wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: Can Zack Ryder Be a Main Eventer?

May 15, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Zack Ryder

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

If you have one of those queries searing a hole in your brain, feel free to send it along to me at [email protected]. Don’t be shy about shooting those over – the more, the merrier.

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It’s Saint Jimmy:

Four of the recently released WWE wrestlers, Heath Slater, Curtis Axel, Curt Hawkins, and Zack Ryder, have all had long runs as jobbers and/or comedy acts. Do you think any or all can now transition into serious wrestlers, and even be legitimate title contenders somewhere else, or will they be hopelessly typecast as their comic WWE personas forever?

I know the previously heel Sheepherders became (and remained) the comic Bushwhackers upon joining WWE, but has any act ever changed from comedy to serious, succeeded, and never went back?

When trying to think of comedy wrestlers who transitioned into serious roles, the very first name that came to mind was current WWE Champion Drew McIntyre, who was a goofball jobber in the Three Man Band from 2012 until the company cut him from his contract in 2014. After kicking around the indies for a few years, he returned to the E with a new attitude, and, perhaps more importantly for the company’s executives, a new body. Once that happened, the promotion was willing to accept him as a top guy. Granted, it’s difficult to say whether he can be called a success, because there are currently external factors that prevent his performance from being measured by traditional metrics. However, just in terms of how he’s being booked by the company, he’s definitely turned things around.

To a lesser extent, you could say that another former member of 3MB, Jinder Mahal, did the exact same thing, including the bit about the new body. Granted, he’s washed out and has yet to return to the main event after his one WWE Championship reign, but he got further than anyone would have expected given that, at one point in his career, he was playing second fiddle to Hornswoggle during the only WeeLC match in WWE history.

Really, anytime that somebody has overcome a history of being an underneath guy with a less-than-serious gimmick, it seems to have only come after stepping out of the limelight for a period of time. I’m wiling to be corrected, but offhand I cannot think of somebody for whom a switch just flipped and the fans accepted him as a top-flight star after an extended run being used and abused to get others over. Granted, there are some top guys who have managed to work a lot of comedy into their acts – Mick Foley, Kurt Angle, Steve Austin, and the like – but they were established main even talent who incorporated comedic skits into their larger act instead of being portrayed as outright jokes.

With that said, I have a hard time believing that anyone from the quartet of Slater, Axel, Hawkins, and Ryder will be able to achieve high level success right away. It will likely take some time for them to rebuild themselves. In the case of Axel, it may be too late, as he’s already 40 years old and would be 43 or 44 by the time he managed to conclude a Drew McIntyre-esque indy run. Somewhat ironically, I would predict that Hawkins – who was the lowest on the pecking order of the four – might have the easiest time reinventing himself simply because he was so under the radar during this past run that there are probably large swaths of the WWE Universe who wouldn’t even recognize him. (Let’s face it, not that many people are watching Main Event.)

I do think that these four will be able to have solid careers in professional wrestling for as long as they might want them, but I have a hard time believe that they’ll be at the top of the card for a major promotion anytime soon.

Jeff is taking on all comers:

How is it decided what titles are true “world heavyweight” titles? I’m assuming that, just because a promotion uses the term “world title” it doesn’t mean winning that championship means you’re one step closer to catching Ric Flair’s record. So what makes a title a “world title,” and what current titles would be considered “world titles” outside of the two top WWE titles?

There are no fixed, objective criteria regarding what is and what isn’t a world heavyweight title. Every individual promotion gets to determine whether their title is called a world title or not, and there is not an independent group of wrestling journalists or historians who have gotten together to determine whether the promotions’ designations are legitimate.

The only real effort by a third party to determine which world title labels are legitimate and which world title labels are not comes form the pages of Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine, which has tracked what it considers to be “world titles” since the 1980s. However, PWI‘s criteria seem to have varied greatly over the years (and are rarely explicitly stated), meaning the ultimate determination seems to be based more on what they want to cover in their pages than the real-world importance of the title.

Generally, it does seem that fans who are concerned about this sort of thing are more willing to accept a title as a “world title” if it is recognized in more than one country and is defended outside of its home country on a somewhat consistent basis. In part due to this Ring of Honor was very careful not to call its main title a world championship until it was actually defended outside of the United States, but even then there isn’t a hard path to being a world championship. After all, the line would be pretty hard to draw. How many countries does a title have to be defended in before you call it a world title? Does it just have to be defended there as a one-off, or do you need the foreign promotion to recognize it in a more encompassing manner? How do you account for the fact that championships could move in and out of world title status, and when exactly does that occur?

As an aside, examining the record held by Ric Flair which is referenced in the question shows just how malleable the definition of a world title and a world title reign can be. Depending on how you count things, you can get the Nature Boy over twenty world title reigns, even though WWE will only refer to him as a sixteen-time champion, which is based on a different count than what WCW used for Flair when he was under contract to them just a year and change before his return to WWE.

Michael K. is comin’ to your town in a pink Cadillac:

Was there a more oddly booked (for lack of a better term) champ in wrestling history than the Honky Tonk Man? I mean in this regard: Dude is basically a jobber. Granted he had a gimmick but was for all intents and purposes a jobber. Then, overnight, he becomes not only the IC champ but the longest reigning IC champ of all time, and, upon losing the title, is basically a jobber again and never a serious singles title threat again. Even Santino won matches before or after his mid-card title reigns.

I don’t know that I would call Honky’s booking “odd.” Unique, maybe, but “odd” puts a negative spin on it, and there is no indication that what the WWF did with the Honky Tonk Man didn’t work. The crowd reactions to him as champion were always what the company wanted, and he was able to main event small-market house shows with the Intercontinental Title with those house shows doing pretty well at the box office by all indications. The whole heat behind his heel run as champion was that he was supposed to be an undeserving, cowardly heel who kept failing up. It made sense, and it was effective, at least for a secondary championship.

What I would call odd is WWE’s attempt to do more or less the exact same gimmick when Mike the Miz was the WWE Champion in 2010 and 2011. Though Miz wasn’t exactly a job guy before he won the championship, he only won the title by sneakily cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase, which really should be a chickenshit heel move even though WWE has never fully committed to portraying it that way. Then, once he won the title, he was booked ridiculously weakly, including almost being beaten by a sixty-year-old announcer on several occasions and being defeated by the likes of Edge and the Great Khali in the buildup to his Wrestlemania championship match with John Cena, then only defeating Cena due to the interference of the Rock.

Miz’s whole reign felt like an effort to recreate HTM on a world championship level, which was an odd gamble heading into Wrestlemania in light of the fact that there had been no prior indication that an undeserving champion gimmick of this nature would work on the highest level of the largest promotion in the world. Ultimately it didn’t really seem to work all that well, either, as both business and critical response to the run were tepid, and the fact that Miz was, at the time, one of the few heel champions in history to walk out of Mania with his reign in tact is overshadowed by the fact that the Rock was on the show.

Mohamed wants to mix it up about mixed matches:

Why in mixed tag matches that the women beat up menu way to easily but when men try it can’t happen, other promotions make it even but not WWE.

Why?

It’s because man-on-woman violence makes most people uncomfortable, and understandably so. Our society has a strong history of domestic abuse, and watching a man punch, slam, and piledrive a woman, let alone stretch her out in submission holds, can be evocative of that sort of abuse for people. That becomes particularly problematic when the man is the face and the woman is a heel (or when fans will otherwise pop for a man-on-woman spot regardless of heel/face allignment), because then it gives the impression that the promotion and/or its fans are supportive of acts that simulate domestic abuse.

Several years ago, I wrote a much longer column that delved into some of these issues as a result of a spot that occurred on a TNA show, which you can still read on 411 right here.

Granted, there are some other promotions that have decided that they are going to put men and women on more equal footing in these matches. The justification that I’ve heard supporters of these promotions make is that we’re in a time when everybody knows that professional wrestling isn’t real and therefore fans are going to be able to separate real world issues of man-on-woman violence from their entertainment media in the same way that many people are able to do so when they play a video game like Mortal Kombat in which men and women fight each other on equal footing.

I have a hard time buying into that line of thinking, because in my mind, even though wrestling is fake, it still has a level of realism to it beyond a video game or a cartoon, as there are actual human beings carrying out these acts. Additionally, even though there is a younger generation of fans who perceive wrestling differently, in my mind wrestling is still supposed to be a simulation of an actual sport instead of being a cartoon or comic book fight.

You may agree with it, you may disagree with it, but that’s the reasoning.

Brad is putting a hat on a hat and a gimmick on a gimmick:

Recently I re-watched the January 3, 2011 edition of RAW for fun, since I attended it back in the day. Watching the semi-main event of Randy Orton, King Sheamus, and Wade Barrett close the show in a triple threat steel cage match made me wonder just how unusual that type of match is. Could you research other televised examples in WWE history? Does this pop up once in a while?

The earliest triple threat steel cage match I could find in WWE history occurred at the Breakdown pay per view on September 27, 1998 from Hamilton, Ontario, where the Rock defeated Ken Shamrock and Mankind in a match of three guys who were working their way up to the main event. On the house show circuit later that week, a similar match was done, with Rock going over Mankind and Kane in cage-bound three-ways in Grand Rapids, Michigan on September 30 and Hampton, Virginia on October 1.

After that, there wasn’t another triple threat steel cage match on WWE television – at least not that I was able to find a record of – until the January 3, 2011 bout referenced in Brad’s question. There were some additional three-way cage fights on house shows or in dark matches, and there were some cage matches on TV that involved more than three men, but that’s it for instances of the specific match asked about.

However, later the very same year, there was another triple threat in a steel cage, featuring John Cena defeating Johnny Nitro and Mike the Miz at the 2011 Extreme Rules pay per view on May 1 in Tampa, Florida. In an odd historic note, immediately following this match and the PPV going off the air, Cena got on the microphone to relay to the audience the fact that, while the show was going on, President Barack Obama announced that Osama Bin Laden had been captured and killed by U.S. Navy SEALs.

Also, though technically considered a separate type of match than a pure steel cage match, there was a three-way Hell in a Cell at the 2011 HIAC pay per view, with Alberto Del Rio going over Cena and CM Punk.

As you can see, 2011 was a pretty loaded year in terms of triple threat steel cage matches, and the trend spilled over into early 2012, when World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan retained his title over Mark Henry and the Big Show at the Royal Rumble pay per view. There had also been several test runs of this match on house shows during December 2011.

So, there you have it. After the match made its WWE debut in 1998, it remained relatively rare until 2011. After that point, though it certainly wasn’t common, it did occur with increased frequency. It’s probably not a coincidence that WWE released a new DVD set that year which compiled some of the greatest cage matches in the history of the promotions whose video libraries that they own. The promotion for that DVD resulted in an uptick of cage matches on WWE programming overall that year.

Night Wolf the Wise is never excessive:

This year we saw WWE take a page out of NJPW’s book and have Wrestlemania on two nights. What’s your take on it? When things go back to normal, should WWE host WM for two nights instead of a 7 hour show like they did the WM before?

Honestly, my a-number-one preference would be that Wrestlemania go back to being a one-night, four-hour show, because trying to absorb seven hours or more of WWE product in a single weekend, no matter how you split it up, is just too much for me. Granted, that would mean making some hard decisions and leaving a good number of wrestlers off the card, but there’s no rule that says every person on your roster has to be on the biggest show of the year. If anything, the show seems more special to me if it truly is only the best of the best making it to the card.

That being said, I doubt that I will be getting my wish anytime soon. The wrestling industry is all about excess these days, for better or for worse.

Of the two models that Night Wolf asked about, I prefer the show being split up across two nights. People have lives, and asking them to devote what is the equivalent of a full work day to a wrestling show is absurd. I’m surprised that there are as many people who put up with it as there are.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].