Alberto Del Rio is in the news on a regular basis (mostly thanks to his fiancee) but he recently answered a fan question via periscope about returning to WWE:
“I’m not burning bridges,” El Patron said. “I don’t plan on going back there, it’s them already calling me to go back to that company, but I’m not going back ever, ever, ever. I’m too happy being out of that place. It was me quitting that place, not staying in that place and not wanting to stay, even after they did everything to try to keep me in that company, I said, ‘no, I don’t want to be there.'”
Whenever the subject of ADR and WWE is brought up, the question ”was he ever good there?” follows, and my answer has always been ”regardless of the crap, that double-turn with Ziggler that was awesome!” But I’ve been leaning on that answer for so long I’m getting worried I’m relying on a selective watching-this-PPV-at-3am memory. So fuck it, let’s have a look back at that memory and see if it still holds up.
First, some context for both guys. Del Rio had defeated CM Punk for the WWE Title at Summerslam 2011 (after cashing in MITB), lost the title to John Cena at Night of Champions 2011, regained it in a three-way at Hell In A Cell 2011 and lost it to Punk at Survivor Series 2011. Because of the briefness and cheapness of the title wins, ADR still wasn’t regarded as much other than a mid-carder on stand-by when Cena got bored and wanted to win a title. Del Rio was shortly drafted to Smackdown where he started a never-ending feud with Sheamus, the one where babyface Sheamus stole ADR’s car. Lawler: ”What’s he complaining about, he returned it!” Then ADR feuded with Orton and like most feuds involving Randy, Del Rio lost nearly every match. God this is grim typing. I’m with everybody else, was he ever good? Eventually Del Rio was thrown a life-line and turned Good Guy for the first time when he saved the Spanish Announce Team from a beating by 3MB. Turning into Captain Mexico, smiling ADR would milk ”Si!” chants from crowds to siphon off some of that sweet Daniel Bryan love. Suddenly caring for Ricardo the human punching bag helped generate cheers too, with his poor physique and bad hair Ricardo was a relatable figure for many a WWE fan.
Del Rio on his babyface run (quoted from RF Shoot Interview):
”And then they made me a babyface for no reason just because somebody in the office thought it was a good idea and they pulled the trigger and they didn’t care about what I was thinking or how I felt, but what can we do? I’m sorry I hope you don’t think it was me going into the office and saying something.”
Christ, was it that bad? I’m going to have a quick look at two matches with smiling ADR to see if he was as bad as ADR remembers.
Alberto Del Rio vs. The Big Show (Smackdown January 11th 2013)
Last Man Standing rules. I’m glad Smackdown’s no longer pre-taped, the fake noise is unbearable and one of the reasons I wasn’t watching the show. Well, that and it was Raw-but-not-as-good a few days after Raw-that-wasn’t-very-good. Big Show tried to attack Booker previously on this episode and the crowd join in Ricardo’s long ”Albertoooooo” so the crowd WERE reacting positively to him. Or at least the Smackdown machines were. Show slams ADR a few times to start and sets up a table ringside. Show effortlessly slams ADR threw it for a 7-count. It’s cool seeing bits like that, with no resistance at all from ADR because he’s getting beat up. ADR comes back with a chair and twats Show but can’t take him down. More shots, but Show only goes down to one knee. ADR tries to the Cross Armbreaker but Show dead-lifts him, however ADR uses the ropes to get more stretch and Show can’t do anything about it because it’s No DQ. Ha! ADR eventually gets thrown off and lands outside, getting a 8-count as we go to break. When we return, Show has the momentum and brings another table into the ring. ADR waits until he’s setting up the table and dropkicks him into it. Only a 7-count so ADR latches on the Jeff Jarrett sleeper hold, which suddenly turns into an important move in this type of match. ADR releases but still can’t knock the groggy giant over, so he tries going to the top rope which gets him chokeslammed. 9-count and a near-loss for ADR, who immediately rolls outside to recover. Show somehow manages to catch him and squash him through the barricade.
Ricardo is begging ADR to get up, like Pikachu crying for Ash in the Pokemon Movie. ADR gets up at nine with JBL laying on how important ADR values this title match by fighting through the pain. He’s good on occasion. ADR wanders into the ring and takes the KO Punch, with Show so sure of a win he doesn’t even look at ADR. Del Rio rolls outside at eight and because he rolled out and landed on his feet he’s technically vertical, falling immediately down afterwards. Big Show charges with the ring steps but ADR moves and Show bonks himself. Del Rio hurls the steps at Show but it takes three attempts to know him down, doing so Show falls behind the announce table. Del Rio uses the last of his energy to roll the announcer table onto Show and the referee counts ten.
Winner and new World Champion: Alberto Del Rio (AND THE SMACKDOWN CROWD MACHINE GOES WILD. Seriously though this was a fun, well-structured match that I missed when it first aired with ADR never giving up and realising he had to out-smart his bigger opponent. Post-win ADR celebrates in the crowd and they seem happy enough to cheer him, but it’d be awkward not to when he’s right next to you.)
Alberto Del Rio vs. The Big Show (Royal Rumble 2013)
Another Last Man Standing match, set up because Show rolled an announce table on Smackdown onto Del Rio out of revenge. Let’s see if a PPV crowd likes ADR for real-real. Oh before the match, Bret Hart endorses him by saying he reminds him of ”a Mexican Bret Hart.” Well that sorts that issue, Bret could appear wearing his finest un-ironed shirt and tell the crowd ”I rate the Jews 4/10” and he’d still get cheered. Ricardo acts goofy with Bret’s glasses as WWE realises there’s a fair amount of people who only watch the PPVs and may need reminding that despite their untrustworthy skin colours and flags, they’re as wholesome as Americans. Show tries to dominate like he did the previous match but ADR fights back and it’s a fair fight until Del Rio lands a Frankensteiner and top-rope senton. ADR controls the match but does the Stupid Babyface Thing of shouting out the name of his move before trying the Cross Armbreaker and Show twats him off. Show gets a chair but ADR steals it from him, pounding away on Show as the crowd chants ”Si! Si! Si!” ADR tries a top rope chair shot but Show blocks and chokeslams him for a 7-count. ADR shouldn’t go to the top rope when wrestling Show. ADR rolls out the ring to recover but Show follows with a scoop slam on the floor for seven. ADR responds by kicking Show in the balls, which somehow doesn’t knock him over so he superkicks him too. Show is a better man than me as he gets up at nine. He goes on offence and they awkwardly brawl around the light-tube set-up with Show failing to break a tube over ADR. JBL compares getting hit by Show to a Volkswagen. In the crazy highlight of the match, ADR is thrown off the structure and through the table on the floor.
It looks better on GIF than on video as you can’t hear Cole’s inane call of comparing ADR to the Flying Wallendas. Del Rio gets up at nine so Show drags him back to the ring. He loads up the fist so ADR gets the fuck out. Show gets the ring steps and aims for ADR but learns from last time and throws them rather than charge. He misses his target but Ricardo attacks. That does nothing but Show gets distracted enough for ADR to move out of the way of his charge so Show goes through the barricade. Another throwback to the previous match and it gets a nine-count. ADR goes nuts with a chair while he’s down and smashes Show’s arm against the ring steps. He follows that up with a fire extinguisher, which doesn’t make much sense but it looks cool so whatever. ADR puts Show in a Cross Armbreaker which allows Ricardo to duct-tape Show’s legs to the bottom rope as the match gets silly. Show can’t stretch his arm because of the damage to his arm and gets counted out.
Winner: Albert Del Rio (Match was an odd mix of good and bad bits with damaging commentary from Cole and JBL. ADR was able to out-smart Big Show again but there’s a world of difference between pushing over a giant table onto someone and having your manager use tape. Plus Show not being able to use his arm doesn’t make any sense as unless he’s Edward Scissorhands, he’s not going to be able to remove several rolls of duct-tape with his bare fucking hands.)
I watched those two matches to see if ADR was actually getting cheered or WWE was paying entire arenas to not boo him. Even if the cheers were generated in the most supercilious way with ADR smiling like he’d been struck with Joker’s venom and the camera people showing attractive Mexicans cheering him on so you should join in so you can be a hot Mexican too, he *was* getting cheered. Also it’s a fact wrestling crowds enjoy chanting and ADR gave them plenty of opportunities to shout ”Si!” and ”Uno! Dos! Tres!” etc. But even so, critically God Guy ADR as a character was shite. His feud with Show continued and involved skits where Show had his wheels repossessed and got orange paint dumped on him as ADR turned into Dennis El Menace. This also set up another match between the two at Elimination Chamber but after two LMS matches they settled things with…a normal match where this was the highlight:
Well it made me cheer for ADR. Luckily WWE had the Elimination Chamber match set up to give ADR a No. 1 Contender which unexpectedly gave us All-New Jack Swagger winning. With a beard, new gear, cool music and Zeb Colter as a mouth-piece, it’s possible Swagger was set to win the title at Wrestlemania. However, a DUI a few days before the PPV put an end to any potential victory and the resulting match played out to little interest from the fans aside from ”We Want Ziggler” chants because there was little reason to get behind ADR, even when he was wrestling a racist.
Dolph Ziggler in 2013 was the complete opposite of ADR. Though technically a bad guy because he was braggadocios, Dolph was getting many cheers from many cities because he delivering on those brags. He was able to actually beat John Cena in the main event of the TLC 2012, an event rarer than Shiny Mew and he bumped around a lot so work-rate lovers turned into that wolf from the Tex Avery cartoons around him. It also helped he had a Money In The Bank briefcase, Big E Langston and thanks-for-the-wrist-muscles AJ Lee by his side. Even if he was a cocky jock motherfucker with a hot valet and a huge bodyguard, Ziggler elected much cheers when he entered himself at Number One entrant at the Rumble, vowed to win the match, break the record for longest time spent in the Rumble match, win the WWE Title at Wrestlemania then immediately cash in MITB and unify the World Title on the same show because damn, that’s a manly goal. Sadly Sheamus eliminated him after fifty minutes to shatter that dream but he thought he could and that was good enough for a lot of people. Ziggler was cool. Well OK he wasn’t, he’d still brag and piss and moan like at Elimination Chamber, when he showed up without a match to tell us all how great he was. Ziggler got a match with Kofi Kingston and pinned him, but that only helped his cause. Dolph and Big E lost a meaningless tag match to Kane & Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 29 because that was the only realistic tag title match Raw could put on without getting laughed at.
But those two meh matches at Wrestlemania 29 (aka wrestleMEHnia) were simply the trailer for the main attraction that was Raw After Wrestlemania 2013.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger & Zeb Colter (Raw After Wrestlemania)
Handicap match. Having a guy like Zeb be a mouth-piece for a poor talker like Swagger is a great idea, but having him being stunningly conservative is troublesome, demonstrated here by Zeb complaining about Mexicans and encouraging the crowd to chant ”USA”…and the crowd joins in. It’s a lot less amusing in 2017, that’s for sure. JBL: ”Everyone loves freedom of speech until someone says something.” Yeah, like ”please give me back my passport JBL.” Crowd immediately chants for Ziggler, and ADR dives through the ropes. Half the crowd chants for Del Rio, the other chant for ”USA” and the commentators explain they’ve been brain-washed. That’s a new one. The in-ring action is secondary to the atmosphere, crowd is mega-hyped about the idea of Ziggler cashing in but doesn’t care about Swagger or ADR. Swagger nearly gets the Patriot Lock but ADR gets the ropes and puts him in the Cross Armbreaker but gets thrown out and we go to break. Back in, Swagger continues to work over Del Rio’s ankle but not enough to stop a ADR twilt-a-whirl. Commentators will not shut up, probably to distract from the chants. Swagger gets a belly-to-belly and gets the Patriot Lock in but ADR reaches the ropes. Out of nowhere, ADR puts Swagger in the Cross Armbreaker for the submission win with Zeb doing absolutely nothing.
Winner: Alberto Del Rio (Match was a backdrop but a very loud one.)
ADR gets his ankle looked at by ringside doctors and Ziggler’s theme plays to an incredibly loud reaction. ADR can’t escape the ring due to his leg, ref confirms it’s being cashed in and WE’RE ON.
Alberto Del Rio vs. Dolph Ziggler
Fameasser for two, Ziggler pounds away on ADR’s leg as the crowd shits it’s collective self. Ziggler misses a Stinger Splash and ADR lands the step-up enziguri for a close two. ADR locks in the Cross Armbreaker (crowd: ”Nooo!!!) but Ziggler’s able to attack his bad leg to release the hold, which sets up the Zig-Zag, the three count and a new World Champion.
Winner and new World Champion: Dolph Ziggler (Hell of a moment and better than nearly everything at Wrestlemania 29. Watching this, you’d think Ziggler was the next big headliner and nothing bad could happen.)
Next Raw, Dolph talks about being better than everybody else and not caring if people boo him. ”Next time you watch a NFL game and someone scores a touchdown, remember they’re showing off. Showing off is what you do when you’re better than everybody else and I back it up every night.” So much for Ziggler turning less dickish after he won the title, he turned his dick up and the crowd was as split as they were before the cash-in.
In the build to Extreme Rules, Swagger got a clean win over Ziggler in a non-title match, interfered in ADR vs. Ziggler with a ladder and er, lost to Ricardo and ADR in a tag match. But importantly, all three men got to look strong (or at least as strong as Swagger could look after multiple loses during the most important time of the year). However, the Triple Threat was scrapped after Ziggler suffered a concussion at the hands of Swagger and was medically unable to wrestle on the PPV. Instead, ADR wrestled Swagger in an I Quit Match that was OK due to Swagger losing heat the less Zeb talked. On TV, Big E defended Ziggler’s honour by trading wins with Alberto Del Rio until Dolph was fit for their next PPV match. Swagger would get out of the way of the title picture and get some traction with Cesaro a few months later. But his career could fill another overly-long article so let’s move on to the reason for this article.
Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio (WWE Payback 2013)
ADR comes out to cheers and he still milks the crowd with posing. Ziggler enters to a much louder reaction, I can only assume the time off made people miss him as he was still being a massive cock on the mic. There’s mild boos for ADR during his intro followed by massive ”Let’s Go Ziggler” chants. Ziggler escapes an Irish Whip to be cocky outside to start. Duelling ”Let’s Go Ziggler/Ziggler Sucks” chants as Ziggler runs into a Twilt-A-Whirl. Ziggler takes a breather but gets kicked in the head upon entering, which passes without comment as the crowd chants for ”RVD” as he’d just been announced prior to this match. Ziggler walks on all fours as the ref asks him if he’s OK and ADR soccer kicks him in the face. He stamps on his head repeatedly and back suplexes him. ADR just unloads on Ziggler’s head until Dolph shuts him up with a dropkick. Dolph plummets outside so ADR smashes him on the announce table. ADR pushes Big E for getting too close, which makes Big E retaliate so the ref has him thrown out. The camera cuts to ADR and shows his Theresa May smile and you can hear the crowd go ”OH SHIT, I KNOW WHAT’S HAPPENING!”
Ziggler makes a brave attempt to fight off ADR despite clearly being out of it. He throws ADR into the ring but takes so long to get in himself, ADR is there to welcome him with a superkick to the head. ADR is unrelenting in his shit-kicking, going from stomps to head-butts in order to put him away. ADR chinlocks Ziggler before setting him up for a suplex, but before he does the crowd boos him and in one of those great little moments, ADR stops what he’s doing to look confused and mouth ”what?” at the negative reaction. Ziggler stops his suplex with a sleeper hold but ADR bonks his head off the turnbuckle to get him to release. ADR follows this up by simply colliding his foot against Dolph’s head as he’s running the ropes. That was 100% prick. Commentators are selling this like Dolph is on his death bed. ADR follows with multiple punches to the back, one to the had and a Backcracker for two and a half. Dolph stops the Cross Armbreaker with a spinning neckbreaker but that hurts Dolph too. ADR tries a Twilt-A-Whirl but Dolph blocks and lands a very messy Fameasser for two. However, given the match I’ll allow it. Ziggler is so dead he grabs the ref’s leg to get up. He tries going to the top rope which is a dumb idea for him and ADR kills him with a rare Reverse Superplex for two. Fuck, I thought that was the finish. Dolph rolls outside and as he tries to use the side of the ring to stand up, ADR kicks him again in the head. Then he waits for Dolph to recover as the refs check on him and baseball slides him like JFK. Crowd are now booing the hell out of ADR and his cunt ways. Step-up enziguri gets two which pisses off ADR who kneels down and delivers Rabbit Punches until the ref tells him off. ADR stands there in the middle of the ring grinning as Dolph squirms around until Ziggler surges up and lands the Zig-Zag. He hurts himself again and Cole expertly points out that’s how he won the title in the first place but he’s unable to follow up now. ADR stands up before him and delivers one last kick to mercifully put Ziggler away and to reclaim the title.
Winner and NEW World Champion: Alberto Del Rio (Fuuuuuuuccccckkkk I love this match. From the slow turn to Dolph’s selling, everything worked perfectly. ADR would not stop being a prick and the crowd turning on him slowly was amazing. Ziggler getting abused only made the crowd love him more as he wouldn’t stay down and he left to ”Ziggler” chants. Double-turns are hard to do, but this is the second-best one behind Hart vs. Austin.)
After an advert for the next PPV, ADR re-enters (to giant boos) with a mic. ADR tells the crowd he did everything in the ring for them and he asks for their support. After the boos die down, he thinks he wrestled well and thinks he should get cheered, so let’s here it for him! He leaves with a shit-eating grin, throwing the good guy character he’d just played for several months right back into the faces of the crowd that had cheered him. Where did this ADR disappear to?
Del Rio on the Payback match: ”Brother, we had a hell of a match. I did my part as the bad guy making those guys turn on me and he sold AMAZINGLY, those nasty kicks he made it look like I killed him.”
Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio (WWE Money In The Bank 2013)
Rather than watch the Raws I’m skipping straight to the PPV and letting the dramatic music video tell me what I missed. It’s a lot more fun that way. ADR smashed a piñata with Dolph’s face on it, Dolph dressed up as Sin Cara and beat up ADR (which was the closest Sin Cara Uno got). Ziggler is firmly a good guy now, he’s still showing off but he’s smiling and pointing at the crowd which makes all the difference. Ziggler tries for a quick win with a schoolboy then struts away after the kick-out. ”It’s not showing off if you back it up!” Back-and-forth action this time until Ziggler delivers the ten standing elbows. Lawler: ”I think that killed me one time.” ADR got the Brogue Kick banned but was OK with the heart-stopper? Ziggler gets too cocky so ADR gives him a step-up enziguri to shake him up. So now the match turns to ”is Ziggler healthy enough to come back from head-kicking” as Ziggler escapes a chinlock but dunks his head on the turnbuckle after a missed Stinger Splash. ADR doesn’t wait for him to recover and punts him in the noggin. As the crowd boos and ADR grins evilly, JBL explains he’s only trying to be a nice guy. That was one of the highlights of the double-turn, ADR explaining that he wasn’t getting cheered ENOUGH when he was only trying to win the match. Those understated moments are what you remember. ADR wears down Ziggler as you hear a loud fan shout ”YOU FUCKING SUCK” at him. ADR mocks Ziggler’s sweaty hair taunt but misses a charge and lands outside in a daft bump. ADR goes to the top (which hasn’t gone well for him so far) and Ziggler turns it into a top rope X-Factor of all things for two. Both men start slugging away at each other but Ziggler can take it and ADR misses another charge into the corner. Spinning neckbreaker gets two with Ziggler selling his head injuries but not like he’s dying like last time. German Suplex by ADR gets another near-fall but misses the step-up enziguri so Ziggler gives him the Fameasser for a close call and the crowd was ready for that to be the finish. Ziggler charges and gets dunked via Twilt-A-Whirl slam. ADR jumps off the top but for the 500th time in his career it ends badly for him as he lands on Dolph’s dropkick. It only gets two and HERE’S AJ LEE THE DIVAS CHAMP with full entrance and music. She dances around the ring. Dolph tries to tell her he’s OK, but she seems confused. Dolph counters a twilt-a-whirl with a DDT for another near-fall and AJ won’t leave. Dolph goes up top and gets crotched so ADR gives him another Reverse Superplex like last month. Dolph kicks out again and ADR charges himself up with ”Si!” chest-pounding. ADR gives him the Supermassivekick to the head that pinned him last time BUT DOLPH KICKS OUT. ADR gets pissed and exposes his knee-brace and attempts to punt Dolph again but AJ runs in to stop ADR. And that’s a DQ.
Winner via DQ: Alberto Del Rio (A worthy sequel that sadly signalled the end of this feud as they switched their gears to Dolph vs. AJ Lee. Ziggler was healthy this time so the crowd was ready to accept him winning the title with no head issues. It wasn’t meant to be, despite ADR helping him by going to the top rope repeatedly.)
Dolph and ADR has a final match the next night on Raw. Dolph split up with AJ Lee earlier on the show, but Dolph was obviously so distracted by the title match he forgot ALL WOMEN ARE EVIL. ADR would retain after AJ rang the timekeeper’s bell to distract Ziggler so he could lose via JesusMyFuckingHeadKick. Big E would attack Dolph afterwards to set up Dolph’s next feud and to take Ziggler away from the World/WWE Title picture forever. There’s been several opinions why WWE took Dolph away from the main event echelon, the most common one being ”he’s injury-prone” which doesn’t make sense considering everybody gets injured at some point (apart from Jericho) because it’s fucking wrestling. After listening to several ex-WWE shoot interviews it seems more likely that the constantly-changing creative ideas are more to blame. Hell, there probably was never a plan to have Ziggler become a main event guy. This feud was probably as far as they got, like every other feud and program from 2010-2015. Why else would Ziggler go up and down the card so frequently he’d be saving WWE from The Authority one month and losing to Tyler Breeze. There’s a big difference between a guy who brags about something and doing it and a guy who talks about ”stealing the show” and having ”match of the year contenders” rather than winning. On the plus side, the introduction of Talking Smack and the brand split helped Ziggler be the best he’d been in years against The Miz in 2016 so maybe there’s hope for him.
ADR on the other hand would get a whole lot less interesting as he went back to being the same as he was prior to the Big Show feud, simply a bad guy with no character or reason no matter how many times the commentators would remind us of his achievements. After yet again feuding with Ricardo, Del Rio would defend his title against Christian and Rob Van Dam before eventually Cena checked his calendar and decided it was time to pin Del Rio again. Del Rio would never be as interesting or fun to watch as he was during this feud. The matches where he beat up Kalisto were fun but ADR (like a lot of wrestlers) really needed Talking Smack to give him interest. As a fan I’m glad he left, seeing him hyped up in WCPW shouting ”I AM A WRESTLER, NOT A SPORTS ENTERTAINER! A FUCKING WRESSTTTLLLEEERRRR” while pumping his arm like a maniac is much more fun than ””I’m not from here! I have my own customs! Look at my crazy passport!”
So was this feud/match/Dolph getting beat up as good as I remembered? The time between Wrestlemania and Payback was all over the place but the cash-in and Payback match are still amazing to watch. Del Rio as a good guy was bland as hell but it was worth putting up for months of it for that one slow turn.