Zack Ryder: Breaking Down WWE Star's Upside, Direction and Long-Term Potential
A little over a year ago, it appeared as though Zack Ryder was on the verge of being released. He had become Superstars fodder and was rarely, if ever, featured on RAW.
Ryder decided to take matters into his own hands, though, as he created a YouTube show known as Z! True Long Island Story.
The fans reacted in a big way, and soon Ryder signs were seen and Ryder chants were heard at WWE shows everywhere. Ryder was finally rewarded by wrestling on RAW and he eventually won the United States Championship. Since dropping that title, however, Ryder has been inexplicably buried and appears to be back to square one in a lot of ways.
Keep reading for the latest installment of my 25-part series in which I break down the upside, direction and long-term potential of the biggest names in WWE. Today I will focus on Ryder and explore whether he should be a main eventer, a mid-carder or a forgotten man like he is currently.
Ryder got his start in wrestling back in 2004 when he began competing in New York Wrestling Connection as Brett Matthews. Soon after debuting, he began teaming with Bryan Myers, who would become known as Curt Hawkins in WWE. The pair won the promotion's tag titles twice before they were both offered developmental contracts by the WWE in 2006. While in Deep South Wrestling, they were re-branded as the Major Brothers with Ryder playing the role of Brett Major.
Ryder and Hawkins won the DSW Tag Team Championships twice and they then moved to Ohio Valley Wrestling where they won the tag straps once again. In 2007, Ryder and Hawkins were added to the WWE roster where they continued to compete as the Major Brothers. Eventually, they began to interfere on the behalf of Edge. This led to the pair becoming known as the Edgeheads and being renamed Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins respectively.
Ryder went on to have great success with Hawkins as they were involved in big angles and they even went on to win the WWE Tag Team Championships. The team was eventually split up in the draft, and Ryder went on to compete in ECW. He was lost in the shuffle when ECW folded, but he was ultimately able to make himself relevant.
After being used so frequently for a few months, Ryder suddenly has absolutely nothing going for him right now. Ahead of WrestleMania he was involved in a huge angle with John Cena, Kane and Eve. Rather than making Ryder look strong, however, he was embarrassed at every turn. Not only did Eve kiss Cena when Ryder was trying to gain her affections, but he was continually destroyed by Kane, and it even led to him losing the United States Championship to Jack Swagger.
When that whole fiasco was over, Ryder continued to chase Eve. She ultimately screwed him over at WrestleMania, though, when she hit him with a low blow, allowing The Miz to pin him and secure power for John Laurinaitis. Since that point, Ryder has rarely been seen on weekly programming. He went from having pretty significant airtime on both RAW and SmackDown every week to having virtually nothing at this point.
His most prominent role on RAW over the past few weeks involving him watching Vince McMahon dance with the Funkadactyls with his mouth agape. Aside from that, Ryder has been a regular on Superstars, much like he was at this time a year ago. The only difference is that Ryder is actually winning his matches now, but if Ryder wins on Superstars and nobody is there to see it, did he really win at all? I tend to say that Ryder isn't a winner by any stretch of the imagination in this situation.
There are a lot of reasons why the fans have gotten behind Ryder over the past year, but the biggest would have to be that they are drawn to his personality. Ryder wasn't really able to showcase that when he was being jobbed out on Superstars every week, but once he created Z! True Long Island Story, fans got to see just how funny, creative and entertaining he was. Perhaps it wasn't quite as evident when he was given a ton of television time, but he has a personality that draws in fans.
Ryder also has a drive to succeed that few others possess. Most wrestlers in his spot would have been complacent and happy to simply have a job with the WWE, but that wasn't the case with Ryder. He wanted something more and realized that he had to take matters into his own hands to make it happen. His YouTube show became a huge success and it proved that a little extra work can go a long way in the business.
I would also consider Ryder's in-ring work to be a strength. He rarely gets an opportunity to put on a long, meaningful match, but he definitely has some ability. He has pretty good size at 6'2", but he is still athletic enough to pull off some impressive maneuvers. I get the feeling that if he were to be put in a 20-minute match against another good worker, then the perception regarding Ryder's wrestling skills would change as he doesn't get much credit for them now.
What is Zack Ryder's biggest weakness?
In one respect, Ryder's goofy, Long Island gimmick is great because it gets him noticed, but it's fair to say that it holds him back to some degree as well. His character is perfectly fine for a face mid-carder that the fans can get behind, but I can't see him becoming anything more than that. Perhaps Ryder would be perfectly fine with being a mid-carder, but if he has designs on ascending to the main event at some point, then his gimmick will have to evolve.
Also, as strange as it may be to say, Ryder could stand to work on his promo skills and his acting as well. Those things seem to come quite naturally to him on Z! True Long Island Story, so it's interesting that his delivery seems forced when he's doing it live. Perhaps that's because he hasn't been given a ton of time to speak over the course of his career, but I do feel like if he is given more opportunities to excel in that area, he ultimately will.
Aside from that, the only other discernible weakness Ryder has is something that is outside of his control. He has essentially lost all of the momentum that he built with his show thanks to the way he has been booked. The crowd used to be hot for him every night, and he still does get a reaction as evidenced by the "We Want Ryder" chants in Long Island on Monday, but things have cooled considerably. The WWE had a rising star on its hands, but the company cut him at the knees for no apparent reason.
As I mentioned, Ryder hasn't been afforded a lot of in-ring time as a singles competitor, so it's probably difficult for most to remember a great match that he has had. Back when Ryder was on ECW, though, he would be given some lengthier matches since the goal was to push younger superstars. One match that I really enjoyed was a bout where Ryder challenged Christian for the ECW Championship in September of 2009.
Ryder lost the match, but there was a lot of great action from both competitors. Some might say that Christian did most of the heavy lifting in the match, but it takes two to tango and Ryder most definitely held his own. This match is proof that Ryder can be placed in an important feud with another solid in-ring worker and that feud can produce some impressive matches.
The perfect rivalry for Ryder would be with Dolph Ziggler as Ryder beat Ziggler for the United States Championship in an abbreviated feud and they constantly talk about facing each other on Ryder's show. The only issue is that it would probably be a step down for Ziggler at this point since he undoubtedly belongs in the main-event scene. Whatever the case, Ryder needs to be put into a program with a good wrestler in order to spark his stagnant push.
I have been a supporter of Ryder's dating back to his ECW days, so I always want to see him succeed. With that said, though, I simply don't view him as a potential main-eventer. He was in an absolutely perfect spot when he won the United States Championship because he is an excellent mid-card face. The fans love him, he has a good character, he can work matches and he is an all-around safe guy to put the strap on.
Santino has essentially supplanted him in that role, and while Santino is a good mid-card comedy guy in his own right, he shouldn't be ahead of Ryder at this point. Ryder worked incredibly hard to get into position to win the United States Championship, but he had it taken away from him in an incompetent booking decision. The title could have easily been transitioned back to him, but it just hasn't happened for whatever reason.
I truly hope that Ryder becomes United States Champion again or perhaps Intercontinental Champion because he can do well with those belts. Comedic characters typically aren't given a chance to earn much more beyond that, though, so the odds of Ryder becoming a world champ are slim and none in my estimation. Perhaps if he departs from his current gimmick it can happen, but I don't believe fans would want to see that.
How He Gets There
What level do you believe Ryder will reach in WWE?
Getting Ryder back into the mid-card title scene wouldn't be difficult at all. Now that David Otunga is no longer John Laurinaitis' legal counsel, I can see him getting more involved in wrestling angles, such as a feud with Santino over the United States Championship. I would have Otunga capture that title and then integrate Ryder back into the title picture. He made a huge deal about winning the United States Championship when he initially did it, so it stands to reason that Ryder would try to jump back into contention.
The real issue is that the WWE declines to have actual mid-card storylines unless Randy Orton is involved. Orton is suspended, of course, so essentially all of the television time goes into the world title scenes and whatever garbage Cena is involved in. That is what makes Ryder's fall from grace even more confusing. There doesn't even have to be a storyline crafted to make him a contender again. Simply throw him back into the fray, and they fans will respond positively.
Ryder's detractors will say that there are less Ryder signs in the crowd now and that his support is waning, but that is the WWE's doing, not Ryder's. He is the same exact guy that he has been for the past year and the fans are going to get behind him if he is put in a position to succeed. Ryder is only 27 years old and has what it takes to anchor the mid-card for years to come, so it's time that the WWE put him back where he belongs rather than letting him rot on Superstars.
Check back daily for new entries in this WWE 25-superstar countdown. Here are the five most recent editions for your viewing pleasure:
16. Jack Swagger
12. Sin Cara
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