It was one of the biggest crowd pleasing moments in years and WWE did it deliberately. CM Punk stood tall in the ring on the first Raw of 2012 holding his WWE Title aloft. On that night though he was flanked by two others. On his left was the World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan, The American Dragon no less. On his right was the US Champion and Internet darling, Zach Ryder. The crowd went crazy because here were three fan favourites ready to take on all comers and be embraced by more and more fans around the world. Then something happened.
CM Punk, over the next few months, would begin to turn and associate himself with Paul Heyman and become increasingly disgruntled with The Rock’s position in the company. The fans still cheered him though and, if anything, his association with Heyman only elevated him further in their eyes. Daniel Bryan turned not long after that night and was subjected to an embarrassing defeat at WrestleMania which, if anything, permeated with the fans far more than Punk’s 2011 pipe bomb. Ryder was then consigned to Kane’s whipping boy and bit-part player in the ‘Embrace the Hate’ John Cena storyline. In other words, the WWE giveth and the WWE taketh away.
Being internet favourites, a lot has been written about Punk and Bryan in recent months but it is Ryder’s role in all of this which is often forgotten. Through sheer determination, the former Edge-Head had pulled himself up through the ranks from C-List player to title holder with his witty internet show and frat-boy catchphrases. He had made himself into a star, not the WWE. He was there to prove them wrong and, if there’s something Creative and Management don’t like, it’s being proved wrong. Hence the slip-slide down the ranks to the point where, in 2014, he is on an even lower rung of the ladder than three years ago. The fans got behind him to such an extent that he was taken down for the audacity of being popular. Will he ever reach the heights of title holder, or indeed contender, ever again? Probably not.
It is these forgotten men on the rosters of various promotions which, often through no fault of their own, make up the numbers. In the run-up to WrestleMania, it’s all too easy to forget them further as returning icons and Phenoms make their re-introductions to the product for a hefty payday and a huge chunk of the spotlight.
The most obvious one is Dolph Ziggler. God knows what he said at SummerSlam beyond the reported comments but it must have been truly awful because he has gone from World Heavyweight Champion to invisible man in next to record time. He was subject to some seriously unfortunate concussions but it was the events of SummerSlam which started the slide. The fans still cheer for him, as heard at the Elimination Chamber PPV, but management don’t care. They’ve made their decision and, apart from a feud with Damien Sandow which embarrassed both men (not through the wrestling but through the gimmicks) he might even be sailing away to pastures new. He is a consummate worker in the ring, had re-established his character after that unfortunate meeting with some brown hair dye, and all was looking good. Unfortunately, he pissed off the wrong people and, because of that, he warms the bench like an unruly footballer.
Often, in our places of work, we will be overlooked, or we will say the wrong thing to the wrong person and that can be it for us. We will continue to work hard but our card has been checked and we might as well move on. It’s often unfair. It’s often deeply troubling. Sometimes, to take the idea of the soccer player on the bench, they are happy to sit out their contract on £50,000 a week in the UK Premiere League. Who’s right and who’s wrong? If a wrestler is under contract, he can do nothing but sit it out, CM Punk style, until he can move on. Sometimes the soccer players are made to train with the youth team as a final signal they are no longer wanted and, when looking at wrestling, there is a parallel.
Not appearing on television and not having a storyline can be truly awful for pros like Ryder and Ziggler. Being placed in a comedy, losing faction is even worse. Look at Drew McIntyre. He’s gone from Vince McMahon’s ‘chosen one’ to the third wheel of a children’s tricycle. This is no slight on Jinder Mahal or Heath Slater, the latter of which was given the 3MB gimmick after a successful run being beaten down by returning legends two years ago. McIntyre, however, has great talent in the ring and a great look. Unfortunately, he got involved with the wrong woman and now he has to sit back and, in a group of three, watch Slater and Mahal engage in two man tag-team competition. Is this fair? No. Does his personal life reflect on his wrestling career? To us, no, of course not. To management, you bet you arse.
WWE must have it in for UK wrestlers because Wade Barrett, a great, vicious heel when leading The Nexus, has been saddled with such an appalling gimmick that even Creative doesn’t understand it. He hasn’t wrestled in months but appears, with his gavel, and makes some poorly scripted putdowns to the live crowd. It was a writer on this site who said that Creative have got it wrong. Taking the moniker from Bad News Brown, the idea should have been that he was ‘bad news’ for other wrestlers. He should beat them down, attack from behind, cheat to win. He shouldn’t be delivering bad news because that makes him weak. It makes him an easy takedown for a returning legend because, well, why would we think that Barrett could win a match now when he hasn’t been out of his suit for months? This terrible gimmick feels like a punishment but, perhaps, in reality, it’s more the fact that the ex-soap opera writers have no ideas or no imagination and, if you’re not main eventing, you don’t exist.
A quick look at the current roster shows a whole raft of forgotten ones. The obvious joke amongst wrestling fans is that the WWE still has JTG under contract and yet he hasn’t been seen in, well, years. Let us also not forget that he spoke out about payment for mid-carders at WrestleMania. If there’s one thing a big corporation hates, it’s a union man. JTG decided to defend those like him, the Ryder’s, the McIntyre’s and the Ziggler’s and look what’s happened to him. The bench he sits on must be red hot now.
David Otunga, he latterly of the WWE ident alongside Triple H, Undertaker and Chris Jericho, has disappeared off the face of planet but is often seen at ‘Be a Star’ events. His famous wife and Harvard Law Degree have kept him in a job when others might have sailed. If he’s lucky, he could be the next John Laurinaitis.
We also have Brodus Clay. Again, Creative took the correct step in getting rid of that terrible dancing gimmick. Well, they gave it to Xavier Woods, but that’s another thing. Since then, and his heel turn, he’s disappeared, last seen down at NXT. If the writers can’t take a big man and make him a dangerous heel, or at least try it, then I’d hate to have seen some of their soap operas. They might as well have left him as the big disco dancing dinosaur because at least he had a career then. Are we now going to get Triple H on the phone every week telling Brodus his new ‘debut’ has been delayed only for him to appear on a golf cart with bleached blond hair?
The point is though, is that these men are under contract. Unless WWE grants them an unlikely release on their terms, they are stuck there until the contract runs out or they read their ‘future endeavours’ comment on WWE.com. For some, it’s a shame. Yoshi Tatsu has so much to give and yet, from day one, they haven’t known what to do with him. Sometimes, maybe in the case of JTG, they will keep them under contract and let them rot. Soccer clubs around the world do that to troublesome players, those who complain to the press and whinge about wanting to play Champions League football because they are so good. Often, the club consigns them to the scrap-heap and, even with several years left on their contract, let’s them watch their teammate’s play weekly matches. Seeing out the contract becomes a punishment.
That’s why, when looking back at that 2012 episode of Raw, it’s so sad to look at Ryder. He had been consigned to the scrapheap. Creative had nothing for him. So what did he do? He didn’t take ‘nothing’ for an answer and took control of his own career. Yes, he was rewarded with a title run and a tilt at being John Cena’s best friend for six weeks, but, at the back their minds, WWE must have hated it, perhaps in the same way they hate the #yesmovement now. A wrestler not wanting to sit on the bench and take the dollars but who wants to be the best in the world. Who wants to become a legend. Who doesn’t want to be forgotten anymore.
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Ta ta for now and hopefully see you next week.