For years, I have found Ryback to be a very one-dimensional character. He’s “the big guy” and does power moves because he’s strong. He does the “feed me more” fist pump because he’s hungry. It’s everything that one could dislike about Batista, Goldberg and The Ultimate Warrior mixed together into one wrestler.
But everything changed for me after watching WWE Payback on Sunday night…
First, there was his belt, which he said “The Pre-Show Stopper.” That was arguably the first time that Ryback has shown self-awareness (or a sense of humor) on a live event. This is a guy who realizes that he’s on the undercard, and took a gutsy approach in acknowledging it.
Second, did you see how the Chicago fans booed him? He smiled back at them in a taunting way. That was heat and it helped tell the story of the underdog against the giant.
Third, some of his power moves at WWE Payback were inventive, such as the press off the top rope. There aren’t many big guys who go to the top rope in WWE, so it was nice to see something different.
Fourth, due to his size, he is convincing as a legitimate big man. Even if Brian Cage of Lucha Underground, or other people want to discount how tough Ryback truly is, would you ever say anything negative to his face? He is clearly devoted to wrestling as based on his physique. He is not a failed football player or someone pursuing WWE as a backup plan.
While I’m not assuming that Ryback can put on a five-star match with just anyone on the roster, I believe he has all of the tools needed to be one of the top guys in the WWE. Even if the belt he wore at Payback was a knock on his current value, Ryback has done everything asked of him, including the RybAxel tag team; he also changed up his gear to look more traditional as a heel. His promo on “The Secret” may not have resonated with the majority of the fans, but he is clearly an intelligent person that can speak.
In turn, it’s truly time to reinvent Ryback to emphasize these unique attributes of his. He can be a bodyguard or enforcer-type for a top guy, thus making him a major star a la Diesel. He could form a tag team with another “big guy” with the purpose of being dominant, or he could form a tag team with a smaller wrestler, a la Big Cass. Arguably, he could be the leader of a group. If he were a performer that didn’t look good, speak well, or had known issues with substance abuse, there would be a reason to hide Ryback, but none of those issues seem to be there.
Even if WWE continues to keep Ryback where he is now, he still ought to have some great options once his deal runs out. Based on size and look alone, he should be able to thrive in Japan as a special attraction. If he’s okay with taking a pay cut, and they manage to stay in business, he could be a top star in TNA. If ROH needed a heat magnet, he could do exactly what Matt Hardy was doing there a few years ago. In Lucha Underground, he could challenge the aforementioned Brian Cage in a “dream match” of sorts. While the WWE is no longer the land of giants, there is certainly demand elsewhere for a “big guy” that is easy to work with.
After his second consecutive pre-show loss to Kalisto at Payback, and the current controversy surrounding his contract status with WWE, it’s unclear as to what’s next for Ryback. But regardless of what’s coming up for him, we can rest assured that he’s aware of his current positioning and willing to put in the work to move up the card, if an agreement can be reached.