Alberto Del Rio is the No. 1 contender for the World Heavyweight Championship, and that’s exactly the spot that he belongs in.
Del Rio, of course, is no stranger to feuding for world titles. He’s done so for the vast majority of his career and, in fact, has been a pretty consistent presence in the World Heavyweight title picture for roughly a year now.
After beating Jack Swagger at Sunday’s Extreme Rules PPV, ADR is once again the top contender for the world title—a spot that he is much more valuable in than he ever was as the actual world champion.
Looking back throughout Del Rio’s history, he’s spent almost his entire career on a quest to win either the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship. But when he’s actually done so, success hasn’t exactly followed.
Del Rio’s first WWE Championship reign lasted all of 35 days and featured exactly zero successful title defenses. His second WWE title reign wasn’t much better, either.
It lasted just 49 days, featured only one successful (and controversial) PPV title defense and saw Del Rio be portrayed as one of the weakest World champions in recent memory.
ADR’s third title reign—his first run as a babyface champion and his first run with the World Heavyweight Championship—would be a significant improvement on his first two, lasting 90 days and featuring two successful title defenses, including one on the grand stage of WrestleMania.
Still, what do ADR’s three title reigns add up to? 174 total days (an average of 58 days or less than two months per reign) and three total successful title defenses, two of which ended in controversial fashion.
As you can see, Del Rio the World champion—no matter which title he’s held—has had a really rough go-round every time he’s actually held the belt that he tried so desperately to win.
Simply put, the WWE just didn’t have enough confidence in Del Rio during his first two title reigns to give him lengthy runs with the belt. Meanwhile, his third reign was doomed because of Dolph Ziggler, the Money in the Bank contract and the intense desire of the fans to see Ziggler as World Heavyweight Champion.
Perhaps ADR could have had better world title reigns if the creative team was willing to let them happen. But it wasn’t, and now, we know: ADR is much more valuable as a contender.
As a heel champion, he was booked weakly because he was feuding with the WWE’s top two faces, John Cena and CM Punk, at the time. As a babyface world champion, it was hard to get behind ADR because he won the title so quickly after turning face (meaning we didn’t have time to build up our desire to see it happen) and because his manager Ricardo Rodriguez often outshined him.
As a contender, however, Del Rio has actually been much more entertaining—at least when he has creative on his side.
Although ADR’s five-month long world title feud with Sheamus was pretty terrible overall because he lost so damn much, his original quest to become champion was actually a pretty entertaining one.
Del Rio, of course, preached about how it was his “destiny” to become world champion, and he proved that it might actually be when he won the 2011 Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank matches. Those monumental victories built him up as a strong contender even though he was new to the main roster.
While he wasn’t booked perfectly as a heel contender, he came across like a big deal because of those major victories and the fact that the MITB briefcase essentially guaranteed that he’d become champion one day.
That was a stark contrast from his time when he actually was the champion.
During both of his runs as WWE Champion, the WWE basically refused to let him succeed. Cena and, more specifically, Punk were much bigger priorities at the time, and ADR was just a secondary character in the WWE title picture.
Del Rio, however, would prove his worth as a World title contender in late 2012 when he turned face, almost instantly became the WWE’s biggest Hispanic hero and would try to topple the seemingly unstoppable Big Show to become World Heavyweight champion.
That angle worked so well because Big Show had been portrayed as such a strong champion and because Del Rio’s face turn was so fresh at the time. The fans were beginning to react very positively to him, and they really wanted to see him end the Big Show’s reign of terror.
Naturally, the WWE jumped the gun a little bit by putting the title on ADR so quickly because having to wait to get that win would have made that moment even more monumental for ADR.
But still, there was something so pure about the moment that Del Rio became the World Heavyweight Champion. The fans loved it, and it obviously meant a lot to Del Rio, which generated a genuine reaction from everyone watching—something that doesn’t happen all that often in pro wrestling anymore.
Unfortunately, Del Rio as the World Heavyweight champion just didn’t mean as much as he did when he was the No. 1 contender. He had already reached his goal of toppling Big Show, so what else was there for him to do?
Perhaps that’s why babyface in general make better contenders than champions.
One of the biggest appeals of pro wrestling is the battle of good vs. evil, mainly the quest of a babyface challenger looking to dethrone the heel champion. It’s a simple story that can work so well when done right.
It did so for ADR, but once that moment of his world title win had passed, it was all downhill from there.
Del Rio quickly began to lose his momentum the longer that his world title reign dragged on, and the fans who were once elated over his epic title win began souring on him.
Sound familiar? It should because that’s what seems to happen to Del Rio almost every time he becomes World Heavyweight champion.
As a challenger, he succeeds in winning the attention and adulation of the fans. But as a champion, he just doesn’t.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!