For as much as Internet fans enjoy seeing smaller wrestlers get a chance to showcase their skills in the WWE, there is no doubt that there is something fundamentally cool about seeing a genetically-engineered freak toss around some jobbers. That is what makes Ryback so intriguing.
The 6'3", 291-pound monster billed from Sin City has taken SmackDown by storm over the past couple of months as he has struck fear into local enhancement talent throughout the United States and across the world. The WWE Universe seems to be reminded of a former squash match specialist in Goldberg, as Ryback often hears "Goldberg" chants during his matches.
Most fans either love or hate wrestlers with a Ryback-esque look, so there isn't much middle ground when breaking down his talents. Keep reading for the latest entry in this 25-part series analyzing the direction and potential of every meaningful WWE superstar.
Ryback's road to WWE prominence has definitely been a long and winding one. It all started in 2004 when he was a contestant on the fourth season of Tough Enough. At the time, he was a 23-year-old hopeful from Las Vegas and was entered in the competition under his real name of Ryan Reeves. Ryback was one of the final participants eliminated as Daniel Puder won the competition over The Miz.
Despite his loss, Ryback was assigned to the WWE's developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling. He had some success, but was suspended 30 days for taking banned, over-the-counter body building supplements and was eventually released. He returned in 2008, which was when the Ryback gimmick was born. He went on to become the OVW Heavyweight champion on two occasions.
When the WWE shifted to Florida Championship Wrestling as its "minor league," Ryback was re-branded as a Southerner named Skip Sheffield. He would maintain that gimmick upon appearing on the first season of NXT. Ryback didn't fare particularly well in the competition, but he was an original member of Nexus. A severe ankle injury kept him out for well over a year, but he would return in December 2011 with the Ryback character reborn.
While Ryback doesn't have a current storyline per se, he has been following a certain formula for quite some time now. Since making his official television return to SmackDown on April 6, Ryback has competed in a number of different squash matches in which he easily defeated non-WWE talent. He appeared to graduate from that with wins over the likes of Derrick Bateman, Camacho and Heath Slater, but he has reverted recently.
Rather than beating just one enhancement talent at a time, however, Ryback has begun to defeat two of them simultaneously. It may not seem particularly impressive, but the way he rag-dolls two grown men at a time is certainly a sight to see. The best feature of his recent matches has been his double muscle-buster, in which he places both men on his shoulders at the same time.
The handicap matches have obviously succeeded in making Ryback look strong, but at some point the creative team will have to abandon them. The main issue is that guys like Brodus Clay, Damien Sandow and Antonio Cesaro are destroying low-level talent at the moment as well. Ryback has to graduate soon, but the squash matches have been effective in the meantime.
Ryback's biggest strength is...well, his strength. For as much as fans like to talk about Vince McMahon favoring big guys over smaller competitors, many of the upper-echelon guys in the WWE right now have pretty average body types. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan come to mind immediately, while The Miz, Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes either have already or will play prominent roles in the future. Truth be told, the only monstrous guys in prominent positions are Sheamus, Kane and Big Show, and the latter two are on the tail end of their respective careers.
Believe it or not, Ryback is now somewhat of a rare breed in wrestling. He's the guy who I look at and immediately realize that he could probably kill me with his bare hands. Say what you will about wrestling being staged, but there is something interesting about a wrestler who is more physically dominant than everyone else.
Although all of Ryback's matches have been cookie cutter to this point, he seems to be solid in the ring for a guy his size. All of his moves are explosive and showcase his power in a big way.
His intensity is also great. He always enters the ring like an angry bull, and you get the feeling that his opponent could be in for a world of hurt. Not every wrestler looks like a legitimate tough guy these days, but Ryback does.
Can Ryback ascend higher without better mic skills?
The biggest issue with Ryback is that he seems to be fairly one-dimensional. He has awesome power and intensity, but I'm not sure that there is much depth to his character. It worked for Goldberg, but this is a different time, and Goldberg has already been done. Promo skills weren't always of the utmost importance in wrestling, but now in the WWE if you can't talk, then you'll probably never be much more than a mid-carder.
Ryback hasn't said much of anything yet (except for when he yells "Feed me more!" after his victories), but I'm not particularly confident in his speaking ability. He did a decent amount of talking on NXT, and while he was so-so while portraying his country bumpkin character, he has evolved in a big way. Ryback needs to address the fans in some way eventually, and while he doesn't have to be great, he does have to be serviceable.
I'm also not sure how much longer Ryback can last as a face. Fans can get behind him to some degree, but his gimmick works much better as a heel. If he can convince the creative team to develop him into a heel, then I would be much more confident about his potential ceiling. If not, then he'll have to surpass guys like John Cena and Sheamus, and I don't anticipate that ever coming to fruition.
Pretty much all of Ryback's matches have been of the same caliber, so I would have to say that his greatest match was his most recent ones against jobbers Stan Stansky and Arthur Rosenberg. The Ryback bait was terribly annoying on the mic, so the crowd was fairly hot for Ryback when he came to the ring to destroy them. Ryback was dominant as always, but his moves seemed to have a little extra oomph on them for whatever reason.
Ryback is a specimen, to say the least, and he was a beast on Monday. Now that we've seen what he can do against smaller competitors, though, I would like to see him against a bigger superstar such as Tensai. Since Tensai's unbeaten run was ended by Cena on RAW, there really isn't any reason to protect him any longer. If the WWE really wants to make Ryback look impressive, then they should let him throw Tensai around a bit.
I'm not going to complain about squash matches too much because they were commonplace during golden ages of WWE's history, and they worked in terms of getting guys over. The WWE has the potential to build something pretty special with Ryback, but the current formula may only have a couple of weeks left before the fans rebel.
When Ryback first debuted under his current gimmick I saw him defeat JTG at a house show. I wasn't especially impressed with him as Skip Sheffield, and I wasn't buying him as Ryback either. I considered him nothing other than a big goof who looked like he stole Rob Van Dam's singlet.
After watching him for the past two months, however, I am beginning to think that he has a chance to become a world champion one day.
If it's going to happen, though, it will have to be as a heel. If Ryback remains face then he will never be able to reach his full potential. Based on the way the creative team operates he'll be helping Cena and giving him best-buddy hugs in no time. It happened with Randy Orton, and it happened with Sheamus as well after they completed successful runs as heels.
Ryback has all the components of the monster heel that so many fans talk about. I'm quite sure that the WWE was trying to develop one in the form of Tensai, but after his loss to Cena it looks like he is all but done as a possible main-eventer. Ryback has looked far more impressive during his stint and perhaps that will be his spot in the not-too-distant future.
How He Gets There
Can Ryback be a main-event heel?
Ryback is cool, but in order to take that next step he has to do something big. Squashing jobbers only works for a certain amount of time before it becomes repetitive. Depending upon how long the creative team wants to keep him in his current spot, Ryback has a golden opportunity. The main-event scene is barren in terms of top heels, and that makes the transition quite easy.
I would have Ryback continue on his current path for a couple more weeks while working in more credible opponents before making him attack Sheamus on a whim. I have to believe that Sheamus will retain the World Heavyweight Championship against Alberto Del Rio at No Way Out, but after that he won't really have any credible opponents left to face.
Ryback can be that guy, though, because he is one of the few wrestlers who appear capable of handling "The Great White." Regardless of how Ryback does in the feud, it will open up tons of doors for him provided he looks like a threat.
From there he could go on to feud with Cena, Punk and all of the top faces. Ryback has the potential to be the next great threat to all of the current stars, and if he is pushed correctly he will reach that point one day.
Check back daily for new entries in this WWE 25-superstar countdown. Here is how the list looks thus far:
25. Damien Sandow
24. Alex Riley
23. Antonio Cesaro
22. Drew McIntyre