If you're a fan of Alberto Del Rio being a top star in WWE, you may be getting a message from Wade Barrett soon because we've got some bad news for you—that time has passed.
It may seem at face value that Del Rio is still in a good position since he is currently feuding with the Royal Rumble winner, but come the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, the downward slope will be exposed.
He has spent the better part of the past few years as one of the few staples of the main event—for better or worse—though the past few months have been the initial stages of a downgrade.
Del Rio went into 2013 on a high note with a fresh face turn and yet another World Heavyweight Championship title reign which would quickly become a chaotic mess.
Jack Swagger's errors in judgment jeopardized the match between the two at WrestleMania, and then the bad luck continued to follow as Del Rio's new gimmick wasn't getting over with the crowd.
After dropping the title to Dolph Ziggler, who would then suffer a concussion, Del Rio found himself holding onto the championship out of what could only be considered fear on WWE's part.
He may not be the most over person on the roster, but WWE's planning was thrown for a loop and the company felt comfortable enough to trust Del Rio to hold onto the title for safekeeping as it had so often done in the past.
For the next few months, Del Rio struggled to have some kind of purpose, but at the very least, he was still holding the second-best championship in the company, so he was by default treated as a main event player.
This all changed when John Cena defeated him for the World Heavyweight Championship at Hell in a Cell.
After Cena moved on to feud with Randy Orton in the title unification match, Del Rio's stock plummeted and he went from being a top guy to losing to Sin Cara, ending the year in a total reversal than the previous one.
It was obvious that Del Rio was being pushed aside for bigger names to get the spotlight, but WWE still kept a tiny nugget of credibility in him by having him call out Batista before his return.
However, this was the bare minimum of effort to try to set up what will eventually play out as a complete stall.
Del Rio is not being positioned to get a win over the No. 1 contender at the event before WrestleMania and then follow the upswing that comes after, but the opposite.
He is doomed to be fed to Batista.
After that, what is going to happen? The next pay-per-view is the biggest one of the year, where stars like The Undertaker, Triple H and Brock Lesnar will be priorities.
Will Del Rio be viewed as an equal WWE feels the need to devote significant time to building a match around?
Absolutely not, and he will be lucky if he gets a singles match at all, rather than simply being thrown in a random tag team match with others who aren't important enough for more attention.
While he'll be fading into obscurity in the background, his downfall will become ever clearer.
Losing his championship, jobbing out to a nearly irrelevant midcarder, having a marginal purpose at the Royal Rumble at best and then being a jobber to the stars at Elimination Chamber?
This, followed up with a less-than-prominent spot at WrestleMania, will put Del Rio in too damaging a position to fix.
Del Rio seems to understand that point, as there are rumors that he's leaving WWE and not renewing his contract, according to PWInsider Elite (care of WrestlingInc.com).
With the WWE World Heavyweight Championship unified, Extreme Rules is not going to be structured around boosting his credibility and lifting him out of the theoretical career quicksand.
There are too many bigger fish to fry that will revolve around that title instead of Del Rio: namely Randy Orton, John Cena, Daniel Bryan, Sheamus, Big Show and even possibly CM Punk.
He has to contend with guys like Rey Mysterio (who eclipses him in the "popular Hispanic wrestler" market, having succeeded where Del Rio had failed), younger stars like Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt, as well as others you can't count out like The Miz and Dolph Ziggler.
Even if Batista wins the championship at WrestleMania, the likelihood that WWE will want to rehash a Batista vs. Del Rio feud anytime soon is too slim.
Starting with the title unification, Del Rio has been squeezed out of the main event picture, even if it has sneaked under the radar.
Until Elimination Chamber is over with, there will still be an illusion that that has not happened yet, but once Batista soundly defeats him, there will be no going back.
Del Rio was on the decline already, but this loss to The Animal will shine light upon it.
The perception will continue as he is stepped over by people higher on the pecking order, and soon enough, the man who was holding one of the two top championships in the company for years will have no place as a contender for the unified title.
Therein lies the crux of the problem for Del Rio. How do you do nothing of value after a year of disappointments, sacrifice what little credibility you still have left at Elimination Chamber and come out of it still a main eventer in a sea of more important people?
The simple answer is that you can't.
Anthony Mango is the owner-operator of the wrestling website Smark Out Moment as well as the host of its podcast show Smack Talk on YouTube, iTunes and Stitcher. You can follow him on Facebook and elsewhere for more.
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