RETRIBUTION was a faction that could only have emerged in 2020. For one thing, it was that summer that saw historic unrest in American cities, sparked by numerous deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. Coast-to-coast Black Lives Matter protests, violence between Antifa and right-wing groups, destructive anarchist riots, often-brutal reprisals by law enforcement – these events would fundamentally shift the American public’s views of justice, race, and history.
WWE’s takeaway from the whole thing was to create a heel wrestling stable.
The other reason why RETRIBUTION could only have emerged, and survived, in 2020 was that it was also the year WWE stopped having live audiences. That meant no feedback from the fans: no cheering, no booing, and, especially relevant to RETRIBUTION, no derisive chants or audible apathy. In any other year, a group that looked and spoke like RETRIBUTION might have been laughed out of the ring or, worse, ignored by the live crowd and pulled from the air. But in 2020, WWE got to exercise total control over the group’s on-air reception, piping in crowd noise and coaching fans on their webcams to visibly jeer their every action, no matter how ineffectual their antics or pretentious their promos.
Of all the lazy ways to introduce a faction, especially one meant to be unpredictable, none could be lazier than the way WWE introduced RETRIBUTION. On the WWE website, the company notified fans that a new faction would be debuting that night on Raw, and to be on the lookout for any mayhem they might cause.
So as not to make a liar out of wwe.com’s editor, the group arrived on cue Monday night to set a generator on fire. The vandals were visibly giddy, patting themselves on the back for their good work. But let’s be clear: destruction of property was nothing to celebrate, and neither was this group’s throwing technique.
Just look at that form! These chumps never would have made it out of Little League.
The hijinks carried over onto Smackdown, where RETRIBUTION trashed the ringside area to close the show. This was the first time we got a good look at the faction, and boy were they short. A masked Joaquin Wilde had to look up at an ordinary cameraman just to threaten him with a baseball bat.
Though one group member painted an anti-WWE symbol on the ringside plexiglass, the rest of the bunch had little idea what to do with their cans of spray paint.
Most drew swiggles everywhere. One put a single line through the Smackdown logo, another tried in vain to tag the canvas, and one member, bless her heart, sprayed paint into the air like a can of air freshener.
One of the diminutive delinquents brought a chainsaw to the ring and cut up the ring ropes, the cheapest thing in the whole arena, while the rest of the masked morons high-fived and jumped for joy.
Though failing as rioters, this new faction did manage to capture the energy of those imbeciles who jump the barricade at shows every now and then.
The Dork Order returned for more mischief on Raw, telling off a lone Performance Center employee, throwing a cinder block through a glass door, and then scampering off in celebration. Later, they attacked Braun Strowman’s car.
On August 14th, the gang invaded Smackdown again. To prevent any further interference, the Smackdown surrounded the ring for the main event. But this tactic backfired when The Group That Calls Themselves RETRIBUTION (or TGTCTRETRIBUTION, for short) stormed the backstage area and laid waste to the referees.
Speaking of waste, an unidentified WWE Superstar or official was on the toilet during the mayhem, so one of the hooded assailants barricaded him in the john as if the poor guy weren’t indisposed already. But just think of the pure, visceral fear RETRIBUTION could have inspired had they actually suckerpunched the guy while he was on the can!
The next Raw, the group invaded the production truck, fast-forwarded through the WWE Then Now Forever intro, and destroyed some laptops nobody was using. Worst of all, they forced Raw to go to commercial, where viewers were subjected to yet another commercial for Frank Thomas’s magic sex pills.
That week’s Smackdown featured the debut of the WWE Thunderdome, a massive and much-hyped setup featuring thousands of square feet of LED boards to simulate a live audience. Vince McMahon himself even opened the live show to inaugurate the new equipment. This was the perfect opportunity for the group of radicals to strike.
But an attack on the Chairman, the actual owner of the company RETRIBUTION hated so much, was not in the cards. Instead, a group of fifteen masked men and women swarmed Braun Strowman. In response, exactly fifteen Smackdown Superstars rushed in to battle the invaders.
Within 45 seconds, every member of Retribution was expelled from the ring, and the only reason it took that long was that the male and female WWE Superstars had to be careful only to fight gang members of the same gender.
One would think that in the remaining hour and 50 minutes of airtime, RETRIBUTION would return to destroy some of WWE’s precious Thunderdome equipment. They did not. While RETRIBUTION was cool with petty property damage (windows, ropes), they wouldn’t dare cost WWE any serious money by smashing up its new video screens.
The Thunderdome also emerged unscathed at that Sunday’s Summerslam pay-per-view, which, while advertised with the tagline, “You’ll never see it coming”, RETRIBUTION avoided altogether.
RETRIBUTION wouldn’t lay a finger on the Thunderdome on the next Raw, or the Raw after that, or the Raw after that, and so on. The worst they ever did was splatter their logo everywhere, as if someone had left the Thunderdome parked under a tree for a month.
And as for Smackdown? RETRIBUTION never appeared on that show again, choosing to make their destruction of WWE brand-exclusive.
RETRIBUTION re-emerged after Summerslam as a six-person core (three men, three women) to interrupt Raw’s tag team main event.
The following Raw, they scaled back their operations even further, dropping Kayden Carter from their ranks to continue as a five-piece. It was certainly a risk, given that Adam Pearce had hired exactly five security guards that night to keep them out of the building. Pearce’s security measures were in vain; RETRIBUTION disposed of the guards easily, then wreaked havoc in the arena by…
…scaring away Angel Garza, thereby ruining his chances with Demi Burnett. Those bastards!
The next week, just as the Riott Squad was about to beat Nia Jax in a handicap match, the lights went out.
Backstage, the quintet cut its first promo, a confusing speech chock-full of ten-dollar words like “behemoth” and “façade”. Mia Yim complained about being forced to feed upon “the scraps of contempt”…
…while Dominic Dijakovic referred to the group as the “locusts of contempt”, whose darkness would seep into the pores of WWE’s Superstars and Universe. Holy mixed metaphors, Sherlock!
So baffling was the promo that when the house lights came back on, the announcers had forgotten there’d even been a match going on; the Riott Squad-Nia Jax match had simply ended.
The group’s next promo at least made their motivations crystal clear: they were disgruntled wrestlers at WWE’s Performance Center who, uh, refused to suck up or whatever. “When you show loyalty to an entity that casts people aside like garbage,” said Dijakovic, “you become garbage!” Or, in the words of a great Jewish philosopher, “Adjacent to refuse is refuse”.
Meanwhile, Backlund-esque phrases like “enjoy your last days of oblivion” suggested that the group didn’t know what half their threats even meant.
RETRIBUTION then disrupted the main event – not with another promo (thank God), but with violence. A dozen masked marauders laid out Drew McIntyre and Keith Lee before the Hurt Business made the save.
Though outnumbered 6 to 12, the Raw superstars proved an even match for the RETRIBUTION contingent who, being all-male this time, were fair game for the WWE guys.
The next Monday, RETRIBUTION opened Raw to announce their official signing to WWE. Gone were the ski masks. In their place were different masks. Stupid masks.
All the masks had their flaws; Yim’s for example, kept slipping off her nose like a bad COVID mask.
But SLAPJACK’s deserved extra scrutiny. CM Punk claimed that SLAPJACK’s mask was made out of a paper plate, but closer inspection suggested a styrofoam plate. The worst part, though, was that the eyeholes were too far apart, making poor Shane Thorne appear cross-eyed.
And the fun was just beginning, as Yim and Dijakovic, the group’s mouthpieces, then cut promos. In Yim’s characteristically wooden promo, she pointed the finger at WWE’s real problem: its greedy Superstars who were only in it for the money. Blaming the workers wasn’t the first thing you’d expect from an anti-corporate gang, especially when the corporation in question conducted massive layoffs at the start of the pandemic amid record profits.
Then Dijakovic took the mic and outdid himself in the mixed metaphors department, cutting what sounded like a parody of his previous promos. According to his sixty-second monologue, RETRIBUTION would be the judge, jury, and executioners who would drain WWE of its whores, who were not only its lifeblood but the sickness responsible for the infestation of the hellhole that RETRIBUTION would destroy and rebuild in its own image by making them pay for their sins. Got all that?
MVP had heard enough, bringing his Hurt Business faction to the ring to rumble with RETRIBUTION and their faceless hordes.
Later in the night, Dijakovic promised to “pay” the Hurt Business for their greed. “But your payment will not come in the form of money. It will come in the form of a match! Against us! And we will pay you in retribution.” Retribution? Where have I heard that word before?
The faction made their presence felt again when they roughed up some mid-carders backstage, at which point Dijakovic made this perfectly ludicrous proclamation: “WWE Superstars are a sickness, and we are the judge, the jury, and the executioners!”
Undaunted by this new anti-bacterial justice system, the Hurt Business took the fight to RETRIBUTION backstage, beating up all of their mooks. But MVP and his group were in the hurt business, not the mystery-solving business, so they didn’t bother unmasking any of the invaders they had just laid out.
In the night’s main event, RETRIBUTION made their in-ring debuts in a six-man tag opposite the Hurt Business. It was during this match that the group’s men were finally identified by name – and what names they were!
WWE’s announcers couldn’t even go one match without making light of these new monikers. “T-BAR!” said Jerry Lawler. “That stands for That Boy Ain’t Right.”
The King was far from alone in not taking RETRIBUTION seriously; WWE Creative decided to have the group lose their first match via disqualification. With SLAPJACK locked in Bobby Lashley’s full nelson and all but certain to tap out, T-BAR triggered a DQ in the weakest manner possible, simply hitting Lashley while not the legal man.
Nine of RETRIBUTION’s unnamed reinforcements then arrived to deliver a 12-on-4 beatdown to the Hurt Business. “RETRIBUTION can do this,” Tom Phillips lamented. “They’re signed WWE Superstars. They can do this any time to anyone.”
Ignoring the fact that nine of these hooded assailants were not signed WWE Superstars (and were thus committing criminal trespass and assault), this new storyline development was still a head-scratcher: Instead of WWE paying security to stop RETRIBUTION from doing mob attacks, they paid RETRIBUTION to keep doing mob attacks. Because it was cheaper.
Fortunately, Drew McIntyre and six other men from the Raw locker room stormed the ring to vanquish the villains in an 11-on-12 beatdown. The melee proved to be just the distraction Randy Orton needed to sneak into the ring and hit Drew with an RKO. So at their big coming-out, RETRIBUTION ended up an afterthought. After all, Z-PAK and company weren’t even booked on that Sunday’s Clash of Champions.
Surely enough, another pay-per-view came and went, and RETRIBUTION was once again nowhere to be found. In an ironic twist, the mask-wearing faction had been forced to quarantine after possible exposure to the coronavirus, and WWE couldn’t be bothered to give anybody else ski masks and hoodies to fill in during their absence.
It was around this time that the dirt sheets learned the names of RETRIBUTION’s two women, due to trademark filings by WWE. Despite having made next to no effort to conceal their true identities, Mia Yim and Mercedes Martinez would nonetheless adopt new ring names – RECKONING and RETALIATION, respectively. I’m not saying WWE Creative simply swiped these names out of a thesaurus…
…but if they did, they had the perfect opportunity here to name a wrestler COMEUPPANCE, and they blew it.
The group returned on October 5th when T-BOZ, LEFTEYE, CHILLI, and a slew of masked runts surrounded the Hurt Business and Mustafa Ali. But instead of fighting back, the gloriously-maned cruiserweight revealed himself as RETRIBUTION’s leader.
This raised a lot of important questions: Would Ali start wearing a Michael Myers mask or something? Would he get a new name? Was “ZUBAZ” still trademarked?
On October 12th, the unseen decision-makers for the Raw brand officially drafted RETRIBUTION. After all the totally outrageous mayhem caused by the group, the higher-ups at Raw not only accepted the gang of vandals and rioters, but went out of their way to prevent Smackdown from snatching them up.
Though C-SPAN and the gang had made it their stated mission to destroy WWE from within, it was clear to viewers that even in storyline, no one in WWE took this threat seriously. Why else would the Raw executives draft the group as a unit, when those same execs deliberately split up the New Day? Were trombones and unicorns a bigger existential threat than RETRIBUTION?
For reasons unexplained, WWE had the chance to break up the group but kept all six of them together. Or, I should say, all five of them; Mercedes Martinez was dropped from the group without explanation. She was never even named on television.
RETRIBUTION kicked off the first post-draft Raw by surrounding The Fiend and Alexa Bliss, who stood perfectly still, then disappeared.
The supernatural confrontation was not meant to be. What was meant to be was another loss to the Hurt Business, who rushed to the ring to beat up the four wanna-be revolutionaries. This time, RETRIBUTION would receive no back-up from their trusty anonymous goons —
— between Akira Tozawa’s ninja duty…
…and Johnny Gargano’s Ghostface gigs in NXT, the once-bottomless pool of masked henchmen in black had dried up.
The Hurt Business would defeat FLAPJACK and friends with ease; the last minute and a half of action saw Bobby Lashley tear through the other team single-handedly before making T-BAR tap out.
It seemed that new leadership couldn’t turn the RETRIBUTION ship around. In fact, things were getting worse for the faction, as The Fiend re-emerged to destroy the four men single-handedly. Getting routed single-handedly, twice in one segment, wouldn’t bode well for any faction, especially one seeking to tear down the whole promotion.
Miffed, Mustafa Ali promised psychological warfare to avenge his group’s repeated ass-beatings, casually revealing that he was the Smackdown hacker.
Remember the Smackdown hacker? Throughout the spring, a cloaked figure (who sounded like Ali, but with a deeper voice) interrupted Smackdown broadcasts with cryptic messages. Before long, this hacker started affecting WWE storylines.
First, he revealed footage proving that Sonya Deville and Dolph Ziggler had conspired to ruin Otis and Mandy Rose’s romance.
Then, he didn’t do anything of note; the Mandy & Otis thing was the most important thing he ever did. WWE quietly dropped the angle in June with no payoff and moved Ali over to Raw.
But with the hacker back and aligned with RETRIBUTION, there was no telling what kind of damage they could do. Now, Ali vowed to take down WWE Superstars by revealing their terrible, most well-hidden secrets.
He never did.
Mustafa Ali’s next order of business was to finally get RETRIBUTION onto a pay-per-view. On the Hell in a Cell Kickoff Show, Ali challenged any member of the Hurt Business to a match against any member of RETRIBUTION. The Hurt Business chose Bobby Lashley vs. SLAPJACK as the match and were so confident, they put Lashley’s US Title on the line.
Predictably, Lashley trounced SLAPJACK, making him tap out in under four minutes. Even more predictably, he was then swarmed by RETRIBUTION, whom he fended off quite well even before the rest of the Hurt Business forced their retreat.
The next night on Raw, RETRIBUTION wrestled Hurt Business in a 4-on-4 elimination match. Normally, this type of match would be reserved for Survivor Series, which was just just three weeks away, but WWE couldn’t afford to have fans assume RETRIBUTION would be wrestling on that pay-per-view. Thus, they got the match over with on literally the first night in the build to Survivor Series.
Thanks to some trickery, RETRIBUTION scored its first pinfall ever to get off to an early lead. RECKONING feigned a “fit”, maniacally scratching herself and throwing herself to the mat. This momentarily distracted MVP, allowing him to be rolled up and pinned.
The original plan had been to fake a seizure, but Mia Yim got it changed to a sort of demonic possession.
Smart move – it wouldn’t have gone over well with the viewers, many of whom surely suffered seizures themselves just watching RETRIBUTION’s entrance.
The group’s advantage was short-lived; Lashley speared SLAPJACK and pinned him. Unfortunately, Bobby then got too distracted kicking T-BAR’s ass outside the ring, resulting in a double countout.
Shelton Benjamin then pinned MACE, leaving Mustafa Ali outnumbered 2-1. Ali hit Cedric Alexander with a chair to lose the match by DQ, but ran away when the rest of the Hurt Business returned.
And that was the end of that feud.
For their next feud, RETRIBUTION would set their sights a little lower down the card, beating up Ricochet and Tucker Knight. Ali had these cryptic, contradictory words to say to his former ally: “Your sin is forgiven until it is punished.”
Confused? Maybe you were just too lazy and stupid to understand the high art that was the RETRIBUTION storyline. In an interview on WWE After the Bell, Ali explained that most everyone in RETRIBUTION had been wronged in the past and never given a chance at payback. And sure, it’s commendable of Ali to try to rationalize a bad angle (when WWE itself had proven unwilling to do so), but the RETRIBUTION members’ backstories were clearly the result of inconsistent booking, not long-term storytelling. Dropped angles, fractured feuds, and lazy TV write-offs are so rampant in WWE that almost anyone on the roster could have been a member of RETRIBUTION and made at least as much sense as the ones we got.
To further ram home the sophistication and subtlety of RETRIBUTION, Ali posted a promo on Twitter retconning the group’s entire image. Ali gave his followers knockoff movie masks and names like ZUBAT and SLOWBRO not because they were cool, but because they were uncool. Only then could the members of RETRIBUTION understand what it was like to be judged, as Mustafa Ali had been for his entire life, based on how they looked and how they were named.
Hear that? All of you people on the Internet making fun of RETRIBUTION’s masks and names were marks! You said they looked and sounded stupid? Well, guess what, bucko? They were stupid on purpose! (This retcon does imply, however, that anybody who had defended the faction’s masks and names had also gotten played)
True, the group leader’s real name was very obviously Adeel Alam, not Mustafa Ali, but point taken. Still, there’s a big difference between xenophobia on the one hand, and mockery over ridiculous English-language names on the other. If WWE really had a coherent vision for this group, they wouldn’t have enlisted Mustafa Ali; they would have enlisted Dr. Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck.
November 9th was a milestone for RETRIBUTION: for the first time ever, one of them won a match, as Ali made Ricochet pass out to his submission finisher.
The next week, RETRIBUTION scored their second and biggest victory ever when, in a one-fall match, they took on four members of the Raw men’s Survivor Series team. That one fall occurred when the Raw guys argued with each other, allowing Ali to roll up Matt Riddle for a fluke pin. But instead of capitalizing on this surprising turn of events, WWE left RETRIBUTION off that Sunday’s Survivor Series and the next episode of Raw.
On November 17th, RETRIBUTION took over WWE’s Twitter account. Over the next few hours, they posted threats, grievances, and Taylor Hanson.
Most importantly for the storyline, RETRIBUTION posted a series of Twitter “fleets”, which finally explained what exactly they were seeking retribution for.
MACE, formerly known as Dio Maddin, had never been allowed to wrestle on TV. Though he did appear on commentary, he lost his spot after being destroyed by Brock Lesnar.
Not mentioned: his appearance on the first Raw Underground, which debuted the same night as RETRIBUTION. Though absent from that night’s arson, Dio did set the tone for the group when he got his ass kicked by the Hurt Business.
T-BAR, the former Dominic Dijakovic, had been betrayed by Triple H and best friend Keith Lee when Lee was called up to Raw without him. When was that call-up? August 24th, weeks after RETRIBUTION’s inception.
SLAPJACK, aka Shane Thorne, had been directionless in NXT. I hate to break it to SLAPJACK, but if he thought his booking in NXT was bad, why did he think he’d fare any better on Raw, of all shows?
RECKONING, formerly Mia Yim, joined RETRIBUTION after the fans turned their backs on her… somehow. Well, they certainly stopped showing up to her matches around March 2020. Why this would motivate her to carry out attacks on Raw talent, including her boyfriend Keith Lee, was unclear.
Ryan Satin urged WWE to air these videos on TV, which they of course did not, likely because they didn’t make a heck of a lot sense.
But RETRIBUTION did get to explain themselves in person – not at Survivor Series or the next night’s Raw, where they weren’t booked – but on an episode of Main Event. That’s WWE Main Event, streamed exclusively on Hulu Live the night before Thanksgiving, meaning almost every Raw viewer missed it.
An omen if there ever was one, The Gobbledy Gooker interrupted the group’s tell-all promo.
Two days later was Black Friday, the start of Christmas shopping in the United States. On WWE Shop, fans could buy official RETRIBUTION merchandise to help, in their words, “fund the movement”. Yet only a small percentage of the money made from sales would actually go to the RETRIBUTION members; the rest would go to WWE, which, as I understand, was the organization they were supposed to be destroying from within.
But what else was RETRIBUTION to do to earn money? Stream on Twitch? Run an OnlyFans? No, WWE would tolerate arson and felonious assault, but they drew the line at independent sources of income.
Over the next month, RETRIBUTION would go on a veritable winning streak:
SLAPJACK beat Ricochet. MACE beat Ricochet. T-BAR beat Ricochet. Ali beat Ricochet (again).
If there was one thing RETRIBUTION had proven, it was that they were no “jobber faction”. Sure, they often got the “jobber” entrance by coming to the ring during commercial breaks, but they could win every match…
…as long as they only ever wrestled one person…
…and as long as that one person wasn’t Dana Brooke.
See, RECKONING’s first, and to date, only feud was with Brooke, whom she targeted backstage. When the two finally squared off in the ring, RECKONING’s mask fell off within seconds. Worse still, the wrestlers and the announcers ignored this error and carried on as if they either didn’t notice or didn’t care that a member of RETRIBUTION had been unmasked.
Although RECKONING and the rest of RETRIBUTION’s identities were no secret to NXT viewers and Twitter users, the Raw commentators’ failure to recognize her sent a message loud and clear to the casual viewer: RETRIBUTION is a group of masked nobodies. Even if we told you who they were, you wouldn’t care.
Dane Brooke pinned Mia Yim with a roll-up after two minutes and fifteen seconds of action. Afterwards, Ali scolded Yim, declaring without a hint of irony, “There is no failure in RETRIBUTION!”
The next week, RECKONING fared even worse. Teaming with SLAPJACK, she faced Ricochet and Dana Brooke in a mixed tag match that somehow ended ever sooner than the previous match. After hitting one move, Brooke gave RECKONING her second consecutive loss.
It is now 2021. RETRIBUTION splits its time between Main Event (WWE’s D-show) and Raw, which has plunged to all-time low ratings during the group’s tenure. RETRIBUTION doesn’t deserve all the blame for that, but if their goal truly is to destroy WWE, they’ve made a hell of an effort so far.
It’s only fitting that WrestleCrap’s readers would reward that effort with the 2020 Gooker Award.