For as thin as the WWE's roster may look on the surface, the company should be given some credit for its recent effort to develop new stars. One such potential star is Antonio Cesaro, who made his television debut roughly a month ago on an edition of SmackDown.
Cesaro has been billed as a former Swiss rugby player who was banned from the sport due to excessive aggression. Cesaro has only had a couple WWE matches thus far, but he has shown plenty of promise. His main use to this point has been as a member of a love triangle between himself, Aksana and Teddy Long.
Like many WWE superstars, Cesaro has a bright future, but it all comes down to whether or not he is utilized correctly. Keep reading for the latest entry in a 25-superstar series breaking down the direction and potential of the most-talked-about WWE wrestlers.
Antonio Cesaro as most WWE fans know him, has only existed since September 2011 when he signed a developmental deal with WWE and competed in Florida Championship Wrestling. Cesaro's history stretches back much further than that, though, as he was a major star on the independent scene before he ever stepped foot in a WWE ring.
Cesaro will always be known as Claudio Castagnoli to Indy fans. As Castagnoli, Cesaro competed in several popular independent federations, most notably Chikara and Ring of Honor. Although Cesaro has had his fair share of success as a singles competitor, he has done most of his damage in the tag team ranks with partner Chris Hero.
Along with Hero, Cesaro formed Kings of Wrestling and they went on to become two-time ROH Tag Team Champions. The pair was also named Tag Team of the Year across all wrestling companies by the Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 2010. Hero is now in WWE developmental as well as Kassius Ohno, so perhaps a future reunion is in the works.
I'm usually someone who likes to give angles ample time to develop before I trash them, but it's fair to say that the creative team has already swung and missed with Cesaro's debut storyline.
The way Cesaro was introduced was fine, as he was said to be a good friend of Aksana's. She got him a meeting with John Laurinaitis and that ultimately led to a tryout match against Tyson Kidd.
The way Long has been integrated into to angle has been awful, though. Rather than promoting Cesaro and trying to make him a star, he has essentially become a pawn to further embarrass Long.
Eve has made Teddy rub oil on Cesaro's chest for a photo shoot with Aksana, he has been made to introduce Cesaro before a match while hailing his greatness and he has had to watch Cesaro and Aksana make out right in front of him.
On top of that, Cesaro has now been featured quite infrequently on SmackDown, so it's impossible to say where this storyline is even going. There doesn't seem to be a true endgame, because either Long will be further buried, which nobody cares about, or Long will get his revenge and Cesaro will ultimately come out on the short end of the stick.
If you have only seen Cesaro during the limited time he has been on WWE television, then it may be difficult to come up with any discernible strengths or weaknesses. The first thing that comes to mind, though, is his unique look.
Most WWE superstars are fairly cookie cutter in their respective appearances, but Cesaro almost looks like a throwback from the infancy of professional wrestling.
He does have prototypical size at 6'5" and 232 lbs, but he looks like more of a classic grappler than a "sports entertainer." His attire is quite intriguing as well, and it is something that differentiates him from others, as he wears thigh wraps instead of knee pads and has high socks, a la Frank Gotch and some of the other pioneers in the sport.
Cesaro also has an interesting and varied move set that sets him apart, particularly his Very European Uppercut signature and Gotch Style Neutralizer. On top of that, while it hasn't been apparent thus far in his WWE run, Cesaro is solid on the mic and has more than held his own in promos during his time on the independent circuit.
Is Cesaro's Indy career a positive or a negative?
Perhaps Cesaro's biggest weakness in terms of him getting over as a singles competitor is the perception that he is a tag team guy. It's true that he experienced the vast majority of his success as a tag team wrestler with Hero by his side in ROH, but he has still been impressive when he has been given the opportunity to go off on his own.
Luckily, casual wrestling fans likely aren't aware of his Indy exploits, so getting over as a singles competitor is contingent upon what he does in the WWE.
Therein lies another problem, however, as the WWE is currently stacked with wrestlers who have debuted recently and are trying to ascend. Chief among them are Damien Sandow, Ryback, Tensai and Brodus Clay. All of them have similarly been involved in squash matches and they appear to be higher in the pecking order than Cesaro.
Also, Cesaro doesn't seem to have as much fan support as past Indy stars like Daniel Bryan and CM Punk have gotten amid their WWE debuts. Cesaro accomplished some great things in ROH and has a cult following of sorts, but he has to impress the general audience with what he does in the WWE.
Unfortunately for him, the storyline he is involved in hasn't really allowed for that to happen.
Cesaro has only had a couple chances to showcase his in-ring skills in the WWE, but his most impressive match was likely his win over Alex Riley on the May 11 edition of SmackDown. It was essentially your basic squash match with A-Ry getting a bit of offense in, but it allowed Cesaro to demonstrate his vicious demeanor and solid repertoire.
His athleticism and wrestling acumen was very obvious in the bout, but until he tests it out in a legitimate match against a worthy opponent, he isn't really going to impress anyone. For what the Riley match was, though, it was effective, as fans were able to get a bit more familiar with Cesaro's work and they now know what to expect moving forward.
One really promising thing from the tilt is that it looks like Cesaro might be a heel who is built on the basis that he can fight his own battles and doesn't need to cheat in order to win. There are far too many heels in the WWE today who rely on dirty tricks, but a legitimate tough guy like Cesaro could become useful if he is built correctly.
Based on where Cesaro is currently, his long-term prospects don't look particularly good right now. If he is released from this awful storyline and is allowed to pave his own way, though, he has all the tools to be a main-eventer one day. Cesaro is 31 years old, however, so it's integral that he begins to get used properly as soon as possible.
Considering the fact that heels like Dolph Ziggler and Cody Rhodes are well ahead of Cesaro in terms of getting a crack at the world title, though, I don't see it happening for Cesaro.
Cesaro does seem like a good candidate to win a mid-card title at some point or perhaps he can help legitimize the WWE tag team division. The tag team scene is in absolute shambles right now and it has been for the past few years.
Many fans understandably want to see Cesaro succeed as a singles competitor, but he has a great background in tag team wrestling, so the WWE might as well make use of it.
Some of the WWE's greatest time periods featured outstanding tag team wrestling, and it is something that the vast majority of fans want to see. I would find Cesaro a suitable partner and allow him to get the tag team division back on track. Once that has happened, he can go back on his own and will have a much better chance to succeed having established himself within the company.
How He Gets There
How far will Antonio Cesaro ascend in the WWE?
Stables are suggested quite often in the WWE, but they rarely come to fruition. The truth of the matter is that a good stable can be effective in pushing multiple superstars at the same time, however.
Getting out of the black hole of a storyline he is currently in and joining a stable could be great for Cesaro. My suggestion would be to form a European stable of sorts that comes into existence once Wade Barrett returns from injury.
Barrett has already led Nexus and The Corre, so he has plenty of experience in that area. With Barrett leading the way, Cesaro and Drew McIntyre could be the supporting members of the group. McIntyre hasn't been used at all over the past year, so he would greatly benefit as well. Cesaro and McIntyre would make for a very strong tag team and it would give both men some purpose.
Once Cesaro establishes himself in a high-profile stable and ultimately goes off on his own, he'll be over enough with the crowd to succeed. Whatever the WWE is doing currently with Cesaro simply isn't working. Nobody really seems to care about him and he has been featured far too inconsistently.
It may take some time, but a stable would be a great kick start to Cesaro's career.
Check back daily for new entries in the WWE 25-superstar countdown. Here is how the list looks thus far:
25. Damien Sandow
24. Alex Riley