WWE's Shayna Baszler on Jade Cargill, competing in Saudi Arabia and her wrestling legacy

The former two-time NXT champion says she has yet to replicate the same success on the WWE main roster

Shayna Baszler hopes to walk out of Crown Jewel as the new women's champion. Photo: WWE
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Shayna Baszler is no stranger to the Middle East but the Queen of Spades (as she’s nicknamed) will be making her Saudi Arabia in-ring debut at Crown Jewel in Riyadh.

She’ll be competing in a fatal five-way match against Nia Jax, Zoey Stark, Raquel Rodriguez and defending champion Rhea Ripley for the women’s world title belt next Saturday.

Ahead of the event, Baszler says she is thrilled to be competing and although she’s spent time in the region before, she's also eager to learn more about the country.

“I'm definitely excited,” Baszler tells The National. “I've been there with the military, but that's a little bit of a different experience, being on the bases and then only getting out sporadically. I am excited to experience the culture.”

This will be the 10th time the WWE returns to the kingdom after a 10-year partnership was signed between the American wrestling promotion and the country’s Ministry of Sport in 2018.

“Knowing that the WWE and what we do is so popular over there – and you can tell because watching Crown Jewel from home – it's just as big as WrestleMania, it’s a huge stadium, there’s crazy matches. So I'm excited to feel all of that energy.”

Baszler says international crowds bring a distinct liveliness that is different from a typical crowd in the US, perhaps because of oversaturation with so many WWE events typically held year-round, which may leave fans feeling drained.

Exuberant crowd reactions are noticeable at overseas shows, such as Elimination Chamber in Montreal, Canada; Backlash in San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Money at the Bank in London, UK – all of which were held earlier this year.

“International crowds have a different sort of energy that we feed off, and I think you could tell that a lot, especially this past year, with all the travel we've done going to Puerto Rico and London and these places, like Canada. These international crowds are wild.”

With a passionate and frenzied crowd, this could be the perfect time for a debut or surprise appearance. There is speculation that WWE’s newest signee Jade Cargill could perhaps show up at Crown Jewel.

The former AEW champion left the rival promotion and signed with the WWE in September. Major excitement has always surrounded her appearances on WWE programming, with much speculation over when she will make her in-ring debut.

Baszler says that Cargill’s arrival can only be a good thing for the company because of the attention she inevitably brings along.

“She's got a huge following. When you look at her social media numbers, obviously she looks like a million bucks,” says Bazler. “So there's definitely something to be said about the eyes that she could draw to what we do.

“She obviously needed huge challenges. So here she comes, she wants to come for us. We're all here to be the best. So, I think I speak for everyone when I say that we are looking forward to whatever challenge.”

However, she says that Cargill should be on guard and just because there’s a lot of hype to her name, Baszler – who is a former MMA fighter – won’t go easy on her either.

“As far as I'm concerned, personally, she's got two arms, two legs, a neck, she's got the same amount of limbs to destroy as everyone else,” Baszler says. “When she's ready to get some, she can.”

She adds that, in the long run, Cargill’s rising stardom can only be a good thing for the WWE and the women’s division. “I'm excited to see the audience she brings with her following. That's never a bad thing. As evidenced by a lot of crossover stars. There's Logan Paul … even Rhonda [Rousey] came over and brought a huge following. And it only helped bring eyes to what we do and help the division out.”

Although Baszler does not know if she'll get in the ring with Cargill any time soon, she does remember one of her favourite rivalries in her WWE career – against the current champion Ripley. The two squared off in 2019, and Ripley defeated Baszler to end her 441-day reign as NXT women's champion.

“I just had this match with Rhea [Ripley] and it made me remember – I know that sounds crazy – but there's something fun when you get in there with someone that you know and you enjoy beating the snot out of each other. I wouldn't hate revisiting that rivalry. Especially now, she's got the title, and maybe she won't have it after Saudi Arabia.”

While Baszler would like to walk out of Riyadh as the new women’s world champion, she admits her latest run in the WWE hasn’t been her best. She describes her NXT days by saying they “couldn’t have been better” as she became a two-time NXT women’s champion. However, in 2020, she was bumped up to the “main roster” to compete on Raw and Smackdown (the two flagship WWE programmes). Even though her jump hasn’t been as smooth – she has yet to win a championship – she remains optimistic for the future and her legacy.

“Ultimately, I want … this sounds so vague, but I want to leave this legacy of like when you think about the men, you think about guys like William Regal or Dean Malenko or these guys that were wrestlers, some of those guys didn't win the main titles necessarily, but every time you hear their name, you're like, ‘ah, but they were badass’.

“That's kind of what I want, with my lineage, my martial lineage, training under Billy Robinson and that sort of UWF style. I want to carry that banner of legitimacy.”

WWE Crown Jewel is on November 4 at Mohammed Abdo Arena in Riyadh; tickets start at 50 riyals

Updated: October 30, 2023, 6:41 AM