In February 2011, Zack Ryder launched his YouTube show entitled Z! True Long Island Story. At the time of the shows debut, Ryder was sparingly seen on WWE TV. His home in ECW had been off the air for almost a year and his appearances on NXT and Superstars were hardly viewed by any casual fans. Surprisingly, the show soon became a smash hit. Within months of its debut, episodes of ZTLIS were receiving hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. The success of the show along with Ryder's Twitter account began to make Ryder a huge star in the WWE, even though he was almost never on television.
By the fall of 2011, many fans agreed that Ryder was on his way to becoming a huge star, even a future main eventer. "We Want Ryder," chants drowned out arenas, merchandise flew off the shelves and Ryder finally began to appear on WWE television and better yet, actually picked up some victories.
But the WWE still struggled to accurately utilize Ryder as a legitimate competitor. At Survivor Series, which was held in Ryder's backyard at Madison Square Garden, the WWE selected John Morrison to compete against Dolph Ziggler for the United States Championship. Although Ryder did appear after the match concluded, it was puzzling that the WWE would not have Ryder in the match at the place where he would surely be the most popular. Although Ryder was selling more merchandise then anyone not named John Cena, The Rock or CM Punk, the WWE still did not feel comfortable in making Ryder a legitimate player in the WWE.
At the end of the night, the WWE would get a huge wakeup call on just how popular Ryder was however. When the Rock addressed the MSG crowd at the end of the show, he was drowned out by "We Want Ryder" chants. The Rock was by far the most popular WWE superstar at the time, and typically the crowd was silent for his promos, waiting for him to shout his numerous catchphrases. Maybe that moment finally got the message across to the WWE, maybe they finally noticed that Ryder was a top merchandise seller and one of the most influential athletes on Twitter (according to Sports Illustrated). Whatever it was, Ryder finally got his chance and was crowned United States Champion when he pinned Ziggler at TLC in December.
While most fans anticipated that the US title was just the start for Ryder, it would end being as high on the card as he would get. Soon Ryder was put in a disastrous program between Kane, Eve and John Cena. Although working with the company's top dog in Cena would appear to be a benefit for Ryder, it ended up being a huge detraction, as Ryder ended up being a pawn in an awkward love triangle with Eve and Cena and as a dummy that Kane could demolish in his path to Cena. Ryder would lose the US Title to Jack Swagger in January and would be further embarrassed by both Kane and Eve.
After taking the pin at Wrestlemania for team Teddy, Ryder began to make his descent back down the card. Although his feud with Kane and Eve probably hurt him in the long run, it at least kept him featured on the WWE's top shows. Now that it was over, Ryder began to appear sporadically, mostly in bit parts or the occasional squash match. A short lived feud with Antonio Cesaro went nowhere, and Ryder is used almost exclusively now as a jobber used to make monster heels such as Mark Henry and the Big Show look more imposing.
So what exactly happened to Zack Ryder? In an era where the WWE is desperate for young marketable faces, Ryder seemed like a perfect fit. Ryder was just 26 years old when he won the US Title, he sold tons of merchandise, and most importantly, he was over with the majority of the hardcore fans. The hardest thing to do in the WWE these days is to get over as a face with the hardcore audience. A key reason why some of the top faces in the WWE have failed to get over with the audience is because they have failed to gain the support of the hardcore fan. Alberto Del Rio, Sheamus and Ryback have all had their ups and downs as top faces. Zack Ryder achieved something that none of those guys have done, and Ryder barely even appeared on WWE Television!
Ryder as a performer may have not been spectacular, but he was more than competent in the ring, had solid microphone skills and was tremendous at promoting himself. If he had the right push behind him, there was a good chance that he could get over on a main event level. Even if he didn't it would be foolish to not even try, right? Well, that is what happened to Zack Ryder.
Why did this happen? It appears painfully obvious that someone in the WWE is not a fan of Zack Ryder. Someone with a lot of pull or backstage power did not want to see Zack Ryder ascend up the ranks as a face, and it looks that backstage politics may have crushed Ryder's momentum.
What is so perplexing about the Zack Ryder situation is that whether you liked him or didn't it was undeniable that he made money for the WWE. He sold so much merchandise that the WWE would feature collections of his merchandise on commercials for sales at WWE.com, making him on par with guys like Cena and Punk. Why would the WWE want to sabotage someone who was so profitable for them? I refuse to believe that the WWE just screwed up the booking for Ryder because they didn't know what they had. Vince McMahon may have some wacky ideas, but he does know how to make money, and Ryder was doing it with minimal exposure.
Sometimes it seems like Ryder isn't even involved in the WWE anymore. He has only wrestled four matches on Raw or Smackdown in 2013, and it has been almost a year since even the sprinklings of a storyline have developed around him. His YouTube show, at once creative and entertaining, was wasted when the WWE began to personally produce it instead of Zack himself and is now canceled.
Indeed, Ryder is still in the WWE, mostly appearing on Saturday Morning Slam. There is even still a significant interest in Ryder, the single he released Hoeski quickly cracked the iTunes top 100. However, it is clear that the WWE has gone in a different direction, and it is likely the Ryder ship has left the dock and isn't coming back anytime soon. Even if he gets a push down the road, so much damage has been done to his career that without a gimmick change, it is doubtful that he will ever be as over as he was during Survivor Series when the fans wanted to see him more than the Rock.