In 2010, Ryback made his debut on the WWE roster as Skip Sheffield of The Nexus. Once he got injured, he was taken off TV and was repackaged following the death of both Nexus and New Nexus. After putting on some muscle and borrowing Rob Van Dam’s tights, he returned to the main roster as the WWE superstar Ryback in 2012. Although off to a rocky start, Ryback started to pick up momentum heading into October and was becoming one of the more over Superstars on the roster at the time. And unfortunately, that was his peak of popularity.
WWE’s booking of the Big Guy is another classic case of the push-pull technique they like to employ; where they’ll give a guy a push or seem like they’re giving him a push just to drop it completely. Ryback went from main eventing pay-per-views to losing to Mark Henry, from main eventing as a heel and being managed by Paul Heyman to losing week after week with Curtis Axel all within a year. When he came back from injury in 2015 as a face, it seemed like he was getting his mojo back, but the WWE kept him mulling around in the midcard with nothing substantial. Then, when he finally won his first title, he was put into a feud with Big Show of all people for at least two months. And as of May 2016, he has been sent home citing creative differences.
Overall, the WWE didn’t do that great of a job protecting Ryback nor did they ever sustain any push they gave to him. If this results in Ryback being released from the company, then he would be one of several Superstars in the last month alone that had potential to be big stars that were never given the opportunity. So before Ryback is officially released, rehired, or whatever will happen, here are the 12 biggest mistakes that the WWE ever made with The Big Guy.
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12 Not Winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal
Heading into WrestleMania 31, many WWE superstars thought Ryback was among several likely winners for the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal along with Damien Sandow, Cesaro for a second time, the newly debuted NXT Superstar Hideo Itami, and others.
However, to most people’s unfortunate surprise, the winner of the Andre the Giant Battle Royal would be the WWE’s current giant, Big Show. Considering Big Show went on to do nothing of note following this, the only reason this seemed to have occurred was to have Big Show stand next to the trophy of Andre the Giant. And while it did make for a great picture, it doesn’t change the fact that several other Superstars could’ve benefited from the win much more than a 20-year veteran and former World Champion.
11 Taking Pinfall Against The Shield
At the Elimination Chamber 2013 PPV, the WWE booked a match between John Cena, Ryback, and Sheamus versus The Shield. At the time, these three wrestlers were some of the biggest faces on TV and this match had many wrestling fans in fear that John Cena and the good guys would come out on top like they did at SummerSlam 2010 against The Nexus. Despite these fears, The Shield won relatively cleanly after pinning Ryback.
Now since John Cena was heading into a feud with The Rock at WrestleMania, it made sense that the WWE didn’t want The Shield pinning Cena’s shoulders to the mat. However, why the decision was made to do this with Ryback is beyond my understanding. This may seem like a bit of a nitpick, but all the effort they put to protect Ryback at the 2012 TLC PPV seemed pointless from that point forward. Not to mention the fact that setting the group up to beat Sheamus would’ve made much more sense.
10 Losing to Kalisto
When WWE announced the WWE World Heavyweight Championship tournament, Ryback was one of several Superstars announced to compete. Ryback would fight Kalisto on SmackDown and lose. At WrestleMania, the WWE set these two wrestlers up again to fight each other as the newly turned heel Ryback would lose once again to Kalisto for the United States Championship on the pre-show. And lastly, Ryback lost again on the pre-show to Kalisto at Payback.
Now it made some sense to have Ryback lose the first time. After all, it seemed like the WWE wanted to test the waters for a potential Alberto Del Rio and Kalisto feud. The second and third time, however, didn’t really seem like smart choices. Kalisto was an uneventful champion who spent more time in tag team wrestling than defending his belt. And with them turning Ryback heel heading into Mania, it seemed idiotic for them to give him some momentum just to take it away so Kalisto could continue his uneventful run which was recently put to an end by Rusev.
9 Elimination in 2014 Survivor Series Match
After coming back from injury in the fall of 2014, Ryback seemed like he had potential to get back on track as an upper midcarder. He was booked prominently and was viewed as a great commodity for the Survivor Series Match between Team Cena and The Authority. So with all that buildup, you would think that he would be one of the last wrestlers eliminated, right?
Nope, he was actually the first eliminated. On a team that had Big Show and Erick Rowan, Ryback was eliminated first. Yet another dumb decision that didn’t add anything to the match. Not much needs to be said about this except you shouldn’t build up someone as a difference maker just for them to lose in the first five minutes.
8 Losing to Mark Henry
During the buildup to WrestleMania 29, Ryback and Mark Henry were involved in a feud to see who was the strongest of the two. The feud seemed decent enough for Ryback’s WrestleMania debut and almost everyone believed that Ryback would win after delivering the Shell Shock and lifting over 400 pounds. And, in typical WWE pointless swerve fashion, Ryback lost after Henry fell on top of him.
To this day, this result makes no sense. For one, Mark Henry went on to fight Sheamus after this, so he gained nothing from it. Second, Ryback became the number one contender for the WWE Championship after losing his match, so it didn’t make any sense even further. And lastly, what was gained from this? Ryback turned heel claiming that he was at an all-time low while Cena was at an all-time high beating The Rock, but couldn’t he make that claim without losing? Ryback could’ve discussed how he went from main events and title pictures to fighting an over-the-hill wrestler; something that would’ve made sense and would’ve got him some heat. However, since he did become the number one contender the next night, this isn’t that big of a deal.
7 Turning Heel
Though Ryback had been sustaining big loss after big loss, the fact remained that the fans were still in Ryback’s corner. He still received good reactions back then, the Goldberg chants died down significantly, and the feed me more chants were among the most popular chants in the WWE at the time. If the WWE had pushed Ryback as a midcarder during this time, then his career would’ve been much better than what it is. Unfortunately, the WWE turned Ryback heel the night after WrestleMania and his career would slowly but surely decline. At first it was fine because he became the number one contender and had two good matches with John Cena and even beat Chris Jericho, but what happened afterwards really took a toll on his career.
6 Pairing with Paul Heyman
After floundering in the midcard after WrestleMania 29, the WWE had Ryback align himself with Paul Heyman after interfering in his match against CM Punk. With a Superstar with power like Ryback and a manager like Heyman, the new pairing seemed like it could work. Instead, it led to a series of awkward segments and weird moments like Ryback getting kissed by Heyman, Heyman proposing to Ryback, and a whole mess of strange antics between the two. However, before Ryback could be formally made a Paul Heyman guy, he lost against CM Punk three times in a row and was dumped by The Advocate. It was short-lived and weird at times, though it was somewhat entertaining.
The next thing Ryback did however never seemed to go anywhere.
Speaking of Curtis Axel, the tag team they created seemed doomed from the start. After all, when the team is only formed because both wrestlers were dumped by their manager, you know something’s up. This team went on to do absolutely nothing and it lasted for almost a year. They never got even remotely close to the Tag Team Championships, they never were involved in a memorable feud, and they weren’t really entertaining. The only reason that the team disbanded was due to the fact that Ryback needed hernia surgery. If not, the WWE might’ve been making the duo tag together.
Thank the wrestling God that didn’t happen.
4 Intercontinental Championship Reign
When Daniel Bryan was stripped of the Intercontinental Championship due to injury, the WWE announced that an Elimination Chamber match would decide the new Intercontinental Championship. After pinning Sheamus to win the match, Ryback was personally handed the belt by Daniel Bryan and would begin his first title reign after being with the company for several years. It’s just too bad the WWE did nothing with him during this time.
The entirety of his championship reign would revolve around Big Show, The Miz, and an untimely staph infection. He constantly was battling these irrelevant wrestlers for months only to finally fight someone relevant in Kevin Owens, though at the end of his title run. And if there was no one else available, these two as contenders wouldn’t have been such a problem, but to pass up on feuds with Luke Harper, Cesaro, and Sheamus seems like a foolish move.
3 Not Winning the 2013 Royal Rumble
Anyone who was watching WWE at the time knew that the WWE main event booking was leading back to a rematch between John Cena and The Rock, but for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29. To get to that route, the WWE had The Rock win the WWE Championship and had Cena win the Royal Rumble. But considering Cena would just defend his title shot against Punk anyway, why did Cena have to win the Rumble?
At the time, Ryback was slowly, but surely losing steam as a monster babyface and definitely would’ve benefited from winning the Royal Rumble and fighting for the World Heavyweight Championship. Big Show was the World Champion around that time, so had he retained against Alberto Del Rio and held the belt until WrestleMania, Ryback could’ve had the big moment of picking up the Big Show and winning a major title. And for those of you who are thinking what about the Swagger-Del Rio feud, all you have to do is make that feud over the United States Championship. In this scenario, WWE would’ve got everything they wanted and a chance to push a new star.
2 Getting Squashed by CM Punk
As an unfortunate downside to being paired with Paul Heyman, Ryback became involved in the feud between Paul Heyman and CM Punk. This initially seemed like it could be interesting considering how Punk screwed Ryback out of the WWE Championship multiple times. So as long as it had a good build and Ryback got a win or two, this feud would’ve been great for both wrestlers.
Instead, WWE ignored all of their past history and decided to have Ryback rationalize his interference in the match by saying “this is what happens to bullies.” And as uneventful as that was, the booking of these matches were even worse.
The first match saw Ryback lose to a low blow and a weak role up; completely contradicting the booking from the previous year. The next match was a rematch of their Hell in a Cell match, and it was one of the more uneventful matches on the show. The next night on RAW, Ryback tapped out to the Anaconda Vice and lost so much momentum that he had to be put in a tag team with Curtis Axel.
1 Fighting for the WWE Championship
When John Cena had arm surgery and was unable to compete at Hell in A Cell against WWE Champion CM Punk, Ryback was named the new number one contender. The match was set between the unstoppable champion and the unstoppable challenger as the 2012 Hell in a Cell Match drew significantly higher numbers with this as its main event. Unfortunately, we all knew what happened next.
Taking the title off of CM Punk while he was heading into his feud with The Rock wouldn’t have been a good idea, so the WWE decided to kill Ryback’s streak to preserve Punk’s championship reign. This marked the beginning of the end for Ryback as this was what ultimately lead to his fall from grace as an upcoming star. He would continue to lose for months on end and was relegated to his tag team with Rybaxel. Even when he came back with some momentum in 2014, the WWE didn’t use him to his max potential.
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