Pro wrestling stumbles on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, adrift in the fluidity of constantly shifting venues in order to continue holding empty arena oddities that distill its presentation into its simplest form. WWE and All Elite Wrestling still produce weekly programming, along with the forthcoming oddest edition of Wrestlemania on record, while enduring criticisms about holding these events at all in the era of social distancing.
But no one said there weren’t some silver linings as combat sports does its best to carry on like nothing is happening. One of specific importance to the LGBTQ community came Wednesday when celebrated pro wrestler and recent WWE signee Jake Atlas made his WWE television debut on NXT.
Atlas signed with WWE in January after a number of successful years on the independent wrestling scene, culminating with a collection of celebrated matches for popular independent promotion Pro Wrestling Guerilla. His pre-WWE career also saw him engage in LGBTQ advocacy in and out of the ring. The publicly out Atlas wore the colors of his community while delivering stellar matches for companies allied with LGBTQ communities like RISE, Hoodslam and A Matter of Pride.
Atlas’ loss to the re-debuting Dexter Lumis on Wednesday was admittedly disappointing, but it also marked the first step in his stated dream of becoming the first openly gay WWE champion. His talent is undeniable and he has many of the tools needed to reach those heights.
That being said, WWE’s presentation of his debut did cause some frustrations. Most notably not mentioning Atlas’ sexual orientation on television when it felt perfectly fine celebrating it when announcing his signing. It isn’t surprising though. Every out wrestler to take the WWE stage hasn’t had that aspect of themselves showcased on WWE programming, outside of donning a rainbow flag here and there.
That isn’t to say that sexual orientation should solely define anyone. Atlas rose to the WWE stage due to his talent as a wrestler, and he should be defined by that talent. But he also stands as a symbol of the changing landscape of pro wrestling. Referring to that status through the thin veil of having “support on social media” as NXT commentators Tom Phillips and Sam Roberts did, does everyone a disservice, and leads LGBTQ people who watch WWE programming to see their representative figures as merely head canon.
Regardless, it is exciting to see Atlas’ hard work being rewarded. Here’s hoping his clash with Lumis is just the first stepping stone to a fruitful WWE career. We’ll be eagerly waiting alongside him for his dream to come true.