On this past Friday’s WWE SmackDown, Cesaro picked up a win over Daniel Bryan, but it will be up to WWE to make that win mean something.
The Jan. 15 episode of WWE SmackDown showcased some quality in-ring action throughout the two-hour broadcast. Among the consistent in-ring work the Friday night show provided this week, Cesaro vs. Daniel Bryan stood out as the clear highlight.
Even though the match received the sort of fanfare and advertising usually reserved for an enhancement match, the two world-class wrestlers produced a contest fit for a pay-per-view main event and, in a surprising twist, ended with “The Swiss Cyborg” scoring the clean pin after delivering his Gotch-style Neutralizer finisher.
For a wrestler like Cesaro, who has won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s “Most Underrated” award a record four times, securing a win over a former five-time world champion should signify big things on his horizon. However, that will depend on WWE.
Over the years, the company has been loath to feature Cesaro as a top-of-the-card attraction due to a perceived lack of charisma, if not thinly-veiled xenophobia. Of course, these concerns ring hollow when you hear how crowds often react to him when his music hits and when he gets to work after the bell sounds, but that stigma has kept him in the midcard for most of his WWE career.
That recent history will keep fans from fully buying into the idea of this victory catapulting Cesaro to superstardom. After all, it’s not like WWE has gone out of their way to protect Bryan’s luster as a top star since his last WWE Championship reign, so there’s a good chance that the company doesn’t view this as the monumental triumph many fans see it as.
Still, for Cesaro and Bryan’s sake, WWE can’t treat this as a meaningless one-off. As we’ve seen with wrestlers such as Dolph Ziggler, fans won’t continue to just hold out hope for a talented wrestler’s possible push.
Now, Ziggler isn’t nearly the wrestler that Cesaro is, and there were some self-inflicted issues later on that wore out his luster among the fans, but if WWE keeps crying wolf with the former Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal winner, his supporters will eventually stop responding.
It also does a disservice to Bryan’s goal to elevate as many stars as possible as he approaches the twilight of his outstanding career. Bryan has taken quite a few losses since returning last fall, but most of those defeats — specifically the ones to Jey Uso and, most recently, Shinsuke Nakamura — have successfully elevated or restored those opponents’ standing in the fans’ eyes.
But if WWE simply has Cesaro lose five-minute matches to Otis after this or don’t script him to have a memorable Royal Rumble appearance, this win will have wasted a prime chance to transfer Bryan’s equity as a top star to another — and, with Byan projected as a favorite to win the Royal Rumble, his time. For Cesaro, it would be another tab to add to his “What If?” folder, which is already about as thick as a dictionary.
Through Bryan’s selflessness, WWE has another chance to make Cesaro a featured player in the company. They better not let it pass again.