Just over a year ago, Zack Ryder reached his peak in the professional wrestling business after he defeated Dolph Ziggler for the United States Championship. Things have gone downhill ever since, however, and it seems as though his release from the WWE is imminent at this point.
There have obviously been a lot of squandered talents in the WWE over the years, but Ryder may be among the company's greatest missed opportunities. His popularity reached a high-point in late 2011, when he won his first singles title in WWE, and it seemed like things were only going to get better for him. But his strong push suddenly ground to a halt without explanation.
Rather than allowing Ryder to have a fruitful run with the U.S. title, he was immediately thrust into the feud between John Cena and Kane. While it seemed like his involvement could be beneficial at first—since it was a main-event storyline—Ryder was basically allowed to be buried, time after time, by Kane. This led to him dropping the title to Jack Swagger.
The pill would be easier to swallow if the WWE had some big plans for the United States Championship, but that clearly wasn't the case. Swagger soon lost the belt to Santino Marella, who went on to have a long, meaningless reign. There is absolutely no reason why Ryder couldn't have carried the strap for that entire time period before losing it to Antonio Cesaro if the creative team was still inclined to put the title on him.
I'm not suggesting that Ryder should be a main-event guy or that he was on course to become one, but he still deserves a lot better than he has gotten over the past year. He has basically gone back to his status from a couple years back as a glorified jobber. Although he's featured much more often on Raw and SmackDown than he used to be, he almost always loses and is made to look incompetent.
It isn't fair when you consider how much extra work Ryder has done in an effort to get over. His most notable extracurricular activity was Z! True Long Island Story. Ryder started his YouTube show about two years ago when it seemed like he was on the verge of being released. He gained a large fan following on the Internet, though, and the WWE obviously took notice.
At one point, he was getting louder chants than John Cena and all of the other top guys on the roster. Ryder merchandise was everywhere, Ryder signs were peppered throughout the crowd, and Madison Square Garden even chanted his name during a promo by The Rock following his match at Survivor Series in 2011.
Yet the WWE took all of that, crumpled it up and threw it away for no apparent reason. Ryder's lack of a push has gotten to the point where it seems like he has essentially given up all hope. His 100th episode of Z! True Long Island Story was posted last week, but it was ultimately his last show, as the quality of the program went down noticeably once the WWE took it over.
Ryder has also been a lot more vocal about the WWE's misuse of him lately. On last week's episode of Raw, a graphic was posted showing the top five superstars in terms of Twitter followers. Despite the fact that Ryder is approaching one million followers, he was left off the list in favor of The Miz. Ryder wasn't shy about voicing his displeasure with that fact.
Leaving Ryder off the list tells me that the WWE is basically done with him as far as a major push goes. A year ago, the WWE would have played up the fact that he had so many followers, but now, the company is acting like he doesn't even exist. Also, Ryder being so loose with his criticism seems like a sign that he may not be around for much longer.
When you consider how weak the WWE is in terms of mid-card faces, it's tough to fathom why Ryder is being utilized so poorly. He could very easily assume Kofi Kingston's position as the top mid-card face who is constantly challenging for titles and winning them on occasion as well. Ryder isn't as athletic as Kofi, but he's more entertaining and certainly more over with the fans.
Momentum can turn on a dime in the WWE, so I would hate to say that Ryder has no chance of regaining his former glory, but there's simply no sign that the WWE has any interest in legitimizing him again. He was thrown on the scrap heap for reasons unbeknownst to most, and he is way down in the pecking order as things currently sit.
Even though Ryder might be better off elsewhere in terms of being a true contender, I truly hope that the WWE doesn't release him. Ryder obviously loves the company and he probably still wants to be there, so the WWE should reward his loyalty. The WWE is going to do what it believes is right, regardless of whether it's sensible or not, though.
With a couple releases coming down over the past few days, including that of Ryder's friend Trent Barreta, the Internet Champion could very easily be next. It was a great ride regardless, but most fans will always wonder what could have been had Ryder been allowed to shine for an extended period of time.