Hey boys and girls. As we roll on toward the glory and splendor of WrestleMania, I'd like to take a moment to focus on a match that is being kicked under the carpet a bit in the lead up to the event. I'm talking about the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match between Jack Swagger and Alberto Del Rio, and more specifically, I'm talking about how and why Del Rio should retain his title against the All-American.
I'm going to hit you with seven reasons why Alberto Del Rio should not only retain the title at WrestleMania, but should go right on holding it on into the future. And no, his dazzling smile didn't even make the list.
I chose to start out with this point, because it's the one that focuses the least on what Del Rio himself is doing right, and the most on how he's simply in the right place at the right time.
Take a look up and down the SmackDown roster right now. You have a lot of great talent, but no obvious choices to be the face of the SmackDown brand right now. Big Show has been on fire, but he's always going to be a placeholder for other things. Randy Orton is incredible, but he has less momentum now than he has at any point in his career. Sheamus just had a long title reign last year, Jack Swagger is totally unproven in a role of this significance and Mark Henry is only just rebuilding the head of steam he needs to get to that top level again.
Whether by luck, coincidence or bad booking, Alberto Del Rio stands here today as the only guy really qualified to lead the SmackDown brand into the second half of 2013. Now, maybe someone from Raw could come over and change things up and maybe one of those other guys will make a surge back to the top.
But until one of those things happens, I feel absolutely confident in telling you that nobody but Del Rio has any business holding that gold.
It's long been said that Vince McMahon has a thing for big steroid-using muscle-monsters with no real skill. And while history has borne out the fact that these types of performers make the most money for WWE and are pushed the hardest, things have changed dramatically in the post-wellness era. Gone are many of the mega muscular destroyers, and up have risen a new breed of great athletes with natural bodies and great skills.
So, the prototype for a WWE champion has changed in many ways, but really even if it hadn't, Alberto Del Rio would still stand out.
We're talking about a man who is 6'5", 239 pounds, the son of near-royalty in Mexico, who looks better in pajamas than you did on your wedding day. And while many people like to ignore the role that having a great look has in wrestling, the fact is that one of the hardest things to do in the wrestling business is get across the idea that a guy BELONGS as a main-event.
If a guy lacks an intangible property that labels them as being somehow greater and higher than everyone else, then fans have shown that they have trouble taking them seriously among the legendary greats of the wrestling business.
So when you have a guy walk through the door who looks like a million dollars and has the skills to match it, well, let's just say that WWE knows how to take it from here.
If you watch SmackDown regularly, I'm not telling you anything you don't already know when I say that the show just isn't what it once was. Few storylines are meaningfully advanced, few matches seem to mean anything, and pretty much every main event is a tag match even when Teddy Long isn't in charge.
With guys like Sheamus more often mixing it up on Raw so they can get more attention, SmackDown felt the lack through 2012 and was badly in need of someone at the top of the show who can give it structure and purpose.
So when Alberto Del Rio took over the helm as champion, he had, and has, plenty stacked against him. But, since he became champion in December, the ratings are up, (even from WrestleMania season last year,) the interest is up, and his feuds are getting people talking.
His promo skill and surprising acting ability have given the SmackDown writers carte blanche to use him in as many inventive ways as they can thinks of, and his wrestling ability has ensured that the main events aren't drab reruns near so often as they once were.
He's only three months into his title reign, but things are already getting better. Imagine what he could do with a year.
Do you know what "shipping" is? No, it doesn't involve boats. Well, usually.
"Shipping" is a phenomena where people who watch a movie or television show, for example, get really into the idea of two characters being meant for each other. Sometimes it's romantic and sometimes it's a platonic soul-mate thing, and sometimes it's downright creepy, (if you Google "shipping" after reading this, I take no responsibility for what you find.)
But whether you realize it or not, you've almost certainly experienced it before. Maybe it was Ross and Rachel on Friends, maybe it was Luke and Han from Star Wars. And maybe you, like a growing mass of the WWE fanbase, have experienced it for Alberto Del Rio and Ricardo Rodriguez.
Make no mistake about it, Roberto is the number one reason why Del Rio was able to turn face at all. After years of treating him with disdain, Del Rio came to his rescue and all but carried him to safety in his arms like The Bodyguard when 3MB attacked him at Survivor Series.
From there everything changed in the fans' attitudes toward Del Rio. Rodriguez has so much sympathy and love from the audience that the endearing relationship between the two has actually served to get Del Rio over with very little effort. Between that and Rodriguez's intro being Del Rio's most recognizable catchphrase, these two are a partnership that works better than any manager/wrestler relationship has in a long, long time.
And as long as Alberto has Ricardo, those fans will go right on smiling.
Oh man, where do we even start?
For someone who has been a fixture in the upper card of WWE since his debut four years ago, Alberto Del Rio has actually had very few serious feuds to this point. He feuded with Rey Mysterio soon after his debut, then later entered a title feud with Cena and Punk, then feuded with Sheamus and then on to the Big Show and finally Jack Swagger.
Of those, only Mysterio, Sheamus and Big Show feuds really need a rest due to overexposure, so who does that leave him to wrestle as a babyface?
Well, let's see: There's Randy Orton, who has been rumored to be eyeing a heel turn for some time; there's a returning Christian; there's Mark Henry; there's Wade Barrett; there's Antonio Cesaro; there's Dolph Ziggler who has the Money in the Bank shot at Del Rio's title; Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow; Ryback; Daniel Bryan; Kane; the Shield. Not even mentioning the possibilities of guys like Punk, Lesnar and Cena.
The list goes on, and all of these are matches that are not only fresh, but many of them would be first-time matchups between big stars. Of all of the main event options on SmackDown right now, (Orton, Sheamus, Show, Henry, etc.) no one has as much potential for fresh, quality main event matches as Alberto Del Rio right now.
And just remember, since turning face, he hasn't had a bad match yet.
WWE has long had global ambitions for its product, as any major corporation would. In some global markets it has had success, and in some it has struggled. But, one of the WWE's greatest and most unexpected successes is relevant here. We'll get into that in a second, but first let's have a little history.
Back the mid 2000s, SmackDown was really running on all cylinders. The matches were great, the storylines were solid, and some new stars were emerging. Perhaps the most unexpected of these stars was the late Eddie Guerrero, who saw his stock soar throughout 2003 into 2004, ultimately culminating in a WWE Championship victory and the main event spot he so richly deserved.
But rewarding one of the greatest performers in wrestling history was just one benefit of this decision, as Hispanic viewers began tuning into SmackDown in stunning numbers to watch Eddie Guerrero as champion. Along with his friend Rey Mysterio, and his cousin Chavo Guerrero, they represented some of the biggest Mexican stars ever presented on WWE television and the audience responded.
Buoyed by its placement on UPN, a network that catered heavily to Hispanic and African American communities, WWE found a home in the heart of Hispanic families both here in America and abroad. By the time 2006 rolled around, SmackDown was consistently the fourth-highest rated English speaking show among the Hispanic audience, trailing only American Idol and Grey's Anatomy.
When Eddie Guerrero died in 2005, those numbers only grew stronger, and that responsibility fell on the shoulders of Rey Mysterio, who wore that mantle proudly for a number of years, even as the show changed networks and lost some accessibility to the fanbase. The influx of support from Mexico not only allowed WWE to tour extensively there, but was also the foundation for the WWE's massive international push for talent and expansion, which has led to huge business and a distinctly international flavor for the shows.
Those Hispanic viewership numbers remain strong to this day, but they are in decline as Mysterio dials down his career and, until recently, no obvious replacement is anywhere to be found.
Enter Alberto Del Rio.
Son of one of the most famous luchadors of all time, a man who would have been a Mexican Olympian in 2000 had Mexico sent a team that year, and a man who has "Made in Mexico" tattooed on his back.
If ever there was a man who could recapture the imagination of that audience, here's your guy. It may take a little while to get the ball rolling back in the other direction, but the potential in this man to capture that audience is limitless.
In a lot of ways we tend to over-think these things as wrestling fans. We're trying so hard to get ahead of the game and figure out who the next person who deserves a push is that we don't slow down and realize the value of someone currently getting pushed until it isn't happening anymore.
It's not hard to look at the reaction Alberto Del Rio has been getting from live crowds to see that this run he's on is working. He's getting universally positive reactions from a fanbase that seems to be perpetually split on every performer these days.
Del Rio has been turning in terrific matches and tapping into an inner hero character that few of us had knew he even had access to, and people are responding. They're responding to perhaps the only good guy on the entire roster who isn't objectionable in any way. And the cheers are only getting louder.
So before we start thinking about the next man to hold the big gold belt, and before we start getting so far out on the limb that we fall out of the tree, let's stop and soak in a title reign that is bringing more to the WWE and it's fans than many believed possible. Great things like this are fleeting, and there's so much left for him to do.
So there we have it. 7 ways that WWE and Smackdown in particular are better off with Alberto Del Rio keeping that shiny gold belt around his waist. With any luck I have helped to sway any doubters and helped to validate his many supporters.
But in the end, this is just one man's opinion. Speak out in the comments and have your own say on whether Alberto Del Rio belongs on the top of mountain.
And until next time, keep reading and be good to one another.