Three weeks ago, I revived my WWE Pushed to Punished series, which highlights the controversial careers of past and present Superstars whose futures looked to be promising, but they inevitably met their demise for one reason or another.
For this week's edition, I analyze the rise and fall of Zack Ryder, who too had risen to the ranks only to be de-pushed quite drastically coming into this year.
Three years ago yesterday, Ryder received his first shot at a singles title when he took on then-ECW Champion Christian. Could we see history repeat itself with Ryder earning yet another yet at the United States Championship he once held?
No one has seen their stock drop faster in 2012 than Zack Ryder, who quickly went from one of WWE's most popular stars to being back on WWE Superstars each week. The difference between Ryder and my past topics for Pushed to Punished is that the Long Iced Iced Z created his own following, mostly with the help of social networking.
Where better to begin than his early beginnings?
Five years ago, Zack Ryder made his WWE debut under the name Brett Major, alongside Curt Hawkins (known as Bryan Major at the time) on an edition of ECW. The two were instantly placed in a tag team together in the Land of Extreme before being sent packing to the SmackDown brand a part of the 2007 WWE Supplemental Draft.
They received very few opportunities at the WWE Tag Team Championships and didn't make a real impact until interfering in the main event of Armageddon, where they aligned with Edge and helped him win the World Heavyweight Championship.
From that point forward, the duo were known as Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins respectively, under the collective name of the Edgeheads. Since their looks strongly resembled Edge, they were able to fool the Rated-R Superstar's opponents into thinking they were him.
Over time, they were joined by Vickie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero and Bam Neely, being collectively known as La Familia. They ruled SmackDown with an iron fist and were the most prominently featured stable in all of the WWE at the time.
Their alliance with Edge allowed them to partake in the main event of WrestleMania 24, attempting to aid Edge during his World title defense. Although Edge came up short, Ryder has stated numerous times in the past that appearing on the grandest stage of them all with Taker that night has been the biggest highlight of his career thus far.
Ryder and Hawkins continued to involve themselves in matches over the next few months but were also able to capture the WWE Tag Team Championships for the first time in their careers at The Great American Bash, in their hometown of Long Island no less. Sure, their reign as champs wasn't all that memorable, but it was still a notable accomplishment nonetheless.
After Edge was "sent to hell" at SummerSlam that August, Ryder and Hawkins broke out on their own while still appearing with then-SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero at times. They lost the straps to Carlito and Primo in September and were unsuccessful in regaining the straps shortly thereafter.
For the remainder of the year and even heading into 2009, Ryder and Hawkins were sparingly featured on WWE television. They appeared as lumberjacks during the WrestleMania 25 dark match, but that was one of the final times Ryder and Hawkins were shown as a tandem together.
In April 2009, Ryder was shockingly drafted back to his stomping grounds, otherwise known as ECW. It didn't seem like a significant drafting at first, but it gave him the chance to reinvent and establish himself as a singles star.
The following month, Ryder re-debuted on the Tuesday night show during a backstage segment with then-ECW General Manager Tiffany. He sported a new haircut, attitude and in-ring attire that was certainly unique and made him stand out.
Additionally, he debuted his all-new entrance music entitled "Oh Radio", which he still uses to this day. His "Woo Woo Woo" catchphrase also came to prominence, which made him one of the most talked about stars on the brand.
For the next few months, Ryder competed in various singles and tag team matches, with none of them being all that meaningful. Regardless, his in-ring work seemed to have improved since his reintroduction as well as his mic skills.
Entering the fall, Ryder became the No. 1 contender to the ECW Championship by winning a battle royal. Although he came up short in capturing the title from Christian the following week, his impressive showing against the champ was still one of the best matches in the Land of Extreme that year.
He rivaled with Shelton Benjamin at various points throughout the rest of the year, and even ended the career of Tommy Dreamer (in storyline, of course). That victory gave Ryder some much-need momentum, which he used to end the career of The Hurricane the following month as well.
Once the ECW brand disbanded in February 2010, Ryder became a free agent before signing with Raw a few weeks later. His relationship with Rosa Mendes that began a few months prior carried over to the flagship show before she was drafted over to SmackDown in April, leaving Ryder without a valet.
He managed to find some chemistry with Alicia Fox for a brief while, but she eventually turned on him thanks to mind games played by guest host Ashton Kutcher. After defeating Evan Bourne on an edition of WWE Superstars in late May, Ryder began something of a hot streak heading into the month of June, as experienced his first mini-push on the Raw brand.
He was chosen by the WWE Universe to be The Miz's tag team partner on a People's Choice edition of Raw, where they emerged victorious against the duo of John Morrison and R-Truth. The Long Island Iced Z was placed in a Fatal Four Way the following week for the United States Championship, but it was Miz who eventually won the bout and the title.
Throughout the summer, he sporadically appeared on Raw in various matchups. In August, he received his first (and only) shot at the WWE Championship against Sheamus but was dismantled by the Celtic Warrior within moments.
His role on Raw was drastically downplayed in remainder of 2010 and heading into 2011. He regularly competed on Superstars, at times forming a tandem with Primo that sadly received little television time.
By February, Ryder created his own following by starting up an exclusive YouTube show entitled "Z! True Long Island Story" that ran weekly. The show took shots at WWE management, made numerous inside jokes and was an overly entertaining mini-series that featured Ryder along with his friends and family.
At one point, he even created an Internet Championship, a title that he has yet to lose possession of. Although it's obviously not officially recognized by WWE, it's still a cool prop that WWE tends to acknowledge at times.
Subsequently, he appeared in a handful of backstage segments with the likes of John Cena, Snooki, and even Snoop Dogg at WrestleMania 27. He didn't receive his first singles match on Raw in 2011 until that May, where he was defeated by then-United States Champion Kofi Kingston.
Once his YouTube show began to build more popularity, Ryder effectively turned face on an edition of WWE Superstars in early June that occurred on his home turf of Long Island. He picked up his first singles victory on Raw in his career by defeating Michael Cole the following month in under thirty seconds.
On the following edition of SmackDown, Ryder was named the official assistant to Teddy Long, thus giving him even more exposure on WWE programming. It wasn't until that September when he scored the biggest upset victory up to that point against then-United States Champion Dolph Ziggler, all due thanks to guest host Hugh Jackman.
For the rest of the year, Ryder chased Ziggler and his star-spangled prize, defeating the bleached-blonde Superstar on a number of occasions only to come up short when the title was on the line. That didn't stop Ryder's quest to become a (legitimate) champion, though, as he continued to pursue the title at any means necessary.
Along the way, Ryder became good friends with John Cena, who helped him earn his eventual shot at the United States title. The Long Island native even appeared in front of his New York crowd at Survivor Series, receiving quite possibly the biggest pop he's ever garnered.
After experiencing failure time and time again, Ryder finally captured the United States Championship at the WWE TLC event in December in what was one of the most heartfelt moments of the year. Eve started to catch his eye as well, attempting to make her fall for him just the same.
Sadly, due to Ryder's association with Cena, the Internet Champion was brutally assaulted by Kane each and every week on Raw. The various injuries he received while battling Kane forced him to defend his U.S. title while not 100 percent, which led to Jack Swagger beating a wounded Ryder for the strap in mid-January.
Of the many injuries Ryder suffered at the hands of Kane, a broken back was one of them, which forced him to wear a ridiculous brace every time he appeared on screen. Things only got worse from there, however, as Eve shockingly showed her true colors in February.
With both his back and heart broken, everything Ryder once had seemed to be gone. His "Z! True Long Island Story" web show was taken over by WWE that same month, which meant he could no longer be as edgy on it as he once was.
Nonetheless, Ryder returned in March but somehow managed to fall for Eve's mind games yet again. He partook in a multi-man tag team at WrestleMania 28 but was the one to take the loss for his team after being screwed over by Eve.
Following the show of shows, Ryder was back to headlining WWE Superstars, with his television time basically nonexistent. He finally faced long-time rival Kane in the Over the Limit pre-show in May but was unsuccessful in defeating the Big Red Monster.
However, Ryder was able to get some retribution over Kane in early July when he eliminated him from the Great American Bash battle royal, thus earning the right to run SmackDown for a week. Although he didn't do anything all that significant while in charge, it was still a fun time that gave Ryder some nobility back.
Since then, he hasn't done anything of importance on either show. He's picked up a few wins here and there on Raw, but nothing that will relaunch him back into the spotlight he once had.
At Night of Champions, Ryder outlasted 15 other Superstars in a pre-show battle royal that earned him a shot at the United States Championship later in the night. He was unable to defeat Antonio Cesaro to regain the star-spangled strap, but at least he knows he's capable of contending for it.
It's a true shame the drastic downfall Zack Ryder has undergone throughout 2012. Granted, he wasn't one of WWE's top players to begin with, but his hot streak late last year came to abrupt halt earlier this year for no apparent reason.
Does WWE not appreciate the fact Ryder built his own self up? Is Ryder's constant complaining through social networking the cause of his de-push?
It remains to be seen, but being as young as he is, there's always time to rebound. He's being featured on Raw and SmackDown a bit more lately, so it could definitely be worse.
Will Ryder ever be a WWE or World Heavyweight Champion? Probably not, but his in-ring skills are good enough to provide entertaining matches and feuds, which is why he should be utilized more often.
Given today's PG rating, you'd think they'd do more with Ryder, as his connection with the crowd is undeniable. I do understand his gimmick might not be for everyone, but he is still effective in small doses and not exposed as much as he was late last year.
Thanks for reading, Bleachers, and make sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on the controversial career of Zack Ryder. As always, your criticism and overall feedback on my latest piece is welcomed and greatly appreciated.
At this point, only two editions remain a part of my Pushed to Punished series for the time being, but that's always subject to change. If you have any suggestions for any future editions of Pushed to Punished, please include that in your comment as well.