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The Ryback Story: A Career Defined By What Never Happened

PWP Nation’s Zak Fellows explains why WWE missed another opportunity with the “Big Guy,” Ryback. 

And there goes another one.

As of August 5th, Ryback ended his near 12 year stint with the WWE from Tough Enough to Skip Sheffield to, what he is now best known as, Ryback. Despite waiting for this to occur, simply due to the circumstances surrounding the departure, I profess to still being somewhat upset by it.

You see, I have always been a fan of Ryback: He brought a lot of energy for a bigger guy and, even though his initial claim to fame draws and sparks a number of comparisons to Goldberg, The Big Guy was still holding up his end of the deal and being interestingly dominating.

I even remember for the PWP Community writing an article professing my genuine happiness with Ryback’s resurgence from lower card obscurity in 2014. That’s the level of fandom we are talking about here. As such, you will forgive the level of fanboy-ism that I’m sure will resonate from this article.

Unfortunately, in the face of numerous world title matches, pay-per-view main events and an Intercontinental Championship reign, I feel as Ryback’s career in WWE will ultimately be defined by what DIDN’T happen as opposed to what he actually did accomplish. There have been many careers that have been made or broken by certain events occurring in a certain way: Roman Reigns is in the position he is right now, as the guy getting the biggest reactions from an audience, because he won certain matches and succeeded at certain moments.

On the other hand: Ryback failings in storylines will ultimately serve as his lasting impression. With that said, let’s go a bit deeper.

To me there are two notable runs that Ryback had in WWE that serve as examples for which his ascension in success became marred by resolutions of failure. As we know, after a stretch out of action due to injury, the former Skip Sheffield would debut as Ryback in April of 2012 and would go on to prove himself as someone who could beat two people at once. He would begin an undefeated streak while putting on a dominant display, moving slowly up the roster’s hierarchy until October of 2012 when he inserted himself into the WWE Championship situation between John Cena and then champion CM Punk. Ryback would receive his first World Title opportunity against Punk at Hell in a Cell 2012 in the titular structure.

Now, while I will freely admit that future circumstances were taken into consideration to factor into the result of the Ryback/Punk match, namely John Cena and The Rock, I believe it ultimately hurt Ryback’s status of dominance and he needed to win that match if he was going to continue looking strong. For all the complaints and comparisons to Goldberg, when WCW needed to pull the trigger on him, they did with absolute fanfare and it is still remembered to this day in a positive light because of it. WWE, on the other hand, got cold feet and Ryback suffered as a result of this.

This would continue though: The Shield would make their debut at his expense, which is fair enough WWE wanted to make all three guys look good and be, their soon to be, top talent, and it would have been rectified if Ryback was ever given any win or prominence against the three man team which never happened, capped off by a loss to Mark Henry at WrestleMania 29 and a heel turn the following night on Raw.

WWE’s failure in having Ryback win at the most important of times serves as a lesson of something occurring at the right time. Imagine if John Cena didn’t beat JBL at WrestleMania 21, what if ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin waited until he was cleared to wrestle to stun Vince McMahon as opposed to September in Madison Square Garden.

Timing is everything.

But, perhaps there was a silver lining, Ryback’s devaluation helped him to improve his ability and speaking and become a generally better performer on a smaller scale, something accomplished after six months of being a heel and being equated to Curtis Axel and being overshadowed by Paul Heyman. Once he returned in October of 2014 as a babyface to squash Bo Dallas, he received a great reaction due to people missing him and it was almost as if a year and a half of mediocre happenings never happened. Ryback was inserted into the big angle at the time involving the Survivor Series 2014 main event for which he joined the victorious John Cena’s team. He would even go on to win the Intercontinental Championship the following May at Elimination Chamber.

But, I suppose what ultimately ended that run was a lack of strong follow up. To put it into perspective, once Ryback lost his title to Kevin Owens he really didn’t end up doing much of note afterwards. Yes, he was never left without something to do but it ultimately reached a point where his title reign became transitional, as if the only reason it happened was to get it on the new up and coming heel Owens. Vindicated by the passage of time I guess.

If anything though, his final run before his departure served as proof of something we will never see fully capped off in WWE: Ryback ended his run being the big bully heel to the smaller babyface Kalisto for the United States Championship, something for which would have had some great resolution if he had won and became the big mountain for a smaller wrestler to overcome but alas all for naught.

I don’t wish to define and simplify Ryback’s career as one of complete failure though. He is still very much an overlooked wrestler who I would recommend some of his matches too: The six man tag at TLC 2012, the Three Stages of Hell Vs Cena at Payback 2013 and both of his US Title matches with Kalisto. It’s just he could have been so much more, a main event world champion level athlete who could still be involved in prominent positions.

With that said, on behalf of everybody of the PWP Nation team and myself, we would like to wish Ryback the best of luck in whatever he ultimately decides to do from this point forward. And I’d be doing an injustice if I didn’t mention Ryback’s trolling of CM Punk on social media and in Chicago.

[Zak Fellows does appreciate a healthy bit of trolling especially to people who deserve it.]

Seriously? Punk can rip on Ryback in a sour grapes fashion and everybody’s fine with it, but Ryback rips on Punk in a trolling fashion and everybody loses their mind? Damn, blind spots. 

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About Zak Fellows

I started watching wrestling in 2005, mesmerised by a certain slow walking phenom. 10 years later and still going strong: Not only as a fan among a very eclectic community but also as a senior writer for this very website. Combining knowledge, opinion, a disdain for the typical wrestling fan on the internet and a sarcastic wit, if you agree with me than hooray and whoopee. If you don’t…then don’t be a little drama queen about it because god forbid people think differently.