Cesaro could have been a speeding racehorse after WrestleMania 30, but WWE held too tight to his reins and stalled his momentum.
The King of Swing isn't the star he could be. Blame hesitancy and a lack of creativity. WWE misfired with Cesaro's character direction, rivalries and relationship with Paul Heyman.
Heading into WrestleMania, the Swiss powerhouse's popularity was rocketing upward.
Fans chanted his name, roared when he swung his opponents around and marveled at his work between the ropes. Early in the year, he added an impressive win over Randy Orton, a fantastic showing at Elimination Chamber and a great match against John Cena on Raw to his resume.
He then won the first Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, last ousting Big Show.
That WrestleMania moment, him lifting the giant over the top rope, should have been a catalyst for him to charge ahead, to make 2014 his breakout year. Instead, he's watched Roman Reigns, Bray Wyatt and Cena get bigger, better opportunities.
He hasn't been convincing as a heel. He hasn't been as great as he could be in general. It feels as if WWE lit a Roman candle and has only seen a few weak sparks fly out of it.
His short time with Heyman is one of the major reasons for this feeling of unfulfilled promise.
Paul Heyman was Too Focused on Brock Lesnar
Being a "Paul Heyman" guy is supposed to be a career-changer. WWE likely envisioned Heyman elevating Cesaro the way he did Brock Lesnar, Rob Van Dam and The Dangerous Alliance.
Cesaro, though, wasn't where Heyman's passions pointed. He too often bragged about Lesnar ending Undertaker's streak at WrestleMania and not enough about Cesaro's win at that event.
His promo on the April 18 SmackDown is a perfect example of that.
He began by trumpeting up Cesaro, but that only acted as a precursor to his real agenda—needling fans about Lesnar besting Undertaker. He spent 20 seconds talking about Cesaro and a good three minutes on Lesnar's accomplishment.
It was great TV. Heyman is a master of the mic, and he showed that here.
But Cesaro got little push from this.
The speech kept Lesnar's feat alive while he was away, Heyman allowing the power of defeating Undertaker to remain with The Beast Incarnate when he returned. Cesaro was too often an afterthought.
This was often the dynamic during the Heyman-Cesaro alliance. Heyman was the carnival barker—booming, charismatic, infuriating. Cesaro regularly stood silent beside him, almost unnoticed.
After all, it wasn't Cesaro whom Heyman was barking about; it was Lesnar.
Cesaro and Heyman would have made a winning team had they paired up at a different time. Joining forces right after WrestleMania meant that Heyman's attention was elsewhere.
He couldn't spend enough time building up Cesaro. He had a broken streak to remind us of.
That meant that Heyman did little for Cesaro in the end. It also meant that he couldn't take steps toward becoming a fan favorite.
It's hard to be a hero with a weasel at one's side.
WWE Held Back Cesaro's Babyface Turn
Cesaro broke away from Zeb Colter after accepting his Battle Royal trophy. Fans cheered the breakup.
They had been rooting for him more and more in recent months, enamored with his Cesaro Swing and pushing for him to become a good guy. That never happened. Cesaro instead left Colter for Heyman.
Listen to the fans' reaction when Cesaro snatches the mic from his manager.
They are waiting for him to turn. They welcome it.
The reaction for what happens instead is great, but it ultimately had him stuck in limbo. He was popular as a face, but his alignment with Heyman made him a heel.
Cesaro seemed ready to make the switch, but WWE never let it happen. That was reportedly due to a change of plans.
According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (h/t Wrestling Inc), the plan was to push Cesaro as a high-level babyface, but the company instead chose to have Reigns take that spot. In another report, F4WOnline (h/t Wrestle Zone) noted that WWE planned to make Cesaro a top face eventually but thought it best to wait to do so.
In retrospect, that clears up the halfhearted way WWE went about keeping Cesaro a villain. While Seth Rollins betrayed his brothers and Wyatt ambushed his enemies, Cesaro didn't do much to distinguish himself as a member of the dark side.
That prompted Jim Ross to write on his blog, "Not sure why as a fan I should dislike Cesaro and it can't be simply because he's aligned himself with Paul Heyman."
Ross also noted that "The subtle nuances of being a main event level villain in pro wrestling are being either ignored or simply not focused on in today's TV wrestling world." That could directly apply to Cesaro. He wasn't nasty, cowardly or dastardly, all traits that fans expect from their heels.
It's as if WWE didn't want fans to hate Cesaro because it knew it was going to ask the audience to cheer for him before long.
That has led to a noncommittal energy aimed in his direction. He's not making his mark as a heel as a result.
Not finding an archrival hasn't helped either.
Not Enough Big Wins, No Big Feud
Rollins has had Ambrose to drive him. Wyatt battled Cena for months. Reigns has been entangled with Kane, Orton and Triple H.
Cesaro, on the other hand, hasn't been pitted against someone who elevates him.
The company never harnessed his tension with Jack Swagger. They had a few matches against each other, including a decent one also involving Rob Van Dam at Extreme Rules.
Both men being heels kept that feud from progressing. By the next pay-per-view, Cesaro was clashing with a new opponent.
His feud with Sheamus was enticing early on. After their bruise-inducing brawl on the May 13 Main Event, it looked as if the two foes were going to deliver a rivalry to remember.
WWE cut it too short, though.
The Celtic Warrior defeated Cesaro at Payback with a small package, a victory Heyman perceived as cowardly. Cesaro won their rematch on the June 13 SmackDown with the same move, and then the narrative dissipated.
Cesaro didn't win enough either.
He has won only one of his bouts at the four pay-per-views since WrestleMania. After defeating Swagger and Van Dam at Extreme Rules, he's since gone 0-3 on WWE's biggest shows. His record on Raw after WrestleMania is just 7-7, per The Internet Wrestling Database.
Add two defeats courtesy of Kofi Kingston and a loss to Big E, and it's easy to see why fans don't buy him as a threat.
That unimpressive record signals that Cesaro belongs in the middle of the heap. He's no Zack Ryder, who went winless on Raw for nearly two years, but he's no Cena or Reigns either.
Tell the audience that a wrestler is just OK for long enough and it eventually begin to believe it.
Cesaro needs a rival whom he can have a sustained, memorable rivalry with. He needs some wins along the way as well.
Otherwise, the discussion surrounding Cesaro will continue to be about what WWE is not doing right, not how promising his future is.