On the go-home RAW before Sunday's Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, it was a man who didn't even win his match that truly shined.
Cesaro (yes, the Antonio is gone, erased by the WWE) had an opportunity to face John Cena on Monday night, as the competitors in the Elimination Chamber all faced each other in singles matches. Cena ended up coming out on top, but Cesaro was placed on even-footing with Cena throughout the match, and the ending even felt, dare I say it, flukey.
Over the past few months, Cesaro has quietly been looking stronger. He's been mainly used in tag-team action, so it hasn't been overwhelming, but he's been getting stronger reactions lately, and he clearly has become the stronger of the two “Real Americans.” On Smackdown, Cesaro beat Randy Orton cleanly, and you could even say he dominated the match. You could argue that it was the biggest win of his WWE career so far.
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On Monday, Cesaro was able to hit all of his big moves on Cena. This includes the Giant Swing and suplexing Cena back into the ring when Cesaro was on the second turnbuckle and Cena was on the apron, which was a seriously impressive feat of strength. I believe that was the first time he has used that move on RAW, though he's used it in the past on various programming, such as NXT and ROH.
It seemed like there was even a decent chance that he'd win, before Cena pulled a miracle AA out at the end. Most importantly, the fans almost seemed to expect Cesaro to win as the match progresses. At the end, besides having a great match, it truly made Cesaro look like he was on the same level as Cena.
While wins are the primary way to elevate wrestlers, it's not unprecedented for wrestlers to be elevated during a loss, particularly if they're midcarders who compete well against main eventers. Probably the most famous example (though he was certainly higher than a midcarder at that point) was when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin lost to Bret Hart at Wrestlemania 13. Another time was in 2002 when Jeff Hardy almost beat Undertaker in a ladder match. You could argue that was the first time Hardy was truly taken seriously as a singles competitor. Allowing fans to truly believe that a wrestler can beat anyone, particularly if it doesn't seem flukey, is a huge key in raising their credibility.
The key now with Cesaro is to keep this push going. While he's not going to win at Elimination Chamber, the worst thing that could happen would be to simply send him back down to where he was. He's getting a good reaction from the crowd, and the way he's worked the past few weeks, he's looking like a true superstar. The WWE should capitalize on it while they can, and allow Cesaro to shine.
The Rest of RAW:
** All the competitors in the Chamber had matches. Daniel Bryan beat Christian in the opening match of the night. The match was particularly interesting, because Christian played the heel. While it could just be that he decided to embrace the heel role going against Bryan, it's also possible that he'll stick with it. He really was better as a heel than any of his face runs, but with his constant injuries and returns, it's been hard for him to stay as a heel in the past few years. Christian focused on the arm and shoulder of Bryan, and he sold that throughout. After the match, which Bryan won, Kane announced that Bryan had to then face Kane, immediately. After continuing the assault on the arms and shoulder, Kane got himself intentionally disqualified to inflict more damage on Bryan.
** The final match between Sheamus and Randy Orton ended in a no-contest. First the Shield ran out, then every other member of the Chamber, then the Wyatt Family came out, to engage in a good old fashioned brawl to send WWE to Elimination Chamber. It's not always a segment that works, but in this case it did, especially since it was the first time the Wyatts and Shield came to blows during this feud.
** Speaking of the Wyatts and Shield, they had another confrontation before that one. Roman Reigns beat Mark Henry (and continues to get face pops while doing that). Dean Ambrose, who lost to Henry last week, wasn't too thrilled with it, as the slow-burn dissension continues. As the Shield stood victorious, the Wyatts came on screen and gave another suitably creepy promo. All three know their roles so well, both in the ring and in promos. While they came down to the ring, they again backed away from fighting, solidifying themselves as the heels in this feud. Later, the Wyatts beat Los Matadores and Sin Cara. This feud has been nothing short of excellent, and it's somewhat frustrating that it's likely going to come to an end on Sunday.
** Jack Swagger, who is now the No. 1 contender to the intercontinental title after winning a Fatal 4-way on Smackdown, beat Kofi Kingston. After the match, Big E came out to stare down Swagger. Big E then immediately had a match against both Drew McIntyre and Jinder Mahal, and came out victorious.
** Jey Uso beat Billy Gunn in a singles match. Both Jimmy Uso and Road Dogg were on commentary, and the awful back-and-forth completely distracted from the match. It was also announced that the Usos would face the New Age Outlaws at Elimination Chamber.
** Fandango beat Santino after Santino was distracted as he and Emma flirted.
** It was announced that the preshow for Elimination Chamber would be the Rhodes Brothers against Curtis Axel and Ryback.