Zack Ryder's rise within the WWE is nothing short of impressive.
Unhappy with his status as a forgotten cog in the WWE machine -- constantly left off of television broadcasts and little to no merchandise bearing his name -- he decided to take matters into his own hands when the wrestling company's creative team proverbially shrugged their collective shoulders.
Using the video sharing website YouTube as his launching pad, Ryder developed and nurtured his web series "Z! True Long Island Story' at the beginning of 2011. The humorous videos gained steamed and eventually - without the benefit of major TV exposure - more and more fans were showing up to live WWE events with signs bearing Ryder's name.
John Cena - Mr. WWE himself - even took up the cause and was an early proponent of the "Long Island Broski." Even today, he gives nothing but credit where credit is due to Ryder. He was on The Chad Dukes Wrestling Show this week and said, " ... I saw a set of balls. I saw a kid in an era in which everyone is afraid to show their talents." He continued, "I think it would be a huge victory if you see Zack Ryder on the WrestleMania card."
But Ryder's sudden and unexpected jolt in popularity has opened up a 21st century Pandora's box. Apparently under the impression that what worked for one man on a small scale can work for an entire company on one much grander, the WWE has begun plugging its official -- and those of its Superstars, announcers, catering crew, etc. - Twitter account ad nauseam. You're more likely to hear the phrase "trending worldwide" during a Raw broadcast than you are to ever hear someone utter "headlock" or "abdominal stretch" and we have Ryder to blame.
"Are you serious, bro?"
I'm afraid I am.
This isn't meant to browbeat Ryder. His creativity and initiative is absolutely refreshing in what has become a rather stale WWE environment. In terms of character development, risk-taking isn't merely avoided, it's downright frowned upon it would seem.
Ryder has a few years of experience to back that up. He started off busting his hump in not one but two different developmental territories - Deep South Wrestling and Ohio Valley Wrestling - before getting called up to the big show. As a flunky for Edge - alongside then-partner Curt Hawkins - he found some success but despite a tag team championship reign under their belts, the teams of Hawkins and Ryder was split up in 2009.
It wasn't soon after that Ryder debuted a new look and gimmick. His golden locks were trimmed and half of his tights were gone. Looking back, the character was seemingly a response to the overwhelming - and baffling - success of The Jersey Shore ... except that program didn't hit the airwaves until December of that year.
Ryder was ahead of the curve in this respect but it didn't help his standing in the WWE. He treaded water for most of 2010 and things weren't looking well as 2011 began. Cue the beginning of "Z! True Long Island Story."
Since the debut of the web series, Ryder's profile in the company has skyrocketed. Appearances on both Raw and Smackdown are not uncommon and a storyline with United States Champion Dolph Ziggler is definitely showing promise.
The problem stems with the WWE. The same lack of creativity that had the "Long Island Iced-Z" languishing near the bottom of the pack is responsible for the company's recent barrage of Twitter promotion. Unable to think of innovative ways to get the mainstream audience - the people they gained during the Attitude Era and then lost when it came to end - they are simply leeching off of the instrument Ryder used on his path to success.
What worked one will not necessarily work for many. While Ryder's popularity seems natural and organic, the WWE's incessant advertising of "at"-this or "hashtag"-that has all the subtlety of a brick to the small of the back.
I - like Cena - am a huge Ryder fan. He has single-handedly proved that a Superstar can live up to that namesake in spite of a lack of support from the WWE. He did it on his own and - cue the Sinatra - he did it his way.
Now the WWE is trying to make it their way. And failing - as they initially did with Ryder - miserably.
Woo woo woo, you know it.