In a world of Picassos and Van Goghs, Alberto Del Rio is the WWE equivalent of Edouard Manet—vastly underappreciated despite his stellar work.
Jaw-rattling kicks, smoothness in the ring and a villainous aura have brought Del Rio an abundance of success and a scarcity of acclaim. His long-term potential will be determined by how well he can get the audience to notice the masterpieces he's been painting from day one.
After a brief experiment with Del Rio as a hero to the people, WWE shifted him back to his more natural state: a throwback heel.
This is the role he was born to play; it fits him like it was a tailored suit.
He must be given opportunities to be nastier and more dastardly, though. He needs more moments like when Ted DiBiase kicked a ball away from a kid or attempted to buy the WWE Heavyweight Championship.
The more he brings out the mercilessness in his dark heart, like when he thrashed Ricardo Rodriguez, the better.
Del Rio's position as world champion is fitting in terms of his talent, but not with his connection with the audience. Maybe it's because the company shot Del Rio up the ladder so fast, but there's far too much apathy and resentment directed at him.
His ring work is solid enough to build toward good matches and he's one of the finest in-ring performers working today, but fans aren't taking to him like they do their favorites.
Barbarity and Beauty
Deliver excellent performances in the ring as consistently as Del Rio and one is bound to get a number of major opportunities.
Del Rio is slick, speedy and is equal parts high-flyer, technical wrestler and showman. His background in MMA shines through as he gives his matches a realistic feel (that's especially true for his explosive kicks).
WWE can stick him with just about any opponent and get a quality match. His work against John Cena, CM Punk, Randy Orton, Christian and Edge are proof of that. He appears to be giving all of himself every night.
That's a trait that usually wins over an audience.
If he continues to give and take tremendous punishment in the ring and produce memorable, compelling matches like he has been doing, he won't stray from the main event scene often.
Right now, he's among the most dependable Superstars in that department.
Throw him in against just about anybody and the quality of the action between the ropes is all but guaranteed. His match against Christian helped SummerSlam 2013 be the best pay-per-view of the year.
Del Rio is at his best against someone like Christian who can keep up with him athletically, but also when he taps into his viciousness, causing people like NXT prospect Solomon Crowe to take notice.
It's also what turned a recent match against Sin Cara from an awkward dud to an intriguing moment. Sin Cara dislocated his fingers early on in this bout and called for the referee to stop the fight.
Del Rio took the opportunity to pound on Sin Cara even as the referee was pushing him away.
This is the key to reaching Del Rio's full potential. His ring work is tremendous, but to give the audience a reason to care Del Rio needs to be more barbaric at times, to become as hated as WWE's best heels in history.
Average on the Mic
If you were to rank all of the WWE Superstars based on mic skills, Del Rio would be somewhere in the middle. He's only average in that department, but that hasn't stopped Rob Van Dam, Brock Lesnar and Rey Mysterio from achieving great things.
Del Rio is the modern equivalent of Pedro Morales in terms of talking ability.
Both speak with an accent and can tell a decent story through their performances, but will always be outshined by better, more charismatic talkers. In a segment on WWE Raw, Del Rio was clearly not as slick-tongued as either Punk or Paul Heyman.
Who is though?
Del Rio was able to stir up some emotions, playing an arrogant whiner disgusted by the audience. Perhaps he's not magnetic enough to be in the true main event, but the secondary main event position which he's occupied for so long is a perfect fit for him.
WWE can let Punk, Cena, Bryan and Orton fight over the WWE title while Del Rio continues to provide great matches and supplementary storylines as either pursuer or defender of the World Heavyweight Championship.
Some fans may not like his place on the WWE ladder, but despite being called "boring" by some Del Rio is plenty talented to stay there.
At 36 years old and in his prime, Del Rio isn't going to improve much in the ring. He's learned his craft and does it extremely well.
The upside that he can hope to achieve over the rest of his career will be all based on his character, his promos and his ability to connect with the audience. A tweak here and a shift there and Del Rio will be the top heel WWE thinks he has been since debuting.
It's hard to get climb much higher than world champ, Royal Rumble and Money in the Bank winner, but Del Rio's long-term potential centers around his ability to maintain that level.
Even if he doesn't refine his game at all, he's sure to hover around the World Heavyweight Championship. His consistency and ring work make him one of WWE's safest bets.
Assuming he stays healthy over the next five years, Del Rio is going to creep up to Edge in total world title reigns. Expect marquee feuds with Orton, Cody Rhodes and others in the process.
He's on a sure path to the Hall of Fame, whether his artistry is fully appreciated or not.