A dark horse is, according to dictionary.com, “a racehorse, competitor, etc., about whom little is known or who unexpectedly wins” or someone “who has unexpected talents or abilities.”
Whether in sports or in life, dark horses step up to shock the world all the time.
The WWE has one dark horse who recently did that to become one of the biggest surprises in recent memory and one of the company’s top babyfaces.
That man is Alberto Del Rio.
Just a couple of short months ago, ADR was viewed as someone who had already peaked in the WWE and was on the downslide. He was consistently criticized for being “boring” and “too stale.”
But things have changed drastically since then, and Del Rio has undoubtedly become the WWE’s dark horse.
And it’s simple why, really: He keeps bringing us the unexpected.
A lot of wrestling fans wrote off Del Rio’s babyface turn before it was even really given a chance, but a little more than a month into it, it’s clear that he’s adapting really well to being a fan favorite.
There’s something naturally charming about ADR as a good guy, even though he hasn’t drastically altered the way he approaches things as a babyface. Other than a few minor character tweaks, he’s still the same guy he was when he was a heel—we just like him more.
In a world where the hardcore older fans beg only for top faces to turn heel, it’s extremely rare to see a guy like ADR actually broaden his fanbase by turning babyface. The fact that Internet wrestling fans largely seem to be behind his face turn has nearly made the Internet implode.
It’s not hard to understand why ADR has quickly evolved into a top babyface, though.
We’ve only gotten to see Del Rio work as a good guy for a couple of months so far, but his transition to that role has been absolutely seamless. In fact, he’s doing things as a face that he never did as a heel.
Remember when he pulled a middle-rope moonsault out of nowhere? Now, he does them with ease on a consistent basis, which is awfully impressive for a guy who hovers around 6’5”.
How about the hurricanrana variations he’s been doing that we literally never saw him do as a heel? Again, so impressive for a man of his size.
But that’s pretty much all that ADR has done as a babyface so far: impress and surprise.
His TV matches as a fan favorite have been really good so far, especially his Last Man Standing match against Big Show. Of course, his second Last Man Standing match against Show at Royal Rumble, his first PPV singles match as a face, was also great.
ADR has had no problem whatsoever with adjusting from being the heel that beats down his opponent throughout the entire match to being the face that the crowd loves to get behind.
After all, Del Rio has quickly earned the support of the fans through his great performances as a babyface. He worked primarily as a face in Mexico prior to joining the WWE, and it shows.
He knows exactly how to perform to get the fans behind him, and his offense is really exciting at both the beginning of his matches and during his comeback at the end of those bouts.
It’s been so refreshing to see Del Rio, who had gotten very stale as a heel, transform into such a great babyface when no one expected that to happen.
That’s what’s made him a darkhorse, too—he truly has been an “unexpected winner.”
All ADR did in 2012 was lose in just about every major match that he participated in, and when the year was coming to a close, no one thought he’d accomplish much in 2013—much less be World heavyweight champion on the road to WrestleMania.
Yet, Del Rio is a much different superstar than he was for much of the last year.
No longer is he the stale heel who gets far too many title shots only to lose every single one of them. Instead, he’s an unexpectedly great babyface who looks poised to be a big player in the main event picture going forward.
He’s the WWE’s dark horse, and he’s here to stay.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!