Lutz's Blog: The Paul Heyman and Cesaro partnership is a calculated risk worth taking
By Jeffrey Lutz
So this is what it's like to have faith in WWE.
Daniel Bryan is finally champion -- for real this time -- after an eight-month struggle that was mostly maddening until it became rewarding. Young stars are being pushed simultaneously seemingly for the first time since WrestleMania reached its 20th anniversary, not its 30th.
And an established heel manager is paired with a blossoming babyface -- at least one earning a babyface reaction and adorned with a babyface-sounding nickname. But it's hardly a stretch to assume that WWE will figure out how to make the Paul Heyman and Cesaro partnership hit big. Vince McMahon, Triple H and the rest of WWE's decision-makers are getting just about everything right these days.
Pairing Cesaro -- "The King of Swing" -- with Heyman made for an unexpected night-after-WrestleMania moment on a night now built upon surprise appearances and staggering new angles. Separately, Heyman and Cesaro have never been hotter. Heyman's performance always matches or exceeds the moment. When the spotlight gets brightest, Heyman takes his game to a level we've never seen -- and there aren't that many levels left for him to reach.
The night the ending of Undertaker's WrestleMania undefeated streak by Brock Lesnar was criticized for various credible reasons, Heyman gave the promo of a lifetime that made it all make sense. Suddenly, a floundering Lesnar character batting .500 in his big-money bouts, is the most interesting WWE character if only because we're waiting eagerly to see which young star steps up to beat the man who beat The Streak.
Cesaro's Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal victory may or may not have been a true star-making achievement, but it's far more tangible than losing main-event matches, winning the diminished tag team championships, or even coming up with the crowd-pleasing Cesaro Swing. Considering the lack of appealing undercard matches, the most WWE could have done with Cesaro at WrestleMania was to book him to win the battle royal with a memorable finish, and WWE booked that. It means something.
Over the next few weeks, however, WWE must prove that it has an actual plan for the Cesaro and Heyman partnership, beyond giving the post-WrestleMania crowd something to go crazy over by pairing up two of their favorites. If Cesaro somehow loses momentum because of or even in spite of his new manager, he's in danger of becoming lost in a more crowded shuffle.
WWE aimed high with so many newsworthy developments at WrestleMania and afterward, and history has proven that the creative team -- McMahon especially -- struggled to maintain traction for more than one or two at a time. Cesaro has apparently forced his way into WWE's plans, but he hasn't fully proven he can thrive in an environment that also includes the heaviest pushes yet for Bryan and The Shield, along with the recent or impending debuts of several NXT talents.
Cesaro earned his popularity with Zeb Colter as his manager, and it's precarious to break them up if WWE is not prepared to capitalize on the perception created by teaming Cesaro with Heyman. Whether it was the intention or not, WWE sent a message that Cesaro is now a main event-level performer, since Heyman has most frequently been associated with the stars.
Frequently, but not always. We're doing our best to forget that Heyman was recently charged with guiding Curtis Axel and Ryback to stardom, something he and they failed to accomplish. Even Heyman couldn't elevate a bland Axel character or rescue Ryback from the short-sighted creative choices that held him back two summers ago when Ryback seemed poised to break through.
Heyman was supposed to get those two to a level where a program with C.M. Punk was a promotion for Axel and Ryback rather than a severe demotion for Punk, but it turned disastrous. Punk languished at the lower level established by Axel and Ryback and eventually became so disillusioned with his spot and the direction of WWE that he quit the company without warning. It's one of Heyman's only black marks.
Putting Axel with Heyman wasn't a risk, though, because if it didn't work Axel would go back where he started -- at the bottom. He had nothing to lose and everything to gain from Heyman's tutelage. That is not the case for Cesaro who, with the help of Colter, has done so much to increase his popularity over the last few months. If Cesaro loses his positive reaction by becoming a full-fledged heel or fans don't connect with a heel manager attached to a fledgling babyface, Cesaro will be damaged. With so much going on around him in a new-look WWE, it might be irreparable.
I don't expect that to happen. If anyone can find the right tone to help get over a character with whom he might be a mismatch from a values standpoint, it's Heyman. His verbal abilities are so strong that he walks the line between babyface and heel perfectly. It's impossible to not appreciate his talents but it's so easy to dislike the character he portrays. He's diabolical and lovable, and he can tap into the lovable side of his personality more frequently if WWE has long-term designs on Cesaro as a hero.
Heyman is likely just as motivated as Cesaro, albeit for different reasons. Heyman has a chance to truly make a star for the first time since he first guided Lesnar more than a decade ago. Lesnar was can't-miss, though, and Heyman hadn't yet reached his peak as a talker and as a creative mind -- though he was close. Since then, Heyman has managed established stars, guiding them to the moon only after those stars reached outer space on their own. A motivated Heyman is unlimited in the goals he can accomplish for himself or for others.
This should be a relatively short but effective partnership, used to get Cesaro over as a babyface before Heyman resumes his natural heel persona for a potential bout between Cesaro and Lesnar that may allow Cesaro to take up residence on the moon. Along the way, the attachment to Heyman will allow Cesaro to grow as a character, with improved microphone skills and a deeper understanding of how to portray elements of his own personality through a fictional persona. Just like Heyman.
There's no guarantee this relationship will click with WWE audiences. But Heyman is clicking louder than anyone, and Cesaro is well on his way, so it's worth a shot.
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 email@example.com.
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