Sunday night at Night of Champions, United States Champion Antonio Cesaro defeated Zack Ryder to retain his title. Earlier in the evening, Ryder outlasted a number of WWE Superstars in a battle royal to earn the shot, a decision by the creative team that was undoubtedly popular with fans across the Internet.
Now, allow me to preface this by stating, for the record, that I am a supporter of Zack Ryder. He has gotten himself over to an extent no one could have expected and has been unfairly punished for it. Ryder is more over with the audience than a number of men and women receiving regular television time, and he sells a boatload of merchandise.
But was Zack Ryder the right opponent for Cesaro? The answer, in short, is no.
Antonio Cesaro is at an interesting place in his young WWE career. He has been underdeveloped as a character and won a championship before people were given a reason to care about him. For all of his talent, which has been adequately documented elsewhere, he is missing the connection with the fans that make truly successful Superstars.
With the creative team doing him no favors, the only real reason for fans to buy into him is based on the Superstars he competes against and defeats. The truth, whether most want to admit it or not, is that Zack Ryder has had a less-than-stellar 2012, and beating him at this point does little to legitimize Cesaro's title reign.
Brodus Clay, on the other hand, has been treated as a big deal. With only two televised losses, he dominates his opponents and has become a featured part of Monday Night Raw. Had Cesaro been given the task of defending his title against someone that is considered a significant star the way that Brodus is, or to a lesser extent, Santino Marella, his successful title defense would have done more to impress fans.
Cesaro has yet to receive constant exposure on Raw, the company's flagship show, instead relegated to the B-show on Friday nights. It is vital for the success of Cesaro and his title reign that the company makes the most of opportunities such as Sunday's event.
The match between Ryder and Cesaro was better than a match between the champion and Clay or Santino would have been. With that said, there comes a time when quality has to take a backseat to credibility. If Antonio Cesaro does not begin garnering credibility with the audience, all of the successful title defenses in the world will mean nothing.
For now, Sunday night's win over Zack Ryder can only be considered a missed opportunity.