I remember where I was when I first saw the pilot episode of ‘Z! True Long Island Story.” I was bored at work, in Kansas City and in my last semester as a college student. Scrolling through Twitter, I saw a link by CM Punk encouraging people to watch it. Having nothing to lose except the productivity of doing all the TPS reports I should have been focusing on, I clicked on it. What I found was something so unabashedly awkward, no-budget and homemade that it couldn’t be anything but completely charming. I was instantly won over.
Zack Ryder was a completely naked and open wrestler. Probably one of, if not, the first in the “reality” era of professional wrestling. Before Punk’s promo on revealing the partial ins-and-outs of the business, Ryder made jokes about how no one pushes him, he’s trying to get over, and how the ball was being dropped on him. He joked about jobbing. “Hey, so I had a match tonight! I lost, of course” still makes me laugh. When his girlfriend broke up with him and moved out of their apartment, he went on… and on… and on, about it, on Colt Cabana’s podcast, on Twitter, on his show. Seeing as how I had my own share of female fury during that era (and before that era, and frankly, probably every era until they scatter my ashes in the Pacific) I found a brother in him.
Apparently a lot of other people did, too. His videos began getting more and more attention. His Twitter account grew to have as of this writing over 995,000 followers. Fans wrote songs for him, included videos claiming to be the “Broski of the Week,” carried signs to wrestling events in the hopes of having theirs featured on the show. A copycat show entitled “The Mid-Card Mafia” debuted and was quickly undebuted after management decided it wasn’t as cute. Hell, his fans even shouted down the freaking Rock at Survivor Series when, for some reason that I’m sure makes sense, he was left off the card in his hometown. He was an honest-to-Ultimate Warrior sensation. CM Punk mentioned him in his panel interruption at San Diego Comic Con shortly after his mainstream media frenzy-
A new day. A new regime. Things aren’t the same. Well, he was right about that, they got worse. Anyway, it seemed the WWE listened. They put Ryder in a feud with his real-life friend and current US champion Dolph Ziggler, wherein at TLC in December of 2011, less than a year after his humble YouTube show with basic editing and filmed on the Flip (which they don’t even make anymore), he won the title.
Listen to that reaction, the fans counting along with the ref. Look at his proud dad, practically having a heart attack watching his son win his first singles championship on pay-per-view. You can’t write that kind of Hollywood ending, and you can’t plan that kind of audience enthusiasm. That kind of stuff is magic, it’s a spark that doesn’t happen for everyone. When it happens, you get on your knees and thank Pat Patterson for that luck. (wait, don’t)
So the WWE promptly fed him to Kane, used him to get Eve Torres over and to make John Cena look even more like a smug, lantern-jawed ass. But hey- they had their reasons. Look at all the merchandise that Eve Torres moves! Look at the huge pops that John Cena gets! Look at how evil and hated Kane is now! Look at the long, acclaimed reign of Jack Swagger as the US champ! Look at how much better the Royal Rumble was for Ryder not being in it. That way, they could have put the spotlight more on Sheamus, the most beloved new face since Scott Putski!
Ah, who needs all the merch sales of headbands, sunglasses, t-shirts, foam hands and what have you? Who needs the fans to think that they actually have a say in which superstars they see more of? Who needs relatable babyface underdogs? Who needs to make the dream come true of a clean-cut kid from Long Island who loves his family, the business, and probably ranks as one of the safest superstars out there aside from Punk and Bryan (as far as not getting caught with blow and Lindsey Lohan)?
Well… the WWE does.
And so it ends. Realistically, it couldn’t have lasted forever. I’m kind of surprised he kept it up as long as he did, especially when he started to get some career momentum and thus, presumably, less of a reason to do it and less free time. I’m also surprised he kept doing it when the WWE co-opted the show and used the goodwill to spring off an entire channel to show you what the Usos do in their freetime and how stupid their own product is, as commented on by a Jesus freak former junkie and a Triple H puppet.
People are reacting to this as if he’s about to get future endeavored. I doubt that. I’m sure he moves a bunch of merchandise, although considerably less than he did or could have. And in doing so, they would just anger the fanbase that suspects, rightly, that the WWE blew it. Plus, they would just be inviting TNA to hire him and rename him Zach Rider. In reality, Ryder may just be getting a new gimmick. Despite being an aspect of the culture since the early ’00s, and despite Ryder using the gimmick before “Jersey Shore,” the vain, stupid guido stereotype is inexorably linked to the MTV show which is now cancelled and quickly circling the drain of public awareness along with Ozzy Osbourne’s family and the cast of the “Real Word 87.” Or maybe Ryder is going to take a page from people like John Morrison, MVP, Beth Phoenix, and at one-point CM Punk and just… leave. Take a break. Come back, or not. Hell, I couldn’t blame him if this experience soured him, and he just took his savings, opened up a fitness club in Long Island and hung out with his friends and family for the rest of his life. There’s worse ways to end up than a retiree at 27.
Whatever he ends up doing, I hope he ends up happy doing it. He wasn’t the superstar we deserve, but he’s the one we needed.
Tags: Beth Phoenix, cm punk, Dolph Ziggler, Eve Torres, jack swagger, john cena, John Morrison, kane, mvp, Pat Patterson, sheamus, The Rock, the usos, triple h, Ultimate Warrior, vince mcmahon, WWE, zack ryder