“Start Full, End Empty” – Ryback
The quote above is the latest catchphrase used by the brand new Intercontinental Champion Ryback. The basis of the phrase is that he’s determined now to leave everything in the ring, and give it all for the WWE Universe. It’s a cool phrase that has a good meaning and can eventually sell some t-shirts. For me though, when I see Ryback, I see the opposite of that quote. I see someone that started empty, and can now finish full. It’s something that’s really made me pull for The Big Guy.
Ryback actually started as Skip Sheffield, who was on the original NXT and in the original Nexus group. However, after a devastating leg injury at a house show against The Hart Dynasty, he wasn’t seen again until April of 2012 as now Ryback. In six short months, and due to a freak John Cena injury, Ryback found himself in the WWE Title picture against CM Punk. Ryback was one of the hottest acts in WWE, maybe the single hottest act, during that time period. He was riding an undefeated streak and chants of “Feed Me More!” rocked arenas from coast to coast. WWE were locked in on plans for Punk though and they weren’t prepared for the surge that was Ryback. So Ryback lost unceremoniously at the Hell in a Cell PPV. He followed that up with two more losses to Punk, along with multiple losses to The Shield in six-man matches.
Ryback inexplicably turned heel in April of 2013, probably because WWE realized they had burned all their bridges with his popularity and momentum due to an alarming amount of losses, and felt they had no other choice. This though, is where the true story starts.
I was a huge Ryback fan. I thought he had a great look, great build, his mannerisms were entertaining and I really enjoyed how they would “feed him” two or three enhancement guys at once and he would just run roughshod through them all. It was after he turned heel that I finally had a chance to meet him a couple times through various connections. As it would be, Ryback was not the nicest guy in the world. To call him a real jerk would be putting it mildly. WWE superstars have bad days just like anyone else, I get that, but he took it to another level. These weren’t just “bad days” occasions. So combine that with the fact that Rybaxel (his midcard tag team with Curtis Axel) wasn’t going anywhere at this point, my interest in Ryback was minimal to say the least.
After wrestling through some injuries that weren’t known publicly, Ryback took some time away from the company and finally returned in October of last year. He was returning to his roots of being a babyface and the crowd in San Antonio gave him a hero’s welcome. I was surprised to see the fans embrace him so quickly again, but on the other hand, I couldn’t help but wonder if he was the same miserable guy I had seen a year or so earlier. Then, something interesting happened.
I watched the promo above that was exclusive to WWE.com. Most people may not have seen it, but it’s one of the most genuine promos I’ve ever seen. You don’t fake emotion like that. Especially when you’re built up as a machine. I could honestly convince myself he was talking to me directly during this promo, apologizing for what he had become, and telling me how he was going to make up for it. Then there was the tremendous podcast he did with Chris Jericho (a must listen that can be found here) where he described his story in full and really became someone that anyone and everyone could pull for. This is a hero for kids and an inspiration to adults who might be down on their luck. This kind of story translates well in wrestling, but it transcends wrestling. It’s just a great LIFE story.
I’ve been fortunate to meet Ryback again since his new transformation, and I again can honestly say that I’ve never seen an individual do a 180 the way Ryback has. The guy I’ve met now is a completely different guy than the one I met previously. We’ve had a couple really good, brief conversations about said transformation and I’m truly happy for his success now. You should be too. This is a man who started empty and broken down so quickly in his career, but now can finish full and become one of the larger than life characters that WWE is famous for making.
Ryback winning the Intercontinental Championship inside the Elimination Chamber will hopefully be a career making moment for him. Before Daniel Bryan got unfortunately hurt again, it seemed WWE was intent to making the title be as prestigious as it once was. Now that Ryback is the champion, those plans shouldn’t be changed – they should be enhanced.
The Big Guy’s story should be spotlighted. Not only is this a champion that is determined to leave everything in the ring during every match he has, but this is a guy who’s rise and fall and subsequent rise again, can show and tell the WWE Universe that if you’re down, you don’t have to stay down. Once you become a certain way, it’s hard to be willing to change that. You get set in your ways. Ryback deserves so much credit for seeing inside himself and knowing what was getting in his way, and using that as fuel to rebuild back to what he once was.
It was poetic that his first night as IC Champ was in the same city of San Antonio, who 7 months earlier started this transformation for Ryback when they welcomed him back with open arms. Monday night, they welcomed him back even louder as a champion.
Ryback may not be your prototypical IC champion with the likes of Bret, Shawn, Razor, Jericho or even recent guys like Dolph. He is someone that will carry the title with pride like those legends have, and if given time with the title, will help get it back to where it once was. Not with his wrestling, but with his story.
I hope WWE “feeds him more” for a long time as champion. He’s earned it finally.