The wheels of the rumor mill continue to turn, as speculation around the free agent market within the world of professional wrestling continues with confirmed departures, a debut, and other discussion points. The biggest story this week was that Cesaro, formerly known as Claudio Castagnoli before his WWE tenure, left the organization after his contract expired. PWInsider’s Mike Johnson reported that the former tag team champion simply declined the deal the company offered for him to re-sign. That puts Cesaro on the list of several former WWE talent that didn’t get released, but rather declined to remain on the WWE roster with the notion that they might have a better future elsewhere, which makes quite the statement about the structure of the promotion.
Obviously, the summary of the scenario is that WWE missed the boat on Cesaro, but a look at the details really show how much the sports entertainment empire was off the mark.
It goes without saying that if the WWE can’t make use of Cesaro and all of his amazing natural skills then that says a lot more about the WWE than it says about the former Claudio. With the incredible feats of strength and top notch in-ring ability, there was absolutely no reason Cesaro wasn’t featured as a main event star for the company. Maybe he wasn’t the best on the mic, but isn’t that what managers are for? Would it have been that difficult to pair him with Paul Heyman, Dutch Mantel, or Paul Ellering on a full-time basis during some portion of his run in the organization? His power and skill were unique assets that could’ve been a draw for the promotion if those abilities were spotlighted.
Instead, he was typecast as a good hand, which is why he was pigeon-holed into a tag team role throughout the majority of his WWE career. When there was someone else the writing team didn’t have anything for, that competitor was paired with Cesaro because it was a safe bet based on his skill. The stints with Jack Swagger, Sheamus, and Nakamura all had a level of success, but it was clear that Cesaro was used in a tag team role because management didn’t see him as more than a mid-card act.
I could be wrong, but I sincerely believe that Cesaro was a main event guy that just needed the right presentation and the right opportunity. I’m not trying to paint with a broad brush, either. Some competitors are mid-card guys and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, a performer can have all the tools and the presentation is still key. It’s a drastic example, but Roman Reigns as a generic baby face with the forced narrative as the next John Cena was a total flop. Roman Reigns as an organic heel is the biggest star in the company.
To recount the individual angles or matches that WWE fumbled for Cesaro would be a moot discussion. The point being, at 41, he still has at least a few prime years left in his career, but definitely had to make a move now if he wanted to create a fresh chapter somewhere else. The other side of the coin is an example of someone like Dolph Ziggler, a solid performer that could probably reach a bigger level outside of the WWE, but took a good WWE contract to be used at a certain level, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. Business is business, and if Dolph can make good money from a WWE contract then good for him. Still, the Cesaro exit puts another talented free agent on the market.
Of course, there will be some natural speculation about a potential All Elite Wrestling debut because it’s the second national promotion in the United States, but based on the total wrestling landscape, I wouldn’t assume an AEW contract is automatically a done deal. The bloated roster, including the recent addition of Buddy Matthews this past week on Dynamite, makes it very easy for a competitor to get lost in the shuffle. Anybody know where Jay Lethal is? Sure, if Claudio walks onto the stage on TV next week, there will be a big pop for the debut and it will trend on social media, but beyond that, what would the plan be for him in AEW? Again, presentation is the key regardless of the company.
I would guess that there’s a 50/50 chance that Cesaro inks an AEW deal, with the other possibility being a New Japan contract. All things considered, he would be a bigger fish in a smaller pond, but it would be a stage for him to raise his stock before an eventual arrival in All Elite, and thus a better chance to avoid getting lost in the shuffle. The Japanese product had much of its momentum stalled by the pandemic cancellations so a major foreign debut would help generate some hype for the organization as well. Keep in mind, Cesaro is a tremendous in-ring athlete, but the argument could be made that his star power is rather minimal at the moment because of being kept so far under the radar in the WWE for the past several years. After a decade under contract, Cesaro is a more well-known than he would’ve been if he was just wrestling on the independent scene, but isn’t exactly a major name because of the lack of spotlight so despite the pop for a potential debut, he doesn’t immediately bring a level of star power that is comparable to CM Punk, Bryan Danielson, Adam Cole or several others on the AEW roster. So, he would immediately be seen at more of a mid-card level, which is why raising his value outside of All Elite might be a wise decision.
The biggest takeaway from Cesaro’s decision to exit the WWE is that clearly the process to make stars is based on what management assumes they have with a performer, not necessarily the actual process to build a star. The WWE saw Roman Reigns as their next top guy several years before he reached that level and no amount of reject was going to change the office’s path. Sure, he finally turned heel after six years of rejection, but that wasn’t because management saw what wasn’t working and opted to change course, it was more that they finally run out of things for Roman to do as a generic baby face. The office saw Cesaro as a good hand in the ring that couldn’t cut a promo and they never truly attempted anything with him outside of that narrative. Granted, maybe all of this is a moot point because WWE secured record-setting profits for the next few years between the TV contracts, the Saudi money, and the Peacock deal, but the fact that management couldn’t utilize an athlete the level of Cesaro as a star, it’s probably one of the many reasons that outside of Roman Reigns, the company hasn’t made any legitimate money-drawing stars in the past ten years.
What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.
Until next week
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