When WWE gets in a slump I'm tasked with the impossible responsibility of trying to explain questionable booking decisions each day in Ask WNW. I always try to answer questions objectively, offering a realistic outlook but also warning that things are much easier to sort out online behind a computer than actually executing a creative plan. Sometimes though, the answers are so obvious but WWE is too reluctant to utilize their own resources. Be it childish backstage politics, Vince McMahon's vision or just mind-blowing oblivion, sometimes the answers to WWE's problems seem to be right in front of their face.
Remember Royal Rumble 2014? The majority of the WWE audience went in extremely frustrated at the creative direction of budding superstar Daniel Bryan. Despite constantly stealing the show every time he stepped in the ring, it seemed WWE was intent on stopping his momentum. From having Randy Orton dispose of him to trying to make him a member of the Wyatt Family, WWE was clear that Bryan was not their guy.
Instead, WWE was on the verge of reintroducing Dave Batista -- following a near 4-year layoff -- as the superstar that would challenge Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XXX.
Anyone with a pulse -- even Batista himself -- knew it wasn't going to work. Most of Batista's success as a pro wrestler came as a heel and he was hardly the protagonist underdog that was Daniel Bryan. Orton had been built as The Authority's yes-man and was the unstoppable antagonist that couldn't lose the title, even if he was defeated in the ring. Bryan was everything Batista wasn't, had all the momentum and the perfect story as WWE's next super-human hero.
Fast-forward to Royal Rumble 2014, WWE tried to quietly dispose of Daniel Bryan (having Bray Wyatt beat him in the opener), while putting Batista over as entrant #28 to win the 30-man Royal Rumble. It bombed, badly. Not just the "smart marks" or the "IWC" or the "Daniel Bryan faithful" but the reaction was so bad the pay-per-view was ruined. One of the biggest pay-per-views of the year and WWE walked away with egg dripping down their stubborn corporate face.
WWE eventually corrected their mistake but probably ruined Batista in the process and 8 months later are right back in another ultra deep creative rut. Mike Mooneyham explained it in detail and I expounded how it was only getting worse. This week's episode Raw led me to the conclusion that WWE hates their Universe and doesn't understand them either.
As deep and extensive as WWE's problems are, there are solutions that are readily available. No, I'm not going to harp on the outcome of the Night of Champions main event or even bash the lack of followup on Raw the next night. At this point, I don't even care to rant on how Brock Lesnar is a bad champion. I want to point to something -- or someone -- else.
Allow me to introduce you [and perhaps his employer] to the miscast Real American, no the King of Swing, no the Paul Heyman Guy, no the guy that "does the honors" for the meaningless United States Championship. Hailing from Lucerne, Switzerland I give you a worker ready for the prime of their career in Cesaro.
If there is one worker that's had a path similar to that of Daniel Bryan it's Cesaro.
One of the most accomplished independent workers of a generation, Claudio Castagnoli, was first signed by WWE in 2006 but released after only a matter of weeks. His short-lived time in WWE's developmental system didn't deter him as he went on to solidify himself as an indy legend. A fact WWE not only acknowledged but later celebrated.
In 2011, he was signed yet again and finally called up to the main WWE roster on the April 20, 2012 episode of Smackdown. Since then, it's been a rocky road. A one-time WWE United States Champion and the winner of the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, WWE has hardly tapped into his enormous potential.
Cesaro features the prototypical WWE stature (6 ft 5/232 lbs) to go along with an intriguing foreign accent, natural mic ability, outstanding in-ring skills and strength that's unmatched throughout the roster (it's been stated Cesaro is the strongest guy pound for pound in WWE). Let's also not forget he's been successful everywhere he's worked outside of WWE.
So what's the problem?
He looks the part and can work the part. Surely he's done something to warrant a blatant lack of creative direction that displays a mind-blowing lack of confidence in him as a performer. Quite the opposite, actually.
No matter what Cesaro has been asked to do, he's had success. That point should go completely unspoken given the fact he was miscast as a member of Zeb Colter's Tea Party movement. Remember this?
That is what they gave Cesaro to work with. How'd he do? He outworked and overshadowed his tag team partner -- Jack Swagger (who was absolutely perfect for the role) -- every step of the way.
Earlier this year, it appeared WWE got the memo that they had something special with Cesaro. They put him over in the inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 30, giving fans a "Wrestlemania moment" with Cesaro lifting Big Show out of the ring and paired him with Paul Heyman (who was credited for helping orchestrate the end to The Undertaker's iconic streak). However, the half-hearted attempt to legitimatize Cesaro flopped. WWE ignored the fact Cesaro had been drawing babyface reactions in his latter days as a member of The Real Americans and rather than capitalizing on him as the babyface "King of Swing," they tried to force heat from Paul Heyman onto him.
I pointed this out in the April 23, 2014 installment of Ask WNW:
Here’s the quandary WWE is in. They’ve booked Cesaro as a babyface since the beginning of the year but now want to pair him with the manager drawing nuclear heat over Brock Lesnar ending the streak. Heyman was given the task of working his magic on Raw but it still felt forced. Making matters worse, WWE is trying to blow off the underlying feud between Cesaro/Swagger, with the thinking being there has to be a payoff. I agree the idea of Cesaro and Heyman is genius but will this be a short-term bump in the road or a long-term problem that forces WWE’s hand? That’s a question only time will tell.
A few months later, WWE moved on with Cesaro pushing himself as muscle for The Authority. Making it abundantly clear they had nothing for him, he went on to lose every match for the rest of the summer. WWE put him over Jack Swagger on Raw the night after SummerSlam but have since relegated him to chasing a title no one cares about in the United States Championship.
It hasn't stopped Cesaro's insane work ethic and phenomenal in-ring work as he went on to have one of the matches of the night at Night of Champions last Sunday. In a losing effort, Cesaro reportedly improved his standing with company officials.
I wrote the following on Monday, September 22, 2014:
Sheamus and Cesaro were greeted with rave reviews for their WWE United States Championship match [at Night of Champions]. One observer talked about no matter how many instances the company pulls back on Cesaro, he continues to go above and beyond by delivering. He helped his stock on Sunday, especially with the company looking for more talent to push at the top of the card.
Sounds good, right? After being part of the losing team in a 6-man tag team match on this week's episode of Raw, the direction on Smackdown still appeared to be one of complete and utter oblivion. How can someone with so much talent that is so obvious to everyone that watches him be so underutilized and improperly booked at a time when there is no one else?
It blows my mind to see the number of protected pushes that WWE hands out. From Rusev to Adam Rose to Ryback of old. The company doesn't care to commit to a worker and protect them in hopes of being the next big thing. However, there are some workers that are clearly a cut above the rest, yet are held down the hardest. In fact, it's like WWE wants them to fail.
Daniel Bryan hasn't worked since May, yet the company continues to take unneeded pot shots at him. From portraying him as the injured B+ player that just couldn't get it done to painting him as the "Tiger Woods of Sports Entertainment" as a "serial adulterer." The company never passes up an opportunity to snub their corporate nose at a sensational talent.
It's almost like they're ribbing us.
Cesaro is in the exact same boat. Despite the fact he continues to overcome the odds, horrible booking and put on quality matches when most would have allowed their ego and attitude to ensure their permanent demotion, he continues to rise up.
There is no explaining the unexplainable but perhaps the most frustrating part of all of this is WWE has the talent to fix their problems. But at best, they choose not to utilize it. At worst, they're intent on sabotaging it.