Alberto Del Rio is no longer the World Heavyweight Champion, and now, it’s a guessing game as to where he’s headed next.
After surprising the world by beating Big Show to win the World title and cement himself as a babyface back in January, Del Rio became the latest WWE Superstar to fall victim to bad booking of the company’s World Heavyweight champions.
He held the World title for just 90 days, which—believe it or not—is actually the third longest World title reign (out of 13) since December 2010. Overall, though, a title reign of just three months ultimately didn’t do much for Del Rio.
Now, the WWE is stuck in quite the dilemma here.
Del Rio won the World Heavyweight Championship almost immediately upon turning babyface, and that was always going to be a double-edged sword. On one side, it could have been a great move to firmly entrench Del Rio as a top guy, but on the other side, losing that title was going to end up hurting his babyface run substantially.
After ADR’s surprising World title win was met with great reaction initially, things started to sour for him pretty quickly. Thanks in large part to a lackluster title feud with the not-so-over Jack Swagger, ADR’s title reign didn’t quite generate the buzz or result in the reactions that the WWE likely expected it to.
That probably played a big role in Dolph Ziggler cashing in on Del Rio to become World Heavyweight Champion, and now, it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen with Del Rio from this point forward.
At least initially, ADR is going to feud with Ziggler because he’s entitled to a rematch for the World title, and he will get that rematch in a Triple Threat also involving Swagger at Extreme Rules. That feud will probably conclude at Extreme Rules next month or the first-ever WWE Payback pay-per-view in June, and barring something unforeseen happening, Ziggler will keep the title throughout the duration of it.
While it’s pretty clear that Del Rio is going to hang around the World title picture for a little longer, what’s less clear is where he goes once his feud with Ziggler (and Swagger) is finished.
There’s always the possibility that ADR somehow manages to stay involved in the World title picture for another four or five months. After all, he feuded with Sheamus over the World title for roughly half of 2012.
But ultimately, the WWE doesn’t figure to go that route with ADR again. Instead, he’ll have to find something else to do as we move forward in 2013.
Even though Del Rio may not continue on as a top World title contender, it’s safe to assume that he’s going to remain at or near the top of the card in some way, shape or form.
Why? Because the WWE seems committed to building him up as a big babyface and, more specifically, the company’s top Hispanic star.
With Rey Mysterio’s career in question and Sin Cara failing to live up to expectations, the WWE is moving full steam ahead with trying to establish Del Rio as it’s biggest Hispanic star. That’s gotten mixed results so far, but it doesn’t figure to stop the WWE from continuing to try to do it.
Although ADR may move away from the World title picture in the near future, the creative team is going to push him as a top-level babyface regardless. That may be difficult to do, though, because ADR has had so much success so early on during his face run that it seems like the only way for him to go from here is down.
That’s awfully reminiscent of what happened to Del Rio as a heel, too.
He won the Royal Rumble, Money in the Bank and the WWE Championship in roughly his first year with the WWE, and though there was initially a lot of buzz surrounding him, that seemed to fade away with the more time he spent at the top of the company.
Del Rio could be feeling a little deja vu right now because there’s certainly no guarantee that he won’t lose a lot of momentum and drop down the card just like he did last year.
Luckily for ADR, though, things are a bit different this time around.
When he was struggling last year, he was a heel, and heels tend to struggle because the WWE books them so badly. But now that he’s a babyface—and because the WWE books its babyfaces strongly—it’s much more likely that he’ll continue to be pushed and look very strong in the process.
That could bode well for Del Rio, who figures to remain pretty high on the card because of the WWE’s lack of babyfaces.
After John Cena, there’s a substantial drop-off to the WWE’s next tier of babyfaces. As far as full-timers go, there’s Sheamus, Randy Orton, Ryback (who some think is currently turning heel), Daniel Bryan and Kane (who are stuck in the tag team division at the moment) and—well, that’s about it.
That means that Del Rio doesn’t have anywhere near the competition on the babyface side that he would if he were a heel, which gives him a very good chance of remaining one of the WWE’s premiere babyfaces.
There’s no way to tell exactly what lies ahead for ADR because the creative team is so up-and-down, but it’s a safe bet to think that he’s probably going to continue to have a very big presence on TV. Although he may not always be a World title contender like he’s been in the past, he should continue to be someone whose feuds are placed at the top of the card.
ADR’s babyface run has been only so-so thus far, but the WWE lacks enough quality babyfaces to completely forget about him.
He’ll stick around the upper portion of the card, if for no other reason than the fact that he’s being pushed as the WWE’s next No. 1 Hispanic Superstar.
Drake Oz is a WWE Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter!