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It is no coincidence that RAW Underground and the Retribution angle debuted on RAW at the same time. Both angles were launched when RAW was approaching record lows and there was increasing pressure on Vince McMahon to come up with something new that would bring some viewers back to the product. The result was the creation of two new angles, with the idea that they would captivate viewers and have them coming back each week to find out what would happen next.
It is my suspicion that both angles were created hastily, with little thought being put into what long term story they would actually be telling. My evidence for that suspicion is that from a creative standpoint, both angles basically went nowhere. For weeks and weeks, RAW Underground just showed random fights between members of the roster, and Retribution ran around smashing windows and occasionally jumping into the ring to beat down wrestlers.
It was not until this most recent episode of RAW that the Retribution angle finally appeared to move forward; we got some names for members of the group, they cut a promo and we even saw them in a match. While that is a positive, the progress only made matters more confusing for the group.
On RAW, fans found out that Retribution had signed a contract with WWE. Who signed them? Why was the group signed when all they did was terrorize the show to the point that just last week Adam Pearce was looking to hire extra security to keep them out? Why was the group’s main point saying that WWE wrestlers only cared about money, but they themselves now had “main roster contracts” which is basically just a synonym for making more money? Why is WWE pretending like fans are not supposed to know who Dijakovic, or Mia Yim, are when they have been on NXT for years?
All of those questions go back to the original problem; WWE didn’t have a consistent, logical plan for Retribution when they put them on television, so as they have tried to fill out the group, there are a lot of plot holes because WWE is making it up as they go along. I expect that as the angle continues to go along, fans will remain confused as the creative behind the group changes week-to-week.
There are other obvious problems with Retribution. For starters, the idea behind a proper invasion angle is that they are trying to take over the company. If that is the case, the entire company should be revolving around the struggle between WWE and Retribution. In previous invasion angles, from the NWO, to the WCW/ECW Invasion, to the Nexus angle, the invading force dominated the product. Nearly every angle and match had something to do with the war against the invaders. On RAW, Retribution just feels like another angle that is taking place on the show, one of many that are taking play each week.
Some people were upset on Monday when The Hurt Business, who are heels in storyline and actually appeared as heels earlier on the show, were the “babyface” team facing off against Retribution in the main event of RAW. I personally don’t have a problem with that. A proper invasion storyline should have babyfaces and heels teaming up with each other to fight off the invading threat. If you really want fans to buy into the idea that this is an invading force that could dismantle the fabric of WWE, you can’t have a bunch of other angles going on at the same time and wrestlers acting like the invasion isn’t even happening.
There are also additional problems with how the angle has been executed. Aesthetically, the group has been a failure; Retribution is a lame name, the costumes are lame, and the nicknames that have been revealed so far have been horrible. The petty vandalism that the group introduced itself with felt like something a bunch of 8th graders would do. The promos about tearing down the establishment are outdated and will not resonate with the audience; they sound exactly like what a man in his 70s would come up with.
The aesthetics are compounded by the members of the group. So far, we are aware of Dominick Dijakovic, Mia Yim, Mercedes Martinez, Dio Maddin and Shane Thorne. Dijakovic, Yim and Martinez are solid, veteran professionals who have been pushed on NXT recently. Maddin and Thorne have not, and are clearly just guys that WWE had hanging around and thus they were perfect to fill out the ranks of this makeshift group. None of the members feel like real big stars; and unless an established main-event star takes over leadership of the group, it is likely to remain that way because it is hard to see someone like Dijakovic or Yim getting over further being saddled with a terrible nickname and a terrible gimmick.
That ultimately is probably the most frustrating thing about Retribution; WWE hasn’t committed to it enough to make it feel credible. If WWE really wanted to make Retribution work, they would have put Keith Lee, or someone the company clearly sees as a star, into the group; similar to how they had Wade Barrett lead The Nexus. Instead, they have filled it out with people who had lived out their usefulness in NXT and are now used as cannon fodder for an idea that WWE has never really committed to. WWE didn’t want to waste any of the talent they actually have high expectations for on an idea like Retribution, which tells you all you need to know about how serious WWE is taking the group.
When comparing Retribution to The Nexus, it is amazing to think this is the same company. Even though both groups were an invading party from NXT, The Nexus was handled a million times better. Their debut, walking out to the ring unannounced and beating the crap out of John Cena and CM Punk, was infinitely better than Retribution pulling some pranks. The group’s name, logo and aesthetic was catchy and understated, true to the group’s beliefs. The rhetoric, led by Barrett who had so much charisma on the microphone, was well done and so much better than the slop that Dijakovic was forced to utter out on Monday. They also dominated the show and storylines, leading up to a huge match at SummerSlam. While things went off the rails at SummerSlam, it was still a successful invasion angle and created a weekly storyline that fans really invested in. It was not a second-hand angle produced by a company desperate to slow its decline.
The only thing that could really bail out Retribution, outside of just a complete overhaul in everything from their nicknames to the outfits to the promos, is for the company to turn a prominent babyface and have them lead the group. At that point, even if it wasn’t the intended angle, WWE could at least try and tell a story about an underappreciated star (perhaps Kevin Owens?) who founded the group in secret to try and get back the world title. TNA managed to do that with the disastrous Aces and 8s angle, shoehorning Bully Ray into the leadership role and while Aces and 8s was not a good angle after Bully Ray was named the leader 8 months into the storyline, it at least gave the group more focus.
Retribution has been a failure pretty much from the get-go. Each week it appears more damage is being done to the angle that will prevent it from being something interesting that fans will be captivated by. WWE apparently has plans for a major match at Survivor Series involving Retribution; which at this point looks like a huge mistake given the quality of Retribution’s segments each week. I hope I’m wrong and things can turn around for the group, but WWE has made countless mistakes so far and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
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