Wrestling companies make merchandise. It’s usually pretty bad, but sometimes, it’s terrible. Welcome to The Merch Table.
Every week, @TomBlargh will look at some of the awful merch that someone expects you to buy. Up this week: THE RISE AND FALL OF ZACK RYDER.
It’s difficult to know how to feel about Zack Ryder. With zero support from anyone in management, he managed to gain a cult following and seemingly carve out a place for himself in WWE. However, it only lasted a few months; after having a brief run as US Champion, being pushed off the stage in a wheelchair by Kane and taking a punt to the nuts from Eve at Wrestlemania, that was about it for old Zack as a featured player on WWE TV.
So, on the face of things, he’s had a pretty raw deal. What makes him such a conflicting personality though is the way that he’s dealt with it – he’s got every right to feel bitter and maybe he is stuck in a hopeless position, but it’s hard to root for him when all he seems to do about things is complain on Twitter.
Regardless of what Zack’s ultimate destiny is though, the way he’s gone from being a guy WWE had zero interest in marketing to being one of their featured merch guys and back again is kind of fascinating. Forget a documentary or a book, The Rise and Fall of Zack Ryder is best told in the form of merch! LET’S GET STARTED.
Chapter 1: Zack Ryder gets his first t-shirt.
Ahh, the WWE basics t-shirt. When you want to test the waters and see if you can make money off a wrestler but you can’t be bothered to spend the time to design a proper t-shirt. Even though this looks like something you’d buy from K-Mart, I think this still went through a few waves of selling out.
Chapter 2: Enter Barber Shop Window
Never ones to miss out on an opportunity to capitalise on a fad, Barber Shop Window was basically the Zack Ryder t-shirt factory when they first started. People wanted Zack t-shirts, and BShop were delighted to meet the demand… for $20, plus shipping, and generally only after a couple of months after you ordered them.
Here are a couple of their earlier designs, though there were a good few that followed these ones (which resulted in the exhaustion of the world’s natural resource of ‘bro’ puns):
Chapter 3: Zack gets to play with himself.
Yikes. As an example of quite possibly the worst ring gear of the past decade, this is quite the collectible. I kinda liked how aggressively terrible his gear was in an ‘Edge & Christian’ kinda way, but my only memories of Zack wrestling in this outfit was how the commentators would spend most of the match trying to figure out a) what he was wearing and b) why he was wearing it.
Chapter 4: Zack Ryder gets his first REAL t-shirt.
HE DID IT, HE GOT AN AUTHENTIC T-SHIRT. The QR code on the back dates this horribly and it’s only a couple years old. Remember when those were a thing? Are they still trying to pretend they’re a thing? Anyway, the floodgates were starting to creak open, but the Zack Ryder merch revolution was still in its infancy here.
Chapter 5: Put stuff on your head!
So with a couple of t-shirts and an action figure out the way, what’s next for Zack? Hey, he has a headband, why not mass-market those? Makes sense, right? Well, yeah, sure. The headband’s all well and good, but this…
…I can’t excuse this. I know it’s for kids and all, but Ryder’s hair was NEVER that full or spiky. ZACK, LOOK IN THE MIRROR MAN, YOU KNOW I’M JUST KEEPING IT REAL HERE. YOU’RE NOT KIDDING ANYONE.
The ‘take care, spike your hair’ thing always struck me as kind of a mistake as far as catchphrases go. Unless you’re a guy with crazy, over-the-top hair that will definitely never thin or go away, probably don’t call attention to it. Rule number one of the business, brother.
HOWEVER, it did result in this picture though, so I guess it’s not all bad:
Awkward TNA Picture of the Week
The star of this week’s Awkward TNA Picture of the Week is…
…JEFF HARDY! Well, kind of. So it’s a shirt with a picture of Jeff’s face printed upside down on the inside, so you can lift the shirt up over your face… and… uh, I don’t know what you do then, but you’re standing there with your shirt lifted up over your face like an idiot, so it can’t be anything good.
Chapter 6: MERCHAMANIA
This is where the wheels start to fall off the pram. Even though WWE is mostly done with using Ryder on TV, well… people are still buying his stuff, so things get weird as WWE release:
Hooded scarves! I don’t know what ‘hooded scarves’ are, but they made ’em!
YET MORE T-SHIRTS!
Action figure things that you can wind up and make spin around like they’re having a convulsion!
EVEN MORE T-SHIRTS, THIS TIME WITH SOME KIND OF AUGMENTED REALITY THING BECAUSE APPARENTLY THAT’S WHAT’S IMPORTANT WITH T-SHIRTS THESE DAYS!
And it went on like this. And on. And on. And on and on and on. While Zack popped up in occasional squash matches and such, he was never a featured guy again, though that never stopped them from releasing new merch. I guess it sold up to a point but now… well, there was really only one way it could end.
Chapter 7: The inevitable conclusion.
Just as man can’t survive on bread alone, a wrestler can’t stay over just because he’s got a new item of crap released every other week. There are no more ‘we want Ryder’ chants, no ‘Ryder or riot’ signs, and almost every Zack Ryder item of merch is firmly planted in the sale section of WWEShop.
So what’s the moral of the story? Man, I don’t know. It’s kind of depressing, really. Maybe Zack’ll reinvent himself and he’ll get a second chance, but for now, it seems like his legacy is to have the highest merch to TV time ratio of any guy ever.
Want more Merch Table? You can check out our archive of past Merch Tables. Tom is also the chairman of the WCW Comic Book Reading Club, if you want to read his thoughts on the greatest comic in the history of our sport.