WWE hosts Saudi Arabia's first women's wrestling match

"I couldn't stop smiling when this was announced. When I speak about women driving, or even just sharing space with men, these are rights that didn't exist when I was growing up," tweeted WWE's first Saudi Arabian wrestler, Mansoor Al-Shehail.

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By Farah Otero-Amad

World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE, held the first women's wrestling match in Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

The contest featured two WWE superstars: Lacey Evans and Natalya. Evans is a U.S. Marine veteran, while Natalya is a Canadian-American two-time women's champion in WWE. The two athletes battled it out in Saudi Arabia's capital, Riyadh, and Natalya emerged victorious.

Evans and Natalya were required to wear bodysuits to cover their arms and legs instead of fighting in the more revealing gear that they would normally wear when competing in the United States.

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Saudi Arabia has tried to rebrand its image as one of the world's most oppressive countries for women by introducing reforms in recent years.

But according to Human Rights Watch, "women still face discrimination, as four feminist activists are behind bars, others remain on trial, and torture allegations have not been credibly investigated."

About a month after Saudi Arabia's government lifted a longstanding ban on women driving in 2018, the kingdom announced that women could attend sporting events in stadiums for the first time.

Still, women continue to face obstacles in their everyday lives, and Saudi authorities have detained some of the country's most prominent women's rights activists who have campaigned for these changes.

Thursday's WWE Crown Jewel event took place at the King Fahd International Stadium, one of three stadiums in Saudi Arabia that allow women to attend.

"I never thought I'd have the opportunity to do the things I've done with WWE," Evans tweeted on Wednesday. "Tomorrow I get to show my little girl that hard work can bring you to history-making heights."

Her opponent, Natalya, expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter: "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."

The event also featured WWE champions Roman Reigns, Brock Lesnar and Seth Rollins, along with Mansoor Al-Shehail, WWE's first Saudi wrestler.

"I couldn't stop smiling when this was announced. When I speak about women driving, or even just sharing space with men, these are rights that didn't exist when I was growing up," Mansoor tweeted. "I understand why it doesn't impress a lot of people, but it means the world to me and so many others."