WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 41: The Detestable Destiny of Alberto Del Rio
In March of 2011, I initiated a new column on Bleacher Report entitled "WWE Pushed to Punished," in which I analyze the controversial careers of WWE Superstars past and present who had major potential but somehow lost their way due to a variety of reasons.
That essentially sums up Alberto Del Rio's WWE tenure in a nutshell.
A major name on the wrestling circuit in Mexico, Del Rio signed with WWE in 2009 and debuted in 2010. He came into the company with so much momentum that it was almost impossible for WWE to throw it all away, and somehow, they did.
While he was wisely protected on the main roster from the get-go, it was his quick rise to the top and the subsequent poor booking of his character that ultimately led to his demise. Del Rio made the most of everything he was involved in, but it wasn't enough.
Following his fall from grace in 2011, Del Rio experienced several start-and-stop pushes, but he was never the same. His abrupt firing from WWE this past summer came as a surprise to some, but it was widely believed among fans he was already on his way out anyway.
Here I'll break down every rise and fall in the career of Alberto Del Rio in an attempt to discover where WWE went wrong with him.
Debut and Feud with Rey Mysterio
Upon being signed by WWE in June 2009, Alberto Del Rio had a run in what was then WWE's developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling. After spending his entire career under a mask, Del Rio ditched the lucha libre tradition and underwent a complete character change.
Though this was met with criticism from fans at the time, it'd eventually end up being the best thing to ever happen to Del Rio.
In the summer of 2010, vignettes hyping his debut began to air on SmackDown. This lasted nearly two months before Del Rio finally arrived on the August 20 edition of SmackDown, interrupting Rey Mysterio in the opening segment.
Entering the arena in an expensive car and being introduced by his own personal ring announcer, Ricardo Rodriguez, Del Rio came off like a star right from the get-go. He was no "poor man's JBL." He was his own character and instantly got heat from fans.
The two met in the main event of that night's show and Del Rio emerged victorious in clean fashion after forcing Mysterio to tap out to the cross armbreaker. Remember, this was at a time when a win over Mysterio was still considered a big deal, and he put over Del Rio in a huge way.
It was accidentally leaked on WWE.com shortly thereafter that Del Rio was destined to become a "big deal, fairly quick." As time would tell, that wasn't too far off.
Del Rio took Mysterio out of commission on the following week's SmackDown before doing the same to Christian in September. Del Rio and Mysterio resumed their feud upon Mysterio's return in October, trading victories through to the end of the year.
Their long-running rivalry came to a head in a 2-out-of-3 Falls match on the premiere SmackDown of 2011. The third and final fall was given to Del Rio after Mysterio was counted out.
The feud did wonders for Del Rio and solidified him as a star straight out of the gate. His placement on SmackDown was also a smart move, as he more than likely would have been lost in the shuffle if he debuted on Raw.
Winning the Royal Rumble and Chasing the World Heavyweight Championship
Once his feud with Rey Mysterio concluded, Alberto Del Rio shifted his sights to the Royal Rumble match. He even made a one-off appearance on a January 2011 edition of Raw in a segment with Shawn Michaels, which showed how highly WWE officials thought of the up-and-comer.
Although he spent weeks and weeks claiming that it was "destiny" to win the 40-man Royal Rumble match—the largest in history—not many people believed him. It wasn't until he entered late in the match and eliminated Santino Marella to win it that it finally started to set in: Alberto Del Rio was the future.
By winning the Rumble, Del Rio was granted a shot at a world championship of his choosing at WrestleMania 27. He wasted no time in settling on Edge on the next night's Raw, promising to take his World Heavyweight Championship on the Grandest Stage of Them All.
In the meantime, Del Rio engaged in a mini-feud with then-Intercontinental champion Kofi Kingston, defeating him at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. It was at that same event Del Rio attempted to attack Edge, only to be thwarted by a returning Christian.
Del Rio came up short against Christian in each of their encounters leading up to WrestleMania. In the end, it didn't matter. It was strongly believed Del Rio was capturing the title at 'Mania, so none of the losses he accumulated beforehand would make a difference.
At WrestleMania 27, Edge and Del Rio battled in the opening match with the gold up for grabs. Despite a strong showing against the Rated-R Superstar, somewhat surprisingly, Del Rio was unsuccessful.
The two were set to meet in a Ladder match at the Extreme Rules event the following month, but due to Edge's abrupt retirement, the title was declared vacant and he was replaced in the bout by Christian. Even when it appeared the title was in Del Rio's grasp, Christian picked up the victory.
He may have failed to win the world title on two consecutive occasions, but Del Rio wasn't done just yet. His two big losses to Edge and Christian weren't anything a move to Raw couldn't fix—or so WWE thought.
Moving to Raw and Winning Money in the Bank
At the 2011 WWE Draft, Alberto Del Rio was sent packing to the Raw brand. This move didn't come as a surprise to most, since it was already well known that officials were high on him and had him penciled in for a feud with John Cena ahead of SummerSlam.
Del Rio wasn't given much fanfare upon his arrival on Raw and there was fear he'd be overlooked when he wasn't scheduled to compete at the Over the Limit pay-per-view. However, it was at that event he kicked off his feud with Big Show, whom he "accidentally" ran over with his car the following night on Raw.
A victory over an "injured" Big Show at Capitol Punishment kept Del Rio's momentum going strong. Despite winning a Triple Threat No. 1 Contender's match for the WWE Championship on the July 4 Raw, it was rendered null and void when CM Punk was "reinstated" following his short-lived suspension.
Del Rio was entered into the Raw Money in the Bank Ladder match at the July event, and although it was predictable he'd emerge victorious, WWE was smart to not swerve the fans. As Senor Dinero en el Banco, Del Rio's destiny was on the verge of being fulfilled.
Now, all he had to do was cash in the briefcase successfully and he'd be as good as gold—both figuratively and literally.
Entering the WWE Championship Picture
Following his huge win at Money in the Bank, Alberto Del Rio didn't do much of note on Raw, competing in one-off matches with Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne and CM Punk.
He was on the losing side of a six-man tag team match in the opener of SummerSlam, but that wasn't the last we would see of Del Rio that night.
The main event, contested between WWE champion CM Punk and, yes, WWE champion John Cena, ended in controversial fashion when guest referee Triple H failed to catch Cena's foot on the bottom rope as he made the count for Punk. As if that wasn't shocking enough, a returning Kevin Nash made a beeline toward the ring and laid out Punk, allowing an opportunistic Del Rio to pick up the scraps.
With a swift kick to the head of the Voice of the Voiceless, Del Rio was world champion at last. Almost exactly one year after his debut on the main roster, the Mexican Aristocrat's destiny had finally been fulfilled.
However, Del Rio's championship reign didn't get off to the strongest start. He feuded with Cena over the title going into Night of Champions, but the full focus of the program was on the brewing issues between CM Punk and Triple H.
To make matters worse, Del Rio's reign as champ came to an abrupt halt when Cena cleanly defeated him for the strap at Night of Champions. That moment, to many, marked the start of the downfall of Del Rio.
Why build this guy up to be a big deal only to have Cena squash him? It wasn't the first time this had happened with Cena, but you'd think WWE would have been smarter than allow it to happen to Del Rio.
Del Rio was never the same from that point forward. WWE ruined all of his momentum and credibility with that one loss—to the point that fans didn't see him as much of a threat anymore.
Sure, he regained the gold at Hell in a Cell two weeks later, but what did it really mean? The prestige of the belt, by now, had been so damaged that having it change hands yet again wasn't going to do it any favors.
He successfully defended the title against Cena in a Last Man Standing match at Vengeance but lost it to Punk at Survivor Series in November. He'd come up short in his subsequent shots at the strap before suffering a torn groin muscle on the December 19 Raw, putting him out of action indefinitely.
Returning from Injury and Feuding with Sheamus
In his absence from WWE TV, F4WOnline reported (h/t Wrestle Zone) that officials still had big plans for Alberto Del Rio upon his return and wanted to push him as being more "aggressive."
He made his first televised appearance in nearly two months at the 2012 Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in a segment with then-Interim Raw general manager John Laurinaitis.
It was believed at the time that Del Rio was going to be a part of Team Johnny at WrestleMania 28, but he was not medically cleared to compete. He made his official comeback one night removed from 'Mania on Raw, interrupting the newly crowned World Heavyweight champion Sheamus.
The two spent months and months feuding over that title on the SmackDown brand. Though their matches were always good to great, the end result was always the same: Sheamus winning.
Del Rio did evolve by showing a more aggressive side to his character, but his constant losses to the Celtic Warrior essentially labeled him a loser. His lengthy absence from TV didn't do much to change the fans' perception of him.
It wasn't until Del Rio transitioned into a feud with Randy Orton that fall that he finally started to hit his stride again.
Feuding with Randy Orton
Five days removed from his loss to then-World Heavyweight champion Sheamus at Night of Champions, Alberto Del Rio shifted his focus to a new target: Randy Orton. He cost the Viper his No. 1 Contender's match against Big Show, attacking him after the bout and putting him on the shelf for two weeks.
The feud felt fresh because it was something fans hadn't seen much of before. It was apparent Del Rio and Orton were in a holding pattern at the time, but their two month feud brought out the best in both of them.
The premise of their rivalry was that Del Rio claimed to be the new Apex Predator of WWE. Orton, of course, took offense to that, leading to a one-on-one match between the two at Hell in a Cell in late October.
On a pay-per-view that didn't feature much of note, Orton and Del Rio arguably stole the show in the opening slot. That night, they proved their in-ring chemistry was off the charts, hence why their various rematches came as no surprise.
Their subsequent Falls Count Anywhere and 2-out-of-3 Falls matches were equally entertaining. Similar to his feud with Sheamus, however, Del Rio always found himself on the losing end.
Del Rio was in desperate need of something new, and little did we know, he'd get it sooner than any of us expected.
Turning Babyface and Winning the World Heavyweight Championship
After weeks of engaging in pointless matches on Raw and SmackDown, Alberto Del Rio finally captured the attention of his audience when he came to the aid of Ricardo Rodriguez during an attack from 3MB at December's WWE TLC pay-per-view.
He teamed with the Miz and the Brooklyn Brawler later in the night to defeat the trio.
Although Del Rio underwent the weakest possible babyface turn, he was back to being a heel eight days later on the Christmas Eve edition of Raw, when he "accidentally" ran over Santa Claus with one of his signature cars. Where was the character consistency?
To WWE's credit, they stuck with him as a babyface the following week, further confusing fans. At the very least, it was something new for Del Rio to do, even if he was a natural heel.
In a shocking turn of events, Del Rio defeated Big Show in a Last Man Standing match to win the World Heavyweight Championship on the second episode of SmackDown in 2013. Despite it not being built up or advertised in advance (aside from WWE spoiling it on their website that Tuesday), it still made for a major moment.
It was poetic justice that Del Rio won the title he had his sights set on from the start of his WWE career in the same city he made his WWE return in one year prior, Miami. It didn't matter how it came about, just that it finally happened.
Del Rio continued organically getting over with the fans in the weeks that followed, debuting a new remixed version of his entrance music and ditching the cars that once made him a hated heel. He beat Big Show at both the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber to retain his title.
Going into WrestleMania season, Del Rio entered a program with a returning Jack Swagger, who now had Zeb Colter as his mouthpiece. Del Rio took quite a bit of abuse leading up to the event, but he still managed to soundly defeat Swagger on the Grandest Stage of Them All to maintain his possession of the prestigious prize.
However, Del Rio's reign as champ came to an end on the next night's Raw, when Mr. Money in the Bank Dolph Ziggler cherry picked his moment to cash in and capture the gold.
Feuding with Dolph Ziggler and Turning Heel
After dropping the World Heavyweight Championship to Dolph Ziggler the night after WrestleMania 29, Alberto Del Rio entered chase mode.
However, as time progressed, the crowd slowly started to side with Ziggler and turn on Del Rio for no reason other than Ziggler being more popular with hardcore wrestling fans.
Del Rio was given his rightful rematch for the title at June's Payback pay-per-view, and he took full advantage of the recently concussed Ziggler with repeated kicks to the skull. Following his ruthless attack on Ziggler, Del Rio scored the victory and regained the gold, much to the dismay of the Chicago crowd.
The next night on Raw, Del Rio made note of how the fans never appreciated him and that he was now going into business for himself, cementing his heel turn in the process. While his run as a face was short lived, it was obvious he worked better as a dastardly villain—the execution of his turn made him one of the most hated heels in the entire company.
They met in a championship rematch at Money in the Bank, and Del Rio retained his title by way of disqualification after AJ Lee interfered. Del Rio soundly defeated Ziggler on Raw the following night to temporarily put their rivalry to rest.
Splitting from Ricardo Rodriguez
Throughout Del Rio's face and heel turns, Ricardo Rodriguez remained loyal. At times, his ringside mannerisms were more entertaining than what Del Rio was doing in the ring.
Rodriguez was taken off TV in late June 2013 after violating WWE's Wellness Policy, earning a suspension that lasted 30 days. He returned as Del Rio's ring announcer on the August 5 edition of Raw.
Following his loss to Rob Van Dam, Del Rio unleashed all of his anger on Rodriguez, brutally beating him to the extent he was once again removed from storylines for several weeks. This wasn't the first time Del Rio roughed up Rodriguez, but it was evident that their three-year friendship was now over.
At first, it seemed like a smart move, since it put even more heat on Del Rio's character. However, despite turning heel, Del Rio never brought back the original elements of his persona (the fancy cars, the scarfs, the catchy entrance theme) that made him unique.
In the months that followed, Del Rio successfully retained his World Heavyweight Championship against Christian and Rob Van Dam before dropping the strap to a returning John Cena at Hell in a Cell. Del Rio was riding a wave of momentum for close to four months by October, so to lose the title to Cena out of nowhere hurt his credibility significantly.
After failing to regain the gold at Survivor Series, Del Rio plummeted down the card. In December, he lost back-to-back matches to Sin Cara, who was an enhancement talent by that point. He was also left off the TLC pay-per-view.
Feuding with Batista and Departure
Going into 2014, Alberto Del Rio attempted to regain relevance by taking shots at Batista, who was set to return on the January 20 edition of Raw.
On the night of his big comeback, Batista thwarted Del Rio's plan to attack his close friend Rey Mysterio by laying him out with a Batista Bomb.
With Del Rio's stock dropping fast, this feud with Batista was his last chance to solidify himself as a star in the eyes of the fans. However, after weeks of being on the receiving end of beatings from Batista, Del Rio lost all of his heat—or whatever was left of it by that point.
In what was his first singles match in nearly four years, Batista squashed Del Rio at Elimination Chamber. Del Rio eked out a win against Batista on the next night's Raw with help from Randy Orton, but it did nothing to boost Del Rio's heavily damaged momentum.
For the remainder of his run in WWE, Del Rio competed in random matches on Raw and SmackDown, losing more often than not. He also came up short in multiple Battle Royals for several championships.
Del Rio wrestled his final WWE match on the August 5 episode of Main Event, losing to Jack Swagger. Two days later, news broke that he had been released from his contract due to "unprofessional conduct."
It was later revealed in an interview with Del Rio (h/t Wrestling Inc) that his firing stemmed from a backstage altercation with a co-worker who made racist comments toward him. Although his slapping of this individual is understandable if the allegation is true, it was inappropriate in a working environment and caused him to be suspended and subsequently let go.
In the months since his departure from WWE, Alberto Del Rio has reached a "mutual understanding" with the company allowing him to work elsewhere. Now known as El Patron, he will surely make a splash on the wrestling circuit, no matter where he ends up.
Regardless of how he was treated toward the end of his run, there's no denying that Del Rio enjoyed an immense amount of success during his time with WWE. With a Royal Rumble victory, a Money in the Bank win and four world titles to his credit, it's hard to argue otherwise.
That said, WWE failed miserably in building him up as a legitimate heel during his run. He started off strong on SmackDown, but he lost his way when the company butchered his first two title runs in 2011, making him no different than any other heel.
Even as a face, Del Rio may not have had the charisma of Shawn Michaels or "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, but his tremendous in-ring talent more than made up for it. Regardless of what you thought of him as a character, he had a handful of excellent matches with the likes of CM Punk, Dolph Ziggler and John Cena, among others.
No matter which way you look at it, he did everything there was to do in WWE, so even though his firing was unjustified, there isn't any need for him to return one day. It's just a shame things had to end in the fashion they did.
Nevertheless, Del Rio has a very bright future ahead of him, especially working outside of the United States. He wasn't the first person to be greatly misused by WWE, and he certainly won't be the last.
Be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how Alberto Del Rio was utilized over the course of his WWE career. Also, include any potential Superstars or Divas you would like to see featured in upcoming editions of Pushed to Punished.
Read every archived edition of Pushed to Punished here.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and like his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.