Tuesday, August 6, 2019

RESPEK DA BIZ, or Matt Riddle Is Right, Nerds

Honestly, the dogpile on Riddle is systemic of a greater problem
Photo Credit: WWE.com
One of the constants of pro wrestling is that no matter how much the style changes or how much more spots get escalated, people inside the biz have to pay dues to the people who came before them. Whether it's shaking hands in the locker room, doing pointless and meaningless gruntwork, or never speaking bad about anyone older than you, you gotta respect your elders or else they'll all gang up on you and try to blackball you from any promotion in which they have influence. It doesn't matter how much they drew or how good they were. If they're old, they're worth something, or so the common logic states.

Matt Riddle did not come up in a pro wrestling locker room. He was a MMA fighter in the UFC for the first decade of his combat sports career or so. In that locker room, respect for elders doesn't mean as much as it does in wrestling, mainly because it's a legit sport, and you're not performing with anyone. You're trying to kick their asses. In MMA, Riddle really wasn't deferential, which is fine. Game respects game, and if you don't have it, Riddle will not respect you. When he ported over into wrestling, he kept that attitude. Personally, I see no problem with it, and apparently, neither does Paul Levesque. I'm just a writer though. Bill Goldberg and his peers from old World Championship Wrestling? Well, they feel they're owed respect.

The tale of Riddle and Goldberg goes back further than June of this year, when the former found out the latter blocked him on Twitter, and then the former went on and trashed the latter for his performance at the last WWE Saudi Fuck Money show. Now, I don't endorse him calling Undertaker a "stallion," but I mean, he's entitled to his opinion. One could say it was Taker's fault that the match between him and Goldberg sucked. Others could say it was Goldberg sandbagging. Others could say neither fiftysomething wrestler should have worked after a long plane flight from the US to Saudi Arabia. Either way, Riddle had a stick up his ass over being blocked on Twitter. I mean, I've been blocked on Twitter in less high-profile fashion, and I still get really salty over it.

As it turns out though, perhaps Riddle sowed those seeds a few years ago, when he did an interview for The Sporting News. In it, he trashed Goldberg, and for good reason. In Riddle's eyes, Goldberg presents himself as a MMA-legit character when he's never stepped in the Octagon like Riddle has. Personally, as much as I've enjoyed Goldberg's last, pre-Saudi run, I can't speak about bona fides the way Riddle does having actually fought. He probably has more of a right to critique Goldberg than really anyone else in that locker room other than maybe Brock Lesnar.

If it was just Goldberg blocking Riddle and Riddle running his mouth, that'd be one thing. However, as if almost by clockwork, a younger, less-established wrestler talking shit on someone older and thus better sent out a klaxon to the older's peers to start ganging up on the upstart. First, it was Booker T, saying Riddle needs "a lot of work." When Riddle responded, Chris Jericho, who nominally works for the competition now and shouldn't really care about one WWE superstar talking shit about another one, posted a video mocking Riddle, and then posted another one when Riddle replied that he'd beat the shit out of Jericho. For as many locker room fights as Y2J has been in, I kinda think Riddle could take him, y'know, with the legit experience. Even Lance Storm started talking shit. Lance Storm!

This gang-up on behalf of a dude who doesn't need it given how much money he makes for like two appearances a year is the most ridiculous form of elderly gatekeeping, but it's not the only one. Booker himself participated in it when the Young Bucks allegedly "disrespected" Rob van Dam in TNA. When they went to WWE for a tryout, he gave them a hard time for not seeking him out to give him a handshake, which looking back on it is just the most ridiculous shit. You would think that with Jericho being in the Bucks' company now that they might tell him to knock it off, unless they see it as more baiting the competition, in which case I can see why they wouldn't say anything. Still, whether or not it's a tool in the product wars upcoming, it's still a huge anchor keeping the business from moving forward. It's emblematic of how corporate wrestling companies continue to lean on older guys because younger ones "can't cut it," but they don't really run the companies in ways where those younger guys can shine.

You would think that the locker room would see a benefit in having new talent cycle through because it can keep the business growing and them making money, even if they're not at the forefront. Instead of unionizing and collectively demanding that more money is passed along regardless of card position or importance, they reinforce a hierarchy that keeps the younger wrestlers down until they're the oldest people in the locker room and then have to enforce the archaic code of deferring to the guys who've been there forever and may not have the best ideas on how to self-conduct. It's one thing for new wrestlers to have a learning curve where they do learn, and camaraderie is a great thing to foster. However, in this case, shaking hands is weaponized, and the refusal or even an innocuous forgetting can now be given as a reason that someone be excluded from the exclusive club. Plus, any critique of someone who might have "made it" is discarded because the younger person doesn't know any better, despite the fact that that younger person may know better where wrestling is going whereas the old boys cling to what it once was.

In other words, Matt Riddle shouldn't have to wait until he's old enough to qualify for a Saudi main event to voice an opinion. The thing is, he's not voicing it against fellow NXT wrestlers or even guys like Roman Reigns or Becky Lynch. Goldberg isn't someone who should be wrestling for 2019 WWE, no matter how good his matches are, no matter how popular he still is with the crowd. His time has passed, and he's a symptom of WWE's creative rot that has to rely on guys like Goldberg and Undertaker and Triple H to emerge from mothballs in order to headline events like WrestleMania and SummerSlam. There's no good reason why Reigns shouldn't be able to headline a big event against Braun Strowman, Daniel Bryan, or even Seth Rollins. There's no reason why Lynch should need Ronda Rousey to make a match vs. Charlotte Flair viable to headline Mania. Yet, WWE is at this point where it cannot build stars on its own without having to rely on a guest to give a requisite bump.

It shouldn't matter if Jericho, Booker, and Storm have Goldberg's back. WCW is dead. If all these macho dorks can unionize over is dunking on Riddle instead of, say, fighting for employee rights or better pay or health insurance, then they deserve to rot and have people like Riddle not only criticize them, but overtake them in prominence in the business. Of course, that won't happen as long as Vince McMahon continues to hump the idea that the older you are, the better equipped you are to handle the spotlight.