In March of last year, I initiated a new column here on Bleacher Report entitled "WWE's Pushed to Punished," where I analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who had major potential, but somehow lost their way over time due to a variety of reasons. Yesterday, my collective slideshow recapped each of my past topics in light of today's official return of the series.
Now that the month of September is finally upon us, that of course signals that school is back in session. Every student in the class will be looking for a fresh start, but there will only be one that shines the brightest.
However, as time progresses, that studious student will become nothing more than the class clown. Whether it be because they indirectly disrespected the teacher, another classmate or their will to work just seemed to stop, that once-promising scholar goes from flourishing to flunking the course.
In this scenario, WWE's own valedictorian is none other than the Varsity Villain, Alex Riley. He too showed great promise and potential upon his WWE televised debut in June 2010, a part of the second season of NXT.
From the very beginning of the season, it was clear to many members of the WWE Universe (myself included) that Riley could quite possibly be the company's next breakout star. With The Miz as his Pro, there was no stopping the former FCW Heavyweight Champion.
Two years ago exactly from yesterday, Riley was eliminated from NXT on the second season finale, thus coming in third in the competition. Immediately following his elimination, Riley cut a promo stating that he, not Kaval or Michael McGillicutty, would be the true winner and breakout star in WWE.
Ironically enough, he was right. McGillicutty joined Nexus as an irrelevant entree a few months later, while the eventual victor Kaval asked for his WWE release by the end of the year.
Nonetheless, Riley continued to make appearances on WWE television alongside The Miz during his various feuds on Raw. For nearly eight months, the Varsity Villain fought most of Miz's battles, being given the chance to tangle and tussle with the likes of John Cena, Randy Orton, and even The Rock.
Although Riley was arrested that November for a DUI, it was heavily speculated that the only reason he was still employed was because of Miz. The two were a perfect fit, and the former reality star helped Riley get over with the WWE Universe tremendously.
The true highlight of Riley's career came at WrestleMania 27, where he headlined the show of shows (well, kind of) as he took in then-WWE Champion The Miz's corner in title defense against Cena. During the course of the contest, Riley entered the ring, only to strike Cena in the skull with his patented silver briefcase.
Soon after, Miz's luck began to run out, as he later lost the WWE title to Cena at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view. His numerous unsuccessful attempts in reclaiming the golden prize were blamed on Riley, who built up frustration over time due Miz's complete disrespect for his former friend.
After failing to recapture the WWE title at Over the Limit, Miz berated and degraded Riley the next night on Raw in front of millions. The former college graduate eventually burst, going into a rage of anger and pent-up fury on the Awesome One.
Throughout the attack, the live audience that night egged Riley on and chanted his name, thus turning him the process. Despite being moved to SmackDown in the 2011 WWE Draft, Riley was kept on Monday nights to further his feud with his former mentor.
In subsequent weeks, Riley would continue to get the better of Miz, even debuting an all-new entrance theme entitled "Say It To My Face" by Downstait while doing so. The two were booked to go one-on-one for the first time ever at the inaugural (and only) Capitol Punishment pay-per-view in front of Riley's hometown of Washington D.C.
At the event, Riley surprisingly upset the former WWE Champion by pinning him in clean fashion. A rematch was scheduled a few weeks later on the July 4th edition of Raw, which Riley also emerged victorious in.
In July 2011, Riley was named one of the eight competitors in Raw's version of the Money in the Bank Ladder Match. Despite a strong effort, he was unable to claim possession of the opportunistic briefcase.
It was the night following the Money in the Bank pay-per-view that really marked Riley's first downfall, as the finish of his match with Miz that night was apparently botched at the hands of the Varsity Villain. It's quite possible that this incident could've been the initial reason behind Riley's de-push, but not all hope was lost just yet.
In August, he was embroiled in a feud with then-United States Champion Dolph Ziggler and his associate Jack Swagger. He was still featured on Raw on a semi-regular basis, but he didn't receive as much as attention or focus as he once did.
He was granted his first shot at the United States Championship—a part of a Fatal 4 Way—at the Night of Champions pay-per-view, but came up short. Following the event, Riley was hardly ever featured on Raw again.
Sure, his hip injury in late 2011 could've played a factor in this, but even once he returned to the ring, he still wasn't being given air time on either brand. It was strange to see Creative change their minds on him so quickly, especially since they devoted so much time into building his character earlier in the year as a fan favorite.
For the remainder of 2011 and the better part of 2012, Riley was relegated mostly to WWE Superstars and NXT, where he embarked a lengthy losing streak that saw him lose matches to the likes of Michael McGillicutty, Tensai, and even Johnny Curtis.
Thankfully, Riley has featured in some matches on both Raw and SmackDown in recent months, but is almost always on the losing end. He scored a shocking upset victory over Ziggler a few weeks back on Raw with the help of Chris Jericho, but it ultimately lead to nothing.
Nowadays, Riley is still headlining WWE Superstars each week against fellow no-names such as Drew McIntyre and Jinder Mahal, where his countless victories amount to nothing. Regardless of his lack of air time, many WWE Superstars have claimed that Riley is one of the few guys who still garners a loud reaction from those in attendance each time he makes his entrance, which gives me hope that there is still hope left for the Varsity Villain.
How did Alex Riley go from a self-made Superstar to a silhouette in a matter of months, you ask? The aforementioned botch and hip injury could've played a role, but it was heavily rumored that his backstage altercation with John Cena was the main reason.
Nonetheless, it's a true shame to see Riley fall this far this early in his career. That being said, he still has plenty of time to rebound and climb back up the ladder in WWE to reclaim his rightful place amongst the mid-card.
His in-ring skills are pretty decent as are his mic skills, so I see no reason as to why he shouldn't be in contention for the Intercontinental or United States Championship. If nothing else, his entrance music is absolutely amazing, which should be the reason why he finally gets his push back.
One can only hope that Alex Riley won't be hearing the same line he's been known to say quite often: "You're dismissed."
Thanks for reading, Bleachers, and be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on the down-spiraling career of Alex Riley thus far as well as what you believe the future holds for the Varsity Villain. Also, include any suggestions you have for past or present WWE Superstars you'd like me to analyze in upcoming editions of my Pushed to Punished series.