both wrestlers were pictured hugging female fans and taking pictures with them after the match.

Ahead of the match, Lacey Evans wrote on Twitter: "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."

Natalya wrote: "The world will be watching. I am so incredibly proud to represent our women's division tomorrow night at #WWECrownJewel. It's time to bring your best, Lacey."

Saudi wrestler Mansoor, who will be squaring off against Cesaro, told WWE.com ahead of the event that many female members of his family could not wait to watch the match live.

"I cannot even begin to describe how much that means to me, how much that means to my little sisters, who love WWE, how much it means to my nieces, who love WWE and who fantasise and dream about being wrestlers," he said.

Mansoor added: "When I first started... I had a lot of people asking me, 'hey, do you think women are ever going to get to compete here?'

"I was, like, 'absolutely', because 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 have women driving now. Just the changes that have been in this country, every single time I come back, are astronomical. I'm so incredibly proud that I am going to be there."

More on this story