This weeks edition of Raw began in horrifying fashion, and this had nothing to do with a fully masked children’s choir. Far creepier was the terrifying realisation that Rybaxel came within a whisker of capturing the Tag Team Championships. Those cheeksters at WWE teased a Rybaxel win with an early kayfabe injury on an indeterminable Uso following a double suicide dive to the outside, and there were plenty of false finishes that teased a title shift. Thankfully, it wasn’t to be, and having slumped back down on the couch, breathless from screaming at the screen each time I thought the Usos were to lose, I began to ponder the calamitous notion of Messrs Ryback and Axel as being at the top of the tag pile in WWE.
As former Nexus brethren early on in their careers, this non deadly duo were thrown together as two clients of Paul Heyman at the back end of last year. Initially, Axel had done well with Heyman, picking up the Intercontinental Title as well as taking home victories, albeit via count outs, distractions and forfeits, over Triple H and John Cena. The pairing of Axel and Heyman seemed practical. Hennig Jr – a decent wrestler, with a distinct charisma deficiency who pretty much didn’t know which end up the microphone went, alongside Paul Heyman – the King Midas of talent management in sports entertainment who conjures heat like a pyromancer in a furnace. However, it just didn’t work. The heat that Heyman generated wasn’t transferred to Axel, and the WWE Universe didn’t associate it with his client. Instead, Heyman continued to take the rub and Axel dithered. And not for the first time. Axel is currently in his third incarnation of what is effectively the same gimmick, having previously been Joe Hennig and Michael McGillicutty, and pairing him with Ryback for no other reason than that they’ve both stalled is not the way to get them over.
When Ryback redebuted in 2012, he was perceived as a monster, regularly squashing jobbers and lower card superstars until suddenly he was inserted into the WWE Championship picture. Out of nowhere, Ryback was fighting Cena and Punk at the top of the bill on PPV’s. Very rarely can a new talent get over in such a short amount of time, and even then, they need to have not only a good look, as Ryback certainly has, but wrestling ability and a whole heap of charisma to boot. Sadly, this is where the Hungry Freak, as I took to calling him during the begrudgingly catchy ‘Feed Me More’ gimmick, falls short. Granted, muddled booking didn’t aid him, and he remained without a PPV victory for an entire year despite numerous title opportunities. A short lived bully gimmick later, and he was aligned to Heyman, really only as a pawn in the bigger picture, and now he sits together with his personality devoid comrade in arms in the shoddiest portmanteaued team since Air Boom.
The tag team division of the WWE is a strange beast. Every time it seems that it is on the rise with a plethora of potential parties, it slides back into obscurity. In the past year we have seen the return of the New Age Outlaws, who took home the belts after a 14 year absence, as well as Goldust, who was victorious alongside his brother Cody Rhodes. As fun as runs like this can be, it points to either an extreme absence of trust or a nonchalant lack of consideration in those permanently on the roster. I’m all for pairing up stagnating superstars to see how they fair as a double act, but there needs to be some progression of character or at least a smidgen of rapport for fans to grab hold of. It’s not a solid enough base for a tag team to be two fundamentally failed experiments as individuals. Two superstars who find it impossible to get a reaction will simply not be able to do so when forced alongside each other. The WWE is not advanced mathematics – in sports entertainment, sadly two negatives do not make a positive.
Had they decided to properly push this duo whilst both still with Heyman, things could have panned out to the contrary. Part of the problem with their Heyman union was that both men were substandard versions of Brock Lesnar. It’s interesting to see Cesaro as a Paul Heyman Guy because he’s so different to anyone the mouthy ECW founder has associated himself with recently. He looks interesting, he has a unique in ring style and has built an affiliation with the WWE Universe through his talent. He is still a heel, but gets sporadic babyface reactions, and Heyman gives him that extra vocal ability. Cesaro is not a Lesnar-esque character and it is credible that Heyman would have them both as clients without affecting the interests of either. Ryback and Axel felt so forced in comparison to this organic relationship, but had they been developed into a tag team as part of a Heyman faction, the audience would have had some investment because their gimmick would have been slightly altered. Seeing a Heyman faction consisting of Lesnar as the main eventer, Cesaro fighting for the mid level belts and Rybaxel obliterating the tag division would have been compelling viewing, and could, possibly, have made me briefly excuse the fact that as they stand, Rybaxel are a flat out charisma void. Listening to their combined efforts on commentary recently nearly gave me an aneurism and although Cesaro isn’t great on the mic, he still has a magnetism in performance that I crave in Rybaxel.
Some time ago, I anointed this tiresome twosome with the above appellation. ‘The Charisma Void’ are a sad state of affairs considering Axel is a third generation superstar with the blood of Mr Perfect running through his veins and Ryback was supposedly a main eventer for the best part of six months. In this modern era, WWE has more resources than ever before, and has the enviable option to send workers who have flopped back into training on NXT or at the Development Centre, in the hope of a glorious repackage at a later date. This should certainly have happened with Rybaxel. Either that, or just pulling the plug altogether to allow for the more promising youngsters to take their shot. As it is, Rybaxel have somehow inserted themselves into the tag team title picture, and they’ll likely win soon, which frankly makes me want to gouge me eyes out with a tea spoon. It’d be more entertaining.