Puzzling. That’s the word I think best describes the odd booking of Zack Ryder.
After spending much of early 2011 making a name for himself via the Internet, Ryder quickly ascended the WWE ranks throughout the remainder of the year, even main-eventing one episode of Monday Night Raw alongside John Cena.
But since then, he’s found himself bouncing all over the card. He’s been a midcarder, a jobber, a Superstars regular, the No. 1 contender for the United States Championship, the US Champion and anything and everything in between.
Unfortunately for Ryder, though, he’s experienced more bad than good in 2012, and his once-promising career—though not dead in the woods—isn’t looking quite as bright as it once did.
Or is it?
Although Ryder’s surprising rise up the card in the latter half of 2012 ended in disappointment with an incredibly short US title run (and although he hasn’t done a whole lot since then), it looks like “Long Island Iced Z” may be slowly crawling his way back into the spotlight.
I would be lying if I said I thought Ryder would be back in a main-event angle or have a title around his waist within the next few months, but after his first half of 2012 was rather forgettable, he seems to be making some noise as of late.
And at the root of Ryder’s recent success is the creative team’s newfound desire to actually book him to win for a change.
The biggest problem for Ryder during the first half of the year was that he became somewhat of a joke, a glorified jobber who was there to make main-event-level stars—like Alberto Del Rio—look good by getting squashed in matches that barely lasted a couple of minutes.
Recently, however, has picked up some actual victories, including wins over David Otunga in singles action and a big W in the pre-show battle royal at Night of Champions, which earned him a US title shot on the main card.
Yeah, Ryder is still losing more often than not, and he hasn’t had a real angle in quite some time. But at least he’s picking up some wins here and there, and perhaps more importantly, he’s not looking nearly as bad during his losses as he was earlier in the year.
Remember when he would job to guys like ADR in less than two minutes? Well, now he’s actually putting up a fight, and even if we are pretty confident he’s not going to win, he’s not getting buried in the process, either.
Though it was clear that Ryder was just someone for Antonio Cesaro to beat at Night of Champions, it wasn’t a quick squash in which Ryder didn’t get in any offense. Much to the delight of Ryder fans everywhere, he actually put up quite the fight and had a pretty evenly matched with the US champion.
Of course, some fans will still be disappointed with Ryder’s current positioning on the card, especially when you take into consideration where he was in late 2011 and early 2012. But he’s making some forward progress, which is certainly better than him being relegated to Superstars, jobbing every week or failing to appear on TV whatsoever.
There was a six-week stretch earlier this year (don’t quote me on that, though) where Ryder failed to get on Raw at all. Why that happened, I have no idea, but he slowly seems to be rebounding from that abysmal stretch.
It would be asinine to pretend like Ryder is in an ideal position on the card or that he’s in the midst of a great midcard run, but the optimistic side of me sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
Ryder has always been over (well, at least for the last year-plus), he’s got a recognizable gimmick, he’s pretty damn good in the ring and, believe it or not, he’s still just 27 years old.
He doesn’t need to be in the main event yet. The WWE has plenty of time to slowly elevate him back up the card, which is what a lot of fans want to see.
Don’t fret, Ryder fans, because things appear to be getting better for one of your favorite superstars.
As long as he’s not losing or being left off TV every week, he should continue to inch his way back into the spotlight and become a consistent force on TV every week.
You know it.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!