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KELLER'S TAKE
KELLER: So how did Ryback fare in Week Two of his push as Cena's replacement? How does the failure to lift Tensai factor in?

Oct 2, 2012 - 10:16:48 PM
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By Wade Keller, PWTorch editor

Last week on Raw, Ryback just had to stand there and snort. This week, Ryback had to lift a really heavy wrestler who, for whatever reason, might not have been in the mood to be lifted.

WWE has a history of "testing" wrestlers to see how they handle unexpected situations on live TV or in front of crowds. For instance, to test younger wrestlers, agents/producers are sometimes instructed to tell wrestlers at the very last second that their eight-minute match is now scheduled for 13 minutes. The goal is to see how they react to (a) being told that news and (b) executing the new plan without time to plan.

Steve Austin, during his fast rise in the late 1990s, was left awkwardly standing in the ring as Big Bossman (I believe it was Bossman, at least) was held back from his planned run-in for an extra few seconds to see how Austin would improvise and fill time.

Sometimes it's as simple as a wrestler being asked to do a job to a wrestler lower on the roster depth chart when management feels they won't see it coming.

The goal is all of this is to see how the wrestler handles it. I haven't heard anything to indicate Tensai sandbagged Ryback last night. Maybe Ryback just couldn't lift him for some reason even though he could last week. But, whether it was planned or not, on-air, Ryback handled it pretty well.

He yelled something like "stupid!" when the second try didn't work, but then improvised with a clothesline and pinned him. Jim Ross and Michael Cole were scrambling to cover for Ryback. Word should leak soon of what happened - whether it was Tensai being "difficult" to work with on his own, or it was management's "last test" to send Ryback the message that "we made you, we can break you… just like that."

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It would seem to be so risky to make Ryback look weak and fallible right before they're turning to him to fill John Cena's slot when he's out injured for several more weeks. At the same time, McMahon has learned it's risky to push someone who thinks he's "special" and doesn't have to play by the rules everyone else does.

Yesterday I compared Ryback to The Road Warriors, Ultimate Warrior, and Goldberg. All of them were given super-pushes and got to play by different rules than their more experienced colleagues earning less money wrestling lower on the cards. All of them ended up, to some degree or another, being headaches for their bosses, including refusing to do jobs and thinking they were something special and worthy of a different set of rules at times.

WWE has structured their business operations with wrestlers to avoid those types of issues. It's less likely in 2012, without many viable options for wrestlers compared to decades past, that any wrestler would act like too much of an outlaw given the lack of options that pay nearly as well as WWE.

Unless there was a huge outburst backstage by Ryback last night, he handled whatever it was that happened well. If it was a total accident, Vince McMahon had to be panicking that his new project was looking "weak" on live TV, thus feeding Ross and Cole the lines to cover for him. If it wasn't an accident, McMahon had to be pleased with how Ryback handled himself, moving forward with the clothesline for the win and a celebration that didn't show any hints of ongoing frustration or embarrassment. Not everyone would have handled himself with the poise that Ryback did given the pressure that now rests on his shoulders.

Whatever it was that happened last night, fans seem to willing to accept Ryback, at least for now, in a top babyface spot. The fans embracing the "Feed Me More!" chant is encouraging for Ryback and WWE that he is getting over. Punk is an ideal heel to make up for the shortcomings of someone as limited and green as Ryback is.

(Wade Keller is founder and supervising editor of PWTorch.com and MMATorch.com. He began Pro Wrestling Torch in 1987, starting as a print newsletter and expanding since into a website, mobile apps, and podcasts.)


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