There may be no better example of the volatile nature of the WWE than Alex Riley. A little less than a year ago he had reached the height of his popularity and looked like a future main-eventer, but Riley has since been lost in the shuffle and his WWE prospects are certainly in doubt.
With that said, it is not easy to find a superstar who has the look, and Riley most definitely has it. He has been involved in some high-profile angles during his short time with the company and has a personality that can get over with the fans, so it may not be too late to put A-Ry back on the right track.
Read on for the second installment of a 25-part, daily series breaking down the long-term potential for every significant WWE superstar. Today's spotlighted star is Riley, who checks in at No. 24 in the countdown.
Riley began his road toward WWE stardom when he signed with WWE's developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling, in 2007. It was clear from the beginning that Riley had a ton of potential and he was rewarded for it as he became FCW Heavyweight Champion. Riley's big break came in 2010 when he was named a participant in the second season of NXT.
The first season of the show was considered a major success as a star was born in Wade Barrett and the Nexus group was formed. While season two was not as well received, it was a great platform for Riley to make himself known. Riley was mentored by his pro, The Miz, and ultimately finished third behind Michael McGillicutty and the winner, Kaval.
Despite not earning a WWE contract on the show, Riley became a full-time roster member when The Miz signed him to a "personal services contract." He went on to accompany The Miz for several months and interfere in his matches. He was in Miz's corner when he beat Randy Orton for the WWE Championship back in 2010, and he was at ringside for the main event of WrestleMania XXVII when The Miz defeated John Cena.
Perhaps the best word to describe Riley's current storyline would be non-existent. After breaking away from The Miz on the May 23, 2011 edition of Raw, Riley was absolutely on fire. Miz fired him and slapped him across the face, prompting Riley to flip his lid and destroy The Miz. Riley went on to dominate his feud with The Miz and seemed poised for great things.
After failing to capture the United States Championship in a Fatal 4-Way match at Night of Champions, however, Riley suffered a hip injury. Upon his return he had essentially lost his spot as a rising mid-card star. Now Riley's only in-ring competition comes on Superstars or in squash-match losses to Brodus Clay and Tensai.
Riley's most recent storyline, if you even want to call it that, is that he has been appearing often in backstage segments on Raw. Several weeks ago he led Chris Jericho to CM Punk's locker room when Punk was pretending to drink. Then he was talking to Punk when AJ first expressed her interest in the WWE Champion. Finally, this past Monday, Riley was talking to Eve when Big Show beat him up for no apparent reason.
Perhaps these suddenly-frequent appearances are leading to something, but it seems like he is being used as an extra more than anything at this point.
When you think of what a professional wrestler is supposed to look like, Riley is the type of person who comes to mind. At 6'3" and 236 lbs. he has an ideal frame and he simply seems to have the attributes that prototypical wrestler should have. That can only get you so far in the business as smaller superstars are starting to rule the day, but it is a nice thing for Riley to have in his favor.
Also, Riley is quite solid on the mic. I would not go so far as to call him one of the best in the company, but he can more than hold his own and that is not something that can be said about everyone. Riley has spent most of his significant time in the company as a lackey to The Miz, but he has some opportunities to speak on the stick and he acquitted himself well.
Finally, Riley already has a bit of experience in premier feuds and angles. When The Miz was WWE Champion, Riley was by his side during his feud with Cena. Riley was just background noise, but he did get into some verbal sparring sessions with Cena, he had a steel-cage match against Cena on Raw and constantly frustrated Cena in the main event at WrestleMania. Being involved in the company's biggest storyline at one time should only help him in the future.
Riley's list of weaknesses starts and ends with his in-ring work. It is obvious that actual wrestling is a huge part of what makes a superstar successful, so it is understandable why this is a pretty big problem. Riley is extremely athletic and seems to have the potential to get better in this area, but his awareness and technical skills are both lacking.
There are a few instances that come to mind. The first was the NXT finale when all of the other rookies were supposed to be ganging up on Kaval after he won. For some strange reason, though, he performed a move on fellow rookie Percy Watson as he was obviously confused. Also, Riley accidentally eliminated himself from the 2011 Royal Rumble match. That became clear as Miz was on commentary and continued to talk about Riley long after he was eliminated. Also, Cena was getting further direction from an official because Riley and Miz were supposed to team up to take him out.
Furthermore, Riley dead-weighted Jack Swagger during an attempted gutwrench powerbomb on the August 15, 2011 edition of Raw and it made both competitors look bad. Until Riley cleans all of that up, he will not be taken seriously as a mid-card or main-event title contender. He had plenty of seasoning in FCW, so such mistakes are disconcerting to say the least.
The majority of Riley's high-profile matches to this point have been tag-team affairs with The Miz, but he has scored on significant WWE victory, and that came against his former mentor last year at Capitol Punishment. Riley suddenly became a big-time fan favorite when he was freed from The Miz's shackles as he was getting crowd reactions that were fit for a top, main-event face for a few weeks.
It seemed like the creative team intended to capitalize on Riley's overnight popularity as he was given the victory over The Miz at Capitol Punishment when Miz was fresh off a several-month WWE Championship reign. The win looked to be a huge won for Riley as he took down The Miz cleanly and was starting to buddy up with elite stars like Cena.
Riley continued to get the best of Miz before he moved on to a United States Championship feud with Dolph Ziggler. Rather than an extended, one-on-one feud, however, Riley had to share the spotlight with Swagger and John Morrison as well. Riley did not capture the title, and once he suffered a hip injury, his window of opportunity that slammed shut.
I want to say that Riley has what it takes to be a world champion down the line because he has all the tools as long as he improves his in-ring work, but I simply cannot see it happening. Riley has not been with the company long, but he is surprisingly already 31 years old. Since many superstars wrestle into their 40's that may not seem like a big deal, but he has absolutely nothing going for him right now, and not much looks to be on the horizon.
With the way that new stars like Damien Sandow, Brodus Clay, Ryback and Antonio Cesaro have debuted and squashed their opponents in an effort to look strong, Riley continues to be pushed down the food chain. There are not many mid-card spots open let alone slots in the main event as Cena, Punk, Sheamus and Randy Orton dominate that scene.
If the WWE decides to suddenly start pushing Riley out of the blue, which actually happens fairly often, then he has what it takes to be a United States or Intercontinental Champion. What I believe is more likely, though, is that he will be released in the near future. I would not call that a failure on Riley's part, but it would be a failure on the creative team's part as it cannot figure out anything for Riley to do.
How He Gets There
Assuming that A-Ry does not get released, perhaps there is an avenue to get him involved in a feud for a mid-card title. Looking at the current WWE landscape, the best thing for Riley may be for him to revert to heel status. I understand that he was over like rover when he turned face initially, but that is well in the past and was squandered long ago. Riley got good hear as a heel and is more of a natural heel anyway, so a switch makes sense.
Every title in the WWE currently is held by a face, including the United States and Intercontinental Championships held by Santino and Christian respectively. With that in mind, there is really no use for another mid-card face. Also, as unlikely as it may be, Riley will never ascend to main-event status with the big-four faces hogging the spotlight. There is a lack of quality heels right now, so there is no use in keeping Riley face.
One possible idea for a Riley heel turn would be to play off his billed hometown, Washington, D.C. Riley is a good enough talker where he could be transformed into a heel political character who is looking to rid the WWE of his foreign dependence. That would allow him to go after the Intercontinental Championship since Christian, a Canadian, holds it. More likely, however, would be challenging Santino, who is billed as an Italian, for the United States Championship.
Everyone loves to hate a politician, and having Riley playing one while claiming to be a great American with the United States Championship around his waist would be entertaining. Such a character shift probably will not happen, but Riley needs something to resurrect a once-promising career.
Check back daily for new entries in the WWE 25-superstar countdown. Here is how the list looks thus far:
25. Damien Sandow