In April of this year, Ryback (formerly Skip Sheffield) returned from injury to WWE TV on Smackdown and defeated a jobber with impressive ease. Ryback would continue to do this for weeks, completely destroying jobber after jobber, often two at a time, all the while showing off incredible physical strength, unmatched intensity, and an appetite for destruction of his opponents.
While a fun attraction for those fans that do not remember the undefeated streak of Bill Goldberg back in his WCW days, the rest of us can’t help but be reminded of the NFL player turned wrestler every time we lay eyes on Ryback. As hard as Ryback is trying to forge his own legacy, he still hears chants of Goldberg during his matches because he has yet to set himself apart from the characters we have seen like him over the years. There seems to be nothing about him that makes the character distinct from those we’ve encountered in the recent history of pro wrestling.
This week’s “A Matter of Character” is going to put the spotlight on the hungriest Superstar on the WWE roster, Ryback. I will analyze his character and point out his strengths and flaws, as I perceive them, while making suggestions for improvement where I can. So enough wasting time, Let’s Do This!
Aesthetically Ryback is an amalgamation of Bill Goldberg and Rob Van Dam, and if only he was a combination of the two as a worker, he’d be destined for greatness. That being said, he’s a hulking mass of muscle, that looks very intimidating and that’s what they’re going for so on that level his look works phenomenally. His real problem is that he reminds too much of other characters that have existed in the universe that the WWE has created for their weekly television programming. In a business where you stand out or die, Ryback doesn’t stand out because everything about him seems borrowed from fairly recent history.
Then there’s his in-ring ability. Every maneuver and strike he uses looks powerful and painful. In his matches he literally walks out and annihilates his opponents with devastating force that few match these days on WWE TV. There’s nothing pretty or technical about it, Ryback is smash mouth personified (and I’m not talking about the pop rock band who’s biggest hit was “All Star” for the movie Mystery Men). It’s because his matches are so straightforward, that I’m not sure of his ability to tell a good story in the ring, that and I think that he pretty reckless (again not the band). I know he isn’t going to be the greatest in-ring performer, but if he can tell a good story and prove not to break a top talent’s neck or put them in serious danger during his matches, I have no problem with the guy as a performer in the WWE. So I guess we’ll see.
Ryback is intense. He is straightforward intensity that hits you like a locomotive, and leaves you laying without a second thought or any give. He is a juggernaut in the WWE if I have ever seen one. He also likes to play around and pander during his destruction. The way he marches around the ring as he performs his finisher Shell Shocked, the way he begs the audience to chant feed me more, he wants the public’s adoration, and he wants to show off. In a lot of ways he’s intensely playful (bit of an oxymoron).
It is the playfulness that sets him apart from Goldberg, which could be good if executed properly. That being said, I don’t think it’s executed very well. I’ll go into further detail in the next section, but the idea of Ryback having an intense and playful attitude works and would definitely be interesting to watch if it didn’t cross the line into pandering and begging for reaction.
Words and Actions
As far as Ryback’s promo skills are concerned, in recent weeks I haven’t heard him say anything but Feed Me More, so to what extent he can deliver during a promo, I have no earthly idea; the best I can say is he is believable when asking to be fed more. His promos were mediocre at best as Skip Sheffield during the days of Nexus, so this gimmick that doesn’t require him to speak may be the best way to hide a weakness, in which case I would commend the WWE for working to hide a superstars weakness and accentuate his strengths.
It’s impossible to avoid the Goldberg comparison, so let’s just get it out of the way. Ryback isn’t as good as Goldberg in any way. He’s not a better worker, he’s not as good a showman, and he’s missing the “I don’t give a f***” attitude that Goldberg exudes. Ryback every week seems to beg us for our attention. Everything from his entrance to the way he performs his finisher, to the way he begins the “feed me more” chants comes across as Ryback begging us to care about what he’s doing. Goldberg’s theatrics during his entrance and his matches felt like it was Bill psyching himself up and not fishing for a reaction. We popped when he would hit the Spear, pop up and motion for the Jackhammer, but he didn’t beg us to like Ryback. Goldberg at least in my memory of him from his WCW days, could have cared less how reacted to him and was there to win matches in devastating and impressive fashion. He didn’t start the Goldberg chants; we did because we were impressed. Ryback I suppose is doing the same thing, but all the while pleading for the WWE Universe to love him. Ryback should be the intense monster of a man that likes to play with his food and have fun, all the while never needing our approval the way he seems to now. Beasts like Goldberg and Ryback shouldn’t need our adoration, and that attitude is why the public eventually adores them.
I’m guessing his motivation is to annihilate and devour every Superstar in his path, like a singlet clad Shang Tsung (shoe-horned in a Mortal Kombat reference, I’m very proud). With each victory he chants feed me more not only because he desires more opponents to destroy, but also because he desires better competition. This character at least in my opinion is a straight up competitor devoid of any interpersonal vendettas or deep emotional deficiencies/insecurities. He’s a warrior through and through, and simply lives for the thrill of competition.
Usually I would say simply wanting to compete and win your matches isn’t enough, but in this case it works because the character isn’t meant to have any dimension to it. In fact adding dimension to it would ruin its novelty and appeal. Ryback is less a character in this universe, and more a force of nature that’s only purpose is to destroy.
What is the conflict with any intense force of nature? It’s indiscriminant. Ryback right now has been taking out annoying jobbers and heels and it’s making him look like a babyface, but I view him more as a “Hulk” kind of character that lives to destroy whatever he is pointed at. As a force of nature in the WWE, he should have no conscience or qualms with laying a beating down on babyfaces and heels alike, because once all the heels have been conquered, there would only be babyfaces to feed him. His conflict would be eventually to try to control his insatiable appetite for victims.
Personally I like what they previewed last night on Raw, with Ryback apparently entering a program with The Miz. The character needed to be elevated to more serious competition, and Miz being the Intercontinental Champion is certainly a step up from the endless array of jobbers he’s encountered for months on end. That being said, it’s hard to think dispelling The Miz would be a difficult task for a beast like Ryback.
Goldberg’s first real test was against then United States Champion Raven. Somehow that makes Ryback’s first “real” opponent being The Miz feel like it isn’t as much of a challenge. Raven was tough as nails manipulator, and a master of ring psychology. Raven could take merciless beating and continue to fight on, not to mention that he had a stable of loyal followers that could interfere in the match that was competed under Raven’s Rules, so he presented the absolute most challenging opponent Goldberg would need to overcome, 74 matches into his career.
I would hazard to guess that no one thinks The Miz is a tough guy, that he can take a beating, and that he is a master of ring psychology. Raven was a bad ass and The Miz is a coward. Sure obtaining the Intercontinental Championship might gain Ryback some credibility, but beating The Miz shouldn’t be a very tough task all things considered, and if it is, it makes Ryback look a little weak even in victory.
I agree that the degree of difficulty for Ryback desperately needed to be increased, but it needed to be someone tougher and more physical than The Miz. I would have had him face Tensai in a hard-hitting feud between two physical monsters. Afterward I would have wanted him to face The Miz, in pursuit of Championship Gold.
Miz is “supposed to be” smart, so maybe they are playing the whole Brains vs. Braun angle here and if Miz outsmarts him a few times on TV, maybe it will be believable that he could win a match against Ryback,. With things as stand now, this step up for Ryback doesn’t feel like a big one. All that said, I’m looking forward to how they plan on evolving Ryback in this more prominent rivalry.
There you have it, but what do you think? Do you agree with my assessment of Ryback? Does his character’s pandering and actively begging for response disappoint you as much as it does me? Are you excited to see him face The Miz? What would you do to help get rid of those pesky Goldberg chants?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying that Boardwalk Empire being back is awesome! Is Richard Harrow anyone else’s favorite character? Besides Nucky Thompson, there’s no one I like more than good old half-faced Richard Harrow, such a great character. If you can’t tell I can’t wait till next Sunday’s episode. Have a great week everybody!