It's almost hard to believe just how far Zack Ryder's once-promising career has plummeted over the past year.
Indeed, in December of 2011, Ryder's star was a high as it has ever been: At TLC he defeated Dolph Ziggler for the-then prestigious United States Championship in one of the best matches on the card.
Thanks to his cult following through his entertaining YouTube show Z! True Long Island Story, he was also one the most popular younger stars on the roster, getting massive pops.
How big was Ryder? Well, after last year's Survivor Series, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson got on the mic after the event went off the air, only to be greeted with chants of "We Want Ryder" from the lively crowd at Madison Square Garden. Amazing.
Sadly, it was all downhill after his United States title win.
A complete rundown of Ryder's disastrous 2012 probably isn't needed—everyone already knows how damaging his participation in the Eve/Kane/Cena angle was for him.
Suffice to say, abysmal booking and the company's apparent apathy towards him has squandered any of his early potential and reduced him to the lower-card joke he was before his YouTube success.
While he has remained steadily popular, after one high-profile loss after another, he now lacks any real credibility with the fans. Even if WWE decided to push again, it remains to be seen whether anyone could take him seriously again.
Ryder seems to know this too, and has been increasingly vocal about his disgruntlement with his employer on his official Twitter page.
No doubt Ryder has a valid reason to grumble and vent. After all, WWE is a company that ostensibly encourages talent to try their best and take the initiative. You know, don't just wait for things to be handed to you, take control of your own career—that type of thing.
In late 2010 and early 2011, the proactive Ryder did just that with his YouTube show, single-handedly boosting his profile and popularity—only to spend the last year being forced down the card back to old jobber spot.
However, these Twitter postings will only serve to worsen management's feelings towards him, guaranteeing he never gets another push again. More drastically, these emotional rants could maybe even lead to his release from the company.
Of course, it's very possible the performer is aware of this possibility and simply doesn't care.
In last week's (subscribers-only) Wrestling Observer Newsletter Dave Meltzer noted that several unhappy lower card wrestlers intended to hand in their notices to WWE come WrestleMania time.
Could Ryder be among them? Well, he's in the lower card and is unhappy, for sure.
And unlike a lot of wrestlers on the roster he has options outside the business. Indeed, the long-running Z! True Long Island Story has showcased Ryder as an extremely talented young film-maker, writer and editor.
The show's "Where's Trent?" storyline was, in particular, a fantastic and innovative piece of work that illustrated just how far Ryder has come as a producer since those early and slightly amateurish episodes.
With his impressive resume, he could easily find work in Hollywood in his post-WWE life if it came to it.
Of course, it might be unfair to claim Ryder will never again find success in America's No.1 promotion.
He's still young (he's 27), after all, and the social-media obsessed WWE may decide that Ryder (who became famous through things like YouTube and Twitter) is worth investing in again.
Hey, after 15 years of stop-and-start pushes and generally being treated as a mid-card joke, Mark Henry managed to turn it around in 2011 and emerge as a top monster heel. In wrestling, anything is possible.
But as of now, things don't look good for Ryder's long—or short—term future in the company. It's a shame WWE can't/won't do more with someone who is simply bursting with talent, but he's hardly the first gifted performer to be wasted. Nor will he be the last.
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