To fully understand the extent to which WWE dropped the ball with Ryback last time around, here’s a real-world analogy:
A wealthy, successful man romances a woman. Takes her out on many dates. They grow closer. They make each other better. Things look really great, like the future is bright and the sky’s the limit. So the man takes her on vacation to a tropical island, ring in his pocket, and at sunset, when she starts to finally take off her dress…
…He goes “Beat it, whore. I’m sticking with my ex.” And she stays around anyway because there are no other options.
Ryback was built up over the course of a year as a destructive monster who wins handicap matches – this after having paid his dues in NXT and as part of the Nexus invasion. His push was reminiscent of Bill Goldberg’s back in the WCW days, but with a key difference Ryback was happy to point out in interviews: he constantly wanted to improve as a wrestler, whereas Goldberg actually boasted in his autobiography that he didn’t need to learn wrestling holds so long as he could break them.
So Ryback makes it to the main event. He gets in a high-profile feud with top star CM Punk, and it’s one of his matches that features the debut of The Shield. All the time, fan support is building, and the catchphrase “Feed me more!” is getting over. When he flattened John Cena after a tag team match, it was electric – a moment reminiscent of the Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior split, where the two top dogs in the yard bring both their fanbases to the fight. Had WWE played it correctly, I still say it could have been a modern day equivalent to Hogan-Warrior.
There was just one problem.
Warrior beat Hogan back in the day in part because Hulk was exhausted after four and a half years on the road, main-eventing night after night. He was also trying to get a movie career off the ground, with mixed results. John Cena, however, who by all appearances has almost no social life outside of WWE, had no desire to take time off…and I think WWE knew that in a good guy vs. good guy match, the fans would back Ryback, possibly devaluing the guy who makes them the most money. So Ryback instead was made a villain, defeated soundly by Super Cena, and demoted to back-up for Curtis Axel. For a while he had a brief revival as a bully character, but it didn’t really take.
I don’t think the fans expected that he’d return as a full-on good guy, complete with the “Feed me more” chant restored in his theme music. If you didn’t see the Raw Fallout segment where he explains his new persona, it’s actually pretty smart.
Simple, but believable. He may never be as good a technical wrestler as Cena, but he instinctively understands showmanship. And frankly, I’d like to once again root for a guy who looks like a fighter rather than a movie star. Ever since The Rock, WWE has been trying to have handsome guys be on top so female fans will be attracted, but most of the guys who’ve captured my imagination over the years – Hogan, Savage, Austin, Brock Lesnar – have not had matinee-idol faces. They just kicked ass.
Can Ryback get the right push this time, and do the Cena battle like it ought to have been done before? Yes. We need look no further than Mark Henry, who constantly goes through stretches as an incompetent doofus, only to be made over yet again as the world’s most devastating force ever. And if Cena can have a feud with Randy Orton every year, he can certainly do a program with Ryback one more time.
But will they realize this time that Ryback is, to coin a phrase, Best for Business? Without reservation I will state here and now that I’d rather see Ryback be Lesnar’s WrestleMania challenger than Roman Reigns. There’s probably not enough time to make that a workable angle, but I’ll bet that in such a scenario, Ryback could once again prove that he’s way better than Goldberg.