The Anti-Antagonist: Time For a Diet

Adam Gorzelsky

RybackBoy…That escalated quickly.

Less than a month ago, I was thoroughly shocked at the sight of Ryback inexplicably staring down Punk at the end of Raw. As speculation immediately ran rampant, I was on record as saying that there was absolutely no chance that Punk would face Ryback at Hell in a Cell…It was too soon…Cena would be ready…Surely this was nothing more than a test for the future…Nothing more than a hotshot moment to create a bit of buzz.

Whoops.

As the weeks went by and it became more and more apparent that this match might happen, the thought never even crossed my mind that Ryback could walk away with a victory…until last week. After seeing Ryback hit Punk with ShellShock I told Chris Cash on VOW Reaction that the enormous snowball of momentum left me with the feeling that the winner of this match was a proverbial coin flip.

The chatroom balked at the idea and I have to admit that I wondered if I simply was a captive of the moment. Nevertheless it’s not that I forecasted this as the best option…I simply viewed the nature of the rapid progression and genuinely believed that the once unthinkable scenario now was a distinct possibility.

Maybe 50/50 was being kind.

I was quite surprised to see Chris Jericho’s recent comments in which he stated the opinion that Ryback should walk away as the champion. It’s not that I was shocked to see him comment on the current state of the product, I simply didn’t expect such an emphatic endorsement of a Ryback victory from someone significantly in tune with the current state of wrestling.

I understand the premise perfectly…That Ryback and his unstoppable character “needs” the victory much more than Punk…That Punk is more capable of rebounding from such a loss than an up-and-coming star whose entire aura depends on a sense of invincibility.

Despite this recognition, I would argue that the win streak itself is less important to Ryback’s success than the overall notion of viewing him as a dominant force. Lock Ryback in the cell with both Lesnar and Punk, only to see him finally succumb after kicking out of a series of F5s, GTSs, and beatdowns from various implements of destruction…Such a “loss” does more for his beast-like character than any squash of the current champion.

This, however, is a secondary issue to Jericho’s overall premise that Ryback should get the victory and the WWE Title in order to begin a reign of terror as WWE’s next mega-star…This premise assumes that Ryback is capable of making that next step at this time, or at least calculates the likelihood of success to be higher than the risk of failure…I simply don’t agree with this premise.

There’s no arguing that Ryback is “over” in the sense of receiving a strong reaction from the crowd on a regular basis. However, there is no evidence that this momentum is sustainable over a long period of time…With such a rapid ascension to the top, it is next to impossible to ascertain whether a new star has been born or lightning simply had been caught in a bottle for a month.

There always are risks inherent with elevating a new superstar, but this short sample size unquestionably heightens that risk substantially. Further compounding this exposure is the collateral damage felt throughout the remainder of the roster because of the nature of the Ryback character.

What happens to Punk? How does a cocky heel respond to this monster who simply decimated him in the center of the ring? A victory with the assistance of Brock Lesnar allows a continuation of Punk’s character and further permits him to put over Ryback by expressing fear of a legitimate 1-on-1 confrontation…A clean loss cripples Punk’s ability to interact.

Does the Rock get squashed at the Royal Rumble? Maybe the Undertaker at Wrestlemania? Is Cena willing to take the fall for this cause? Maybe the answer to all of these questions is yes or at least should be yes…After all, I have been on record as recently as last week stating that the WWE desperately needs to utilize the past to establish the future.

I simply am not convinced that Ryback is this future…I don’t view one month of success as a recipe to induce a complete upheaval of the main event picture for the purpose of shaking things up…Don’t kid yourself, a complete upheaval is what is necessary to go all-in on a mega Ryback push.

Patience is not fatal in this situation, no matter how many people preach doom and gloom to the contrary. Looking unbelievably strong in the face of insurmountable odds places Ryback in a position to prove his staying power in the next few months…It also allows him to continue to establish his dominance while letting the audience know that his eye continues to be on the ultimate prize.

We’re not talking a simple push that easily is reversed should it fall short of expectations….We’re talking a character that necessitates a path of destruction in his wake. Taking a deep breath and a step back to fully assess Ryback’s potential isn’t playing it safe…It’s playing it smart.

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