Lutz's Blog: The Daniel Bryan lightning bolt won't strike twice with Antonio Cesaro
By Jeffrey Lutz
World Wrestling Entertainment is a copycat organization. Except, unlike TNA, which sometimes duplicates the ideas of mid-1990s World Championship Wrestling, WWE often copies itself. Instead of allowing certain superstars to flourish from their natural abilities, they're pigeon-holed as second versions of previously successful acts.
Alberto Del Rio, even though he lacks the ability to connect with the audience the same way, is the newest Mexican superstar along the lines of Eddie Guerrero. Sin Cara, with limited knowledge of the English language, is the replacement for Rey Mysterio even though Sin Cara is short on the 'It' factor that allowed Mysterio to become a major star behind a mask.
Now Antonio Cesaro is getting the copycat treatment, as much to his detriment as Del Rio and Sin Cara are held back by the expectation to live up to someone else's impossible standards. Much like Daniel Bryan, Antonio Cesaro is a former star on the independent circuit who had an initial run of success and intrigue and is now being asked to do a comedy act. But unlike Bryan, Cesaro can't make it work -- "it" being his new yodeling gimmick -- because he hasn't established a bond with the audience and he doesn't possess Bryan's charisma.
WWE is probably taking credit for Bryan's ascension because he got over in a way that broke the mold of his prior persona. In Ring of Honor and other smaller organizations, Bryan (then known by his real name, Bryan Danielson), was a serious competitor who overcame his relative size disadvantage to establish a style that was realistic, traditional and entertaining.
While WWE does deserve praise for recognizing Bryan's versatility, that recognition only came after he displayed it organically. The "Yes" chant was Bryan's alone, not a gimmick he was saddled with that was doomed to fail. It fit his character, one that was laying the groundwork for a more quirky personality that could still be taken seriously in the ring. Bryan was helped by the fact that he had already grown a following, both in WWE and as an independent performer. Fans wanted to cheer for him.
The "Yes" chant, much like the humming of Fandango's music during the last few weeks, became corporate. It donned t-shirts and led to Bryan growing an absurdly long beard as he earned the nickname "Goat Face." But as WWE kept pushing the envelope on humor involving Daniel Bryan and Kane, Bryan kept making it work, kept making it funny. The writing itself hasn't been particularly humorous, but Bryan has pulled it off with comedic overacting, facial expressions, timing and delivery. He also has outstanding chemistry with Kane, not a bad comedic performer in his own right.
Those are character traits that can't be taught and that take a long, long time to develop. Cesaro isn't quite in possession of them, but he shouldn't have to be. He was doing fine as the America-hating United States champion, putting a different spin on previous anti-patriots. Was Cesaro the most entertaining character out there? Of course not -- he wasn't even in the top 10. But he was beginning to draw more heat with an aggressive in-ring style and a smarmy personality.
Now he's yodeling. It's the second time Cesaro has been asked to reinvent himself, though the first time was minor as he lost his valet, Aksana. While Aksana added to the act and Cesaro was just as effective on his own, yodeling will keep him from taking the next evolutionary step with his character. It doesn't fit. It might fit if someone like Bryan were doing it, but Cesaro doesn't have the same comedic chops. That's not a knock on Cesaro -- he's a serious, intense character.
If there is one positive out of Cesaro's new role, it's that he can develop his personality and WWE can shape him as a well-rounded character -- hopefully one that doesn't yodel. Who knew Bryan could be the reincarnation of Guerrero, an undersized superstar who is a ham on the microphone but who can flat wrestle, and wrestle any style. Maybe Cesaro comes out of this unharmed and with a new element of his personality. But it's more likely that Cesaro, like Del Rio and Sin Cara before him, can't live up to the original.
Jeff Lutz has written for the Wichita Eagle newspaper in Kansas for over a decade and debuted with Prowrestling.net on November 4, 2012. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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