When he made his WWE debut last April, the vast majority of the mainstream pro wrestling audience had no idea who Antonio Cesaro was.
But not even one year later, he’s already developed into one of the company’s top up-and-coming stars.
A former indy standout, the man once known as Claudio Castagnoli has now made quite the name for himself as Antonio Cesaro and is viewed by most as a future main-eventer and world champion.
Right now, though, he’s in the midst of a lengthy and impressive United States Championship reign, having held the belt for a whopping 164 days since winning it at SummerSlam last year.
Cesaro has done a great job of making the US title matter again after the three guys who held the belt before him essentially destroyed its prestige. There are no signs of him dropping the belt anytime soon, either.
It seems that Cesaro will continue to dominate the US title scene for the foreseeable future, and given how strongly he’s been booked during his run so far, he’s probably going to hold it well into 2013.
What many are wondering, however, is just when the WWE will pull the trigger on elevating him up the card.
There are a couple routes the creative team can go with Cesaro, after all.
It could choose to bump him up to the World title/main-event picture before he’s actually ready, or it could be patient and choose the right time and place to take his push to the next level.
Over the past few years, the WWE has done a little bit of both with its rising stars.
While the company appears to be taking its time with the push of guys like Damien Sandow, Cody Rhodes and even Dolph Ziggler, it also pushed guys like Ryback, Alberto Del Rio and Sheamus right out of the gate.
But what will the creative team do with Cesaro?
While the Swiss-born superstar has been so impressive over the last several months that many think his ascension to the top of the WWE will take place sooner rather than later, look for the WWE to slowly and surely elevate him instead.
Although Cesaro has already held the US title for a while, there are no real signs that he is going to drop the belt anytime soon, which is actually smart booking.
The WWE has pushed many guys too hard too soon, and it’s come back to bite them in the butt down the road. That shouldn’t happen with Cesaro.
As we approach WrestleMania 29, Cesaro looks destined to enter that pay-per-view as the United States champion and, in all likelihood, hold the title well past it.
Lengthy title reigns have become the norm in the WWE (as evidenced by Sheamus and CM Punk’s recent world title reigns), and Cesaro appears to be the next star who will hold a title for the better part of a year.
Whenever he does drop the belt—likely after WrestleMania this spring or at some point in the summer—expect him to be elevated up the card but not necessarily for the long term.
With John Cena likely to win the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29 (and get a lengthy title reign afterward) and guys like Dolph Ziggler and Ryback figuring to have world title reigns this year, there may not be a whole lot of room for Cesaro in the main-event picture in 2013.
That’s OK, though, because there’s no reason to rush things with Cesaro.
He hasn’t even been around for a year yet, and the WWE shouldn’t risk ruining him by elevating him before he’s established enough to be taken seriously as a main-eventer or world title picture.
That being said, giving him a lengthy US Championship run to help him get established as a top heel will do a lot of good for him. The longer he holds the US title, the more he makes it matter and the more impressive he looks.
If the WWE creative team is smart, it will have Cesaro hold onto that belt for as long as possible because it will mean so much for both Cesaro and whoever ends his lengthy title reign.
Then, it could do with Cesaro what it’s done with so many other rising stars who lose a midcard title: Slowly elevate him up the card.
In late 2011, Dolph Ziggler lost the US Championship, and a month later, he was challenging Punk for the WWE title at the Royal Rumble. Still, it took another year or so for Ziggler to legitimize himself as a main-event talent.
Something similar will happen with Cesaro.
He’ll drop the title at some point in the middle of the year and likely be quickly elevated to the main-event scene, only for the WWE to then scale back on his push a bit and bring him back down to the upper mid-card for a while.
Then, the WWE will decide to reignite his push when the time is right—whenever that may be.
Will it be in 2013? Probably not.
The main-event picture is going to be crowded this year with the established veterans and a rising crop of young stars, like Ziggler and Ryback, who look poised to win world titles at some point.
It’s widely thought that Cesaro is a future world champion, but when 2013 concludes, he’ll still have only been on the WWE’s main roster for a little more than a year and a half.
That’s not a whole lot of times in wrestling terms, which is why we shouldn’t freak out if Cesaro doesn’t reach the main-event level at some point this year.
He’s still got plenty of time to get to the top of the WWE, and though he likely won’t do it in 2013 (at least not for the long haul), 2014 will be a different story.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!