In sports, foreign stars like Hakeem Olajuwon, Yao Ming, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Dončić, Joel Embiid have helped spread basketball of American origin to all corners of the world.
In mixed-martial art, the Dana White-led Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has found tremendous success with this strategy.
The UFC currently has champions across its divisions from five different continents, exposing the sports to millions of fans worldwide.
The emergence of Israel Adesanya, Kamaru Usman and Francis Ngannou, who all champions in their respective divisions in the UFC, has helped the UFC enjoyed worldwide acceptance.
The African/black audience is now particularly sought-after due to the cool factor of black culture, which to a higher degree has been on the rise since the record-breaking commercial success of Marvel Studios‘ 2018 flick, Black Panther.
In recent years, narratives around Africa has been used to sell products. Although born in Greece, the NBA ties its reigning MVP to his Nigerian roots.
The UFC has found massive success with its Nigerian champs, Adesanya and Usman; the rise of Nigerian contemporary music, Afrobeats, is also tied to this cool factor.
This is what the WWE is trying to with its current Intercontinental Champion Apollo Crews.
Wrestling used to be one of the most-followed sports in Nigeria/Africa during its hays in the late 90s when Hulk Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior, ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, The Rock dominated Monday nights with high ratings all around the world.
The discovery and more exposure to the acting antics in the WWE have turned childhood fans off the sports.
Management’s failure to tap into several cultures has also seen wrestling become a white-American sport.
To increase its followership and viewership across the world, the WWE is trying to build up characters representing different cultures.
Crews is being used to appeal to the Nigerian market. Born to Nigerian parents in Sacramento, California, the 33-year-old was raised in Atlanta, Georgia, where he started professional wrestling.
After fighting on other platforms, he signed with WWE in 2015 and promoted to the company’s main roaster the following year.
He took several fights in the WWE and won the United States Championship title in 2020.
After an almost decade-long career in wrestling and five in the WWE, Crews in 2021 debuted a new character, calling himself Nigerian royalty.
He began to speak in a Nigerian accent (back to this later) and now wears a green-and-white (colours in the Nigerian flag) coloured outfit to ’embrace who he really is’.
At WrestleMania 37 in early April, the WWE used the Nigerian narrative to promote a concept fight called Nigerian Drum Fight.
In this no-disqualification fight, various musical percussion instruments used in traditional Nigerian music, such as bongos and a gong, are made available at ringside.
Crews faced Big E faced at the Nigerian Drum Fight to win the Intercontinental Championship.
“This one is for Nigeria,” the WWE captioned a video of his post-match fight.
The WWE have also been adding the Nigerian flag emoji to all tweets about Crews.
The packaging has not been well-received by Nigerians, mainly because of Crews’ awful Nigerian accent.
All WWE’s tweets tying Crews to Nigeria and have him speaking his awful Nigerian accent have been heavily panned by Nigerians.
“This rubbish patronizing act the @WWE is doing with Apollo Crews is quite cringeworthy. The idea is to engage the “Nigerian market”, but this insults our sensibilities,” a Nigerian Santos Akhilele said while reacting to Crews’ accent.
“This is not how we talk in Nigeria,” another Nigerian Isima Odeh said.
“On behalf of all Nigerians, we reject him. Wakandans can have him,” Deji Faremi said.
It is known how much Crews identified with this Nigerian roots especially before he took up the character recently.
But he said he decided to take up this character because there was no African representation in the WWE.
“I have such a different background. You don’t often see African representation on our show. This is a chance to get back in touch with my Nigerian roots,” Crews told Sports Illustrated in March 2021.
He said the character has given him purpose but whatever it is, it’s clear that Nigerians cannot relate to him, at least just yet.