Dijak Reveals All About Retribution: Talks with Vince McMahon, Original Pitch, and More

Dijak Reveals All About Retribution: Talks with Vince McMahon, Original Pitch, and More

Dijak dishes on all things Retribution in a new interview with Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp.

Retribution was, for a hot moment during the global pandemic, a major WWE storyline. Millions of views and social media impressions show that there was an interest in where the storyline was going at first. Unfortunately, the momentum of the group was not sustainable and the group is mostly remembered today for its members having silly names and ultimately coming across as a flop.

Dijak, known as T-BAR in Retribution, has always been outspoken about not enjoying how everything with the group fell apart, and now, during his first interview after departing WWE, he is speaking with Sean Ross Sapp about the original ideas for the group, where it all went wrong, and what the experience was like during an already turbulent time in society, let alone WWE.

“The whole feel of it was, ‘we don’t know.’ I know they didn’t know because I was there speaking to him about it. It’s 2020, we’re coming off Portland TakeOver, me and Keith are coming off this great feud. I don’t have a solid sense of what the booking…nobody in WWE has a super solid sense of the booking or the trajectory, especially talent. Maybe those in charge do, but talent, even the top guys, they might have a general idea, but nothing is set in stone. It seems like we’re building to a triple threat at (the next) TakeOver. I have all this new gear that no one has seen,” he revealed. “It’s modeled after the Emperor from ‘Gladiator,’ it’s this white suit of armor for entrance gear. It’s beautiful and cost me a fortune because I never used it. TakeOver got canceled and shifted to USA Network, which was a catastrophe. COVID hits, disrupts everything. I start getting a feel, people started talking to me more, that I was in the past as opposed to the future. I was like, ‘I wonder if the plan was to do something at TakeOver and then that got shifted.’ Usually, guys got called up at the Raw after WrestleMania. I thought maybe something was happening around then but the timeline was shifted around. All of Raw is at the PC, there is no crowd, it’s odd. I get notified a little before I wrestled Johnny Gargano, I was the first guy he wrestled as a heel in that run. I had essentially turned babyface. I got notified, at some point in that window, that I was being called up to Raw. ‘Great, this is wonderful.’ It never really happened. This was such a period of confusion in WWE.

“Whenever I get called up, it’s a fucking catastrophe for some reason [laughs]. I got called back to NXT, even though I got called (up) and showed up to Raw,” Dijak adds. “It was weird because we were already showing up to Raw because we became the crowd. There was a weird mixed message. Heyman was writing the show. He got fired, Bruce came in. I didn’t know who to go to. I was told I got called up, but no one was approaching me with anything. I’m not even in the locker room. I don’t know what’s going on. Finally, I get a call, ‘Hey, we’re going to bring you back to do a couple of matches and face Kross, who they’re building up to face Keith. We’re going to introduce you with the Keith storyline. Keith is going to win the Championship.’ That was my first time back was when Keith won the championship, I gave him a hug, we ran the program with Kross and he killed me off.”

Dijak then recalls meeting Vince McMahon for the first time, realizing that Vince wasn’t familiar with his work in NXT, and later finding out that McMahon wasn’t happy with how Dijak had approached him.

“Now, I’m back on Raw, in some capacity, sort of. At least, I’m going to Raw. We’re physically there because we’re in these tents outside and then we go in, we sit there, Kevin Dunn is yelling at everyone in the ring. It’s a silly mess. Through no fault of WWE’s. They’re trying to survive COVID. I don’t think they did a horrific job at that. They maintained a product when most things stopped,” he said. “Finally, I don’t know what my status is, I go straight to Vince. First impression with Vince is horrible. During the pandemic, they did a makeshift model of the current arena. That area is where we were running TV, but production was in the other building that was adjacent to it. I think they were renting at the time, but now they own it. At the time, it wasn’t a training facility, it was a big empty warehouse they were renting with separate rooms. Vince’s office was five rooms down. You have to reach these levels of the warehouse to get to him.

“You’d go through the SmackDown set, then a production meeting, it was like going to boss to boss to boss,” he continued. “The security guard is standing at one door. ‘Is Vince in there?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Can I talk to him?’ ‘Yeah.’ I’m opening these doors and I don’t know what’s on the other side. Maybe it’s Vince sitting at a desk. I open it and it’s a production meeting and a bunch of writers. They all stop and look at me. Vince is talking to Jason Jordan. I’m standing in the doorway. ‘Ah, fuck.’ I’m clearly interrupting something and I didn’t know. I’m standing and waiting for them to finish. They talked for what felt like a half hour, but it was probably eight minutes. I’m just standing there awkwardly forever. He looks at me, smiles, and waves, I walk over and introduce myself. ‘Nice to meet you. I’m Dominik Dijakovic from NXT. I just got called up. I wanted to know if there is anything you’re looking for specifically.’ ‘Have you talked to Bruce Prichard?’ ‘Yeah, I’ve talked to Bruce.’ ‘He does the creative stuff.’ From that moment, I was like, ‘I’m fucked.’ He doesn’t know who I am. If you were on NXT, there was a pretty clear idea if Vince knew who you were, and that determined how your main roster run would go. ‘Okay, I’m fucked.’ Through the grapevine, I heard he was not happy with that at all. He didn’t like that I came to him and approached him. I was wearing casual stuff, a tank top. I guess he wanted me in a suit or a collared shirt. Then he had a talk with me a month later. Hilarious talk, in hindsight, about professionalism [laughs].”

Dijak wanted to use his NXT exit as storyline fuel for his Retribution debut. He also says there were hopes and pitches to use storyline downfalls suffered by the other members of the group but ultimately, it was not to be.

“Retribution debuts. It’s a catastrophe. It’s a bunch of writers or extra or small little people throwing things. I viewed it as an opportunity. ‘I can fix this. I can make Retribution a fucking awesome thing.’ I go to Vince. I filmed my own pitch where I had my own mask that kind of looks like the T-BAR mask, but not really. It was meant to be an entrance mask,” Dijak said. “I film a pitch where I’m talking (with the mask on). I take the mask off, I cut this promo, it’s all dark. I take this video, it’s now my second time meeting Vince, it’s a month later. I take it to show it to him. ‘This is what I think Retribution could be.’ I had a list of names. Nikki Cross, Damo, Mason, Shane Thorne, Tommaso Ciampa. I listed seven or eight people who I thought would fit ‘We’re angry with the company and want to take them out revolution group.’ He watched the video and had no feedback for any of that, but he gave me a five-minute talk on professionalism and talking to people who own companies. ‘You need to be more professional. You need to present yourself better. Not me. I’m one of the boys.’ Clearly, you’re referring to you.

“That’s just how Vince operated. He operated in this weird bubble and had a view of himself that was no what he projected,” he added. “I present it. ‘That’s fucked. He doesn’t care.’ “Two weeks later, it starts to happen. Mason shows up in the group as a hooded character. Another person I pitched shows up as a hooded character. I show up as a hooded character. ‘He kind of maybe listened, or someone listened.’ I sent it to Bruce and the Raw team. It kind of starts to happen and I’m like, ‘Oh shit, this is awesome. We’re all getting called up.’ At this point, there is kind of a focus on Retribution. It’s integrated in the whole program. I know people weren’t watching or hated watching during the pandemic, and had good reason to do so. At that point, it’s a focal point of Raw. The more we do it, the more steam it gets….it originally started and everyone looked like a child screaming and throwing a temper tantrum. The more actual pro wrestlers did it, me and Mace are big and imposing, Shane looks good, everyone is hitting each other hard. The segments are going well. We beat up Dominik Mysterio, Keith, Drew, Braun. We’re on Raw and SmackDown. Suddenly, it falls off a cliff. ‘You guys can’t be on SmackDown anymore.’ I don’t think anyone told us, but we heard that it was because Fox didn’t like it. It was before we officially debuted. ‘We’re screwed. They can trash the whole thing. No one has seen our faces.’”

Asked when he found out he was going to be in the group, Dijak says he tried to make his own opportunities because he saw the group as a chance to stand out as opposed to being another guy on Monday Night Raw the creative team had no plans for. However, when the masked group first appeared, Dijak recalls not being a member of the Monday Night Raw roster yet.

“The first time you saw them on screen, when they threw Molotov cocktails at the generator, I don’t think I was officially on Raw. I saw it as an opportunity because I was in this meandering middle ground where it was, they don’t know how to use me. They have no plan for me,” he recalls. “I see this faction. I have friends who I like who are talented and in a similar boat, I’m just going to go for it. ‘I don’t think you have a plan, let me give you a plan.’ It kind of started to work. I don’t think they considered anyone or had a plan. It was literally writers, extras, and nonsense.

“We’re doing the masks. It’s getting better. It’s not great, but it’s getting better and trending in a good direction. We’re pitching stuff like crazy,” he continues. “I think I pitched the names being big and capitalized. DIJAK. DIO. THORNE. We wear these entrance masks because the company has betrayed us. We all had these reasons and motivation. Then, one day, like a big hammer, boom, ‘Here’s your masks.’ ‘Entrance masks?’ ‘No, you wear them all the time.’ ‘Oh shit. Maybe we can make that work.’ ‘Your name is T-BAR. Your name is SLAPJACK. Your name is MACE.’ ‘Oh fuck.’ In the back of our heads, we’re like, ‘at least it’s us.’ At this point, we don’t have main roster contracts. This is a point where Vince can go, ’Fuck ‘em, fire him.’ That happened all the time. Our jobs are on the line. At least it’s being push. At least our faces are out now so they can’t just replace us. Even though we know it’s all bad, at least we’re here and we’re going to get pushed. If you push us, it will get over. You can do the silly shit in the world, but if it gets pushed and you throw a bunch of championships on it, people are like, ‘That’s cool and awesome.’ Obvously, that didn’t happen.”

Speaking about the social media success and the amount of hits that the segments the group was in would receive, Dijak says he still has conversations with members of the group today and they understand that it was the largest impact they’ve had on the wrestling industry to date and ultimately, people don’t care because of how much the angle fell off a cliff.

“Visually, it was crazy. They put a thumbnail on YouTube and it’s 20 ski mask guys surrounding Braun Strowman and it would get 40 million views. Obviously, unanimously, it was despised. Everyone hated it,” he said. “We talk about how, with the exception of Ali, our biggest impact on the world in terms of anything is that stuff. That’s the most anyone has seen of us as an entity and no one will never know it was us or give a shit that it was us, and it’s unanimous despised. It’s just funny that millions saw it, laughed at it, and moved on. It’s such a fleeting and unimpactful thing. Those numbers became part of my pitch to Vince because he was doing the contracts. I don’t want to talk too much about money and details and what the structures were of contracts that time. They were trying to bring me especially up into a contract situation that didn’t make sense. There was a lack of communication in talent relations departments at that point. I think it’s a lot better now. Not perfect, but a lot better now.

“At that point, there was a real internal lack of communication. I was trying to explain that to them, and they did not like that. There was some, I wouldn’t call them threats, but I was strongly encouraged to stop doing that. Indirectly. Through booking decisions. Through meetings I was part of. Through other people brought to television as potential replacements. None of this was told directly to me, but it was made apparent to me, ‘You need to shut your mouth and accept what we’re giving you or you’re out of here.’ Again, that wasn’t said to me, but the general tone was felt on my part. I was very much pressured into signing a contract that I wasn’t terribly comfortable signing.”

Sean Ross Sapp then mentions that he had heard at the time that the members of the group signed identical contracts on the same day. Dijak says that most of them did and recalls the situation as being an uncomfortable one.

“Not all of us, but most of us. It was an uncomfortable situation. I can’t speak to the legality of it, because I don’t know, but it felt uncomfortable,” he said. “There were booking decisions on the same day where, you can go back and watch me, it’s our first or second match, and I get put in the Hurt Lock right away, and I’m tapping out. All of that was for a reason. Ultimately, we thought we got it resolved. The contracts were signed, it is what it is. Ali joined us after that, we started trending in the right direction again, but then it fell off a fucking cliff and we started to lose everybody.”

With regard to Mustafa Ali joining the group, Dijak recalls the current TNA X-Division Champion regularly pleading with Vince McMahon in attempts to change the direction of the group. Ultimately, it was just a situation where talented individuals were trying to make the best of a bad situation.

“Way after the hacker. Everybody who was involved in Retribution, with the exception of Mercedes because she was only there for two weeks because she was like, ‘Fuck this. I don’t want any part of this.’ Everybody else involved put their heart and soul into making it presentable because what they would give us every week was the most atrocious thing you’d ever see in your life. What you saw on TV was so much better than what we were given. That’s not me pretending it was good. It was not good. It was very bad. We took it from inexplicably horrible to just bad, and we worked our asses off to make that happen,” Dijak said. “Ali would go endlessly into Vince’s office and pitch, ‘Please don’t do this. It’s going to get us canceled. It’s going to get us fired. We’re going to look horrible. We’ll still lose, but don’t let us lose this way.’ Every week was a fucking battle. It was a fight for our lives because we knew we were one step away from being obliterated off the face of the earth, and everyone is a fucking excellent wrestler. ‘Please, just let us be ourselves. Let us wrestle. Give us time. Let us create this. Let use fix what you screwed up.’ They just would not.

“There was a problem with everyone. It was fun because I was around my friends, we were on the main roster and people were talking about us, but it was super negative because going to work was treacherous,” he adds. “There’s no fans, so our only feedback is Twitter, and Twitter is fucking eviscerating us. Every time we’re on TV, we’re trending number one but it’s for all the wrong reasons. People endlessly shitting on me. I was in a dark place, mentally. I think we all were. We’re all in this dark hole. The world doesn’t exist. I’m living on Twitter because it’s the only feedback I’m getting from my job. My name is T-BAR. I’m trying to make it interesting so I’m shooting on everyone and saying nonsense. There is plenty of regrettable things I said in character, but sort of not. It’s a complete mess. Decent amount of regrets from that, overall. It was a lot of fun to be around my friends and be in the ThunderDome, which was a unique experience, but it was a wild experience.”

Now, after consistently trying to do his best with everything given to him by WWE, Dijak is a free agent and ready to begin a new chapter in his career. Fans can learn more about his WWE departure here.

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