Note that this was written before the announcement of the new Brand Split, which would alter some of my opinions.
A few weeks back, we saw a bunch of names being released, but around the same time it was announced that Ryback would be leaving the company until his contract expired later this year due to some contract issues. This was quite the shock as Ryback had received title shots at back to back pay per views, including the one just a day before the announcement.
Then over the weekend, news broke that Cody Rhodes had asked for and then been granted his release as well. Now this one was a different case as Rhodes had barely been featured on TV recently (save for a spot in the WAY too crowded Intercontinental Title ladder match at “Wrestlemania XXXII”) and had rarely been anything more than a goofy jobber to the midcard stars.
While these are both very interesting cases, there’s something people aren’t seeming to understand: this really isn’t anything new. Wrestlers have left WWE (and many other wrestling promotions) on a consistent basis for decades. This really isn’t anything new but just like everything else today, it’s a lot more publicized because Rhodes could post a big goodbye message on Twitter or Ryback could post a rant on Facebook. That doesn’t mean it’s happening any less frequently, but just that more people can see/hear about it.
Now here’s where things get more interesting. Both of these guys have similar grievances: not enough TV time, their characters not being allowed to evolve, never being given a chance etc. I’m not going to argue with anyone on these cases because almost any wrestler is going to tell you they aren’t being featured enough. That makes sense from their perspective and you’re almost never going to convince any of them otherwise.
However, it’s not like either of them had much going for them. Let’s start with Rhodes, who was just a freaky character who would say weird things and then lose to people. Yeah people remember him as Cody Rhodes, but do you know what they forget about him when he was just Cody Rhodes? They forget that he was really quite boring without a gimmick to back him up.
Yeah people tend to forget this, but Rhodes was REALLY dull as “Cody Rhodes: Guy in Trunks.” Remember when he became Dashing Cody Rhodes or Dr. Doom with the mask and scars that only he could see? Or even the early days of Stardust? Those are the days that people remember fondly for him, not the days where he was Randy Orton’s lackey and that handsome guy who had very little going for him other than just being able to wrestle an above average match. He won a couple of titles but how many of those reigns mean anything? Do you even remember his Tag Team Title reign with Drew McIntyre?
Other than a cool concept for a character with the Dr. Doom stuff and one heck of a run with his brother, it’s not like there’s a lot of stuff to remember from Rhodes’ WWE run. Legacy was a good enough tag team and all but they’re best remembered getting beaten up by Orton to start his big face run. Other than winning the Tag Team Titles on “Monday Night Raw” and being all creepy for a few months, what else is there to remember about him?
At the end of the day, Rhodes is someone who had a nice career but was ultimately a midcard guy. Could he have been something if he was pushed differently earlier in his career? Yeah sure, especially during the Dr. Doom period. I’m sure he could have been worth at least a little something if he hadn’t been stuck with the completely dead end Stardust character (it was at least dead end how they were running the thing) but at the end of the day, that’s what he was stuck doing. Instead of going with that, Rhodes quit and I certainly can’t fault him for doing so if he thought he had better options elsewhere.
Before we move on to the other name, I do at least need to mention Rhodes talking to everyone and pitching ideas to them. While I agree that the wrestlers giving input is a good idea and something that can lead to fun stuff (like New Day or Enzo Amore/Big Cass), I’d point him to CM Punk: a much bigger star who said a bunch of stuff like this and never got anywhere. The wrestlers can complain all they want, but right now they’re seen as nothing compared to the brain trust that is creative and that really isn’t going to change, no matter how brilliant these ideas may or may not have been.
That brings us to what I consider the much more interesting option in Ryback. Now I’ve made no secret of the fact that I think WWE has completely wasted Ryback multiple times of the years (with at least one full column about it). They had something handed to them with John Cena’s injury back in 2012 but instead of going somewhere, Ryback was sacrificed to make sure CM Punk could drop the WWE World Title to the Rock in 2013 because that was the idea they were going for, period and end of all questions.
Things haven’t exactly been great for Ryback recently either though as last year saw him have what could have been a solid Intercontinental Title run canceled when Kevin Owens (a bigger star and a better option with a stronger upside) took the title. Ryback turned heel soon after but couldn’t even beat Kalisto, one of the lamest of all lame duck champions (not his fault) for the title in two attempts. Very soon after that, Ryback was gone.
Even more so than Rhodes, Ryback could have been something big. I wouldn’t have been opposed to him winning the WWE World Title at one point. No he certainly wasn’t one of the best in the world or even one of the best right now in WWE, but there were times when he was on fire and easily could have been one heck of a monster champion for a big name to take down.
After all that, we’re at the whole point of these stories: both of these guys wanted to be higher up on the food chain than they already were. This is something I have absolutely no problem with and it’s something every wrestler should want to be. However, this isn’t realistic for more than one reason.
First and foremost: they weren’t good enough to be the top stars. Yeah this is where a lot of people get confused. It’s not so simple as just throwing the WWE World Title on someone and then expecting everything to be fine (see also Roman Reigns). You have to develop these people to the point that they’re ready to be the top star in the company and ultimately one of the biggest in the world. What people overlook is that not everyone is going to be able to do that because they’re a career midcard wrestler.
The case in point I would suggest to you is one of my all time favorites: Tito Santana. While he never won the World Title and was never really a serious contender, he was an excellent midcard talent who had a great career just going out and having quality matches. As great as Santana was though (and I assure you he was), there were a lot of people who were flat out better than he was at almost everything. Randy Savage had more charisma, Ricky Steamboat played a better underdog and Jake Roberts had better psychology. Of course Santana had awesome talent of his own, but those guys were better than he was.
Questionable gimmick aside, how is this different than Rhodes? Yeah he can have a good match, but others can have better ones. Yeah he has a good look, but others look the same if not better. Yeah he can play a good character, but so can a lot of people under the right circumstances. Rhodes is indeed the son of one of the most charismatic wrestlers of all time and he’s had a very nice career of his own, but that doesn’t mean he has what it takes to be the best in the world. While I can understand a wrestler always wanting to move up, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with playing a supporting role.
There’s one other major reason that these releases don’t matter as much: NXT. You remember NXT. It’s that white hot promotion that is rapidly expanding into another full time brand with a huge roster that seems to sign another top indy name every few weeks. With each new Takeover show, it becomes clearer and clearer that there’s less of a gap between the talent in NXT and on the main roster.
As good as Ryback and Rhodes were, are they better than Austin Aries? Shinsuke Nakamura? Samoa Joe? Finn Balor perhaps? I certainly wouldn’t think so and I can’t imagine WWE thinks so either. Back in the good old days, wrestlers could easily be replaced because the promotion could just go to another company and steal away some talent to take their place. This hasn’t been the case for a long time, but with the rise of NXT, very talented wrestlers with big names are a phone call away from leaving NXT and coming up to the main roster.
With all the talent that’s been signed to NXT, WWE had to make some room on the roster. WWE released a bunch of people a few weeks back and then they were allowed to get rid of Ryback (who is pretty much gone for good barring a surprise) and Rhodes within a few weeks of each other, making them the biggest names to leave. Those are roster spots waiting on some of the new callups to take their places, just like when some talent was jumping from WCW to the WWF and vice versa. The fact that these two wanted out just made things even easier.
Rhodes and Ryback leaving may sound like a big deal but it’s really not going to be a big deal replacing them. We’re in a new wrestling world where there’s an easier path to bringing big names up to the main roster. The two of them could have stuck around for a long time, but it’s not like they were lighting up the world before they left. I’m going to miss Ryback and Rhodes occasionally, but if this helps get Balor and Nakamura to the main roster sooner, it’s quite an easy move to make.
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