In 2011, Zack Ryder accomplished quite the feat in WWE.
With next to no help from the booking team, who had allowed him to languish in dark matches and internet-only show Superstars for much of his career, the New Jersey native managed to get himself over hugely with the masses as a plucky underdog babyface.
He did this primarily through Z! True Long Island Story, a wickedly entertaining YouTube show following the adventures of the hapless yet endearing Zack and his wacky cast of friends as they navigate their way through life's troubles. A smartly written, carefully produced and planned programme, it not only showcases Ryder's considerable talents as a film-maker, but allowed his natural charisma and likability to shine.
At first, Ryder looked to be one of the year's big success stories. Last November, at Survivor Series, fans at Madison Square Garden chanted “We Want Ryder” at Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson after the show's main event. (The affable Johnson wasn't offended in the slightest and even repeated Zack's “Woo-Woo-Woo” catchphrase over the mic.) WWE pushed him, too. He later won the United States Championship (back when that title meant something) from Dolph Ziggler at the TLC pay-per-view and main-evented the following night's Raw.
After years consigned to the margins of the WWE, it looked like Ryder had turned his career around and was set to become one of the company's top young babyface stars.
Of course, as we now know, this didn't exactly pan out. Shortly after his United States Championship win (which, in years to come, may be looked back upon as the peak of his career), he was put in a romance angle with Eve Torres and placed at the centre of the John Cena/Kane feud, two developments that turned out to be disastrous for his career, making him look like a worthless loser and a gullible fool.
And where is Zack now? Well, aside from the odd (and usually fleeting) appearance on Raw, he's stuck mostly on Superstars and in dark matches, jobbing to the likes of Tensai and Wade Barrett. He's still producing his YouTube show, too, although even Zack looks to be pretty bored by it at this point.
It's almost like the last year never happened. So, has Ryder's time come and gone, as some have theorised?
Well, one thing that should be noted is that, despite WWE's shoddy treatment of him over the past few months, Ryder remains as over with the fans as ever, still receiving good-to-great pops whenever he does make a rare appearance on one of the main shows. Whenever a star is as popular as Ryder is, you can never truly declare their career to be done with.
Which isn't to suggest everything is fine, either.
Indeed, Zack's been booked so badly, it's hard to see how he can recover and have a credible run. WWE have reduced to him to a joke. Turning his faltering career around will be a lot more complicated than simply giving him a few wins and giving him a regular slot on TV.
There have also been more than a few hints that things between the Long Island native and WWE are far from smooth. As well as the disgruntled shots he regularly takes at them on YouTube, Ryder has complained in the past about WWE interfering with his show on Twitter. Considering how sensitive Vince McMahon and company have been to criticisms, it goes without saying that this isn't the best idea and will likely guarantee that Ryder is stuck on Superstars for the foreseeable future.
Summarily, it is simply too early to say whether Ryder's time in WWE has come and gone. But if a career recovery is possible, it's got to be a two-way street. If Ryder is to get a good spot on TV once again, he'll have to stop taking cheap shots at WWE on his show and on his Twitter. For their part, the company will have to accept that he got over on his own, without their help, and stop resenting him for it.
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