Sunday 15 April 2012

The Terminator

A fortnight ago Ryback made his SmackDown debut with a dominant squash match victory over a jobber named Benny Stevens. He followed that this week with a similarly impressive showing against Benny Camer (also a random jobber). It’s still very early going for the Ryback character but it’s been an impressive start.

Ryan Reeves originally made his WWE television debut on the 2004 run of Tough Enough. He was ultimately unsuccessful on the show but did well enough to be offered a developmental contract. He accepted (obviously) and spent a few years in WWE’s training companies DSW and OVW.

He was eventually chosen to be one of the contestants for the first series of NXT in 2010, playing an amiably and likeable babyface named Skip Sheffield. That stint could have easily been a disaster but Reeves made it work and got over as a fan favourite thanks to his charisma and willingness to not take himself too seriously. His ‘Cornfed Meathead’ moniker and “Yip yip yip” catchphrase caught on to the point that it wasn’t inconceivable that, given enough time, Sheffield could have made it to the top of the promotion.

That wasn’t to be. The formation of the Nexus faction ensured Sheffield appearances on RAW for several months but he was relegated to a bit part player. The real push belonged to Wade Barrett. That meant a heel turn, which halted his chances of establishing himself as a babyface. When Sheffield get to wrestle he usually lost short matches in which he wasn’t permitted to look especially dominant. He’s not a particularly bad wrestler, but with his look he needs to be booked to overpower all but the biggest of opponents.

Bad luck came his way again in August when he suffered a broken ankle on a WWE house show in Hawaii. It was a painfully long time before Reeves could resume training again, finally making it back into a WWE ring in early 2012. He’s been winning untelevised matches at RAW and SmackDown tapings, and appearing on house shows, since January. By all accounts they have been similar to what we’ve seen in his two TV bouts this year.

It may have taken a long time to get back to TV but it seems the wait has paid off. Reeves is seemingly going to receive a healthy push and has been permitted to wrestle as a more serious character than ‘The Cornfed Meathead’. While I enjoyed the gimmick I think the Ryback character is a better choice in the long run as WWE are more likely to push a less comedic wrestler to the top. The NXT persona would have been less impactful now we have the likes of Brodus Clay and Santino getting strong pushes.

It should be pointed out that this is not the first time in Reeves’ career he has gone under the Ryback name. In 2007 he was released from his developmental contract, only to be re-signed in January of 2008 (illustrating the indecisive nature of WWE management perfectly). When he showed back up in OVW he was announced as Ryback. The character was based on The Terminator, with Reeves no-selling opponents’ offence and dominating them with power moves. He was also billed as being from “the future.” Hopefully that’s an aspect the SmackDown writing team don’t revive.

Ryback could be a future world champion

We’ll be able to tell how serious WWE are about this push when Ryback graduates from squashing random indy workers to full-fledged members of the SmackDown roster. If he’s booked to defeat confirmed WWE Superstars in the same decisive manner it will indicate that the promotion wants the man to make it and that fans should view him as a star on the rise.

I’m hopeful that WWE are going to give him a fair chance at success. Ryback has the look, the moves and the verbal skills to be a solid part of the WWE roster. I could certainly see him being a mainstay of a rejuvinated mid-card scene and it’s not impossible to imagine him winning a world championship sometime within a couple of years. He’s also proven (as ‘The Cornfed Meathead’) that he can get over as a babyface with limited exposure. That’s a very useful skill for a newcomer to have.

Ryback may no longer be from the future but he could still be an integral part of it.

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