During the last few months of 2012, it looked like Ryback was going to emerge as WWE’s next big main eventer.
He had the larger-than-life physique. He had the intense charisma. His ridiculous “Feed Me More” catchphrase got over hugely with the fans. Thanks to his Bill Goldberg-like winning streak, he also had the momentum. Sure he was new—and still green—but people were still very willing to accept him as a main eventer.
But things quickly went wrong.
That Ryback failed to win the WWE Championship from CM Punk three times in a row has undoubtedly damaged him.
He lost to Punk in Hell in a Cell back in October after heel referee Brad Maddox got involved. Then he came up short the following month at Survivor Series during his triple threat with Punk and Cena after The Shield debuted and attacked him.
He also lost again to Punk in their program-ending Tables, Ladders and Chairs match on Raw last week when The Shield again ran in. (Punk moved on to The Rock later in the evening).
Oh, sure, he was screwed out of the belt all those times but he still lost.
It’s hard for fans to get strongly behind a loser. Come on; can you imagine if Goldberg had lost three title matches in a row on his way to the top of WCW? For all the numerous mistakes the Atlanta-based promotion made during its existence even they knew how to book a top baby face better than WWE.
For one indication of how Ryback has fallen in prominence we just need to look at the buyrates. Hell in a Cell did a good number, indicating how truly hot the former Nexus was at that point. The following month’s Survivor Series, which also featured him in the main event, did a less than impressive number, especially when compared to 2011's number—whatever Ryback had at that point he has lost. (Buyrate numbers via PWTorch).
His pops also appear to be down. PWinsider noted back in December that management were already beginning to grow concerned about his lukewarm reaction at the TLC pay-per-view.
Of course, there are also Ryback’s flaws as a performer to consider.
As noted, he’s not the best wrestler in the world and struggles to wrestle at a main event standard. His mediocre one-dimensional verbal skills also hinder him: How many times do we need to hear him awkwardly talk about food?
It’s not all down to incompetent booking. Hey, maybe if he were a better all-round performer those three losses wouldn’t have hurt him as much as they have?
Of course, the situation isn’t totally hopeless.
At a time when WWE is desperately looking for new stars, someone with the potential of Ryback will always be given a shot. And he does have the impressive Hell in a Cell buyrate on his resume as undisputed proof of his drawing power.
However, he’s going to have to work to incredibly hard to turn it around. Because at this point, things really don't look good for him.