Ryback's WWE career has been very underwhelming as of late. The former main event prospect once referred to as Big Hungry is now left with the scraps that occasionally fall down to him, usually in tag team matches with Curtis Axel.
And the more time goes on, the more it becomes very apparent to me that the Ryback experiment just did not work in WWE. So what happened?
Right from the start I will say that back when all this began, it did seem to come from out of nowhere. The last time fans saw Ryback on WWE programming, he was known as Skip Sheffield, a member of The Nexus. Though the gimmick of a crazy-strong country boy did not seem to fit, it really did not have to.
The Nexus was a hodgepodge of guys with different backgrounds and different ring styles, all working together for a common goal. Sheffield was just one of those guys, whose character may have appeared to be out of place, but at the end of the day it really didn't matter.
Sheffield was young, hungry and learning. He was just a face in the crowd.
So when he returned from a potential career-ending ankle injury in 2012, he did so with incredible gusto. Gone was the hokey Skip Sheffield, and in his place stood the more traditional WWE powerhouse known as Ryback. And this particular character was not concerned with blending into the background; he was there to take over.
Ryback was 291 pounds of intense rage and brute strength. He had more confidence in his character and appeared more comfortable on camera than he ever had before. He was not a rookie struggling to be noticed; he was a rising star that was given an opportunity and ran with it.
But again, the character change seemed to come from out of nowhere, and a good number of fans just did not seem to buy it. However, that did not stop WWE from moving forward with Ryback's spotlight on TV.
Ryback squashed opponents week in and week out on Monday Night Raw. For the most part those opponents were local wrestlers, guys who worked the match against Ryback and then were not seen again. Ryback compiled one victory after another and while his star rose, so too did the Goldberg chants which picked up steam in nearly every city that WWE ran.
It was at this point for me that the company perhaps made its first real mistake with Ryback. His sudden elevation did not surprise me very much, mostly because we had seen that very move so many times in the past from WWE. Jack Swagger, Alberto Del Rio and, of course, Brock Lesnar are just three examples of Superstars that came in and were given big opportunities in prime spots on the card. So this was not a real concern for me; Ryback was just plugged into the machine and would need to either sink or swim.
But when WWE chose not to address the Goldberg mantra from the live crowds, I think it did a real disservice to Ryback. The audience was voicing its opinion, and most of the time, that opinion was drowning out everything that was happening in the ring. By the time Jerry Lawler finally mentioned it on the air in October of 2013, it was too little too late.
I believe that they should have taken the bull by the horns and faced the issue head-on. I think that perhaps Ryback should have been called out on live TV by a heel that wanted to mock him for the crowd chants. The Miz would have been a great fit for that spot and could have grilled Ryback, really playing up the Goldberg chants and maybe even suggesting that he was nothing more than a clone of the former WCW champion.
The answer from Ryback would have been very simple. "I respect Bill Goldberg. He was a phenom in WCW and was a fighting champion here. But he has moved on with his life and right now you shouldn't be concerned with Goldberg. You should be concerned with me."
That statement of course would have been followed by the Meathook Clothesline and hopefully a pop from the fans. And if that spot were out of the question, why not interview Bill for Raw and ask him about Ryback? Anything short of directly insulting Ryback may have actually changed the way some fans looked at him. The chants may have actually begun to dissipate at some point, giving Ryback the chance to truly get over based upon his own merit.
And that merit was virtually nonexistent after Ryback's very weak booking on pay-per-view.
Basically, Ryback was a lion on TV and a lamb on pay-per-view. It seemed as though fans were dealing with two different Superstars, and the unusual situation of Ryback looking very dominant on one stage yet very defeated on another really began to affect the way his character was being received by the crowd.
How could anyone take Ryback seriously after he came up short so many times in big main event matches? No one likely expected him to defeat CM Punk for the WWE Championship that soon in his career, so why continue to book him for it? Why would WWE keep featuring him in angles that he had no chance of going over in?
But when he turned heel on John Cena, it looked like maybe the winds of change were blowing for Ryback. Was WWE finally ready to give Ryback the nod to see what he could do? Could they trust that he was capable of carrying the WWE title despite the fact that he was not fully getting over or going over in the big matches?
The answer to that was no, as Ryback lost both championship matches to Cena at Extreme Rules and Payback in 2013. And the new bully gimmick that he was given shortly thereafter did very little to change the WWE faithful's overall opinion of him.
Even pairing him with Paul Heyman did not elevate Ryback the way that so many fans believed it would. For me, this is key in the flawed approach WWE took to developing Ryback's character and career. Every time he had a chance to rise up, it just did not happen.
And now there is yet another possible twist occurring in Ryback's career. According to Wrestlinginc.com, Ryback worked two matches in Montreal on Saturday, January 12. Following the event, he began tweeting that he had wrestled in WWE for the last time. His Twitter account on Sunday, January 13 was filled with one similar farewell statement after another, and as of this writing, he has deleted all those tweets.
Is this all storyline? I believe it is. Will this all lead to something big for Ryback, perhaps a real chance of taking a step above his current level in WWE? I will believe that when I see it. Is the Ryback experiment still a work in progress? Or has it indeed failed?