Ryback winning the Intercontinental Championship at WWE Elimination Chamber completes an improbable comeback for one of the company’s good guys.
He’s easy to root for, as he's made a 180-degree turnaround both personally and professionally. He’s got the crowds on his side and the endorsement of former IC title holder Daniel Bryan.
But to say that Ryback is the perfect fit to restore a once-coveted title to its rightful place in the company’s hierarchy is misguided.
Ryback is a placeholder champion, someone to keep the seat warm until the right person—whether currently on the roster or down in development—comes to stake claim to the belt.
Ryback’s IC Reign: A Reward for Past Mismanagement?
While Ryback’s story of change is relatable and has been well-received by audiences, his win in the chamber feels like a reward for being saddled with dreadful storylines over the last two years.
First was the failed partnership with Paul Heyman, a marriage that never seemed to be going anywhere. Then the RybAxel gimmick, which earned him a chance at WWE gold but never led to greener pastures.
Finally, after returning from hernia surgery in October 2014 and earning back the respect of the WWE Universe, he was plugged into the John Cena vs. The Authority angle. That led to multiple six-man tag matches and uninspiring singles appearances over the next six months.
Before last week’s Elimination Chamber, Ryback had taken losses for WWE Creative in four straight pay-per-view appearances in 2015. When he was added to the Intercontinental Championship Elimination Chamber match, it felt like it would be another loss.
He hadn’t been involved in the recent storylines for the title. The match featured a returning Sheamus, an angry Rusev and former title holders in King Barrett and Dolph Ziggler. Ryback was not The Big Guy; he was merely Another Guy.
According to a rumor from Cageside Seats, Sheamus was slated to win the IC chamber match until “Vince McMahon changed his mind really late.” While we can all speculate as to what changed Vince and WWE’s mind, it’s clear that Ryback wasn’t in the original plans.
If that’s true, then what’s the direction for Ryback and the IC title? The first challenge, as teased on Monday night, is none other than The Big Show. As much of an uninspiring choice as that may be, it makes sense.
Remember those four straight PPV losses? Three involved The Big Show. During the Royal Rumble match, Ryback was eliminated by Big Show and Kane. At Fastlane, the team of Ryback, Erick Rowan and Ziggler lost to Seth Rollins, Big Show and Kane. Finally, in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 31, Ryback was eliminated by the eventual winner, Big Show.
There’s an angle there that can help advance Ryback’s comeback story should he win. And make no mistake: Ryback will win. It’s too good of a redemption story to not follow.
But a Ryback win over Big Show doesn’t elevate the IC title. It may enhance his story, but that’s it. Elevating this title will take something, and someone, more grandiose. Who that will be is the $64,000 question.
Wrestlers Who Could Elevate the IC Title
So if not Ryback, then who? The list of potential opponents to the current Intercontinental champion doesn’t really inspire.
Big Show will job to Ryback in an effort to boost his reign. Two very likely candidates from the chamber match—Ziggler and Sheamus—have been given new angles against Rusev and Randy Orton, respectively, and are also featured in the Money in the Bank ladder match.
Other potential opponents—Barrett, Stardust, The Miz, Mark Henry—are apathetic figures that have no better chance at making the Intercontinental Championship a distinguished title than Ryback.
The eventual standard-bearer is likely to come from the upper echelon of the main roster or from NXT. Here are two options that would instantly create buzz and could elevate the title to its rightful place as a stepping stone to bigger things.
Dean Ambrose, who will face Rollins for the WWE Heavyweight Championship at Money in the Bank, is embedded in the main event scene. Should he lose to Rollins, Ambrose—whose fan appeal dwarfs that of Ryback—would be a worthy champion.
Given his history with the entire roster both as a member of The Shield and as a singles competitor, Ambrose could take on anyone and a proper angle could be written. Plus, Ambrose could be given a long reign with this belt until he finds a way back into the heavyweight championship picture.
The second wrestler might very well be the best person to take the title: Finn Balor.
A veteran wrestler with a huge international following, the IC title would be a great entrance for Balor into the WWE Universe. While working as a babyface in NXT, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Balor comes to the main roster as a heel as part of a resurrected Bullet Club.
Ryback is a great story and, by all accounts, a great guy. He will be a good steward for the Intercontinental Championship and will enjoy a nice reign through the summer months.
But he's not the dominant champion needed to restore glory to that title. And until that man comes forward, expect a labored, uninspired group of wrestlers to fill the void.