When John Cena underwent elbow surgery back in September, the WWE turned to its backup plan: A WWE Championship feud between CM Punk and Ryback.
As soon as Punk and Ryback started crossing paths with one another, there were gripes and groans from WWE fans all over the world, including me. I mean, why would you start a rivalry that’s so complicated and so hard to book?
Especially when you consider that Cena wound up being healthy enough to be able to compete at Hell in a Cell should the WWE have went that route, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher that the WWE decided to go with Punk vs. Ryback instead of Punk vs. Cena.
Unfortunately for the WWE, the shady finish to that WWE Championship match as a Hell in a Cell has resulted in the WWE pigeonholing itself into continuing the feud between Punk and Ryback until at least Survivor Series and, in all likelihood, probably well past that.
I just have to wonder, though: Do the WWE fans truly care about Punk vs. Ryback?
While Ryback has gotten pretty over in only about seven months on the main roster, WWE officials seem to be of the mentality that a star can be taken seriously as a main-eventer essentially overnight. That, of course, isn’t even remotely true.
As recent history tells us, you can’t just throw a WWE “rookie” into the World title mix right away and expect the fans to genuinely care about it. It didn’t work with Sheamus in late 2009 and early 2010, it didn’t work with Alberto Del Rio in early-to-mid 2011 and it doesn’t seem to be working with Ryback, either.
The ratings prove that.
As Dave Meltzer notes in the Nov. 5 Wrestling Observer Newsletter (paid members only), Ryback “has not been a ratings mover at all” on Monday Night Raw. Sure, nothing seems to be helping the Raw ratings much these days, but Ryback in particular has done next to nothing to draw viewers into the show.
In fact, Ryback actually seems to be doing the opposite—turning viewers off. According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (via WrestlingInc.com), Ryback’s match with JTG on the Oct. 29 edition of Raw actually lost an astounding 432,000 viewers.
That’s a shocking decline in viewership, especially for someone who is supposed to be the WWE’s next big star and is feuding with a top star like Punk over the company’s most prestigious title.
That also makes me think that if the fans don’t care about Ryback on his own, then they probably don’t care all that much about his WWE title feud with Punk.
After all, Ryback turned viewers away on the Oct. 22 edition of Raw, too. According to the WON’s rating breakdown of that episode (via WrestlingInc.com), Ryback’s match with The Miz lost a whopping 613,000 viewers while another quarter of the show that featured a Ryback video lost 319,000 viewers and led to Raw’s lowest quarter-hour rating in 15 years.
You obviously can’t put all the blame for that on Ryback, but when you continue to see him being associated with dramatic losses in viewership, it’s hard to think of him as anything but someone who makes the viewers change the channel.
With the WWE trying to build Ryback up as a viable threat to Punk’s record-breaking WWE title reign, it’s got to be discomforting that there is little to no interest in seeing “Big Hungry” among the WWE fans.
While Ryback’s “Feed Me More” chants might be over, and he may generally seem to get good reactions from the live crowd, live crowds aren’t what's important here. Ratings are, and if Ryback can’t bring in ratings when he’s feuding with one of the biggest stars in the business, then why should we expect him to in any other scenario?
I’m all for giving Ryback a chance to make it to the top of the WWE, but that chance shouldn’t have come until Ryback had proven to be someone that the vast majority of WWE fans had interest in seeing there. And right now, that simply isn’t the case.
The fans don’t care about Ryback enough to watch him on TV, and if they don’t care about him enough to turn off Monday Night Football and put on Monday Night Raw, then they, quite simply, aren’t going to care about his feud with CM Punk, either.
After all, everyone knows it's gonna be Punk vs. The Rock at The 2013 Royal Rumble anyway.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!