WWE wastes Jake Atlas debut while disrespecting LGBT+ community

HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: LGBT rainbow corner flags at the John Smith's Stadium before the Sky Bet Championship match between Huddersfield Town and Swansea City at John Smith's Stadium on November 26, 2019 in Huddersfield, England. (Photo by John Early/Getty Images)
HUDDERSFIELD, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 26: LGBT rainbow corner flags at the John Smith's Stadium before the Sky Bet Championship match between Huddersfield Town and Swansea City at John Smith's Stadium on November 26, 2019 in Huddersfield, England. (Photo by John Early/Getty Images) /

Last night’s episode of NXT (Apr. 1 2020) featured five matches, which in the current state of world affairs is unheard of for two hours of WWE programming. In amongst these matches, we also got a sub-four minute match between Dexter Lumis and the debuting Jake Atlas.

Jake Atlas, upon signing with WWE in 2019, was made out to be a big coup for the company, even in this era of WWE signing any vaguely recognized indie standout whatsoever.

Still only 25 years old and already a former champion in independent promotions PCW Ultra and All Pro Wrestling, Atlas was formally announced alongside Mercedes Martinez in early 2020, and big things were expected of him.

While Martinez would make her television debut almost immediately, Atlas was kept off screen for a while.

When a Performance Center attendee is kept off screen, especially one who is already a successful professional wrestler (rather than someone making their first steps into the business; ex football players, gymnasts etc), it usually means one of two things.

Either WWE have big plans for them and are waiting for the right time to air vignettes or launch a shock cold debut, or WWE  have precisely zero plans for them and are just kind of letting them stagnate.

Fast forward to yesterday, and NXT‘s second match of the show, as Jake Atlas finally made his televised debut, battling Dexter Lumis, himself re-debuting after a gimmick tweak and a less than inspiring start to life on the black-and-gold brand.

Lumis would put Atlas away in three-and-a-half minutes in an obvious squash match, and in those three-and-a-half minutes, WWE very clearly and quickly announced their plans and level of interest in the Jake Atlas character; i.e., little to no interest.

Again; upon his signing with WWE, Jake Atlas came with a decent amount of fanfare and expectation.

On top of being an excellent professional wrestler, Jake Atlas is an open and proud gay man, which WWE were both aware of at the time of his signing, and more than willing to draw attention to upon his announcement, with the official article pointing out that he “explained to WWE’s Chief Brand Officer that his dream is to become the first openly gay WWE Champion.”

Which really does begin to beg the question; if WWE are aware enough of a performer’s sexuality upon his joining them to include it in articles talking about his dreams, what sort of message do they think it sends to Atlas and to the community he (wittingly or not) represents, if their grand plan for him appears to be “keep him off screen with no plan, then have him job out in less than five minutes?”

In the aftermath of the Atlas vs Lumis match, there has been two distinct arguments being made on social media, depending on which side of the “argument” the person in question is representing.

A lot of WWE’s defenders in this instance are saying that “not everyone can be given a mega-push straight away”, hell, even that “nobody gets a mega-push straight away,” and that a “slow-burn” is the way to go with Jake Atlas.

None of this is even remotely correct; WWE have endless instances of giving newly-signed talent instant mega-pushes. In recent NXT history alone, you only have to look at the immediate impacts made by the likes of Kevin Owens and Finn Bálor; WWE absolutely can and do give big, immediate pushes to people when they want to.

The treatment Atlas received from the company is particularly infuriating considering his opponent. In jobbing to Dexter Lumis, Atlas isn’t getting over in defeat, like Austin Theory did when he debuted by going 16 minutes in a North American Championship match with Roderick Strong.

Dexter Lumis was, himself, re-debuting after a shaky start necessitated a change in presentation. Lumis could have had the precise same match with the precise same outcome against any number of already established lower-card competitors.

By having Atlas do this job in the manner it was done, WWE have immediately established Atlas as someone that they believe the fans have no reason to care about.

WWE’s track record with LGBT+ performers is at best extremely patchy and, at worst downright, insulting. Darren Young came out while contracted to the company in 2013 and they proceeded to do even more noticeably nothing with him than they already were.

Sonya Deville is WWE’s first openly gay female wrestler, and as Mandy Rose’s friend, continues to be booked as nothing but a quiet supporting player in Vince McMahon’s everlasting obsession with attractive blonde women.

When left to their own devices and trusted to run actual LGBT+ storylines, WWE manage to be both mind-numbingly predictable and yet somehow still incredibly offensive; if the Lana/Liv Morgan angle being immediately dropped wasn’t bad enough, I’m truly sorry to remind you of Billy & Chuck.

None of this is to say that, because of his sexuality, WWE should have immediately pushed Jake Atlas to the moon and had him win  a title in his first match, or go undefeated for a year, or any such exaggeration.

Even just the slightest bit of common sense and tact would suffice; “Hey, we’ve got this guy who we made a big deal out of when he signed and whose sexuality we’ve drawn attention to. Maybe let’s not mark him as a perennial nobody right away, you know, give him a couple wins against mildly established guys at least?”

The fact that WWE signed an openly gay independent standout, did nothing with him for the first few months, then decided his place was a clearly designated jobber, is depressing not only in it’s  offensiveness but just as much (and potentially even moreso) in it’s inevitability.

The company’s legions of LGBT+ followers deserve better than the never-ending shabby treatment we receive at  their hands.

The performers deserve better. Jake Atlas might recover from this and, as he said is his dream, go on to become the first ever openly gay WWE Champion. He might. But given his presentation on NXT last night, I wouldn’t expect him to do anything other than job for 18 months, then be Future Endeavored.

Next. 25 best moments in WrestleMania history. dark

At which point, maybe we’ll finally be ready to have the discussion about why WWE continue to refuse to push any openly LGBT+ performers.