WWE's treatment of Ryback, Dolph Ziggler and now Daniel Bryan is sabotaging its "best for business" slogan
By Jeffrey Lutz
In an alternate universe, that galaxy's equivalents of Daniel Bryan, Dolph Ziggler and Ryback are thriving as the stars of a professional wrestling company. That inter-galactic organization is thriving after fulfilling the promise of creating new stars without the lukewarm pushes the actual Bryan, Ziggler and Ryback received here on Earth. We've waited for true breakthrough moments from those performers, and have been teased with them frequently, only to see hopes dashed as WWE pulls the plug.
WWE would have you believe that Bryan is the headliner of its show, even though every word uttered on television and every action behind the scenes indicates otherwise. Bryan is the biggest star in the company, but either WWE doesn't realize that or Vince McMahon and the other executives refuse to admit it to themselves. It's difficult to push someone to the moon in October, as fans wait to turn the calendar to a new year, where the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania season await. But Bryan's popularity necessitated a sooner-than-ideal elevation that seems to be happening until a more careful examination takes place.
Having two non-big-four pay-per-view events in three weeks is anything but ideal, but WWE is doing itself no favors by neglecting to promote Battleground, just as it failed to give proper hype to Night of Champions, which should be a marquee event considering its championship ramifications. Instead, WWE is going so easy on the build for Battleground that it appears the company is sabotaging not only the fall months that will be forgotten by January, but also Bryan and his organic approval.
Raw ratings are falling due to the new season of Monday Night Football, and WWE is making declining business a self-fulfilling prophecy by treating its next pay-per-view like a throwaway episode of Main Event. The consequences could be fatal for Bryan's push, because WWE has set itself up to have a microscopic buyrate for Battleground, which will ultimately fall on the shoulders of the supposed centerpiece star. WWE is already confusing fans by writing nonsensical plotlines involving Triple H, Randy Orton, The Shield and Bryan, practically forcing the audience to lose interest against its will.
Bryan has become a placeholder. The reason it has taken three months, and maybe more, for him to become the undisputed WWE Champion is because WWE doesn't want him to be its champion. Unfortunately, putting the title on Orton or someone else would make that philosophy even more transparent than it already is, so WWE is stringing fans along by making them think Bryan's next title match will be the most important. Bryan will probably be permanent champion soon, but it won't matter to many because they've seen Bryan win the title twice already. In this case, you can't take points off the board.
When Bryan does win the WWE Championship, it will probably be as a background player within a larger story line involving people like McMahon and Triple H who regard themselves as more vital to WWE's overall success. Speculation has McMahon returning to assist Bryan and his friends against the (occasionally) evil Triple H/Stephanie McMahon regime, but in that scenario the McMahons are the real stars and Bryan is a replaceable pawn. Fans will probably enjoy seeing him win the WWE championship and keeping it for a while, but not if the trade-off is seeing more of the McMahons in their unnecessary takeover roles. Once that story concludes, John Cena will probably come back to help WWE return to the status quo.
Bryan's circumstances are hardly unprecedented, as we only have to go back about six months to see them placed perfectly into action. Ziggler accomplished the elusive breakthrough moment by cashing in Money in the Bank in front of a raucous night-after-WrestleMania crowd, earning an overwhelmingly positive reaction that would eventually serve as the catalyst for a babyface turn that looked to be the turning point in Ziggler's career.
Of course, that didn't happen. WWE immediately zapped Ziggler of all of his adulation by robbing him of the attributes -- cockiness, bravado, the "Show-Off" factor -- that made him so adored in the first place. He barely had momentum when he went to the injured list with a concussion, and when he returned the momentum was completely gone. A double-turn to finally switch Ziggler to a heel became solely a vehicle to resurrect the floundering career of Alberto Del Rio. WWE has hitched its wagon to Del Rio, and it shows in his clean wins and rediscovery of how to get his character over. Ziggler is in the background of the main-event storyline, probably waiting for a real push that many have lost faith in ever happening.
At least, though, Ziggler and Bryan won championships before their pushes plummeted. Ryback had the makings of becoming a potential top star before timing, along with WWE's reluctance and hesitation, got in his way. Now Ryback is still trying to find his way, probably aided by the presence of Paul Heyman as his mouthpiece and manager.
Ryback may not have possessed the "It" factor and other characteristics it takes to supplant Cena at the top or at least join him there, but fans never got to find out. Timing was his biggest adversary, as WWE refused to pull the trigger on making Ryback its champion for fear of ruining the plans that had The Rock, Cena and C.M. Punk in somewhat of a round-robin tournament to decide the champion at WrestleMania and leading up to the year's biggest event.
Those circumstances certainly did Ryback no favors. He began being compared to Goldberg, his push dampened, and he hasn't reached the top of the card again. Ryback's situation was frustrating because it appeared WWE was going with someone it had little vested interest in before he became a favorite of the fans. It may not have been Ryback, necessarily, that fans were getting behind, but the idea that WWE could make a new star based solely on his ability to get himself over right away. WWE touts that it lets the fans make decisions through their reactions to angles and performers, but recent history negates that claim.
That probably doesn't happen anywhere else. Nowhere else on television is a new and exciting character introduced who immediately ignites fan interest, only before that character is oddly removed from top story lines before the arc is complete. It's a common occurrence, however, in WWE, as we've seen in recent months with Bryan, Ziggler and Ryback. Sometimes these stars recover and sometimes they don't. The best thing would be for WWE to not take them down on the first place, and to follow through on its promise to give fans what they want.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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