There was a clever bit of programming on RAW this week, revolving around the defense of Kevin Owens’ intercontinental (IC) title at WrestleMania (WM). On the show, Owens found himself confronted by the three current frontrunners vying for his championship: Sami Zayn, Dolph Ziggler, and Mike “The Miz” Mizanin. Afterward that interaction, Owens asked Stephanie McMahon for permission to book a triple threat match to determine the number one contender, a request which she granted.
When Owens announced the participants of the triple threat match on RAW, he cleverly swerved the audience by not inviting any of the aforementioned contenders. Instead, Owens created a match between Stardust, Zack Ryder, and Sin Cara. Although this was a clever way of manipulating audience expectations, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the three participants. Here we were, live on RAW in front of millions of viewers, and we’re essentially being told that none of these three guys provide a credible threat to Owens’ championship reign. This is never a desirable position for a wrestler to be in, being viewed as a nonentity in terms of threat.
Kayfabe-wise, I understand that this opinion of Stardust, Ryder, and Sin Cara is being put forth by Kevin Owens. However, I could not help but feel that it was actually WWE Creative putting forth these feelings regarding these particular wrestling personalities. As a fan of both Stardust and Ryder, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for their perceived positioning in the company. From the moment those three men came to the ring, I fully expected the triple threat match to be interrupted by Zayn, Ziggler, and Mizanin, ultimately resulting in a fatal four-way match being scheduled at WM. What I did not anticipate, and which occurred, was the booking of a 7-man ladder match for the championship instead.
Although it might be easier to remain negative and think of Stardust, Ryder, and Sin Cara as mere placeholders in a match where only the other 4 competitors truly matter, I prefer to take a more positive stance. Really, this is good news for the careers of these three other participants, and I cannot help but feel especially good about the opportunity before Zack Ryder.
Zack Ryder is a guy that deserves more mainstream success and recognition than he currently has. He blazed a path on the internet at a time before Twitter was a word ever uttered on WWE programing. This was a time before even Tout was a thing on WWE programming; does anyone else even remember Tout at this point? In regards to Ryder, this was a guy that saw a way to connect with and cultivate an audience all on his own and, in doing so, created a mold that every other superstar in the WWE follows today.
To the credit of the WWE, they did give Zack Ryder a chance near the top of the main roster. For some time, he was heavily involved in a program which also featured John Cena, Eve Torres, and Kane. Some fantastic wrestle silliness was borne from the angle (Ryder being pushed off the stage in a wheelchair, for starters), but nothing that allowed Zack Ryder to carve out a niche for himself on the main roster. Although I liked what Zack had accomplished on his own, crowning himself the internet champion and gathering hundreds of thousands of subscribers to his own YouTube series, I couldn’t help but feel that WWE made the right call when they pulled him from the main roster.
I liked Zack Ryder, I really did, but the energy and charisma that he put forth on his YouTube channel never translated to his performances on the main roster. On RAW, in those big segments in front of huge crowds, there was a nervousness to Ryder’s voice. He never managed to portray himself with that same gusto that made him an internet sensation. Simply put, at the time, Zack Ryder wasn’t ready.
Zack Ryder disappeared for a long time after that. Members of the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) often railed that a great injustice had been done, but overtime those protests began to fade. Ryder became a nonentity for some time, before reappearing on the NXT roster, and eventually forming a modestly successful tag team with Mojo Rowley. If Ryder took any umbrage with this “demotion” to the minor leagues, he certainly never showed it. If anything, Ryder took to this new opportunity and gave it his all, picking up a good deal of refinement to his stage presence in the process. All the while, Ryder has seemingly never given up hope of making it back to the main stage. In particular, there were news stories that Ryder remained determined to make it back to the main WWE roster and to get the WrestleMania moment that he’d never otherwise obtained in his career.
On Monday night, I couldn’t help but feel glad that the opportunity to make an impression on the grandest stage of them all has finally come to Zack Ryder. There’s a new air about Zack Ryder. He’s ever-more capable in the ring, and his new-found self-assurance comes through in his body language and mic-work. This is a Zack Ryder that has all of pieces that he needs to get over on the main roster, and he’s finally being put on a stage where every last fan of the WWE is going to see him.
I’m only bolstered in my optimism by Ryder’s performance on SmackDown this week. Watching Zack get physically over on Kevin Owens and watching the audience pump their fists in the air alongside him was a surreal but wonderful moment. I can only imagine the crowd engagement that he will be able to incite at WrestleMania in front of 100,000 professional wrestling fans. I found myself coming away from SmackDown asking myself a question that I already knew the answer to: Is this a Zack Ryder that can finally take up his deserved mantle as a true WWE superstar?
Woo, woo, woo. You know it.