What a weird week it was for Alberto Del Rio. It started with him dropping the United States Championship last Monday to Kalisto, only to win it back the next day (that would be Thursday in WWE world) on Smackdown. My question is why? My bigger question is why does Alberto Del Rio and WWE seem to have bad karma?
When it comes to Alberto, let me begin by saying I am a fan of his work. Unlike many who have had a difficult time connecting with his WWE personas, I appreciate his in ring work and his promos. Now, maybe I am a bit biased here as his uncle, Mil Mascaras, was my first favorite wrestler growing up, but to be honest, I think he is another victim of poor booking ala Dolph Ziggler & Sheamus. By the way I’m really getting tired of using Dolph as an example of poor booking, so come on WWE get him on a role and keep him there already!
When Alberto came to WWE back in 2010 he came with a lengthy and impressive resume and background. He is the son of the legendary Dos Caras and as mentioned above, is the nephew of WWE Hall of Famer, Mil Mascaras. As an amateur he represented Mexico on their Greco-Roman national team who he won medals for in the Pan American Games. He also had a very impressive run in Mexico’s AAA and CMLL promotions, as one of the country’s biggest stars, where most of his time was spent as a beloved fan favorite. He also dabbled in Mixed Martial Arts. Yet despite his impressive credentials and pedigree, it seems like Del Rio has struggled to connect with the WWE fan base on a consistent basis whether he was a face or heel.
While wrestling under the name of Dos Caras Jr. and wearing a mask like his legendary father and uncle, Del Rio held the CMLL World Heavyweight Championship for 533 days. Del Rio served as the promotion’s representative while wrestling in Japan, Australia and other countries around the world. At the height of his career, Del Rio signed a lucrative deal with WWE in 2010. As part of his contract, Del Rio would retain the rights to his Dos Caras Jr. name, mask and image. However, rather than keeping his masked persona, his name ultimately changed and the decision was made that he would no longer wear a mask. There are conflicting stories about whose decision it was that Del Rio no longer use the mask, but I believe the difficulties he has had in connecting to the fan base can be traced to this unmasking..
I realize that 99.9% of professional wrestlers are not using their real names and change personas multiple times during the course of their career. That said though, the aura of the masked wrestler in Mexico is held to a very high regard. Rarely are masked luchadores seen without their masks. It is a part of their identity. A wrestler being unmasked in a match in Mexico is cause for a disqualification. It seems that outside of Kane, WWE wants its masked wrestlers to be smaller in stature (Rey Mysterio, Sin Cara, Kalisto) almost type casting them as hi flyers. What didn’t make sense to me though was Del Rio had already successfully established the Dos Caras Jr. persona. Why not just stick with a proven gimmick rather than reinventing the wheel? I get wanting to reinvent yourself, but he and the company needed to look no further than his dad and uncle to see he could have built off of their successful long legacy as masked heroes.
Many wrestlers would sign up tomorrow for a run in the world’s biggest company that would include four Heavyweight Championships (two as WWE Heavyweight Champion and two as the World Heavyweight Champion). Regardless of this success though. it always seemed that the famous “it factor” was missing. Despite having a GREAT entrance, including cool music, an expensive automobile and his own personal ring announcer I always got the impression from the crowd that the feeling was, “oh it’s just Del Rio:” On a side note, I always enjoyed the Ricardo Rodriguez ring announcements, especially at PPV’s when he would really sell the ALBERTOOOOOOO DEL RRRRRIOOOOOO!!!!!!
No matter who your favorite wrestler is, there is a personal connection there. We’ve all seen the Cena, Hogan, Punk, Bryan, etc shirts sprinkled throughout the crowd over the years. I’d really like to see what the merchandising numbers were for Del Rio in his first WWE run. I don’t think I ever saw anyone wearing a shirt with his name on it, and while that doesn’t mean everything, it did tell me the necessary emotional investment from most of the fan base just wasn’t there. It seemed like no matter how hard he or WWE tried (championships, glitzy entrances, changing from face to heel), it just never seemed that the connection was there. The frustrating run for Del Rio came to a close in 2014 when he was fired from the company due to “unprofessional conduct” following an altercation with an employee who allegedly made a racist joke. Sadly, while initially surprising to hear of his firing, it ultimately seemed like nobody cared that he was gone.
After Alberto’s unceremonious departure from WWE, he went on to have a string of good matches in various promotions such as AAA, World Wrestling Council, Japan’s Wrestle-1 and Ring Of Honor, where he challenged Jay Lethal for the ROH Heavyweight Championship. While wrestling in these promotions, Del Rio began to use various incarnation of a new persona and ultimately settled on Alberto El Patron, It was in January of 2015 that Patron would join the fledgling Lucha Underground promotion for their initial season.
While in Lucha Underground, Patron seemed to be reinvigorated, You could see the reconnection with his Mexican based wrestling roots had brought out the best in him, He was he was once again embraced by the fan base. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you have to be a face to be embraced by the fans (see Ric Flair, Steve Austin, Randy Savage and CM Punk) but you do need some kind of reaction. Patron would go on to have an electric feud with Johnny Mundo (aka John Morrison). Patron displayed an aggressive wrestling style that he had not quite shown in WWE. It seemed like all was well again for Del Rio/Patron. Lucha Underground was preparing for the shooting of season 2 and I believe they felt that Patron would be a part of the company’s future. Then, unexpectedly, and to the surprise of many, he shows up at WWE’s the Hell In A Cell pay per view under the tutelage of his former nemesis, Zeb Coulter and then defeats John Cena for the United States Championship.
I have to admit, I was excited to see Del Rio back in the company, hoping it would be a “righting of the wrong” if you will. When he showed up at Hell In A Cell, he got a really nice “pop” from the crowd and he looked to be in amazing shape! It looked like Alberto was finally going to get to be a major player on the main event scene. Then…….well since his defeat of Cena and becoming US Champ things have seemed to settle in to the “oh it’s just Del Rio” feeling again. His title reign as US Champ so far will not gone down in the annals of wrestling history as one of the greatest of all time. To make matters worse, he’s been put in that horrible “League of Nations” faction that nobody, and I mean nobody, seems to care about. Just another case of WWE unnaturally putting a few guys together who they don’t know what to do with and hoping it will stick. So far this idea has struck out.
Anytime a title is put on the line, there should be excitement. There should be a feeling of great anticipation of “will the champ keep their belt tonight?” Unfortunately though, the crowd reaction to the Del Rio vs. Kalisto match will not be compared to the energy in the arena when the title was up for grabs between Magnum and Tully Blanchard back in the day. When Del Rio was announced you once again heard a non reactive crowd. The match didn’t seem to catch the fans attention. Sadly it felt like I was watching an old Divas match on a PPV which used to give everyone a chance to go to the bathroom. The crowd reaction was stale, and it was not due to a lack of effort by the wrestlers. I kept thinking that Del Rio has once again fallen into the WWE abyss, which so many talents have fallen into. The only time the crowd seemed to care was when Kalisto won.
So what does WWE do with Del Rio? How do they tap into that character pre and post his first run in WWE? To start with I would break up the League of Nations. You don’t have to spend too much effort in doing it. As I said, nobody cares. You can have them split up after an internal brief feud post Royal Rumble. I would then have Del Rio cut an emotional passionate promo, which I know he is capable of. I would have him address his family’s legacy and, despite his moderate success, he feels like he has let his father, uncle and country down. He would go on to say that he made a mistake in taking off his mask when he came to the company and how he feels he needs to restore his family’s pride. In the middle of this speech, I would cut the lights and have the Wyatt family music start playing. Have Bray Wyatt, who is maybe the best natural promo in the business, cut a promo on Del Rio attacking his heritage, family, etc and build up a feud between the two that would culminate at Wrestlemania.
I truly believe that the WWE has a star that has been poorly untapped into with Del Rio. They need to give his character a real chance to connect, on a more intimate level, with the fan base. That just doesn’t happen by sticking a title on someone or throwing them in a half concocted faction.
What are your thoughts on Alberto Del Rio? Is it too late for him to become a major star in WWE? How would you utilize him and who would you like to see him have a feud against? Let us know in the comments section below.