On the latest edition of Chasing Glory with Lillian Garcia, Zack Ryder shed some light on a couple much discussed topics from recent wrestling history - his pioneering 2011 YouTube series, Z! True Long Island Story, and what happened to the show & his career after WWE took notice of its success.
In telling Garcia that he’s not upset he’s not currently being used on television, Ryder dove into the tale:
“I was doing the YouTube show and it got to the peak of its popularity before it... went to $#!+, and that whole process where I had to basically hand over my YouTube show. And then I saw all my hard work literally going down the drain, and everything I worked so hard - like my spot on TV, just to get bumped down the card lower and lower. I’ll admit, I was bitter - like why is this happening? I worked so hard, I proved myself. I felt like I was getting punished. And I was definitely bitter for that.”
I’m definitely one of the first people who used it to my advantage, and used it to turn nothing into something. Cause there were web shows before, like Miz and Morrison had their ‘Dirt Sheet’ on WWE.com, but I was doing it all myself... writing, producing... doing the editing, buying the props, whatever props we needed. I was doing it literally all by myself. I got help from a few people, but not the company by any means. It was all me. So I think I was the first person to utilize that and the fans realized, ‘This is guy is doing it on his own. We want to get behind him.’ And without the fans getting behind me, none of this would have happened. I wouldn’t still be here today. There’s no way.
I started in February of 2011, and I want to say maybe like summertime they came to me and said they wanted to put it on WWE.com, and I was like ‘No, YouTube is cool. WWE.com is not where kids are going. I want other people, not just wrestling fans, to find this. I want it to be on YouTube, I want it to be authentic and once I move it over, they’re gonna know it’s not authentic any more.’ And they agreed with me and they were letting me do it, and then they signed this big YouTube deal in 2012 and they needed my show. So I didn’t really have a choice. It was either do the show on our channel, or don’t do it anymore.
And at the time, I didn’t even really want to do it anymore, because the point was to get on TV and I’d gotten there. I was the U.S. Champ for a cup of coffee, but I got there. I was selling merchandise - I didn’t have a t-shirt before that. Shows I wasn’t even at, they were chanting - it was the coolest moment of my career. That whole year was awesome. So I was doing the YouTube show to get on TV, but now what was the point of the YouTube show? I’m already on TV. Now what am I gonna talk about? I can’t talk about how WWE’s not using me... and I wasn’t being negative. I was trying to have fun and poke fun at myself, so now that I’m on TV what am I gonna talk about for another year?
Now the shows had to be edited - they said I’d have creative control, but I didn’t. I had to send them to WWE and they would edit the episodes some times if I said something they didn’t want me to say. And it had to be, like, Thursday morning or Friday morning or whatever - there was a deadline. So it was a job now, and it wasn’t fun, and I think the fans saw that. It’s night and day, the episodes. There were definitely some gems in the last 52, but it wasn’t the same.”
While his unplanned popularity did get him a TV run and a stint with a secondary singles title, WWE taking over his YouTube show also coincided with an angle which saw him frequently destroyed by monster heel Kane, played by romantic interest Eve Torres, and abandoned/betrayed by his kayfabe friend John Cena.
The whys and wherefores of that remain a mystery even to Ryder:
“I don’t know exactly what happened. I know, like, creatively and storyline-wise I was involved in something with Kane and John Cena and Eve, but that’s where I should have - that’s the time when I should have knocked on Vince’s door and been like, ‘Hey, what are we doing here?’ And I just assumed, ‘Ah, it’s gonna get better for me. It’s gonna get better.’ But it never did.”
It did lead to a few regrets he still carries to this day:
“During that time period, I should have went, knocked on Vince’s door and said, ‘Hey. What’s going on here?’ And I didn’t. Was I intimidated? Was I afraid? Maybe. But I didn’t do it, and that’s one of my biggest regrets. Because then I had the ground to stand on. Since then, we’ve built a relationship, but then? When I was at my hottest, if you will, literally selling merchandise, a lot of merchandise - like top three merch seller at one point - I should of went in there, and I didn’t. And that’s on me. That’s nobody’s fault but mine. Or I could have been in better shape, a little bigger. Cause I was still kind of skinnier then. Like now? I don’t think I’m that much different. But ten pounds makes a big difference.”
As he says elsewhere in the interview, he doesn’t hold any grudges. Ryder’s early work on YouTube not only resulted to a long career with the biggest pro wrestling company in the world for him, its influence can be seen in Being The Elite and other vehicles performers use to represent themselves outside of the promotion they work for.
It should also serve as a cautionary tale, though - both that wrestlers need to advocate for themselves backstage, and that sports entertainment is a bottom-line and image-based business.
Check out Ryder’s entire talk with Garcia on Chasing Glory here.