Zack Ryder is the reigning United States Champion and unquestionably one of the most popular Superstars in the WWE. This is in stark contrast to his status with the promotion just one year ago, when his television appearances were few and far between, the brunt of which were forgettable tag-team matches with Primo Colon on WWE's multi-branded Superstars program.
His meteoric rise from forgotten man to legitimate WWE Superstar over the last several months raises the question:
How did he do it?
With some frequency, talented young superstars fail to realize their potential and are unceremoniously released from the company or simply allowed to leave when their contracts expire, as was the case with John Morrison last November. But after some up and down years, Ryder has been able to buck the trend with his recent run. The reason for this amazing turnaround is simple—Shameless self-promotion.
While the WWE creative team struggled to find a role for the promising young grappler, Ryder took it upon himself to promote his character through the use of social media/Twitter and his self-developed YouTube series, Z! True Long Island Story. The series has resonated with fans to the tune of more than 118,000 channel subscribers and well over 10 million video views, a testament to its popularity.
The ultimate validation of its impact came during WWE's Capitol Punishment event in June. During the Wade Barrett/Ezekiel Jackson Intercontinental Championship match, a large contingent of fans began to chant for Ryder, live on pay-per-view, despite the fact that he wasn't involved in the match. It has also been reported that Ryder cracked the WWE's top ten in merchandise sales in October (per WrestleZone), which is no small feat for a wrestler not featured prominently on WWE programming.
By taking matters into his own hands and doing what he could to create exposure for his character, Ryder got the fans on his side and, in turn, forced WWE Creative to put him on television. It's a veritable blueprint for success in the sports-entertainment industry that younger and/or non-featured talents would be well-served to follow. As one-time WWE writer Dave Lagana often muses on his Formerly Creative podcasts in reference to whether or not the creative team "has anything" for the lesser known performers, "What do you have for yourself?"
For Ryder, the answer to that question was a hit web series, and the determination to improve his standing with the company and its product.
If more Superstars had the same zeal in taking ownership of their wrestling careers, the pattern of promising young talent failing to gain a foothold in the company may just come to an end.