Zack Ryder's rise to fame was one of the most talked-about stories in professional wrestling last year.
Due to his recent booking, it would appear that the WWE wasn't listening.
Last February, Ryder took to the Internet with his web series "Z! True Long Island Story" and quickly found himself with a sizable fan base.
Once those fans started demanding more television time for Ryder while CM Punk and John Cena stepped up for him, he started being booked on Raw and the crowd's appreciation turned him into one of the most-beloved talents on the roster very quickly.
After finally winning the United States Championship over Dolph Ziggler at December’s TLC, it seemed like Ryder was on the road to becoming a more dominant player on the weekly shows.
Even when he was trapped as a supporting player in the Cena-Kane storyline, Ryder was given good bits and prime placement throughout Monday Night Raw.
With all of the goodwill and outside attention Ryder received, you’d think the WWE would rush to capitalize on it.
Instead, they've done the opposite—booking him in increasingly embarrassing ways in what would appear to be an effort to bury him.
For the last month and a half, every segment that Ryder has participated in has only emasculated the character further.
First, Ryder became a pawn in the Cena-Kane drama, with Kane continuing to beat Ryder up with escalating injuries that forced him to do bits while stuck in a wheelchair and neck brace.
Ryder then dropped the U.S. title to Jack Swagger without any build.
Ryder witnessed his lady friend Eve Torres making out with Cena, while Torres refused to apologize for her actions.
Since then, Torres has turned into a full-on heel who admits she's willing to manipulate any man to get what she wants and was most recently seen seducing a very receptive Ryder.
In the meantime, it's been nearly two months since Ryder competed in a match.
Some might call all of this storyline humiliation "character-building and when Ryder returns to the ring, he’ll have even more audience support.
However, I think there’s a difference between giving Ryder storyline adversity to fight through and just plain emasculating the character.
Ryder is an enormously charismatic performer. True, he may not be the best actor with the company nor the most precise technical wrestler.
But what Ryder does have is a strong character, the elusive "it" factor that draws the support of the crowd and, most importantly, a love for the sport and the desire to improve both in and out of the ring.
The conspiracy theorist in me makes me wonder if Ryder is being punished for his self-promotion throughout 2011.
Vince McMahon reportedly tells talent that they need to work hard to make their own opportunities since they’re rarely handed out.
At the same time, “Z! True Long Island Story,” which is still produced independently by Ryder but now hosted on the WWE’s official YouTube channel, was Ryder’s creation and had no involvement with anyone at the WWE.
Even though the company owns the Ryder character name and presumably anything that Ryder creates on his own with the trademark, at best, the company might be scared that Ryder is able to function as a performer that can generate interest outside of the WWE machine.
At worse, Ryder could be in the middle of some kind of punishment for acting outside of the company's plans (or lack thereof) for him.
Ryder’s ideas last year, though ingenious, might have been the victim of bad timing.
We’re in a period where Punk is the top talent in the WWE. Punk owns his own name and clearly makes any kind of public appearances he wants without the WWE’s consent.
Contract not withstanding, Punk could walk away and would probably be just as successful doing anything else.
Though Ryder is no Punk, he clearly has the ability to think outside the box.
Because they can’t contain Punk, the WWE might be trying to control virtually anything else they can, which is coming at the expense of Ryder.
Regardless of what the true reasons are behind the Ryder character’s current predicament, one thing is clear—Ryder was not legitimately injured outside of kayfabe and he is still insanely popular with fans.
He should not be confined to a wheelchair or used as a prop for Torres.
He’s certainly not ready for a main-event push, but he should be leading the mid-card division in a feud with Swagger or attempting to get his U.S. title back.
Ryder, and his fans, deserve better.