For the past 18 months, Alberto Del Rio has been on a steady decline as a top heel. He was no longer resonating with the fans, and many considered him boring, but his current face turn is the perfect remedy for what has been ailing him.
Del Rio burst onto the scene in the WWE in the summer of 2010, and there was certainly a lot of buzz surrounding him. He was billed as an affluent man with rich Mexican blood lines. The WWE touted him as the nephew of the legendary Mil Mascaras and essentially force fed him to the audience as the next big heel in the company.
It worked for a while, as Del Rio was unique and interesting at first. He was booked well too, with a win over Rey Mysterio in his debut match and a triumph in the largest Royal Rumble of all time in 2011. Del Rio would lose his World Heavyweight Championship to Edge at WrestleMania XXVI, though, and things seemed to unravel from there.
He did win the Money in the Bank contract and had two short runs with the WWE Championship; however, Del Rio had already run his course. A severe groin injury kept him out of action for a while, and he hasn't really recovered since in terms of relevance.
Del Rio feuded with Sheamus for the World Heavyweight Championship throughout the summer, but he never looked like a true threat, and that damaged him even further. Del Rio has floundered since the end of that feud, but things changed at TLC.
With Ricardo Rodriguez getting bullied by 3MB, Del Rio ran out to make the save. It was truly the first face moment that Del Rio had ever had in the WWE, and the fans reacted well. He went on to team with The Miz and The Brooklyn Brawler to beat 3MB that night, and he, Miz and Tommy Dreamer did it again on the following Raw.
The face turn seemed random and abrupt, but the WWE has done a nice job building on it since then. At first, it was unclear if he had actually become a full-fledged face, but that question was answered when he rushed to Ricardo's defense once again. Ricardo was scheduled to face Big Show on SmackDown, but Big Show knocked him out, so Del Rio defended his honor.
Big Show then bullied Ricardo into a match on Raw, and Del Rio was extremely supportive. He gave Ricardo his scarf and the keys to his car. He also accompanied him to the ring and interfered when Big Show was about to deliver a Knockout Punch. Del Rio came across looking very cool, and I can't help but think that the fans are going to react favorably to him as a face.
One of the big advantages to being a face is that you don't necessarily have great mic skills. It's obviously a plus, but a heel generally needs to be better on the mic since they're often insulting their opponents and the fans. Faces can take a basic, cookie-cutter approach and still thrive as long as they have a good character and solid in-ring skills.
Del Rio has both of those things, and lessening the burden when it comes to cutting promos will be beneficial for him. His new character is interesting, as he's now a smooth, well-to-do Mexican aristocrat, but he's using his wealth and power for good rather than exploiting and degrading others.
Also, the fact that Del Rio was viewed as tedious and repetitive on the mic detracted from his wrestling ability. Del Rio is actually one of the WWE's best when it comes to in-ring work, and I have to believe that it will become more apparent moving forward. Not only is he athletic, but he is great technically and uses the old-school method of targeting a certain limb on his opponent's body.
Having a submission finisher is tailored more toward a face as well. It's a lot more likely that a heel is going to tap rather than a face, so the Cross Armbreaker could suddenly become an iconic move if Del Rio reaches new heights in the same way that the Sharpshooter was for Bret Hart.
Del Rio's face turn doesn't guarantee that he'll get back to the main-event scene and succeed, but he is far more interesting now than he has been since the lost to Edge nearly two years ago at WrestleMania. He's very unique and might have enough natural charisma as a face to be even better than he was at his height as a heel.
Del Rio will have his chance to impress, as he figures to challenge Big Show for the World Heavyweight Championship at Royal Rumble and to be involved in the Elimination Chamber match as well. My best guess is that he'll take the Intercontinental Championship from Wade Barrett at WrestleMania and then build from there.
As long as he continues to gain momentum, Del Rio has what it takes to be a legitimate top star with huge appeal to Mexican fans, similar to Mysterio. Rey doesn't have a ton of time left in the business, so perhaps Del Rio will be the guy who takes the torch and runs with it.