I suspect part of the problem could be the head writer changes WWE has experienced this year. Two new guys came and went in quick succession, which it would be fair to assume created instability. In such circumstances the writing team would have relied on the established likes of CM Punk and John Cena for the weekly TV shows. A newcomer like Ryback, not having an established enough character and perhaps being viewed as a pet project of the previous administration, would have been one of the first guys to find themselves shoved casually to one side. The famed McMahon mercuriality wouldn’t have helped his cause either.
Even if this instability is imagined it's certainly true Ryback has been handled incredibly poorly on television. Since WrestleMania he's been senselessly turned heel, gone on a ridiculous pay-per-view losing streak, been booked to play a bully and a coward, and been shunted from one forgettable programme to another with seemingly no long term goals and plans.
The 'Mania turn was the worst offence. It was done to provide WWE champion John Cena with someone to face after Rock's sudden exit from the league. It provided a great moment on the April 8th RAW and 'Big Hungry' was utilised well enough during the feud but once it was over it became clear that WWE didn't know what to do with a heel 'back without being able to put him against Cena.
His feud with Chris Jericho should've seen Ryback built up as an unstoppable killer. The difference in size between the two and 'Y2J's' ability to sell a beating (which isn't extraordinary but is better than most) would have made that approach completely natural. Had Ryback blitzed through 'The Highlight of the Night' at Money in the Bank in a five minute match, countering Jericho's trademark manoeuvres with power moves and feats of strength, he'd have looked like the most dominant heel in the company.
|'The Big Guy' could have been big business|
At a time when WWE didn't have a clearly defined lead bad guy that would have been the best approach possible. If he had to be bad, and it had been decreed that he did, then the company should've been prepping Ryback for that spot. Obviously the plan at that point was to have Randy Orton turn and become the central villain (on the active roster at any rate, Heyman and Triple H consistently draw greater heat than him) but it wouldn't have hurt to strengthen Ryback before that point. It would have made him more valuable in his role and may even have fooled people into thinking that a heel Ryback versus babyface Daniel Bryan series was being built to. Going to town on a Ryback push over the summer could’ve fooled people into overlooking Orton (which isn’t exactly difficult to begin with).
With the benefit of having watched the bullying character for a few months it seems like a desperate attempt to give Rybers something to do that would keep him on the roster but required little attention or effort beyond a broad characterisation. In under a year he went from being potentially the next big headliner to abusing indy guys inexplicably dressed as catering staff.
It's almost as though WWE deliberately sabotaged the success of Ryback. That's a conspiracy theory that gets bandied about a lot regarding various wrestling stars and it's not one I usually give any credit. Here though it seems like a genuine possibility. It's hard to think of an alternative that explains why someone who was so popular has been bounced around with so little care and thought this year.
You need only look back at his outings at Hell in a Cell and Survivor Series last year for proof that Ryback was hot. The crowd were into him and wanted to see him win. He represented an alternative to Cena and the stagnant main event in general while still being very much a traditional WWE headliner. Had WWE stayed behind him, been more choosey about whom he faced and kept going with the policy of only having him lose due to shenanigans I think he could've been leading man material around now.
We'll never know though. The treatment he's had this year has ruined him. The treatment he’s received can’t be undone. It would be nigh on impossible for even the might of the WWE machine to return Ryback to his former state of popularity at this point. The best we can say about the situation is that it might serve as a lesson to those in charge in how not to handle a popular star in the future.