Oh, how times have changed for Zack Ryder.
A year ago, he was making a huge splash on the Internet, getting a sizable push on TV and was on the verge of winning the United States Championship after a lengthy rivalry with Dolph Ziggler.
But today? Ryder is nothing but an afterthought in the WWE.
The plight of “Long Island Iced Z” has really been a puzzling one, too. There have been no failed Wellness tests and, as far as we know, no reports of backstage incidents or behavioral problems.
Ryder has just fallen off the map without any real explanation, which is what makes his dramatic plunge down the card perhaps even more troubling.
It seems as if Ryder, who not long ago seemed like a star on the rise, simply isn’t a priority for the creative team anymore. What’s even worse for Ryder is that there’s been nothing to suggest that that will change anytime soon.
Naturally, this has many wrestling fans wondering if Ryder’s time has come and gone or if he’ll ever be used properly in the WWE again.
Ryder was probably used best in the latter half of 2011 and early part of 2012, when he was pushed as an upper midcard star and a midcard titleholder. His gimmick doesn’t exactly scream “main-eventer,” but he’s buyable as an upper midcard babyface given the right booking.
Throughout most of 2012, though, Ryder hasn’t really come anywhere close to the top half of the card. He’s been left off TV for weeks at a time, jobbed on occasion and been paired up with Santino Marella in a comedy babyface tag team that is the cellar dweller of the tag team division.
Despite it all, however, Ryder has somehow managed to remain pretty popular with the crowd. While he’s not as popular as he was when paired with John Cena during the “embrace the hate” storyline with Kane, he still gets a solid pop, especially after being booked so badly over the last several months.
Ryder’s popularity alone would suggest that he was getting a decent push, but it’s been almost a year now since he was in the position that suited him best.
That position was not in the main event, which he briefly tasted while aligned with Cena. It was in the midcard.
No disrespect to Ryder, but because his character is largely a comedic one, a legitimate main-event run isn’t a very realistic possibility. That’s OK, though, because not everyone can main event, and the WWE needs its over midcarders.
Despite all he’s been through over the last year, Ryder can still be viewed as one of the WWE’s top midcard babyfaces. It’s just a matter of the WWE’s willingness to push him back to that level again.
Unfortunately for Ryder, his best days—at least in terms of being pushed—seem to be behind him.
That’s a shame because he’s only 27 years old and still has all the time in the world to develop. But he also has a ton of competition challenging for his spot.
The rise of guys like Damien Sandow, The Miz, Antonio Cesaro and Dolph Ziggler and the recent debut of The Shield means that, week by week, Ryder is slowly working his way down the WWE pecking order. It’s through no fault of his own, but it’s happening, nonetheless.
In fact, a suddenly talented and loaded WWE roster seems to be the biggest obstacle Ryder will have to face as he attempts to work his way back up the card. It seems likely, though, that it will ultimately prove to be an obstacle that’s too hard to overcome.
Ryder had his chance to solidify himself as an upper midcarder a year ago, but for whatever reason, the WWE pulled the plug on his push while it was still ongoing. In a perfect world, the WWE would plug it back in, but in the real world, that’s looking less and less likely.
The WWE’s influx of new talent and its mishandled opportunity to elevate Ryder in the past almost ensures that Ryder, despite remaining over with the crowd, will probably never make it back to the spot that he should be performing in.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!