Alberto Del Rio shocked the world by winning the World Heavyweight Championship on last week’s SmackDown, and now, he’s getting the biggest opportunity of his career.
After debuting in the summer of 2010, Del Rio spent the first two-and-a-half years of his WWE career performing as a top-level heel.
He had a great deal of success in that role, too.
Not even a year-and-a-half into his WWE run, ADR had won the Royal Rumble, a Money in the Bank match and two WWE Championships—with all of those accomplishments taking place in 2011.
But 2012 wasn’t as great for “The Mexican Aristocrat” as the previous year.
He spent much of the early portion of the year sidelined with an injury, and upon his return, he found himself embroiled in a lengthy rivalry with Sheamus over the World Heavyweight Championship.
On paper, that doesn’t sound so bad, but Del Rio was booked like a loser during the feud. It is also widely considered to be one of the worst major feuds of the year.
Another lackluster feud with Randy Orton in the fall of 2012 did next to nothing for Del Rio, who was clearly losing steam as we neared 2013.
Well, at least that’s what we thought.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the seeds were planted for Del Rio to turn face at the WWE TLC pay-per-view, when he teamed with The Miz and The Brooklyn Brawler to defeat 3MB in a six-man tag team match.
The WWE seemed to waffle on that face turn when ADR “ran over” Santa Claus on the Christmas Eve edition of Raw, but as it turns out, the creative team decided to stick with pushing him as a good guy.
That decision has worked out really well so far.
ADR hasn’t made any drastic changes to his character. The only really noticeable differences are that he’s suddenly super worried about protecting Ricardo Rodriguez, and is now seemingly more likable.
In fact, the fans are reacting quite favorably to him, especially for someone who hasn’t even been a full-fledged babyface for a month now.
There was no better example of that than on last week’s SmackDown when Del Rio surprisingly defeated Big Show to win the World Heavyweight Championship.
Having ADR topple The Big Show, who was been booked to be unstoppable for the last six months, was a great creative move. And the way it played out could not have gone better.
That SmackDown took place in Miami, which has a large Hispanic population that popped huge for Del Rio’s major win, a victory that felt more important than most World title wins you’ll ever see.
ADR took a ton of punishment but wouldn’t stay down, and he looked like he was using every ounce of his strength to push the table over that ultimately trapped Big Show and gave Del Rio the monumental win.
Del Rio’s reaction that followed was absolutely priceless.
There seemed to be genuine happiness behind it on Del Rio’s part, which is certainly understandable because it was his first time winning the World title as a babyface—the same World title that was the first title he ever pursued in the WWE.
After two-and-a-half years, he captured it, and—make no mistake about it—now is his time to shine in the WWE.
ADR’s firs two World title reigns were lackluster ones that saw him be booked like a cowardly heel and never really be taken seriously as a credible champion. But the creative team suddenly seems to be behind him now more than ever.
Why? It’s simple, really: Del Rio is being pushed as the WWE’s next top Hispanic star.
With Rey Mysterio nearing the end of his career and Sin Cara failing to reach the level that he was expected to, it’s Del Rio who’s taking over. He’s becoming the company’s go-to Hispanic babyface, and it’s well-deserved.
ADR has worked his tail off to evolve into a great performer, and now, he’s getting back to his roots as a babyface, which is a role he worked in when he became arguably the biggest wrestling star in Mexico.
Although there continues to be doubts about whether or not he will succeed as a babyface, Del Rio’s early performances as a good guy and the favorable reactions he’s receiving have many optimistic about his future in that role.
After all, the WWE is tailor-made for babyfaces.
Look at the recent rise of guys like CM Punk, Sheamus and Ryback. The common link is that they were all good guys who had the support of the creative team and became main eventers as a result.
That support is something that most top heels don’t typically get. Now that ADR is a babyface, he’ll reap the benefits.
Del Rio figures to have the creative team on his side both because he’s now a face and because he’s taking over Mysterio’s throne as the top babyface in the entire WWE.
That’s going to allow ADR to do more than just be one of the company’s best performers.
It’s going to give him a chance to shine brighter than he ever has.
Drake Oz is a WWE featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!