WWE is tying a brick to Cesaro's ankle if it doesn't decide if he's a babyface or heel.
His current fence-straddling role holds him back. He's unable to fully dive into his character and the audience is unsure of how to react to him. Superstars of the past have toyed with gray areas in their alignments before, but Cesaro's case is different.
The company is simply not committing to how it portrays "The King of Swing."
He's aligned with Paul Heyman, one of the most hated men in the WWE landscape. That makes him a villain by association, right?
Rapper Wale is one of many fans who are confused about the situation:
Cesaro heel or face?— Wale Folarin (@Wale) April 12, 2014
Cesaro hasn't been cheating to win as of late. He hasn't bashed anybody outside of the rules the way wrestling's bad boys have done for years. He's not doing anything other than standing next to Heyman to elicit boos.
As Jim Ross writes on J.R.'s BarBQ, "Not sure why as a fan I should dislike Cesaro and it can't be simply because he's aligned himself with Paul Heyman."
Unless WWE decides to commit to him as a heel, he likely won't provide reasons to dislike him. It's hard to imagine Cesaro breaking Daniel Bryan's ankle or cracking a steel chair over John Cena's spine backstage—not with all the support he's been getting lately.
The Swiss strongman is generating an increasingly loud fanbase. Fans cheer when he goes for the Cesaro Swing or cracks someone's head back with an uppercut.
There is even a contingent of fans known as "the Cesaro section" which populates arenas around the world.
That's something WWE is reportedly at least partly cooking up on its own, though.
Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc) notes that WWE is handing out the "Cesaro section" signs: "The plan is to create the idea that the fans want Cesaro turned while he stays with Paul Heyman and doesn't actually turn, all while giving the impression that there is a groundswell on turning him babyface."
That unconventional path is going to be a tough one.
WWE fans have expectations from the characters onscreen. They want to know who to root for and who to root against, even if the "smarks" among us choose to circumvent what WWE is asking of its audience.
Fans began pulling for Dolph Ziggler while he was still a bad guy. Eventually, WWE had him turn. That's been happening for Cesaro more recently and WWE responded by switching his manager from one heel to another.
Cesaro just seems to be in limbo. He'll either be too popular to make heelish tactics make sense or start to quell his Bryan-like support by doing bad things to wrestlers fans love.
Some fans will counter that Steve Austin and Eddie Guerrero were "tweeners," characters who bucked the status quo regarding traditional heel and face roles. Those situations weren't the same at all, though.
Austin was a hero with far looser moral codes than Cena or Hulk Hogan, but he was clearly a good guy. There was no confusion about who to support in the feud between the rebel and the tyrannical executive named Vince McMahon.
Guerrero cheated much like a heel, but he turned it into something to love about him.
When he was at his babyface apex, he was taking on hated men like Brock Lesnar. It didn't matter as much what Guerrero did to achieve victory in that case, but how those means were presented. WWE made him a flawed hero, but a hero without question.
Cesaro's position isn't as well-defined yet. WWE has to push him in one direction or another.
Some will argue that WWE has moved toward a world of tweeners even more and we don't need a black-and-white view of wrestling heroes and villains.
The lines may blur at times, but the lines are still there.
It's a fallacy that heel and face roles aren't important in the so-called "Reality Era." Some fan favorites may have edgy elements to their characters, but they still act in accordance with their alignment.
The Shield may have the same swagger as a villain and dress in all-black like a classic bad guy, but the group's recent actions announced it as a face. For example, it saved Bryan from Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista.
As a heel stable, it would have not only not cared about him getting throttled, it would have been the one doing the throttling.
Bray Wyatt is gaining popularity, but he's a villain regardless. You don't attack someone after the bell as Wyatt did on Monday's Raw if you're a face.
It's been less clear where Cesaro stands right now. Whether WWE decides to have him play to the crowd or rile it up, the company has to make a clear choice.
Make him a righteous warrior and embrace his fan support or reject it for now and slip further into the darkness that Lesnar and Heyman reside in.
Just don't have him in the middle of the spectrum, unsure of who he is.