Lutz's Blog: What I learned from the Cesaro vs. Randy Orton match on the February 14 edition of WWE Smackdown
By Jeffrey Lutz
I went out of my way to watch the non-title match between Randy Orton and Cesaro this week after hearing positive comments about it. I've become a major believer in Cesaro, picking him as Pro Wrestler of the Year in the year-end poll on this site and wanted to see if he could thrive in a main-event environment against an opponent with whom he has no prior history. I learned that Cesaro definitely could, and I learned some other things during the match, as well:
1. Cesaro may not be the next big thing, but his current push is real.
Cesaro's elevation has been rapid and organic, as he has somehow found a way to stand out as part of a mostly nondescript tag team and without an established persona or personality. No one seems to be questioning Cesaro's worthiness for this new level, either, which makes his push that much more interesting. The time for questioning, though, is over, because Cesaro proved himself against Orton and by adapting a formerly dull in-ring style to something more fan-friendly and exciting.
Michael Cole and JBL handled the match mostly well, making it perfectly clear, in the way announcers should, that Cesaro is an important part of WWE's short- and long-term plans. They occasionally went over-the-top when they should have allowed Cesaro's work to speak for itself after the announcers established him as a burgeoning main-event player, but there was no doubt as the match ended over Cesaro's immediate future. A match between Cesaro and Sheamus could be a potential highlight of the WrestleMania card in a showcase between two agile powerhouses.
2. WWE can admit being wrong, and so can I.
Sometime last year, I wrote a blog that Cesaro would be unable to reach the popularity of fellow former Ring of Honor star Daniel Bryan. It was a safe bet at the time, as Cesaro was mired in a rut after being unfortunately saddled with a yodeling gimmick that may have fit his personal talents but hardly his professional ones. I didn't point to WWE creative as the culprit for Cesaro's failures, though -- I just didn't see him as a future star. He has obviously changed my mind.
WWE, to its credit, seems to have had a similar change of heart. The word surrounding Cesaro earlier in his career was that he was boring, both in the ring and on the microphone. He has yet to dispel that notion verbally, as Cesaro and tag-teammate Jack Swagger give way to manager Zeb Colter when it's time to talk, but Cesaro is anything but boring as a wrestler. He invoked the Cesaro swing that has gotten over in a major way with fans, and he has dialed up the intensity as he has learned to convey emotion to supplement his superior wrestling.
The final step to admit wrongness was seeing Cesaro thrive against Orton. I have compared the performers in the past and wasn't sure they'd mesh well together considering their similar styles, but they convened to have an aesthetically pleasing bout that highlighted their strengths rather than exposing any of their few combined weaknesses.
3. Orton can leave his character's baggage behind.
The first WWE World Heavyweight championship reign has been a lesson in how not to do business, as Orton has been emasculated and devalued at every turn by Triple H and Stephanie McMahon. A heel turn over the summer was a welcome occasion for many who believed Orton thrived in that role and had a heel-like personality even as a good guy, but it hasn't worked out because Orton has never been allowed to truly establish any heel tendencies, leaving those instead for The Authority in its "Face of the WWE" pursuit.
In the ring, however, Orton allows fans to forget all of that nonsense. I had an epiphany while watching the Orton-Cesaro match that should have been obvious long before and probably was to many other observers: Even though Orton is losing the majority of the non-title matches against fellow Elimination Chamber combatants, the three-week series has showcased him more than any of his opponents. He has been in the main event of both television shows, he has worked standout matches in various styles, and he has made foes who need a strong rub, like Cesaro, look great.
A vulnerable heel champion may not be the best way to go, but if Orton loses the title on Sunday, he has gone out with a bang.
4. A WWE youth movement will only happen when necessary.
Many observers have pinpointed this week as the week that has made an upcoming WWE youth movement inevitable. Daniel Bryan is the centerpiece of Raw, Cesaro and Roman Reigns are being primed for main-event pushes, and perennial headliner John Cena himself mentioned the possibility in a promo last week.
I'm taking a "believe it when I see it" approach to this, even though the prospects are promising. Cole's and JBL's effusiveness over Cesaro on Friday was necessary to the storytelling, but it signaled a red flag because I wasn't sure if WWE, through its announcers, were trying to convince fans that the company could create a new main-event star of if WWE was trying to convince itself. When Reigns, Cesaro, Big E and other relative newcomers are joining Bryan as PPV headliners and not television stars, we'll know that WWE is firmly dedicated to the future.
5. Cesaro can work as a babyface.
Since Orton was the clear heel in Friday's match, Cesaro got to work as a good guy for the first time in his WWE career. Even though he's plenty effective as an arrogant heel Cesaro, at this stage in his career, is a more natural babyface. Since fans are looking for anyone to grasp onto as a replacement or equal to Cena, Cesaro's popularity is surging as they see him as a possibility for that spot. His connection with the crowd has been, as mentioned above, organic, and WWE should capitalize on that rather than keeping him a heel and forcing him to pile up the losses as WWE heels often do.
More microphone time would also serve Cesaro well, even if only to find out whether he can handle a main-event push from a character standpoint and whether that fan connection is lasting. He worked well as a babyface against Orton, as he was able to go on the offensive more frequently than he has as a heel. The Cesaro Swing, as part of a babyface moveset, is even more exciting.
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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