It's funny how many comparisons were made -- correctly or incorrectly -- between Retribution and the Dark Order. Those parallels drew closer this past week.
I can't count the number of goofball WWE apologists that would hit comment sections and say "you wouldn't criticize AEW if they did something like this!" when Retribution debuted in terrible fashion.
Oh, I did. We did. The wrestling world did. I was there in person during The Dark Order's anticlimactic debut in All Elite Wrestling. We were all witnesses to the miserable implementation of the team into AEW where they were void of personality or any real reason to care. Then AEW fixed it. When it looked like they'd be a serviceable cult-ish tag team, AEW improved on it more and added Brodie Lee. Then after that, they added supporting characters and developed personalities. Dark Order is a runaway success.
Retribution can be, too.
The rollout of Retribution sucked. It was bad. It didn't make any sense, and really still doesn't. Why were they allowed in the venue? Why weren't they arrested? Not to mention the miserable camera work that has become a trademark of WWE, but five-foot-nothing stand-ins they had waddling towards the camera obnoxiously proclaiming this was "their house" were counter productive. Chainsaws? What? Throwing multiple cinder blocks through one window? That was comedic. The cheering like middle schoolers who got done shoving plastic forks in a neighbors yard was the icing on the cake. Retribution was lame.
We all knew most of the ingredients involved: Dominik Dijakovic, Dio Maddin, Shane Thorne -- renamed T-Bar, Slapjack, and Mace. Go ahead and look up Slapjack on Urban Dictionary. Ridiculous. Mia Yim, with her signature blue hair, appeared on a WWE broadcast and the commentators made no mention of the woman who appeared at the Royal Rumble and Smackdown less then a year ago. Jerry Lawler didn't seem to recognize Maddin. Interesting considering Maddin was taken off TV after Brock Lesnar destroyed him last November. Why does that matter? Well, Maddin -- now Mace -- was protecting Lawler!
Oh yeah, Mercedes Martinez was involved too. This is important as she was featured weekly on the very same USA cable Network that Monday Night Raw airs on, but again, was not referenced in any way by commentary. Her name is Retaliation. Yim's is Reckoning. Those names are absolute guano.
Guano means bat shit. When I asked around backstage, I was told that those are names that Vince McMahon thinks reflect that of gang members. I once knew a guy named Couter who was in a gang.
The terminology of the promos was a nightmare. It was so Rousey-esque, but without the delivery that at least made it entertaining. There's a lot of people who make the best of a bad situation and are able to salvage bad promos, but this crew didn't stand a chance. Not with that drivel.
None of it made sense, and what did make sense, just sucked. It was a hastily thrown together project after Vince McMahon was repeatedly questioned about declining viewership, lack of creative direction and an absence of new stars. Unfortunately for those involved, an uphill battle was ahead of them.
Fortunately most of the people involved in Retribution were no strangers to hard work.
T-Bar took to Twitter to make the best of a bad situation. He did his best to close holes in logic that WWE didn't care to. He shouldn't have to do that, but he did. The base line for a pro wrestling angle should be to at least make sense. You can miss me with all of the "lots of pro wrestling angles didn't make sense!" If you want to excuse trash, be my guest. The dude T-Bar did what he could, and started to zing haters on Twitter, as well. His colorful personality and quick wit were on display for the world to see, and plenty of people took notice.
I'm not going to pretend to understand what Mace is doing. HE̠ͩ POS̿T͕̤͖ͪ͋̏S L̤̙̝͒̓̓I̊̍ͥKḚ̹ T͕̤͖ͪ͋̏HI̊̍ͥS̿. I don't know why, or what it means, but I appreciate the effort to be unique even in a group where everyone else is vying to as well. The individuality associated with said uniqueness has actually made them more intriguing as a collection.
Slapjack was given a stupid name and a pretty dumb mask. His answer was to hilariously just throw that pretty dumb mask on top of images on Twitter. It's pretty funny, and incredibly self aware. He also opted to respect the intelligence of the viewer by mentioning his name on Twitter, albeit "scratched out" with Slapjack more prominently featured. Thanks for not treating us like idiots, Slapjack.
Mia Yim has decided to maintain her personal Twitter account, while also running one for "Reckoning." As Mia, she's actually jumped in on some of the trolling of the group. Well played, Mia.
There's one instance that seemed to be an outlier on the surface, but brilliant with a deeper look. Mercedes Martinez originally didn't have a Twitter account for her Retribution character. We all know she's under the mask. It's her, and she's off NXT TV. Her personal account displays her actively pitching herself to Santos Escobar to be a part of the Legado Del Fantasma group on a brand that she left weeks prior! Not only that, she's posting about reclaiming a crown in NXT. She's gone! Well, or she just really wants out of this stable that started as a total trash fire.
Anyone with a sense of taste sees how poorly the rollout of this group was. Anyone with any familiarity of WWE knows it's not the fault of the performers. Anyone with any common sense sees that those performers are working hard to overcome that and take things into their own hand. Look at most of WWE's breakout stars over the last decade. Many got their opportunity due to undeniable crowd reactions from people who knew the WWE system mistreated said performers. That seems to be right down Retribution's alley.
WWE won't think these people are babyfaces, but they are.
Little could highlight that more than the fantastic decision to have Mustafa Ali lead the group. Ali is a sympathetic, self-made character who we've witnessed produce his own promos, miss out on opportunities, and just outright left off WWE television for months at a time without as much of a mention as why. The WWE system has failed him repeatedly, whether it be for lack of push, or lack of first name. They took the guy's first name away for a few months! When I spoke to him last year, he laughed it off, but very clearly wanted the "Mustafa Ali" moniker back.
Old heads might not admit it, but most combat athletes look more like Mustafa Ali than the stars of yesteryear. Lean, in shape, cardio machines. His shorter stature is negated by the imposing figures surrounding him, and his instant commanding leadership of a group that CHAINSAWED THE RING is more admirable than despicable.
Ali was meant for a hacker gimmick that repeatedly appeared on WWE broadcasts for months before being abruptly dropped when he was sent to Raw. Too many coincidences have occurred to not acknowledge that on WWE TV. The lights flickering. The ability to get through the pass codes to get into the venue. Graphics showing up whenever they want. Just tie up the loose end, and allow yourself some creative liberties in the process. If WWE doesn't mention it outright, Ali probably should on his Twitter. That's a nice way to fit in with his new friends.
The declining viewership and quality of Monday Night Raw correlate with one another. We've seen enough blaming of talent, even within a storyline perspective to excuse it. Enough Wild Cards, Raw Undergrounds, mass NXT call-ups for no reason. This crop of wrestlers have watched all of those things happened instead of getting their fair shake to be a part of that change.
In one night, with one reveal, WWE were able to gain a measure of forgiveness for a two month streak of nonsense and unintentional comedy. Over a year after the Dark Order's miserable introduction, Brodie Lee defeated Cody Rhodes for the TNT Championship in a squash match that made the entire faction look like a threat. They mattered, and not one of the members had been portrayed as a "main event talent" prior. The blue print is there. It's possible.
By the way, the past couple of months have seen a faction of heels in The Hurt Business repeatedly targeted. MVP wasn't full of bologna as many thought. The lights flickering on and off during his matches was a concentrated effort at targeting both he and The Hurt Business, and Mustafa Ali chose them as the prime recipients of the ass kicking when he revealed himself to be the leader. For months prior, we've seen the Hurt Business be total jackasses to everyone on the show.
Retribution shouldn't need Retribution of their own, but WWE has a real opportunity to erase much of the first two months with the way they've constructed things. They're not the heels, though. They're the babyfaces that overcame bad booking and let their own creativity shine through.