Zack Ryder’s WWE career has been full of ups and downs. Originally debuting in ECW as Brett Majors – one half of the Majors Brothers tag team – his team with Brian Majors (now Curt Hawkins) was fairly nondescript.

The epitome of “white meat, babyface tag team”, their debut match in ECW was as “already in the ring” opponents in May 2007. Jobber opponents who would pick up a shock win over the pairing of Matt Striker and Marcus Cor Von. In the weeks that followed, they’d drop the “s” to become the Major Brothers, before being shifted to SmackDown and thrust into the main event – sort-of – dressing up as Edge and helping him win the World Heavyweight Championship at Armageddon of that year. The Major Brothers were rechristened as Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins, in an apparently decision from Vince McMahon who was bemused as to why he was promoting a tag team made up of two brothers, who weren’t really brothers.

However, it would be another eighteen months before the rechristened Ryder would break out on his own, following the 2009 Draft Lottery that broke up the former WWE tag team champions. Ryder resurfaced on ECW as a character that was ripped straight out of the Jersey Shore, only more obnoxious. Screaming “woo woo woo” wherever he could, Ryder found himself having established himself as a character, but equally nowhere near any of the company’s main shows. In spite of an angle that saw him “retire” Tommy Dreamer in a loser leaves town match at the end of 2009, the character was going nowhere, and once ECW was shuttered in February 2010, Zack Ryder became synonymous with the word “superstar”. The WWE minor show “Superstars” that is.

Whilst 2010 would be a write-off, 2011 would end up being the best year (so far) of his career. And it all started with YouTube.

Having created the channel in October 2010 – days before he was squashed on Raw by Ezekiel Jackson in just forty seconds – Ryder would take a Creative Flip video camera that had been given to him by his parents as a Christmas present, and start producing a weekly video series. Starting February 17, the first episode [] of “Z! True Long Island Story” was little more than him recording himself in the corner of a room, interspersed with footage of him playing with wrestling figures. In the weeks that followed, Ryder would produce new episodes of the show, and would expand his fanbase beyond the fabled Internet Wrestling Community. Despite not being on television in any prominent role, Zack’s name and catchphrase would be chanted at house shows, TV tapings and pay-per-views… and despite only having one piece of merchandise (a basic black t-shirt with a photo of Ryder and his name underneath it), it would become a top seller on

As a result, WWE would slowly but surely add Ryder onto TV in a featured role. In late July, he’d wrestle “The Game” Michael Cole on an episode of Raw, picking up a win in under thirty seconds (that’s not a typo, Cole was forced to wear Triple H’s gear because… reasons. OK, it was as punishment for walking off when Triple H brought back Jim Ross on commentary). Ryder wasn’t exactly treated seriously, with Jim Ross calling out how he could only remember one other time that Ryder had been on WWE’s flagship show before then (he’d had over a dozen prior appearances, including the Ezekiel Jackson squash, plus quick defeats by Daniel Bryan and Sheamus), but you get the idea. Ryder won in short order with a Rough Ryder, against a backdrop of sizable cheers… but anyone thinking that this would become a springboard to success for “Long Island Iced-Z” would be sadly mistaken.

It wouldn’t be until September when Ryder started collecting regular wins on TV; first tagging with Jerry Lawler to beat David Otunga and Michael McGillicutty; before trading wins with US champion Dolph Ziggler in singles and tag team action. Ryder would get another shot at the US title at the Vengeance pay-per-view in October, but after tasting defeat, he’d find himself left off of the following month’s Survivor Series – which was a bad move, considering that the pay-per-view was to be held in New York City.

Throughout the show, fans continually chanted for Ryder, especially strongly during the United States title match where John Morrison “took Ryder’s slot” in the fan’s eyes, in a losing effort against the Miz. One month later, Ryder got another shot at the US title, against Ziggler at the TLC pay-per-view. Granted, Ryder’s path there was somewhat screwy, losing a match against John Cena for a shot at the WWE title… only for Cena to give up his shot and let Ryder have a crack at the US title. Which he only got by beating Mark Henry (via an assist from Cena) in a no-disqualification match. Confused yet?

Of course, Zack “won the big one” to close out his 2011, unseating Dolph Ziggler in Baltimore, and earning himself a cathartic celebration as an early Christmas present. From a Flip video camera, to the WWE United States title – that’s quite the trade-up!

As big a star as Ryder had made himself in 2011, 2012 was just sixteen days old before it began to unravel. Getting involved in a storyline romance with Eve Torres, Ryder found himself again crossing paths (storyline-wise) with John Cena, whom at the time was feuding with Kane. That led to Kane attacking Ryder on several instances, in a bid to rile up Cena. One of those attacks “injured” Ryder, to the point where he ended up defending – and losing – the US title to Jack Swagger whilst “hurt”.

The almost comedic assaults, culminating in Ryder being chokeslammed through the Raw stage a week later. That would put him out of in-ring action for two months, but WWE still found a way to neuter whatever value he had in four easy steps: 1) have Ryder turn up to Raw in a wheelchair every week; 2) have Ryder walk (wheel?) in on his love interest kissing John Cena; 3) have Eve admit she was just playing Zack (making him look like a fool); and 4) have Kane wheel him off the stage as if he were playing Zach Gowen from a decade earlier.

Ryder would recover in time to appear at WrestleMania 28, as part of a losing effort in a 12-man tag, where he was a part of “Team Teddy”, losing to “Team Johnny”. Of course, the humiliation wasn’t over, as Ryder would be kicked low by Eve Torres afterwards, as she’d been ringside cornering Ryder and the rest of Teddy Long’s team. Given that Eve had managed to seduce Zack when he confronted her over her claims… he further buried himself by having given Eve another chance.

After WrestleMania 28, Ryder wouldn’t appear on pay-per-view for another six months. A loss to (Antonio) Cesaro at Night of Champions would prove to be a one-off break in a diet of appearances on Superstars and the short-lived Saturday Morning Slam show, as Ryder’s 2012 largely saw him inspecting the ring lights on Raw and SmackDown. Fast forward to January 13, 2013, and Ryder unceremoniously killed off the YouTube show that had led to his big break a little over a year earlier. One hundred episodes of Z! True Long Island Story – an almost-two year run – and Ryder had gone from zero, to hero, and almost back to zero again.

In the past few weeks, Zack of course had a WrestleMania moment, winning the Intercontinental title for all of 24 hours. Following that. Zack had an interview with WWE’s YouTube channel [] where he talked about his “WrestleMania Moment” from WrestleMania 32, tearing up at how the fans still cared about him – four years on from the last time his WWE career peaked – and how he had cancer when he was a teenager. It really is a shock that, in this day and age of insider newsletters and “internet scoops”, it took almost a decade for this part of Matt Cardona/Zack Ryder’s life story to be revealed. It’s easy to say that the peak of his career was winning the Intercontinental title in front of 100,000 fans at WrestleMania… or the climactic end to 2011, winning the United States title – but it just goes to show that for all of the pushes and perceived burials, sometimes the greatest battles are hidden away.