Every now and again I get asked the question, “how can you start writing for WrestlingHeadlines.com?” My answer is always the same, in the Columns Forum section of the website. It is where every column writer on this site cut their teeth as a wrestling columnist, to this day it remains not only one of the best places to develop yourself as a writer but also a fantastic forum to discuss pro wrestling. If you have ever thought about writing about wrestling I would strongly recommend registering today and giving it a go.
Once a year or so, a writer comes along that absolutely blows our socks off and today’s feature writer Andrew Ardizzi is one of those cases. His skill has been clear from his very first column, written in praise of the Drew McIntyre and Randy Orton feud, and we wanted to highlight his most recent piece on WWE’s latest stable, Retribution.
Remember this guys name, I have no doubt you will be reading more of his work on this website sooner rather than later. You can also follow him on Twitter @AndrewArdizzi.
We’re now several weeks into WWE’s latest tale of mystery. The faction known as “Retribution” (sort of) debuted a few weeks ago, preceded by the level of hype and received as well as, “hey, BTW… John Connor is a Terminator now. Lol,” when Terminator Genisys was released a few years ago. Much like that ill-fated movie and its trailer, the company announced on its social media platforms hours before Raw that a new group would be arriving on the scene. However, what we got was less Undisputed Era or an ode to Horsemen’s past and more akin to Dark Order meets the Putty Patrollers from Power Rangers.
Since their arrival, we’ve watched on as they’ve trashed equipment, broken glass doors, wrecked the ring, and destroyed the gadgets and assorted doo-dads in Gorilla Position. Friday night we watched them interject themselves into a segment that became muddled and functionally useless. The shtick is growing tired, the mystery is muted and dulling quickly, and much like the Thunderdome and its relationship to the product as a whole, we need some substance to go with all that flash, pomp and circumstance.
As of now, WWE is wasting our time with Retribution. It’s now the end of SummerSlam weekend, and nothing has changed. There was ample opportunity to attack Vince McMahon during that clunky mess of an opening on Smackdown, and there was sufficient opportunity to damage a predetermined piece of the Thunderdome set. Yet, weeks following their arrival the group has nothing to show for it, not even a chaotic attack at the second biggest PPV of WWE’s calendar.
Calling it a failure in booking is an understatement.
In the same amount of time since its debut, Raw Underground’s purpose has formed. It makes more sense and has found its legs within the show. It’s still imperfect, but it has potential to fit. The same can’t be said for Retribution, which until now, have been cast as random thugs and vandals for the sake of anarchy alone. There’s no clear reason as to why they’ve chosen this path, what their mission is, who they are and much less what their point is. And yes, the mystery makes for “must see TV” but with a product that fails to deliver on its stories far too frequently three weeks is too long for one of their pushed novelties to have not grown or evolved when Raw Underground or the Dominic Mysterio stories have evolved 10-fold in the same period. And the fact of the matter is they’re not increasing viewership with this particular bait.
The most telling and problematic dynamic of the story thus far is what the SummerSlam results show us. While this could change in the coming hours, days or weeks, that Retribution wasn’t involved in any aspect of SummerSlam tells us they aren’t part of any program currently running, which eliminates them from main event standing. They aren’t involved in any major title angle, nor are there any authority figures to oppose. So what’s the point? And in the absence of a logically evident arc for Retribution, it leads to a pessimistic conclusion that Retribution exists solely to thread us through each episode so we can see what they’ll target next. Perhaps catering.
Storylines in professional wrestling need not be overly complex, it doesn’t need to be War and Peace either. You need an antagonist and a protagonist, and a reason for them to feud. Let’s take the recently resolved feud between Adam Cole and Pat McAfee. Here you have two people with history (it was a work) over multiple years, two people who don’t like each other and it takes the right ingredients such as Cole losing his title to a man twice his size and an errant comment to ignite the feud on McAfee’s end. Run one angle on NXT, follow it up the following week and have your blowoff match at Takeover XXX. It was excellently executed. Another example we can use is Cody Rhodes in AEW. Cody defended the TNT title week after week against all comers, but increasingly so each week you started to see his arrogance and nonchalance shine through, as though he was taking his bouts too lightly. He pulled through with grit and talent, which is enough in his eyes because he believes he can outwork anyone — and then Brodie Lee destroyed him. But that isn’t the cap to the story, what happens next is. How does Cody respond? What are the implications in the title pictures, or even more will he reassess his allegiances in light of his embarrassment? It’s simple storytelling, yet you’re hooked in both scenarios because the people involved know how to hit the right notes to suck you into their world and their moments.
This is specifically where Retribution as a concept falls apart. The notion is they’re acting in counter to something (WWE) as their purpose, but that key piece of overt information is absent. What’s missing is story development; who are they and why are they here? They need, in a few words, clarity and direction. The truth of the matter at this juncture is Retribution has flatlined, and it’s arguable that it was dead on arrival. And now that we’re three weeks deep and haven’t seen anything progress through SummerSlam weekend, WWE is in danger of wasting their time and ours with a low-brow newsstand news-rag style narrative that relies entirely too much on the “you should tune in because you might miss it” trope. Yet at this point, we may as well just move along because there isn’t really anything worth seeing here.