WWE never allowed Ryback to shift out of neutral.
A lack of commitment and a series of hurried tweaks to his gimmick made The Big Guy's tenure with the company one marked by missed opportunities. It's easy to understand why Ryback was so frustrated when he left; WWE tripped him up.
Ryback addressed his issues with his former employer on his new podcast, Conversations with The Big Guy (NSFW language).
This was the first time the powerhouse opened up about his contentious WWE exit.
Among the most eye-catching things he said had to do with his booking and his place on the company hierarchy. He said, "I feel I've never been their guy." And about how WWE utilized him, Ryback told co-host Pat Buck, "They mishandled me from the very beginning. They mishandled a lot of talents, but in my case particularly, I think it's been mishandled horribly."
It's hard to argue with that.
When he was steamrolling over midcarders and crowds were chanting, "Feed me more!" back in 2012, Ryback was white hot. It looked as if WWE had another Ultimate Warrior-type titan on its hands. He boasted a larger-than-life presence, an underrated charisma and an explosive, wrecking-ball in-ring style.
But in the years ahead, his career floundered.
As Vaughn Johnson of Philly.com pointed out, that was partly due to wins so often followed by losses:
Ryback's career numbers suggest that WWE never fully treated him like a big deal. In 2013, his winning percentage, per CageMatch.net, on TV and pay-per-views was .507. The next year it went down to .430. Those are a midcarder's stats, not someone fit for the marquee.
And after garnering ample momentum before his showdown with CM Punk at Hell in a Cell 2012, his record tailed off.
Ryback then went 0-7-1 in his next eight PPVs. He was 8-22-1 from Hell in a Cell onward.
Beyond the numbers, though, Ryback had to be disheartened by how many storylines and feuds didn't become what they should have.
WWE pitted Ryback against Mark Henry, for example, at WrestleMania 29.
This was a clash of two forces of nature that could have catapulted The Big Guy, passing the torch from one powerhouse to another. The bout never received the hype it should have, however. Ryback lost to Henry, rather than have a star-making moment where he toppled The World's Strongest Man.
Henry didn't fall later, either. WWE booked the veteran to take down Ryback on Raw four months after WrestleMania and again at Survivor Series 2013.
In July of that year, WWE Creative cooked up one of the most ill-advised angles of the past few years.
During a match with The Miz, Ryback pulled the WWE version of boxing's famous "No mas" incident. The Big Guy quit mid-match, refusing to take any more of The Miz's kicks. That opened the door for rival Chris Jericho to start calling him "Cryback."
How do you book such a monstrous man to be a coward? Why would you damage his aura like that and not even have it lead anywhere?
Jericho and Ryback didn't have any great rivalry. They fought at Money in the Bank 2013, and that was that.
WWE later came up with a smart storyline for Ryback where he bullied employees backstage. He sent cameramen and producers through tables, stomping on the smaller men.
It's an idea Hall of Famer Jim Ross felt was the right fit for him. Ross wrote on his blog, "I can easily see Ryback as a large, overbearing bully of an antagonist in WWE. The character is globally relatable, and I think that Ryback could pull it off."
There was no big payoff for the story, though. It didn't set up a marquee match with a babyface standing up for the guys Ryback ran over. The bully shtick simply faded into dust.
Narratives fizzling out like that was a running theme for Ryback's career.
His Intercontinental Championship reign in 2015 ended in anticlimactic fashion to continue that trend. Rather than have Ryback drop the title at the end of a bitter, dramatic, full-tilt rivalry, The Big Guy lost to Kevin Owens after a rake to the eyes.
The followup to that defeat was disappointing. Owens retained the IC title in a five-minute match at Hell in a Cell that year, and the story ended there.
And more recently, WWE made the smart move of booking Ryback against Kalisto in a classic David-versus-Goliath tale with the United States Championship on the line. This could have been a stellar feud, one that kept both men in the spotlight, one that highlighted Ryback's destructive power.
Instead, WWE booked their two title clashes to be on the pre-shows of WrestleMania and Payback, respectively.
The rivalry lacked a true build. WWE signaled to the audience that the story was just filler.
Looking back at such a long trail of missed opportunities, one can only wonder how different Ryback's career trajectory would have been with a few more big wins, with WWE fully exploring his rivalries and positioning him as a bigger priority.
As he ventures into the next stage of his career, he can only hope that he follows in Ethan Carter III's and Drew Galloway's footsteps, becoming so successful elsewhere that WWE looks foolish for not leaning on him more.