The Thunderdome is looked at as a triumph of necessity in the age of empty arenas, but is it allowing WWE to ignore what many are seeking answers to?
In the immortal words of pioneering 1980’s hip hop group, Whodini: The freaks come out at night.
Well, Friday nights anyway. “The Freak” Lars Sullivan made his unexpected return to WWE television on a recent episode of Smackdown, laying out Jeff Hardy, Matt Riddle, and The Miz before being officially drafted to the brand shortly thereafter.
Sullivan had been off television for well over a year, last appearing on Raw in June 2019 before vanishing entirely following a serious knee injury. Whether the pandemic changed things regarding his return or if the plan had always been to keep him off television this long, a lot of people were surprised to see him return at all.
About a month before his injury, Paste Magazine had reported on a series of Bodybuilding.com forum posts that painted an ugly picture of the man behind the gimmick. Sullivan, real name Dylan Miley, had been exposed as having a long, repeated history of posting attacks on minorities, women, the LGBT community, and acknowledging how funny he finds doing this from the vantage point of a “straight man.” The sheer number of posts suggested this was not just simply a one-off troll, but the proudly held beliefs of yet another keyboard racist.
WWE appeared keen to continue pushing Sullivan despite this, with the fortuitous injury occurring during a program where Sullivan would routinely batter the Lucha House Party, ignorant to the optics of an outed racist attacking a group luchadors presents. Sullivan had issued a statement through WWE renouncing the posts, claiming this was no longer the person he was. Whether anyone believed that certainly remained to be seen.
Sullivan, however, is hardly the only blemish WWE are using the light created by the mighty Thunderdome to cover up. In fact, WWE seems keen to use the Thunderdome to control the crowd in ways they likely never imagined. No longer can fans hijack segments with wrestlers facing real life legal issues or who have been exposed as bigots. This means it doesn’t really matter who or what they put out there, so long as it follows the tropes of a traditional wrestling television show in the style WWE has been doing for the last 30 years.
The Dream Has No Memory of That
The lack of an audience has even allowed WWE to reintroduce the Velveteen Dream, who stands accused of seemingly credible allegations of soliciting a minor online. WWE has done little to inspire hope that this was a nasty false allegation, effectively sweeping it under the rug while Paul “Triple H” Levesque acknowledged “there’s nothing there” when asked by CBS Sports.
Velveteen Dream received an NXT title shot in a parking lot brawl style cinematic match with then-champion Adam Cole shortly after the allegations were made. Dream just so happened to disappear from television after this, with Levesque stating Dream had been involved in a car accident but did not elaborate further on any specific injuries. Dream has since returned, though WWE appear to have leaned in to overwhelmingly negative fan sentiment by turning him into a more viscous heel character than we had seen before.
Riddle Me This … Bro
Matt Riddle, one of the wrestlers beaten down by Sullivan upon his return, is the subject of a high profile lawsuit as a result of the #SpeakingOut movement which occurred in the greater online wrestling community earlier this year. In it, Riddle is accused of sexually assaulting Candy Cartwright, a fellow wrestler, during a trip in 2018. This was acknowledged by Riddle, however, as being consensual and he has remained on television as his goofy, stoner babyface character in the meantime.
It’s pretty likely WWE’s legal team are well versed in how to handle these kinds of situations. They would likely point to the number of releases or suspensions which happened as a result of the movement, though the overwhelming majority of them came from the off-shoot NXT UK brand such as Ligero or Joe Coffey. Jack Gallagher and Travis Banks were fired immediately and while the pandemic has likely complicated matters relating to international travel, the movement came as Ireland’s Jordan Devlin seemed in line for a push having just won the cruiserweight championship. Devlin has not been seen on television since and WWE has removed the “interim” from the current belt’s status.
Throughout the entire pandemic, WWE have tried to put as positive a spin on literally everything they can, going so far as to somehow never mention that anything is different beyond the presentation of the show. They appear to want to extend that to talent that may or may not deserve the courtesy. The solutions are simple. Keep Riddle off TV until his situation is resolved. Tell us more about what you found out regarding Velveteen Dream. Fire them if you find these allegations are true. Stay ahead of future allegations and keep your audience informed. No one wants to cheer for predators and bigots except predators and bigots and frankly, I think it’s a market they can do without.
And Lars? Well, he can simply fuck off.