In 2004, WWE presented their latest, greatest idea to create new Superstars. You’ve heard of Tough Enough right? Well how about we have tough enough, only this time the winner gets A MILLION DOLLARS! We’ll call it….Million Dollar Tough Enough! Yeah that’s right! The 2004 version of Tough Enough featured future WWE Champion the Miz, future WWE developmental talent Dan Rodman, a guy name Justice, eventual winner and MMA fighter Daniel Puder, future male cheerleader of WWE Nick Mitchell, and a guy named Ryan Reeves.
Ryan Reeves was a huge guy, who in his tryout video was standing in his kitchen and said that this was his passion, and he was sorry his video was late but he still wanted to enter. I don’t remember anybody else right of the top of my head but there was some future talent there. Reeves didn’t win Tough Enough, but made a good enough of an impression that he received a developmental deal to train in OVW and Deep South. After about 2 years of training, and being a part of a team called High Dosage (a rib after failing a wellness test), he was let go. Reeves was let go the same week I was hired, and was re-signed a few weeks after I was let go. We never trained together so I can’t say what his attitude was or how he was during the developmental process. But I will say that guys let go from developmental who possess bad attitudes usually don’t get resigned.
I’ve met Reeves at a couple of events I’ve visited and he has always been very nice. So Reeves starts in Florida Championship Wrestling and begins developing the first incarnation of the Ryback gimmick, in which he was a version of The Terminator. I read about this gimmick and was very intrigued. I thought that it had potential to get on TV, which at that time, there weren’t a lot of potential TV gimmicks in developmental. So imagine my surprise when he is renamed “The Cornfed Meathead” Skip Sheffield, and starts a ridiculous cowboy gimmick. Who the hell thought that was a good idea? First off, cowboys aren’t bodybuilders. They’re supposed to be farm strong. They’re big, but they don’t do incline bench presses and preacher curls. They throw hay and pigs and wrestle horses to the ground. Reeves is an obvious weightlifter. Maybe not a bad gimmick for somebody else, but damn not him!
So the newly renamed Skip Sheffield makes TV on the new NXT program and begins competing with several of his FCW classmates for the right to be the next WWE superstar. Daniel Bryan, Heath Slater, Michael Tarver, Justin Gabriel, Wade Barrett, Darren Young, and Skip Sheffield were called up to be the seven “rookies” that were to participate in the new tv show. Sheffield was easily the biggest guy on the show, and had it not been for the potentially career handcuffing gimmick, might have had a stronger showing. He was eliminated from the show, and then eventually was brought back when the Nexus formed, led by Wade Barrett, and took the WWE by storm. Then creative jobbed them out to Cena and a potentially great money making angle was dead in months. Fantastic. In August of 2010, he broke his ankle on a house show and wasn’t seen again until April 2012. I initially feared that he was going to be let go during his recovery, as most of the Nexus guys with the exception of Daniel Bryan were floundering around WWE with no real purpose. I certainly didn’t expect them to rush Reeves back to TV.
In April 2012, Reeves appeared on SmackDown as Ryback, and thankfully Skip Sheffield was gone forever. But WWE did something different with Ryback. They didn’t spend money on elaborate videos, or months and months of teases and near debuts, like they did with Brodus Clay, Fandango, and Damien Sandow. He came right onto tv, and got right down to business. He started kicking ass, and in the process, began picking up steam, and began to organically get over. Sure there were Goldberg chants, but he no sold them for the most part and slowly but surely the crowd started to get behind him. The “Feed Me More” chants were starting to catch on, and when Ryback seemed destined for a showdown with CM Punk for the WWE Championship at Hell In A Cell, it seemed like WWE had caught lightning in a bottle and we were just inches away from WWE having the new breakout star that was going to take the torch from Cena just like they need an just like the people want. But here’s where things got really screwed up.
In October, at the Hell in a Cell PPV, Ryback’s 38 match undefeated streak, and his crowd support, went straight down the commode as he lost the HIAC match to Punk after referee Brad Maddox went “rogue” and cost Ryback the match. Then the next month at Survivor Series, he loses another title match, this time in a triple threat with Punk and Cena. This time, he was attacked by the debuting Sheild and spent the next few weeks getting beaten up by the Shield. Did the WWE rush into Ryback challenging for the championship? Yes they did. During the course of his streak, Ryback defeated Intercontinental Champion The Miz with ease. He should have been given a brief run as IC champ before stepping into the WWE title picture to continue to build his momentum. Why? Because WWE had already made up their mind that the Rock was getting the belt from Punk, and Cena was getting his win back on Rock at Mania. And there was no changing their mind.
The WWE’s organically grown superstar that they’ve been waiting for all this time was destroyed forever in a matter of months. As soon as Cena threw him out of the Royal Rumble, everyone was told that this guy wasn’t as good as Cena. Then Ryback is thrown into a feud with Mark Henry. Great idea, and the weightlifting challenge segments were fun to watch. But Ryback lost any chance of getting his momentum back when he dropped Mark Henry and lost at WrestleMania 29. So from there, WWE is panicking and don’t know what to do with him. They turn him heel. Start a ridiculous crybaby gimmick that is so terrible that people are calling him Cryback. Then they start turning him in to a bully, obviously influenced by the Impact Wrestling character Bully Ray.
They try to make him a Paul Heyman guy, but only after a few weeks, that is stopped and he is being phased out of TV because “he has backstage heat”. Why does he have backstage heat? Well I sure as hell don’t know but from what I have read, WWE feels he has a negative backstage attitude. Well holy tap dancing shit WHY SHOULDN’T HE HAVE A BAD ATTITUDE??? From what I’ve read, he has been a wrestling fan his whole life. He has spent over 7 years in the WWE system. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that he understands the business. He understands how booking works and he understands the difference between good booking and bad booking. He has probably been told for 7 of those 7 years in the WWE system that they are going to make him a superstar, a millionaire, a world champion and lord knows what other kinds of promises he’s been told. And due to the WWE’s bad booking of him and his character, why wouldn’t he be upset? If WWE would had some patience and stretched out his feud with the Miz and put him into the WWE title picture AFTER the Rock and Cena were through, maybe things would have been way better. Or, if the WWE would have struck while the iron was hot and put him OVER CM Punk for the title at WrestleMania after winning the Royal Rumble, maybe things would be better.
Ryback was the perfect guy to start a brand new streak, and be the one to defeat the Undertaker at WrestleMania, but that’s all been ruined. They can NEVER turn back the hands of time and get that back. And Ryback suffers. I can’t say that he has a bad attitude because I sure haven’t been around him. But if he’s mad and harbors resentment because the WWE has not delivered on promises, and because they have tanked his career because WWE is so afraid to steer off of the course chartered by Cena, who in the blue hell can blame HIM? We all know that WWE doesn’t have the kind of atmosphere where you can air your grievances and be heard. You’re not allowed to care where your career is headed. You’re not allowed to think about what kind of long term damage the WWE is doing to your career with short sighted booking and stop and start pushes because you have a “supposed bad attitude”.
There may be one chance to salvage his career, and it may or may not happen. Who is the person that WWE fans really want to see Ryback fight? That’s right, they guy that he reminds them of. GOLDBERG. Sure there are some similarities there, but Ryback was never a carbon copy of Goldberg. Goldberg wasn’t the first guy to get over by no-selling and defeating everybody in his path. The Road Warriors, The Ultimate Warrior, The Undertaker and even Hulk Hogan all got over by beating absolutely everybody. Goldberg’s streak was a once in a lifetime phenomenon that ALMOST was recreated in WWE with Ryback. The difference is, WCW was more patient with Goldberg’s push, put him in a upper mid card US title feud with Raven, and grew him before putting him in the World title picture. Goldberg debuted on television in September 1997 and defeated Hulk Hogan for the WCW World Championship in July 1998. That is 11 months.
WWE rushed Ryback from debut to WWE Championship picture in 6 months. WCW fans wanted Goldberg to win the championship, and he did. Then they got behind him and stayed behind him until shitty booking ended his reign and killed his momentum. WWE fans wanted Ryback to win the championship, and he didn’t. Then the fans felt let down, and WWE once again went with Cena as the go to guy. And again Ryback suffers. I don’t know what kind of shape Goldberg is in, or if he could even work a match of PPV quality at this point with Ryback. But if WWE cares about Ryback as a character, an intellectual property, or if they care about Ryan Reeves as a person, they would throw whatever amount of money Goldberg wants to come in and put Ryback over. Then they can say “We’re sorry” to Ryback by pushing him, sticking by him, and making him the WWE Champion that he can be. It may be too late, but it is worth a shot.
Goldberg has said that he would like to have one more match so his son could see him wrestle. If they can’t get Sting, then Goldberg would be more than enough to draw back some WCW fans. New Orleans was a Mid-South town, and later, a WCW town. WWE needs all the reasons for lapsed fans to come back and start watching again. Let Goldberg be a reason for them to come back, and let Ryback be a reason for them to stay.
What do you think? Post your thoughts, opinions, feedback and comments below.
Thanks for reading.
About Wes Adams: Wes Adams is a former WWE official/referee. Adams signed a WWE developmental deal in early 2007, and was assigned to Deep South Wrestling. After working as a official/referee on WWE television, he opened his own wrestling promotion “PowerSlam Productions.”