Welcome to the first installment of The Hot Tag. My name is
Paul Alex Wendland, and I’m a writer by trade and an editor for Voices of Wrestling. The Hot Tag is my occasional column exploring ideas and trends on the storytelling side of professional wrestling.
Please excuse the smarkiest of smarky titles. I’m a sucker for alliteration and Cesaro’s given name, Claudio Castagnoli, is both a great ring name and makes for great alliteration. “Cesaro,” as it were, just wasn’t going to get the job done. Unfortunately, it appears WWE boss Vince McMahon agrees with me.
Cesaro seemed poised for a major 2014. The Real Americans were hot, but poised for a break up with Cesaro set to be the breakout star. Crowds sang his theme, counted the rotations on his Big Swing (albeit poorly) and found themselves cheering for a team clearly set as heels.
The love for Cesaro crescendoed around WrestleMania XXX. The Real Americans broke up, Ceasro clearly leap frogged Jack Swagger, and our man won the inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal all in the same night. There was an entire section of the crowd, facing the hard camera, holding up “CESARO SECTION” signs. An entire section. AT WRESTLEMANIA!
The momentum carried over into the always-white-hot RAW following WrestleMania. WWE finally had their third babyface skyrocketing to the main event, destined to walk among John Cena and Daniel Bryan. And this one was a European who spoke five languages, an international promoter’s dream.
What came next sounded like a dream as well. A dream I predicted prior to WrestleMania, actually:
— Alex Wendland (@AlexWendland) April 8, 2014
Well, I sort of predicted it; I still think my idea would’ve worked. A tweener Paul Heyman (this idea was in a pre-21-1 world) lending even more legitimacy to one of the most legitimate superstars in WWE. In reality, Cesaro was paired up with the mouthpiece extraordinaire who was a decided heel post-WrestleMania. Heyman was, even more unfortunately, otherwise creatively occupied with Brock Lesnar’s accomplishments. Cesaro was treated as a second class citizen under Heyman.
The result was an ill-fated heel turn and godawful new entrance music.
By Autumn, the split from Heyman was imminent and a turning point seemed probable. Here was a chance to reclaim the momentum lost after WrestleMania and shoot Cesaro to the Moon in time for Survivor Series and the Royal Rumble. Instead, Cesaro plummeted. All the way down to Main Event and into an undeniably entertaining, but utterly meaningless tag team with Tyson Kidd.
The largest indignity (so far) came from Stone Cold Steve Austin’s podcast with McMahon on the WWE Network. The head honcho told Stone Cold that Cesaro just wasn’t connecting with fans, as if he hadn’t been watching his own programming from January to April last year. McMahon went on to say, infamously, that Millennials just weren’t reaching for WWE’s “brass rings.” (For the record, Cesaro, 34, was born in 1980. Firmly part of the affected.)
Where are we now? Cesaro is entrenched in a tag team more meaningless than the one he was in last year and seemingly just as directionless as his team. There’s a lot of things WWE dropped the ball on between WrestleManias XXX and XXXI, but no ball has dropped harder, or seemingly farther, than Cesaro.