Ryback is unquestionably a man beast. He’s built like a WWE Champion, he has the look of a WWE Champion and he is getting pushed like a WWE Champion. He has a recognisable gimmick; one that the fans seem to enjoy and to relate to. Ryback has had a program involving the WWE Championship in the past and has main evented matches on pay-per-views and both Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown. He is scheduled to face an injured John Cena at Extreme Rules and is positioned to win his first major title in WWE. Is it his time? Will he capture the imagination of the WWE Universe and have a memorable run with the company’s greatest prize or will he fail miserably?
There are many WWE fans who feel that Ryback hasn’t paid his dues to hold a title as prestigious as the WWE Championship. Ryback has been on the main roster of the WWE for a limited amount of time having only debuted this past summer booked as near invincible from the outset. Week after week Ryback wrestled handicap matches on Smackdown against local wrestlers and was going over in a matter of minutes or even seconds. The fact that most wrestling fans overlook is how long Ryback has actually been in the WWE system both as a superstar on the main roster and a developmental talent.
Ryback, whose real name is Ryan Reeves was first introduced to WWE audiences as part of the cast for a reality show on MTV, Tough Enough. The purpose of the show was to find the next big star for WWE to sign to a developmental contract. Reeves was showcased on the fourth season of the series and was pretty successful as he was the last member to be eliminated from the show before the finals. During the filming of the season Reeves would eat an enormous amount of food and even sneak meals behind the trainers back. This was the origins of Ryback’s infamous line “feed me more”. Reeves was a popular contestant and the trainers could see the potential that he had, most notably his size and physical presence.
Reeves would go on to be signed to a developmental contract with WWE. In 2004, at the time Reeves was signed, Ohio Valley Wrestling was the developmental facility for WWE. OVW was well known for teaching the young talent the WWE style. It was not uncommon for new signees to spend time in OVW learning how the WWE produced their matches and the pace that was expected. Many wrestlers who signed were regulars on the independent circuit where the matches were performed in front of modest live audiences and only filmed during special events. The wrestlers who were brought up to the main WWE roster were ingrained with certain traits that WWE expects out of all of its talent. This includes essentials such as not turning your back to the cameras and crafting a match in the allotted time to ensure WWE programming does not overrun.
Reeves flourished in OVW winning several of his initial matches. However his success was cut short when he failed a drug test for WWE and was suspended for thirty days (the standard suspension time for a first time wellness policy violation). Reeves was adamant that his failure was the result of a false positive. A false positive is when a person takes a supplement or other legal vitamin or muscle enhancer that contains ingredients that that are illegal and banned by WWE.
Reeves did return to OVW and formed a tag team with Jon Bolen known as High Dosage. The team was successful and captured the OVW tag team titles. Over time the team fizzled out and lost the titles leading to Reeves being released from his developmental contract in 2007.
Reeves returned in 2008, debuting his character Ryback, the wrestler that we can now see every Monday night on Raw. Ryback was not working under a contract for WWE upon his return to OVW, instead he was working on a day to day basis for OVW independently. It didn’t take him long to turn heads and WWE quickly signed him back up to another developmental deal. WWE terminated their long standing agreement with OVW in 2008 and Florida Championship Wrestling officially became the promotion that handled the WWE developmental talent. Ryback wrestled in FCW from 2008 until 2010 when it was announced that WWE would be abandoning their revamp of ECW on SCYFY and a new show featuring WWE “rookies” would be taking its place. Reeves had dropped his Ryback persona in the previous months and was working under another gimmick known as Skip Sheffield. Through this character Reeves was introduced to WWE audiences. Reeves performance on the show was mediocre and he was eliminated by votes from a WWE panel of pros.
This might have signalled a return to FCW and another developmental run with questionable prospects had it not been for an innovative storyline that WWE decided to push ahead with. The NXT rookies invaded Raw on a fateful night in the summer of 2010 and the fate of the eight former FCW developmental superstars was altered forever. Reeves along with the other rookies would come to be known as The Nexus. The leader of the Nexus was Wade Barrett and their forte was to attack wrestlers on WWE television all the while claiming that they banded together to put their future into their own hands. In reality WWE recognised that they had a crop of young superstars who were ready to be pushed to the forefront while they had the exposure of NXT still attached to their names. By all accounts Reeves was just another member of the group and didn’t have a chance to stand out from the other members. Having eight members there was a very limited amount of time for each individual to develop their promo skills or wrestle singles matches. It was not uncommon for the group to be involved in four to six man tag matches in the events they worked and less emphasis was put on the individual. The WWE had decided to push the group instead of the wrestlers who were in the faction. Reeves was usually one of the most highlighted of the group but It wasn’t long before a knee injury forced Reeves off of WWE television and his future was once again in question.