Just three or four months ago, literally no one could have predicted that this would be the World title match on the WWE’s biggest pay-per-view of the year. Del Rio was struggling mightily as a heel at the time, while Swagger had been off of TV for several months and didn’t appear to be headed for a career resurgence.
But in two separate but equally surprising moves, Del Rio pulled off a seamless babyface turn, and not long afterward, Swagger returned with a renewed push as a main-event-caliber heel. A month later, Del Rio became World champion, and a month after that, Swagger became the No. 1 contender.
So, here we are—headed to WrestleMania 29 with both guys competing in arguably the biggest match of their respective careers.
The World Heavyweight title bout will undoubtedly be a huge test for Swagger, who has had an up-and-down career that has been remarkably unpredictable. A title win at WrestleMania would certainly be a career-defining moment for Swagger and could perhaps catapult him to the main-event picture for good.
Swagger could, of course, use the win on the grand stage of WrestleMania 29. But Del Rio needs it even more.
After ADR surprisingly turned babyface late last year, it became clear that the WWE was looking to build him up as the company’s next big Hispanic star. Because the Sin Cara experiment hasn’t really worked out, and Rey Mysterio appears to be on his last legs (he’s out nursing yet another knee injury), the move certainly made sense.
In just a few short months, Del Rio seems to be excelling in that role, too. While he doesn’t receive monstrous pops from the crowd, he’s incredibly charming as a good guy and, thanks in large part to his friendship with Ricardo Rodriguez, comes across as extremely loyal and humble now that he’s no longer a villain.
It certainly appears as if ADR has a very bright future in the WWE as a babyface, but it’s still incredibly early on in his run as a good guy. That is perhaps the biggest reason why he needs to defeat Swagger at WrestleMania 29.
When Del Rio was a heel, he accomplished quite a lot, winning the Royal Rumble, Money in the Bank match and two WWE Championships in less than a year-and-a-half. The problem was that those on-paper accomplishments were all marred by lackluster follow-ups.
His Royal Rumble victory led to a forgettable World title feud and match with Edge. His Money in the Bank victory led to an awful first WWE title reign that included exactly zero successful title defenses. His second WWE title reign wasn’t much better, lasting barely two months and featuring only one highly controversial title defense.
By all accounts, Del Rio as a heel was a failure because his major accomplishments ultimately didn’t lead anywhere. If Del Rio loses the World Heavyweight title at WrestleMania 29, then Del Rio the face won’t be much different from Del Rio the heel.
Because ADR just won the World title on Jan. 11, losing the title at WrestleMania 29 will mean that he will have held it for less than three months. That’s really not much of an improvement on either of his first two World title reigns, which were both poorly booked.
Back then, though, no one seemed to care much about Del Rio’s lackluster title reigns because his storylines were so screwed up at the time anyway. ADR really shouldn’t have cashed in when he did (thanks, creative), and he probably shouldn’t have been involved in the WWE title picture at the time when Punk vs. Cena was really the bigger story.
But now things are considerably different. Del Rio is in much the same spot as Punk in late 2011—fresh off a babyface turn and in need of a lengthy title reign to truly establish himself as the top guy the WWE wants him to be.
Punk obviously got his lengthy championship run. He held the WWE Championship for a whopping 434 days, which is longer than anyone in the modern era.
Now, it’s time for Del Rio to get his reign.
No, it’s not necessary for him to hold the belt for more than a year or even for nine or 10 months. But he needs a lengthy reign to fully establish himself as a babyface main eventer and to erase the damage the WWE did to him throughout 2011 and 2012.
Holding the title for less than three months is going to do absolutely nothing for Del Rio. In fact, it’ll probably hurt him more than help him—just like those two WWE title reigns did. Therefore, it’s absolutely imperative that Del Rio defeats Swagger at WrestleMania and continues his reign as World Heavyweight champion.
If he doesn’t, then the only way for his run as a babyface to go is down, and whenever a star fails so quickly, it’s awfully hard for him to recover from it.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!