Alberto Del Rio is an artist in the ring, composing paintings that too often result in shrugs from those who view them.
Few WWE Superstars are as smooth between the ropes as the former world champ. In terms of athletic acumen, in-ring storytelling and consistency, Del Rio's peers are scarce. He just hasn't been able to convince fans of his greatness, though.
His case is the prime example of how big the gap between one's skill and perception can be.
Compare Del Rio to Mick Foley. An outsider would be confused as to why the latter inspired "Foley is God" signs and the former went largely unappreciated. Del Rio is faster, more agile and a better mat wrestler than Foley.
Foley, though, creates a spark in the audience. Fans leaned in for his matches, worried about him when he was taking a beating and felt exhilarated when he toppled his foes.
Del Rio, on the other hand, is the constant recipient of criticism.
The word "boring" is often thrown his way.
#smackdown del rio boring very boring the is his destine be boring— robert arciga (@arcigarobert) December 14, 2013
The term "X-Pac heat" has been used to describe heels who are booed because fans don't want to see them on TV anymore rather than booing them as a reaction to their villainous characters. We'll likely be referring to a lack of reaction at all as "Del Rio heat."
Fans not caring about Del Rio has become a running joke.
Casual fans lose their voices cheering for John Cena. Other fans create websites dedicated to CM Punk, and Dean Ambrose inspires lustful thoughts from girls in his fan club. Del Rio, though, is the subject of snarky memes.
His is a strange case.
Del Rio consistently delivers in the ring. WWE can depend on him to put on a great match on TV or provide one of the better bouts on any given pay-per-view.
You would think Del Rio's 2013 would start to convince his detractors. Regardless of his opponent, the result has almost always been excellence.
In January, Del Rio battled Big Show for the World Heavyweight Championship on SmackDown. He took down the "The World's Largest Athlete" in what was an intense and compelling Last Man Standing match.
Drama radiated from this bout, Del Rio felling a giant to take his title from him.
In a vastly different match later in the year, Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler put on an impressive showing on the Nov. 27 Main Event. The action was fluid, the near-falls thrilled and both athletes made a mostly insignificant match feel important.
Performances like these usually have fans seeing past a wrestler's flaws.
His growing collection of technically sound and well-crafted matches haven't been enough to win over the majority of the audience. Fans are instead rooting for him not to show up.
I don't wanna jinx it, but we're about to go a PPV and #Raw without any sign of Alberto Del Rio. Get the champagne ready, but don't open it.— Not Jim Ross (@NotJimRoss) December 17, 2013
Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer, the stingy match-rater that he is, still gave Del Rio four pay-per-view matches three or more stars.
|Opponent||Event||Star Rating Out of 5|
|John Cena||Hell in a Cell||3|
Wrestling Observer via ProFightDB.com
The match with Cena at Hell in a Cell was rated just half a star lower than the main event, per ProFightDB.com. Many fans would give his match against Rob Van Dam at Battleground a more favorable review than Meltzer did.
The talk of that show was Cody Rhodes and Goldust defeating The Shield, but Del Rio and Van Dam started the night off in hard-hitting fashion. Ladders and chairs helped them tell a story of Del Rio overcoming Van Dam's advantage in their Hardcore Rules matches.
It didn't matter how good that match was, though.
The way that Cena's critics stay vocal even after he's been a part of critically acclaimed bouts again and again, those who are unimpressed with Del Rio will stay that way regardless of his efforts. WWE pushed him too hard, too fast and the audience's resentment remains.
Del Rio has been world champ for a large percentage of his WWE career.
He won the Royal Rumble just six months after debuting and won the Money in the Bank ladder match six months after that.
He bypassed wrestlers who fans were already invested in for the company's upper rungs. That has seemingly led to blindness to what he does in the ring ever since.
Dos Caras' son has all the physical tools one looks for in a pro wrestler. He's quick, strong and can grapple just as well as he can fly.
The one thing he lacks is an elusive trait, whatever is that creates electricity between performer and audience. That's what Cena has in abundance.
Fans don't get more excited about Cena than Curtis Axel because the former is a better wrestler. It's his magnetism that has made him such a commodity.
Del Rio is more like Axel than Cena in that regard.
It's a testament to how difficult it is to be a top WWE Superstar. A surplus of wrestling skills and talking ability won't push one through the glass ceiling. Only the ethereal "it" factor can provide that.
Will Del Rio ever be able to convince WWE fans that he has this quality?
So far, the narrative of his career is that in match after match he produces, only disinterest follows. He will struggle to shake the "boring" label, no matter how many gorgeous kicks he throws or how often he makes the wrestling ring his gallery.
He'll have to wait until his career is over to be fully appreciated. When future generations of fans are looking back at clips of his bouts, they'll wonder why he wasn't applauded more.