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Ryback: He Came From Outta the ’90s!

He is an unabashedly destructive force, more beast than man.  His power seems unchecked, and his appetite is boundless.  He has been known by his share of names during his career in the squared circle, but the world knows him best as one: Ryback.

Ryan Reeves wasn’t always a monster of few words, although he has always been voracious.

According to Al Snow, Reeves routinely breaks a sweat while eating, so great is the energy he puts into the task.

And he is always hungry.

Originally appearing as one of the hopefuls during the fourth “season” of Tough Enough in 2004 (the competition was actually a part of Smackdown that year), Reeves managed to impress enough to be signed to a developmental contract.  He trained in Deep South Wrestling before being transferred to Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he wrestled for a time under his real name, before being given the name Ryback (a portmanteau of his first name and his high school nickname, “Silverback”).

Ryback worked a gimmick inspired by the Terminator for a time, before being called up to WWE to participate in the first season of its quasi-reality competition, NXT.  His gimmick in NXT was that of a good ol’ boy named Skip Sheffield, and while he didn’t win, he was called up to the main roster with the rest of the rookies, who formed a heel stable called the Nexus.
Injury sidelined him for a year, and when he returned it was as Ryback again, although this time, it wasn’t as the Terminator, but as a similarly unstoppable creature of rage, and moreover, hunger.  His insatiable appetite became his character–his catchphrase, appropriately enough, became “Feed me more!”

The question you’re probably asking is, what does any of that have to do with the ’90s?  The answer is a man named Bill Goldberg.
Anyone who knows anything about wrestling at least knows of “the man they call Goldberg.” Before he stepped into the squared circle, Bill Goldberg played professional football as a defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams and later the Atlanta Falcons.  A devestating injury cut short his career, and he went into wrestling as an alternative.  Goldberg isn’t the first former football player to try his hand in wrestling.  Other notable former football players in the ring include John “Bradshaw” Layfield, “Big Cat” Ernie Ladd, and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (okay, so he played Canadian football, but still).
Goldberg lacked the investment most others had in the business.  He had no real love for it, but he was good enough to make it through the WCW’s Power Plant training facility and onto the main roster, where he began to rack up an undefeated streak.  The announcers began to keep track of the streak on television, although there’s some dispute over how much of it is simply Tony Schiavone and Bobby Heenan tacking numbers onto his streak in order to puff him up.  According to WCW, his official undefeated streak was 173-0 before losing it and the WCW Championship to Kevin Nash.
Throughout that early going though, Goldberg was portrayed as a strong, silent destroyer, an MMA-themed wrecking machine who came out to the ring, did his business, and left.  Those comparisons were not lost on wrestling fans when Ryback began amassing his own undefeated streak after being called back to the main roster.  In fact, the “GOLDBERG!” chants that greeted the elder star during his time on Nitro were used to taunt the younger man.
But was that particularly fair?  And really, was “Big Hungry” a Goldberg rip, or was he inspired by another, older source?  Personally, I think there’s something else to Ryback than most other people have caught.  T.J., we’ve talked about this before, and you’ve certainly watched more WCW than I ever did (I was more of a WWF die-hard).  What do you think?
The Goldberg comparisons have been drawn since day one. “Goldberg” chants filled the arenas more naturally than when the “Feed Me More” chant started to pick up. Some have disputed the carbon copyness (that’s definitely not a word but I like it)  but in my opinion, the World Wrestling Entertainment was trying to make their version of Goldberg. 
However, I think the comparison ends in the look and intensity. Goldberg’s rise was more organic, it picked up steam over time and the fans decided to ride the Goldberg train as something fresh, new and exciting versus the NWO, which had been getting stale as the main storyline in WCW in the late 90s. As for Ryback, maybe it’s my bias to wrestling in the 90s and early 2000s, but he feels too pre-packaged. Goldberg took a steady climb to the top until the intense fan reactions basically forced them to make him a main eventer. The night he defeated Hulk Hogan in the Georgia Dome on Nitro remains one of my all-time favorite wrestling moments. There was a legitimate electricity that night that could never be matched.

Ryback, on the other hand, was riding along on his undefeated streak for a few months, sometimes beating two or three guys at the same time. Okay, he’s a monster I get it. But then recently he was forced in the main event picture but not because the fans clamored for it but because ratings had been low and Vince needed someone not named John Cena to go after CM Punk’s title. So then when you and I were talking about the comparison, you brought up another singular named human wrecking machine meant to strike fear in everyone. Ladies and gentlemen, that man is Zeus!
Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr. played Zeus “The Human Wrecking Machine” in the 1989 film No Holds Barred. Hulk Hogan as superstar wrestler Rip, beat the odds and defeated Zeus, an insane ex-con, blind in one eye, who had killed a guy in the ring. He had a ‘Z’ shaved into his head too to show he wasn’t kidding around. 
It was a Vince McMahon financed project and to cross-promote his feature film, Zeus made his way into the squared circle for a “real life” challenge to the immortal Hulk Hogan. He was unstoppable, no selling 95 percent of moves while his offense consisted of awkward strikes, a bearhug, and choking wrestlers on the mat. I had forgotten about Zeus and initially thought Frankie was crazy to compare him with Ryback But then I started to watch some promos he did with the Macho Man and then I started to see it…

The huffing and puffing, the way he stands, and the nonsensical things he seems to be saying…can you see it too? The physical appearance and the quirks are interestingly similar. Zeus was put into the main event scene, albeit just to put over No Holds Barred, while Ryback was thrown into the main event scene as the WWE, in my opinion, throws something against the wall and see if it sticks. Basically, Goldberg seemed authentic, while Ryback seems like Zeus…someone we’re told to believe is a monster instead of someone we choose to believe is a monster. 

So, what’s next? 

I’m hoping for something along the lines of this…

Ahahaha, yes, Gillberg.

If Vince McMahon were really smart, he’d bring back Duane Gill, this time as Gillback.  But that ship has sailed, as Ryback’s undefeated streak has ended at the hands at CM Punk (and a crooked referee named Brad Maddox).  It’s for the best, as the streak would have booked WWE into more of a corner the longer it would have continued.  (Booking the Ryback/Punk match was a trial in itself, and it was reported the Brad Maddox finish was a creative Hail Mary pass).

Yes, my first thought upon seeing Ryback was, “This is the new Goldberg?  He’s more like the new Zeus!”  The dead-eyed stare, the jerky physical motions, the far more primal persona…Ryback was the second coming of Zeus, except he could actually work.  (Until his match with CM Punk, that was arguable, but Reeves didn’t embarrass himself, and showed he could work a high-profile match while protecting his partners.)

What is the appeal of the Ryback anyway (thanks to Daniel Bryan for necessitating the use of an article)?  How does it tie into the appeal of Goldberg?  Grantland correspondent David Showalter (aka “The Masked Man”) claimed that Ryback’s appeal, much like Goldberg, was in his simplicity, that he appealed to fans with a strong nostalgia for the ’80s and ’90s.  And yet, the ’90s was the decade when fans demanded more complexity in their wrestling.  So who knows what anyone really wants anymore?
It’s sad when that’s a rhetorical question.
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