WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 45: The Dreary Downswing of Cesaro
In WWE Pushed to Punished, I analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who were once in the good graces of management but ultimately met their downfall for one reason or another. No one came as close to meeting that exact description in the last year than Cesaro.
Having debuted in WWE in early 2012, Cesaro made a major impact in a fairly short period of time. He quickly captured the United States Championship and was on the rise within a year of his arrival.
However, Cesaro soon lost his way following countless shortcomings and his loss of the star-spangled prize. It wasn't until he joined forces with Jack Swagger and Zeb Colter that his career saw a resurgence.
Cesaro's signature swing started to catch fire with audiences, in turn making him more popular than the group he was a part of. He was destined for great things coming out of his monumental victory at WrestleMania 30, but WWE failed to capitalize on his momentum.
Cesaro hasn't been the same since his partnership with Paul Heyman flopped. He's had his talent wasted in recent months, and it's unknown when he'll ever get his due.
Here, I'll break down every peak and valley in the career of Cesaro in an attempt to discover where exactly WWE went wrong with him.
Debuting on SmackDown
After making a name for himself and honing his craft on the independent scene for over a decade, Claudio Castagnoli signed with WWE in September of 2011. Unlike his Kings of Wrestling partner Chris Hero (aka Kassius Ohno), Castagnoli didn't spend much time at all in WWE's then-developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling before being called up to the main roster.
Rechristened as Antonio Cesaro, he made his official WWE debut on the April 20, 2012 edition of SmackDown in a backstage segment. He was seen flirting with Aksana as former general manager Teddy Long looked on.
Cesaro's gimmick consisted of him knowing five languages and boasting about it before his matches. He also had an established history in rugby, which was reflected in his unique ring gear.
Aksana accompanied him to the ring for his first match as part of the SmackDown roster on April 27, looking on as he soundly defeated Tyson Kidd. The two were a perfect fit, and although she wasn't overly useful, she was a nice addition to the act.
Cesaro showcased his sheer strength in his first few matches against the likes of Tyson Kidd, Alex Riley and Jimmy Uso. It was apparent he was an incredible athlete, but his lousy entrance music did him no favors.
He remained undefeated in singles competition for several months before finally suffering his first pinfall loss on the August 10 SmackDown at the hands of Christian.
Winning the United States Championship
By the summer, Antonio Cesaro started to set his sights on the United States Championship. He defeated the then-champion Santino Marella in non-title action on the July 27 and August 3 editions of SmackDown, earning a shot at the title at SummerSlam.
At the biggest party of the summer, Cesaro was successful in beating Marella on the Kickoff Show for the belt. In that moment, he became more than just another guy on the roster; he finally had credibility and the championship gold to back it up.
As his title reign progressed, small tweaks were made to Cesaro's character. In a puzzling move, Cesaro was split from Aksana following the Night of Champions pay-per-view just as the two started to catch fire, but Cesaro later proved she wasn't essential to his success.
After debuting catchy new entrance music, Cesaro started trashing the United States of America and claimed to be superior to everyone. It was a simple anti-American gimmick, but Cesaro's lack of charisma wasn't generating him any heat.
Despite that, there was no denying the success Cesaro was having as United States champion. With successful title defenses against Zack Ryder, Justin Gabriel and R-Truth, there seemingly wasn't anybody who could put an end to his reign of terror.
As 2013 dawned, Cesaro's title run became an afterthought. He started losing most of his non-title matches to Sheamus, Randy Orton and Ryback and his title defenses were no longer as frequent.
Cesaro's eight-month reign as U.S. champ was unprecedented, yet he was left off the WrestleMania 29 card. He dropped the strap to Kofi Kingston in a match without any real buildup on the April 15 Raw.
Where was there any good reason why that matchup couldn't have happened at 'Mania? Cesaro's reign ended with a whimper as a result, and Kingston didn't benefit since he lost the belt to Dean Ambrose one month later.
Joining the Real Americans
Shortly after losing the United States Championship, it was reported by F4WOnline (h/t Wrestling Inc) that officials found Antonio Cesaro "boring." This isn't far off what was said by Vince McMahon just recently on Steve Austin's podcast on WWE Network.
Cesaro's five-star performance against Kofi Kingston on the May 1 edition of Main Event apparently didn't alter officials' opinion of him. They felt he had no personality, regardless of how much skill he possessed inside the squared circle.
His TV time was greatly curtailed from that point forward. He was left off both the Extreme Rules and Payback pay-per-views with no real direction in sight.
On the June 10 edition of Raw, Cesaro defeated Sin Cara as Zeb Colter scouted him from ringside. The next week, Cesaro was named the newest honorary member of The Real Americans.
Cesaro's partnership with Jack Swagger began at the Money in the Bank event when the two teamed up against all of other match's participants. They found instant chemistry and were a force to be reckoned with.
While they were never positioned as serious threats to the WWE Tag Team Championship on TV, they were always stealing the show in matches with The Usos and Cody Rhodes and Goldust. Their signature "We the People" chant was also catching on organically with the audience.
Cesaro may not have held any gold while in The Real Americans, but it was the most relevant he had ever been. It was during that time he incorporated the Giant Swing into his arsenal, a manuver that catered to crowds and got him over as time passed.
Going into 2014, tension was teased among Cesaro and Swagger. They both failed to defeat Big E for the Intercontinental Championship and came up short of winning the twin titles on the WrestleMania 30 Kickoff Show.
Immediately following the match, Swagger pushed Cesaro past his breaking point. Colter attempted to keep them on the same page, but it was too late. Cesaro swung Swagger in front of the tens of thousands in attendance, solidifying his split from the stable.
Aligning with Paul Heyman
That same night at WrestleMania 30, Cesaro entered himself into the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal. In an extremely impressive feat of strength, Cesaro eliminated Big Show to win the match to a thunderous reaction, scoring the biggest victory of his career in the process.
Cesaro was riding a massive wave of momentum going into the next night's Raw, where he'd be presented with the prestigious life-sized Andre the Giant trophy by Hulk Hogan. He was accompanied to the ring by Zeb Colter to the "Patriot" entrance music, the last time he'd ever enter to that catchy tune.
In a move that shocked the world, Cesaro took the mic and proclaimed himself a "Paul Heyman Guy." The founder of ECW had done wonders for the careers of Brock Lesnar and CM Punk, and it appeared Cesaro was next in line.
However, the biggest problem with the pairing was that Cesaro was already organically turning babyface coming out of WrestleMania. Putting him with the biggest heel in the business after his client Brock Lesnar ended The Undertaker's undefeated streak at the event was mind-boggling, to say the least.
With WWE forcing him to remain heel, fans didn't have any desire to boo him. He scored various victories over Rob Van Dam, Jack Swagger and Mark Henry but was failing to make a connection with the crowd.
It was unfortunately all downhill for Cesaro and Paul Heyman after Extreme Rules. Cesaro was unsuccessful in winning the United States, WWE World Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships at the Payback, Money in the Bank and Battleground events, respectively.
On the June 30 edition of Raw, Cesaro embarked on a losing streak that saw him lose to the likes of Kofi Kingston, Big E and John Cena. Cesaro and Heyman officially parted ways on the July 28 Raw.
Despite having so much promise at the start, Cesaro's alliance with Heyman proved to be a hinderance to his push. He was worse off once it ended and struggled on his own to regain that same momentum he had following WrestleMania.
Feuding with Sheamus and Dolph Ziggler
With Paul Heyman no longer by his side, it would have been wise of WWE to turn Cesaro face. However, they insisted on keeping him heel, and he continued to flounder as a result.
Cesaro picked up his first win in nearly two months on the August 18 edition of Raw, defeating Jack Swagger. He'd beat Rob Van Dam the following week on Raw to become the new No. 1 contender to Sheamus' United States Championship.
Sheamus and Cesaro had already feuded earlier in the year, but it was believed that their rivalry was being rekindled so that Cesaro could win back the belt. It would have been WWE's way of getting him back on track after his push was derailed over the summer.
Unfortunately for Cesaro, that didn't end up being the case. He came up short of winning the strap at Night of Champions, but only after taking Sheamus to war in one of the best matches of the night.
Cesaro continued to pursue championship gold in the months that followed, next shifting his focus to then-Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler. Being an ally to The Authority, Cesaro was given countless shots at the gold, but he was unsuccessful in each of his attempts.
Ziggler and Cesaro contested an excellent two-out-of-three-falls match at Hell in a Cell that saw the bleached-blond Superstar take both falls. Cesaro looked strong in defeat after an impressive outing, but he deserved better.
That would have been the ideal moment to put the title on Cesaro. There were no long-term plans to keep Ziggler as champion since he dropped the belt to Luke Harper less than one month later.
With each title match he lost, Cesaro was cast as more of an enhancement talent rather than a legitimate threat.
Teaming with Tyson Kidd
There was a glimpse of hope for Cesaro on the November 17 edition of Raw. Just as it appeared he was going to be the final member of Team Cena and complete his long-awaited face turn, it was revealed to be a ruse.
Unfortunately, the angle wasn't meant to be anything other than a swerve, and Cesaro hasn't played any meaningful role in The Authority storyline since.
Two weeks later on Raw, Cesaro formed an impromptu tag team with Tyson Kidd. The two entered a Tag Team Turmoil match to determine the new No. 1 Contenders to the WWE Tag Team Championship, but they fell short of victory.
Despite it seemingly being a one-off, Cesaro and Kidd continued to partner up in the weeks that followed. They scored three victories over Los Matadores on WWE Superstars, Main Event and SmackDown, respectively.
Cesaro and Kidd have developed great chemistry since they first started teaming, and while it keeps them both busy for the time being, they're both capable of so much more. They have yet to be positioned as real threats to the twin titles and are instead stuck feuding with The New Day for now.
Will Cesaro and Kidd ever find success as a pairing, or are they simply spinning their wheels until creative finds something more meaningful for the two underrated athletes to do?
What struck me as concerning during Vince McMahon's recent interview on Steve Austin's podcast was that not even he could pinpoint what could be done to resurrect Cesaro's career. He claimed he didn't have any charisma, but Cesaro has proved on countless occasions that isn't accurate. He just needs a chance.
Cesaro had all the tools for success coming out of WrestleMania 30. He was one of the most popular Superstars in the company and had the credentials to back it up. Who knew a pairing with Paul Heyman would ruin that momentum?
The biggest knock against Cesaro's booking—and this goes back to his days as United States Champion—is that WWE has him lose unnecessary matches. Why lose so many non-title matches while holding a title? Why have him embark on a losing streak when he was just reaching his peak?
It's a part of a much larger problem in WWE when it comes to building up new stars. However, it's much more disappointing in the case of Cesaro seeing how much talent he possesses and what he's capable of accomplishing.
Of course, not all hope is lost for the Swiss Superman. In time, there's a good chance he'll prove his worth as a team player by doing what's asked of him and cement his spot atop the roster before long.
A face turn would help tremendously in shaking things up for Cesaro, and it's only a matter of time before WWE finally listens to its fans and flips the switch with him.
Be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how Cesaro has been 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.