In 2012, Ryback looked like he was destined to have a banner year.
After starting off his WWE career—under the Ryback gimmick, that is—by squashing lower card workers, he quickly worked his way up to the main event scene and even found himself challenging for the WWE Championship last fall.
But that’s where it all went wrong.
Once Ryback began feuding with CM Punk for the WWE title, he was put in an odd predicament, with the WWE neither wanting him to lose cleanly nor wanting to take the title off of Punk.
What resulted was Ryback ending 2012 (and beginning 2013) with a really rough stretch of losses: to Punk at Hell in a Cell, in a Triple Threat at Survivor Series, in a 6-man tag team match at WWE TLC and in a TLC match for the WWE title on the first Raw of 2013.
Even though Ryback was protected in all those losses, he lost them nonetheless. In turn, this put a damper on what we thought would be a fantastic year for the up-and-comer.
Although Ryback may not have had a banner year in 2012, however, he will indeed have one in 2013.
Ryback’s 2012 did not end like he or his fans wanted it to, but that was because of the peculiar situation involving Punk and the WWE Championship—not Ryback himself.
Way back in July 2012 on Raw 1000, The Rock announced that he would challenge for the WWE Championship at the 2013 Royal Rumble. Later that night, he was attacked by Punk.
From that point, it was a lock: Punk was going to keep the WWE title until the Royal Rumble so he could face The Rock at that pay-per-view.
So, a couple months later when John Cena got injured and was forced to miss Hell in a Cell, the WWE needed someone to step up in his absence. It was Ryback who did that.
Unfortunately for “Big Hungry,” he was thrust into a feud that he never really had any chance of winning because the WWE was not going to blow up plans for Punk/Rock for the sake of Ryback’s push.
In other words, Ryback was a victim of circumstance. In 2013, however, that won’t be the case.
Ryback won’t be inexplicably placed into a feud that can’t really go anywhere, and he won’t be a potential roadblock on the way to a dream match that everyone’s expected to happen since July 2012.
Instead, he will be the same top babyface he’s evolved into—just with better booking.
After all, it was the booking that hurt Ryback last year. But that was a rare scenario that likely won’t happen this year.
Punk needed to hold onto the WWE Championship through the end of 2012, and with the way the dominoes fell, he needed to beat Ryback to do so. This year, however, Ryback will distance himself from Punk and the WWE Championship, and he’s bound to make a huge splash in the main event scene.
While many have criticized Ryback for being “just a big guy” or “another Goldberg,” it’s hard not to be impressed with what he did in 2012.
A year ago, he wasn’t even on the main roster. In fact, he was known to many as “Skip Sheffield,” and in the case of some fans, completely forgotten.
But by the end of 2012, he had undoubtedly grown to be one of the WWE’s most popular stars and arguably only behind John Cena on the babyface side of the company.
Much of that had to do with the tremendous push that Ryback received, but make no mistake about it, he put in a ton of hard work to get over with the crowd and solidify himself as a top guy.
He has that “it” quality that many other top stars have, but can’t really be described. It’s just something that makes the fans react to him.
A big reason why that’s been the case, though, is that Ryback—despite what his haters may say—delivered in the big matches he’s been in so far.
While his Hell in a Cell match was only OK, his performances at Survivor Series, TLC and, in particular, his TLC match on last week’s Raw were very good for someone with very little experience working at the top of the card.
Ryback’s not the in-ring performer that Punk, Daniel Bryan or Dolph Ziggler is, and odds are that he will never be.
But he’s proven to be a capable big match performer so far, and what really matters the most is that the fans continue to react to him in a positive way and get behind him as a top babyface.
Every wrestling fan knows how hard it’s been for the WWE to build up new top babyfaces. That’s why Cena’s been the company’s go-to good guy for so long.
Yet, Ryback has surprised us all by rising to the occasion and making a huge statement in the WWE’s main event scene.
He’s got the look, the “it factor” that you can’t teach and the drive and determination to deliver the goods when the spotlight is the brightest.
If Ryback can avoid being stuck in an awkward booking situation in 2013 like he was in 2012, he’s going get another main event run and his first World title win.
And that sure sounds like a banner year.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!