The RETRIBUTION faction debuted on WWE’s SmackDown in the summer of 2020, cloaked in secrecy. Who were the masked and hooded assailants who swarmed the Performance Center as the lights went dark, attacking Superstars and security staff, trashing property, even sawing apart the ring itself? The faction called itself RETRIBUTION, and declared their grievances with the WWE establishment, which their random attacks were payback for. On RAW, Mustafa Ali was revealed to be their leader, and their ranks were narrowed from the dozens of anarchist henchmen of their earliest appearances to the key figures of MACE, SLAPJACK, T-BAR, and RECKONING. While positioned as both agents of chaos and avengers of the downtrodden and disregarded of the WWE’s ranks, the storyline has been largely lackluster in the eyes of fans and wrestling industry insiders. What could WWE do to save RETRIBUTION?
How Could WWE Save RETRIBUTION
Supposedly, RETRIBUTION was formed by the misfit toys of the WWE, lashing out at the authority figures who have denied them chances for the stardom they dreamed of. In an industry where talented performers genuinely are so often underestimated, underutilized, or misbranded in a way that dims their light and leads to their failure, this is an angle that could resonate with audiences. The post-Montreal Screwjob caricature of Vince McMahon as the nefarious “Mr. McMahon” who sabotaged his performers for his own gain drove many a storyline of the Attitude Era, and the underutilization of Daniel Bryan led to the “Yes!” movement in 2016 and beyond. Wrestling fans all have their own idea about which talent should be used more or differently, and casting a performer or faction as an underdog or rebel against authority is an effective way to garner sympathy and support. If RETRIBUTION is raging against the machine, we should see their conflict with that machine: being denied matches against top tier opponents that could “put them over”, championship opportunities, etc. We should see this in action, or hear about each RETRIBUTION member’s history of broken dreams and thwarted opportunities, in a specific and impactful way. A visible, anti-RETRIBUTION, onscreen authority figure twisting their screws, at which to rail and blame, would also balance out and justify their aggression.
Amp Up Mustafa Ali’s Villainy
Mustafa Ali made a surprise heel turn as the leader of RETRIBUTION, after being on the side of right allied with Apollo Crews and Ricochet against The Hurt Business. Apollo Crews was drafted to SmackDown, where he had little to do for months until his recent bout against Big E. As for Ricochet, he was left a man alone, besieged repeatedly by RETRIBUTION and Ali himself, as they try to alternately intimidate and seduce him into joining their faction. The conflict between former friends Ali and Ricochet have produced some of the most fraught and suspenseful moments of the storyline.
“Do you truly think one man can change the world?” Ali mocked his former friend, approaching a truly menacing philosophical approach to his villainy. More of this- Ali positioning himself as a man of principle pushing for change, but using violence in a world of few options-could be compelling, but he needs to expand his target range. Seth Rollins’s transformation from Shield hero to Monday Night Messiah was driven by ambitious brutality, culminating in blinding Rey Mysterio and savagely beating Dominic Mysterio with a kendo stick: all, he professed, for the greater good. Mustafa should be racking up similar acts of misguided aggression, against key players besides Ricochet, in his pursuit to change the system. While it may be difficult to compete with Randy Orton’s recent penchant for pyromania, there must surely be some lines still left for Ali to cross.
A Win For RETRIBUTION
RETRIBUTION’s early appearances, with an expanded roster of anonymous bit players, cast them as a chaotic force that the unsuspecting Superstars they attacked could just barely contain. Since debuting as an in-ring faction, they have simply not lived up to the hype, scoring no meaningful wins. Bobby Lashley defeated SLAPJACK at Hell in A Cell, retaining the United States Championship. Ali, MACE, T-BAR, and SLAPJACK were defeated by the Hurt Business, and RECKONING lost to Dana Brooke. If RETRIBUTION is meant to be seen as a threat, key victories would aid this impression. There’s no need to dress like a menace and not live up to the hype. The leather garb, Dr. Lecter-esque masks, and Butoh-like poses they strike when walking the ramp would perhaps be better received and truly justified if RETRIBUTION brought the pain they promised, against beloved babyface opponents that they crush in the ring from time to time.
Most recently, RETRIBUTION leader Ali has drawn ire for criticizing WWE Legends, and panning Legends night as a waste of time bestowed on “has beens”. While Ali plays the anti-authoritarian brat prince well, more menace and motivation could elevate and salvage the RETRIBUTION storyline overall.
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