It is hard to miss that Monday Night Raw has been built around, in large part, Riddle and Austin Theory of late. Riddle is one half of the wildly popular RK Bro tag team champs with legend Randy Orton, and appears to be on his way to headlining the company’s next PPV. You might wonder why he isn’t “Matt Riddle” anymore. We’ll get to that. Theory is now the new U.S. Champion, and has been positioned next to McMahon a lot, including at WrestleMania. A more sweetheart spot in the company, there is not. He’s also just been going by “Theory” lately. You may wonder why he dropped his first name. Funny, it may be for the same reasons as Riddle.
Whatever you think of them as wrestlers — Riddle is unquestionably magnetic and overly talented, while we’re simply told Theory is these things — their presence at the top of the card is unsettling for some fans. That’s because both were main names in the #SpeakingOut movement of August 2020, when a rash of fans went public with indecent actions they’d suffered at the hands of pro wrestlers, ranging from merely inappropriate messages to outright assault.
The accusations against Riddle were some of the harshest, coming from a former pro wrestler, Samantha Tavel, who claimed that Riddle had raped her. Tavel sued both Riddle and WWE, but eventually dropped both suits. Riddle himself tried to get a restraining order against Tavel, but the whole process was extremely weird and he dropped his pursuit of the order mere days before it was to come before a judge. After this, Riddle’s first name was dropped, and the conspiracy theory is that it would make it that much harder to Google all of this. The name-halving also came about the time Riddle was starting to work his way up the card.
At the same time as the accusations against Riddle were coming out, a teenage girl claimed that Theory had sent her inappropriate pictures on Snapchat when she was just 13. None of the messages were made public, as the girl said Theory demanded she delete them after sending them. Not much more came out of it, but a main roster run that Theory had begun at that time was aborted by WWE, and Theory was off TV for a few weeks before returning to NXT. His main roster re-entrance wouldn’t come for another year or so. And now that he’s becoming a major name on the roster, he also has dropped his first name. Fool me once, and all that… Riddle vehemently denied the accusations, while Theory has never commented on those against him.
It’s hard to decipher what should happen to a wrestler based on internet claims. Some of those accused, like Marty Scurll and Jimmy Havoc, haven’t been seen working for a major company in the past year. They likely never will again. Others, like Riddle and Theory and Will Ospreay, are having the biggest runs of their lives. As always, it’s probably come down to how a company like WWE or AEW evaluates your worth. Havoc was a mid- to low-carder. Darby Allin, who’s had his own accusations thrown at him, gets to hang out with Sting every night.
Still, it’s not like WWE completely ignored the claims against Theory. He was removed from TV in the aftermath of the accusations surfacing. He was “demoted” back to NXT, so the company can’t claim they never knew about them or worried about what having Theory around would look like. They apparently were just waiting for the dust to clear.
Still, that wasn’t enough to save Velveteen Dream. The accusations against him weren’t all that different than the one against Theory, except Dream was messaging an underage boy. That individual kept the messages, though. Still, it’s hard not to feel like WWE went around #SpeakingOut accusations for performers they wanted to push and used them as an excuse to release other talents they might have had less interest in moving up to the main roster, or to the top of it. Not that Patrick Clark, Dream’s real name, deserved any less than he got with his eventual release and essential removal from the business. But couldn’t it be easily argued that Theory and Riddle deserve the same?
Vince has long kept his own personal projects, and when he’s chosen them it looks like he’ll do whatever it takes to keep more people from finding out about their pasts. You and I may know, but most fans just getting introduced to these two won’t. Which leaves him free to punt them up the card. But WWE is hardly alone in dipping in and out of having morality when it suits them and when it doesn’t (see: MLB and Bauer, Trevor). Companies and sports leagues have routinely punished those they can do without while wheel-posing to protect those they can’t.
Still, it’s jarring to see Theory get the star-treatment while a genuinely good dude in Mustafa Ali gets shoved out in the cold for months simply because he won’t take whatever the company offers him (and it would not take much of an imagination to figure out what Ali refused to do when offered by McMahon, y’know, considering his name is Mustafa Ali). That’s the way of the world, I suppose.