It has happened. Movements to eventually supplant John Cena as the WWE's top star are in their embryonic phases, and the beneficiary of these movements appear to be the similarly muscle-bound yet strangely likable monster in Ryback.
Ryback, real name Ryan Reeves, has been a favorite of Vince McMahon dating back to his days as Skip Sheffield. Backstage reports of McMahon's intentions to make him a top star in the future (h/t Wrestlezone) were somewhat surprising given the strong southern flavor of the Sheffield character coupled with McMahon's well-documented irreverence for what he condescendingly refers to as southern "wrastling."But Reeves was repackaged earlier this year following a tricky ankle injury in 2010 that left him on the shelf for well over one year.
By then, the Skip Sheffield character's southern flavor was drastically downplayed as a member of heel faction the Nexus. In fact, being taken out of the picture may have served as a blessing in disguise for the physically imposing grappler, as it gave the WWE a chance to start fresh with a bigger, stronger, faster singles gimmick.
Cue the generic rock music, invisible pyro and an intense stare at the hard camera, and in a matter of months Reeves went from "Yep, yep, yep!" to "Feed me more!"
As Ryback, Reeves has gone on to work a series of matches against WWE also-rans (often as many as three per match) and has now left a body count befitting of a future WWE Champion. Reeves has plenty going for him when it comes to his potential as the WWE's top star. At 30, he isn't ideally aged given his position as a star of the future, yet he has spent his entire professional wrestling career learning the ropes in the WWE developmental system dating back to his days on WWE's Million Dollar Tough Enough in 2004 (h/t YouTube).
Reeves then bounced around Deep South Wrestling, Ohio Valley Wrestling and Florida Championship Wrestling—all previously or currently official farm territories of the WWE—before getting his big break on the once nationally televised developmental show WWE NXT.
If the WWE developmental system gave out undergraduate degrees for wrestling, by now Reeves would be closing in on a doctorate. This is a would-be distinction that fellow rising stars Daniel Bryan and Sheamus do not even come close to possessing.
The Ryback gimmick is already beginning to win fans over in droves through WWE's familiar formula of force-feeding their fanbase with a handpicked star. The formula didn't go over so well with Lex Luger, but it has worked with previous top stars such as Triple H.
Once peppered with sarcastic "Goldberg" chants by jaded fans given the similarities in booking he shared with the once white-hot, undefeated WCW star, early indicators in ratings and live reports now suggest that the always-stubborn WWE Universe is finally beginning to succumb to what has apparently been academic for years.
Ryback has been strategically booked as both the unstoppable force and the immovable object. By now, WWE's counterproductive tendencies of booking stars on the rise should have kicked in and seen Ryback suddenly lose a match after breaking one of their time-honored codes of backstage etiquette (h/t B/R) or just because Vince McMahon changed his mind again.
But Ryback seems to be the exception in this case as his journey to the top of the WWE has now gone from dormant to destiny.