The Anti-Antagonist: I’m Still Hungry

Adam Gorzelsky

WWE RawBefore I begin, I’ve taken the liberty of creating an alternate, shorter version of the column for all of the tl;dr people out there. You can check that out by clicking here. For everyone else, let’s go…..

Although it was somewhat expected from reports earlier in the day, I have to say that one of my favorite moments from this Monday’s Raw was the one night return of the man they call Vader. Sure, this partially was the product of nostalgia as I fondly remember being fascinated…and somewhat terrified…by this large man in a strange mask doing moonsaults around a WCW ring like a friggin ninja grizzly bear. Because of him, I managed to train my previously incapable fingers to form a V…Yeah, my childhood wasn’t overly exciting.

Apart from this nostalgia, I enjoyed seeing Vader because it was an opportunity once again to see a true character on TV…to hearken back to days when the usage of one’s real name was a solid indicator that he was about to be squashed on an episode of Saturday morning Superstars…I’m looking at you Duane Gill.

Sure, WWE does have its fair share of “characters” at the current time, with mainstays like the Funkasaurus and Santino Marella immediately coming to mind. However, in a company predicated upon the concept of sports entertainment, the lack of colorful figures making a significant impact on the roster is rather conspicuous…Maybe this is part of the reason why I have loved the holy hell out of Ryback for quite some time now.

Without question, I have developed a consistent pattern of excitement as it pertains to my Raw viewership the past few weeks. I look forward to two specific segments each week and hope for the best the remainder of the night…not that I don’t enjoy the rest of the show…I simply know ahead of time that two particular portions of the evening will provide me with guaranteed entertainment.

It should come as no surprise that this first bastion of excitement relates to any and all segments involving Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, AJ, Kane, their mothers, fathers, distant cousins, or any person who could shed further light on what has become the current gold standard of storylines and in-ring action…It was close, but I extended my hitting streak of mentioning this feud to four weeks.

Aside from this program, I am being perfectly honest in saying that I look forward to seeing the weekly Ryback dismantling every Monday. I’ve heard the negative feedback and frankly, I had the same reaction when we first began to see him on a regular basis…We’ve seen this squash match formula a lot recently from the likes of Brodus Clay and the artist formerly known as Lord Tensai…As such, I wasn’t particularly intrigued to realize that Ryback apparently would be bringing more of the same.

What I’ve come to recognize though, is the simple fact that the Ryback matches have not been more of the same. Whereas Tensai and Brodus utilized squashes as a short term means of being introduced to the audience, Ryback has integrated the concept into the fabric of his character. He’s been asking to be fed more and specifically referenced facing a third superstar this past Monday, leading me to believe that the supply of easy paychecks to local Indy wrestlers may begin to reach epic proportions.

While this concept of ever-increasing handicap numbers inevitably will delay Ryback’s foray into legitimate competition, I for one am in no rush to see him move past this portion of his development. His matches are a spectacle, involving feats of strength that can’t help but leave live crowds gasping in awe…I understand that legitimate questions remain regarding his ability to transition into the main roster, but for now, I’ll enjoy the fact that he provides entertainment in its purest form.

Which brings me back to my original point at the outset of this column…Ryback is a character…Every time he talks to himself, or marches around the ring with multiple dead presidents perched on his shoulders, he further establishes his persona as an unstoppable, machine-like juggernaut. The proper establishment of this character provides instant intrigue to every match, feud, or promo that is to come in the near or distant future.

There absolutely is no question that Ryback is going to have to start selling at some point in time. What’s interesting is the fact that the question of when and how this occurs can become a storyline in and of itself because of his character. We simply knew that Brodus and Tensai would drop the squash mentality once they faced legitimate competition…If booked correctly, this absolute certainty would not and should not be present with Ryback. For instance, if he truly is machine-like, he could have a hidden weakness that takes some time to be discovered and exposed. This accomplishes the feat of continuing to allow Ryback to maintain his dominance, while also providing a storyline (albeit fantastical) explanation for his ultimate ability to be defeated.

I don’t mean to play fantasy booker…I merely pose this possible scenario to illustrate the flexibility that exists when a wrestler couches his abilities inside of a character. In the current climate of social media, the temptation certainly is present to avoid an over-the-top moniker in order to lessen the shock factor when kayfabe is broken. Nonetheless, colorful figures always have been woven into the fabric of professional wrestling because of the added dimension provided to a superstar’s on-screen persona.

As an ode to this tradition, Ryback has piqued my interest on many levels. He certainly has miles to go before he can be considered a superstar or even the next big thing…In the meantime, there’s little question that I’ll be glued to my TV waiting to see how many Indy lambs are sacrificed on a given week….Feed… Me… More!

As usual, comments and feedback always are appreciated here or on Twitter. Also, don’t forget to listen to the latest episode of Virtually Reality featuring myself and fellow columnist Martyn Nolan. Feedback and storyline suggestions for the show also are greatly appreciated!

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