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NEWSLETTER COLUMN: GREG PARKS
From: PWTorch Newsletter #1471 – Cover-Dated August 25, 2016
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HEADLINE: Alberto Del Rio’s bizarre ten-month odyssey in WWE
Alberto Del Rio’s bizarre, 10-month odyssey since his surprise return to WWE took another turn on Monday afternoon, when Pro Wrestling Sheet reported details of Del Rio’s divorce proceedings, in which he is accused of committing adultery.
This comes about a week after he and girlfriend Paige were both suspended by WWE for 30 days for a Wellness Policy violation. The timing of that suspension is suspicious, given rumors of Del Rio’s unhappiness in WWE and a potential out clause in his contract in which he can leave in September.
Del Rio’s much-ballyhooed return in October of last year saw him defeat John Cena at Hell in a Cell for the United States Championship. He was paired with Zeb Colter, a partnership that seemed odd from the start. Colter’s character had been aligned with Jack Swagger and relied heavily on an anti-immigrant platform.
On Raw the night following Hell in a Cell, Colter and Del Rio announced their formation of MexAmerica, supposedly an amalgam of the best of both Mexico and the United States of America. It was an inauspicious kickoff to Del Rio’s latest run, and seemed to run opposite of what got him over in the first place.
When he first burst onto the scene in WWE, Del Rio was vaulted into a feud with Rey Mysterio and his character was treated with reverence and respect from the writers and Vince McMahon. They saw him as the elusive Latino star that would supplant Mysterio when he inevitably hung up his boots.
Del Rio lived the life of luxury, a Mexican Ted DiBiase. He drove nice cars (into the arenas!) had his own personal ring announcer, and WWE put a lot of work into his character to reflect the image he successfully portrayed. Eventually, the act ran out of steam and by the end of his first run, Del Rio was treading water.
Upon his return last year, WWE had a chance to get Del Rio back to his roots, to retool his character and reset it in an effort to raise his star power. It was rumored that he had signed a big-money deal to come back to WWE (necessary, one would think, given the way he left the company). With that in mind, it seemed like a no-brainer that WWE would treat him as a main event-level star once again.
That run never materialized. While Colter was effective in his role with Swagger, the MexAmerica gimmick never took off. Del Rio looked somewhat impotent in needing to rely on the guidance of Colter, even as United States Champion.
WWE wisely saw the writing on the wall, and before November was out, Del Rio had formally cut ties with Colter. He joined up with Rusev, Sheamus, and King Barrett to form the League of Nations. Silly name aside, the group was originally put together to oppose Roman Reigns, a modern-day Alliance to End Reigns-Mania.
Once Reigns quickly dispatched of the group, it became clear that the sum of the parts was greater than the whole. Together, the group seemed to lack a definite direction. There just weren’t any other factions their size to feud with, and beyond trying to take out Reigns, there didn’t even seem to be a good reason for them to be together.
Del Rio, still U.S. Champ, feuded with Kalisto over the belt in the early part of 2016. Eventually, Kalisto won the feud and the title. It’s important to note that Del Rio was feuding in the mid-card with Kalisto all the while names like Randy Orton, Seth Rollins, John Cena, and other big names were on the shelf with injuries.
If there was ever a time for Del Rio to get elevated to a top spot, and to justify the allegedly hefty contract, this was the time. But it never seemed like WWE wanted to get behind Del Rio for that kind of push. Despite his return win over Cena, his pairing with Colter and association with the League of Nations had already defined him down.
Like many mid-carders, Del Rio was a guy WWE could count on to provide quality, long-form matches to help fill out three hours every Monday night, but was counted on to provide little else. Once his storyline with Kalisto ran its course, Del Rio joined his fellow Nations members in feuding with New Day, the only babyface group that could rival the League.
The two teams clashed at Wrestlemania, wherein the heels picked up a somewhat surprising victory. Even more curious, after the win, the group began to disband, first by kicking out Barrett (who was soon after released by WWE), then by having Del Rio and Rusev walk out on a match in which they teamed with Sheamus.
Del Rio moved on to participate in the Money in the Bank Ladder Match in June. By this point, Del Rio was not really seen as a viable option to win the match. WWE never totally abandoned Del Rio’s push, but he certainly wasn’t put in a position to gain any traction up the card. And from his body language and some of his performances, Del Rio seemed to recognize this, too.
When the rosters were split last month, Del Rio found himself on the Smackdown brand. This appeared to be another opportunity for Del Rio to receive a renewed push, given that Smackdown was almost universally seen as the weaker brand from a roster strength standpoint. On James Caldwell’s post-draft roster breakdown, Del Rio slotted in as the number six heel based on draft position.
With Randy Orton, listed as a heel, returning as a babyface, and The Miz as I.C. Champ above him (as well as the still-green Baron Corbin), all of a sudden Del Rio could be seen as the number three heel and get an opportunity to face Dean Ambrose for the WWE Title.
Given Ambrose’s slovenly character, a return to Del Rio’s sophisticated aristocrat would make for an excellent juxtaposition, and a match that would feel fresh. A rebuild of Del Rio would be low-risk, high-reward as the match could take place on a Smackdown-exclusive PPV event, in which there theoretically would be less pressure to build a top program.
Instead, Del Rio was jobbed out on the most recent episode of Smackdown Live, losing to John Cena. Even heel A.J. Styles helpfully pointed out that Del Rio wasn’t booked for Summerslam, when it seemed like the entirety of both rosters were able to make it onto the bloated, six-hour show.
Del Rio’s Wellness suspension was announced soon after Smackdown, so WWE likely knew about the test failure before Del Rio as booked to lose to Cena. But it still seemed like yet another lost opportunity to Make Alberto Del Rio Great Again.
Del Rio’s winding road back to WWE in the first place seemed just as bizarre as his second tenure has ended up. Del Rio went everywhere it seemed, starring for AAA (and even holding their Mega Championship at the time he re-signed with WWE), Puerto Rico’s WWC, Lucha Underground, Ring of Honor, and others. It was a true tour de force of the independent and international scene. He was likely getting paid quite a bit for his appearances, which is where the guesstimated high figure of his WWE contract came into play.
The fact that Del Rio returned to WWE so soon (a little over a year) after his controversial departure was a story unto itself. There seemed to be bad blood, at least from Del Rio’s side, over his firing for slapping a WWE backstage worker who made an inappropriate comment toward Del Rio. That worker was later let go as well.
From all accounts, Del Rio staunchly believed he was in the right in defending himself. WWE felt they had to take action against a wrestler getting physical with one of its employees. The two sides seemed to be at an impasse. For Del Rio to go back to WWE (even after a stint in which he may have been unhappy in Lucha Underground), it seemed to be a sign that he was willing to compromise his morals despite getting consistent bookings on the independent scene.
Del Rio’s latest escapades, including his relationship with Paige and the announcement of their Wellness violations on her birthday, serve to further confound Del Rio’s most recent WWE run. There seems to be a lost opportunity from WWE’s end in capitalizing on Del Rio, especially after putting him over Cena so strongly at Hell in a Cell.
But Del Rio hasn’t exactly looked motivated himself. Is that because of his push, or is his push a result of that lack of motivation? It’s the chicken or the egg, and we may never know. Del Rio’s run is likely coming to an end soon, and may go down as one of the stranger year-long returns, for all the wrong reasons.
(Greg Parks has been covering WWE Smackdown for PWTorch.com since January of 2007. He hosts the “Moonlighting with Greg Parks” VIP Audio show every weekend and has hosted a live call-in show after the first three weeks of Smackdown Live on Tuesday nights. Follow him on Twitter @gregmparks. Comments, questions and feedback are welcome, and can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)