One of the things that made the WWE so successful during the Attitude Era and even prior to that was the focus on the mid-card. Main-event feuds are obviously always going to take precedence, but it's important to have a strong overall card. Based on the way the WWE is currently utilizing Antonio Cesaro and Wade Barrett, though, it doesn't look like the company has any interest in a thriving mid-card scene.
Cesaro and Barrett are certainly two of the most talented up-and-comers on the entire WWE roster right now. Because of that, I was extremely happy to see both of them win championship gold. Cesaro became United States Champion all the way back at SummerSlam, while Barrett beat Kofi Kingston for the Intercontinental Championship a couple months ago.
It can be argued that Cesaro has had his moments, but the WWE has really put him on the back burner as of late. He was initially being pushed quite well, as he would beat various mid-card and low-card wrestlers on Raw and SmackDown. He wasn't going over any main-event-level guys, but the goal was to build him and the U.S. title up. For some reason, however, the creative team decided to stall his progress once he finally gained some traction.
Cesaro has beaten The Miz on pay-per-view twice, but he is usually stuck putting someone over on Raw, SmackDown or even Main Event. Cesaro has lost to the likes of Randy Orton and Ryback on countless occasions. Losing to them is one thing since they're both top stars in the company, but the WWE really hit Cesaro where it hurts by having him lose to Sin Cara cleanly on the most recent episode of Main Event.
I don't mind Sin Cara, but he hasn't been anything special since early in his WWE run. The WWE has used him as a run-of-the-mill face in the mid-card, and there was no indication that he was anywhere near Cesaro's level. Cesaro losing every once in a while isn't a big deal, but when a champion loses more than he wins, it definitely devalues the title around his waist.
Barrett is in a similar situation, but I would argue that he is even worse off than the Swiss superstar. If not for a significant elbow injury early last year, Barrett could very well have won a world title by now. He was on a roll at the time of his injury, and it certainly derailed him. Barrett was built slowly albeit effectively upon returning, as he won a number of squash matches and was at least made to look strong.
Before long, Barrett was put in the same situation as Cesaro. He started to wrestle guys like Orton and Sheamus on a regular basis, and he was saddled with the loss more often than not. I thought things might change when he beat Kofi for the IC title, but I was obviously naive. Barrett hasn't engaged in a feud since then aside from a mini angle with Bo Dallas that went absolutely nowhere.
Now Barrett spends most of his time talking about Dead Man Down, which is a movie that he appears in for roughly eight seconds. When he isn't doing that, Barrett is usually losing to World Heavyweight Champion Alberto Del Rio. Again, losing on occasion isn't a big deal, but when it happens constantly, it becomes an issue.
The Intercontinental Championship used to be viewed as a stepping stone to the WWE Championship. Guys like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Rock and countless others went on to become legendary superstars after winning the IC strap. Perhaps the same will ultimately be true of Barrett, but he'll have to become a legend in spite of his Intercontinental Championship reign rather than because of it.
A wrestler should always be better off with a title in their possession than without one, but that simply isn't the case outside of the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships. It's almost as if the WWE feels obligated to get both Cesaro and Barrett on television regularly since they're mid-card champions, but it doesn't take into account how damaging repeated losses can be to a title reign.
If the WWE wants top faces like Orton, Sheamus, Ryback and Del Rio to win matches on a regular basis, that's both perfectly fine and understandable. Rather than throwing the mid-card champions under the bus, though, they should be defeating different mid-card or low-card heels.
It used to be commonplace for the WWE to feature matches between top-level guys and low-card wrestlers in an effort to make the main-eventers look strong. That changed during the Monday Night Wars, because the WWE felt like it needed to put forth pay-per-view quality matches in nearly every segment to compete in the ratings battle.
The fact of the matter is that there is no longer a ratings battle, though, so the focus should be on properly building superstars and feuds. The true indicator for the WWE currently is pay-per-view buys rather than Raw and SmackDown ratings, and if the WWE saved matches between top-level superstars for pay-per-views only, then I guarantee that buyrates would improve.
Is the WWE booking Cesaro and Barrett correctly?
Rather than using mid-card titles as a vehicle to make the wrestlers holding them look legitimate, the WWE actually uses them to make the guys who beat the mid-card champions look credible. The logic behind it is totally backwards, but apparently the writers feel as though it's a good idea to devalue the mid-card titles to the point where they mean nothing.
The proper formula for Cesaro and Barrett is to have them beat various mid-carders while each of them engages in a meaningful feud as well. It's "booking 101," but it seems like most of the WWE's creative staff failed to show up for class.
Perhaps the WWE will surprise me and turn things around, but neither Cesaro nor Barrett has anything going on, and WrestleMania is a mere month away. At this point, it seems quite possible that both of them will be left off the WrestleMania card, which somehow would be both unacceptable and unsurprising at the same time.