|Cesaro's matches with Zayn were a huge reason why he ascended to #2 on this year's countdown|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
2. Antonio Cesaro
Highest Vote Received: 1st Place (Angelo Castillo, Samuel DiMascio, Tristan Wolfe, Dylan Hales, Danielle Matheson)
Last Year's Placement: 4th Place
TH: Awhile back on one of my epic Tweet Bags, someone submitted a question that read "what would happen if Cesaro wrestled outdoors and received the full effects of Earth's yellow Sun?" I was struck dumb and couldn't answer it with anything more than a .gif of Orson Welles clapping enthusiastically, because that asker had pretty much encapsulated Cesaro's ability with one, semi-jokey question. Cesaro is one guy for whom his nickname is a tailored fit, and if he were to incorporate literal flight into his match routine, I would not be the least bit surprised. In 2013 though, I'd say Clark Kent/Kal-El wore Real American pajamas.
The feats of strength are well-documented, but the impressiveness does not reside in him picking up men twice as large as he and putting them down (violently). The one staple of the WWE over its history is that Vince McMahon will most certainly provide viewers with large men performing superhuman tasks in a way that would make the average display of power in a "legitimate" professional sport look like gathering playing cards. John Cena has Attitudinally Adjusted two men at the same time on the reg, sometimes with one of those men being Big Show. Ryback has given Shellshockeds to the largest men on the roster. Mark Henry, Brock Lesnar, Hulk Hogan, even Bob Goddamn Backlund paraded around the ring lifting absurd amounts of manflesh before dropping it like it was literally hot.
But the way Cesaro was able to make his Giant Swings and his Neutralizers look extra impressive was what set him apart from the rest of the crowd. Ryback lifts a larger wrestler up in the Shellshocked, and it looks a little too easy, almost as if the people involved aren't judicious enough in keeping the "secret" - that the guy taking the move is helping get himself upon the shoulders. But with Cesaro, he's either shoot picking these masses of humanity up himself with no help, or he knows how to hide the participation aspect of these moves so well that it looks like a straight deadlift. Either way, the slight struggle and awkwardness makes his hossery far more impressive looking than anyone else doing the strongman act. The big things are what get a competitor noticed, but the little things such as that start to propel that performer up into the most rarefied of airs.
And of course, Cesaro wasn't just second on my ballot because he could easily toss around anyone put in front of him. Sure, he did so in the context of wrestling matches, but you need to do more than that. Thankfully, he owned both singles and tag matches, the latter partnering with Jack Swagger producing the best double team offense in WWE. He was involved in the best pure in-ring feud of 2013 against Sami Zayn, which produced the best match in NXT history (until the one that came after it in 2014). He had a knack for timing, which was ultimately important since his best signature move - the pop up European uppercut/Swiss Death - is supremely reliant on a perfect exchange. And he got the goddamn Big Swing over as a big crowd-popping spot. If his 2013 had happened in any other year, or if Daniel Bryan's mammoth year had taken place in another calendar frame, I would be talking about Cesaro as having one of the best overall, #1 vote years ever. But regardless of who was better than him or not, he was a huge part of WWE's finest in-ring year in its history, and he should get all the praise in the world.
David Kincannon: Most people will probably boil down Antonio Cesaro’s 2013 to his matches with Sami Zayn, but his year was so much more than those NXT matches, as spectacular as they were. He also had great matches with Daniel Bryan and William Regal. He was even able to, in my estimation, get two really good matches out of Kofi Kingston on Main Event in May and September. He was also part of the better of the two Money in the Bank ladder matches at the eponymous event. In that match he delivered one of my favorite spots, when he deadlifted Cody Rhodes in the gutwrench position, and dropped him onto a ladder.
Ryan Kilma: In Daniel Bryan's Rolling Stone interview, he mentioned how the popularity of his sports' biggest stars was directly correlated with the atmosphere of their respective zeitgeist. DB: "When you look at Austin, if he'd happened in different eras, he would have been hated. Hulk Hogan, if he came out saying 'America, take your vitamins,' and he's this jacked-up dude, you would get people going, 'Wait what? I hate this guy.'" Keeping this is mind, even with wrestling culture constantly evolving, if Antonio Cesaro were to hop into a DeLorean (on loan from CHIKARA), he'd be welcomed with open arms wherever (whenever) he ends up. I can imagine wrenching a cravat on Lou Thesz in grainy low definition while two announcers who sound entrapped in a greenhouse mutter quietly. Or fitting in seamlessly with the oily granite sculptures of the 80's. Or swinging the Blue Meanie around 100+ revolutions while the rabid ECW crowd roars in approval. Cesaro's a throwback to a simpler time in wrestling before the quest for megabucks swallowed its values whole, yet he's also an impossible innovator, executing moves a child with a limitless imagination and two Wrestlebuddies couldn't fathom. Just keep swingin'.
Joey O. "Match Of The Year! Match Of The Year!" There's multiple things people now chant for the man who lost his first name (RIP "TONI" patch), but when it comes to this particular list, the one that matters the most came from the NXT crowd after the now-legendary Cesaro-Zayn 2/3 falls match from last summer. Every superhuman feat of strength helped Cesaro further win over the crowd, bringing him on the cusp of an amazing 2014.
Tristan Wolfe: Everyone knew Claudio Castagnoli was an amazing wrestler and a bit of a beast on the indy scene…but holy poop. Did anyone expect Antonio Cesaro to be THIS good? It didn't matter who he was facing in 2013, the match was going to be spectacular. WWE.com put Kofi Kingston in their list of the best matches of 2013 because he was facing this man. I love jumping as much as the next guy, but Kofi's never been a match of the year contestant for me...until you put him in a ring with Antonio Cesaro. Oh, and did I mention his work on NXT? Antonio Cesaro put on wrestling clinics nearly every single match he had in 2013 and for this, he is my #1 pick for 2013.
Rob Pandola: Cesaro is right now writing the book on how to be a big man in the WWE in the 21st century. This was the year he found his rhythm in there system, but found new and interesting ways to expand upon it, bridging the gap between William Regal technicality and John Cena strength. Still reigning and defending champion of the prettiest European Uppercut in wrestling.
John Rosenberger: Nobody has been able to blend a cartoon like, larger than life in-ring style with iron clad ring psychology the way Big Tony has. I am generally not a huge fan of monster guys because they are just that, undefeatable monsters whose movesets reflect a lack of cause and effect. I don’t find stories where the big guy can just power through all offense thrown at him through sheer force of being big convincing. Cesaro took the over the top theatrics of Chikara and blended it seamlessly with the more reality based action of a WWE and this is something that endears him to me more so than anything else.
Mike Pankowski: When Cesaro gets in the ring, you never know what massive spot you might see from him that night. Whether he lifts a 250 pound man into a swing, or throws a 200 pound man into the air and uppercut him to death, all of his moves like amazing feats of strength. Every punch he throws looks like it should decapitate his opponent. And unlike some larger competitors, Cesaro does an excellent job of making his opponent’s offense look believable and painful. I’m excited to see what the remainder of 2014 brings for the Swiss Superman.
Frank McCormick: Cesaro is a great wrestler, quick and agile and smart, but it would be foolish to deny that what really makes him special is DAT STRENGTH. Anyone can do a European Uppercut, but no one, not even the great William Regal, can make them look so ding-dong deadly by throwing you into the air before delivering them. John Cena is a strong man who has lifted guys like Khali and Big Show onto his shoulders and then put them down again violently, but has he Giant Swung those guys around until their knees are dizzy? Has he picked Mark Henry up, held him upside-down, and then jumped up to Neutralize him? No. Could he do such things? I don't even think so. Yet Cesaro makes it all look so easy.
The fact that he is a superb physical specimen, but not some roided-out muscle monster, only adds to the impressiveness of his feats. He has muscles of steel, tendons of titanium, bones of adamantium, and ligaments of carbon fiber, and I'm really not entirely sure that "Swiss Superman" is just a nickname and not his actual superhero alter ego.
Brock Lutefisk: Cesaro is not in my top 5 for this year, but I think he could be there for sure next year. The man is amazing and deserves the opportunities. His match with Sami Zayn last year was without a doubt one of my favorites. I can’t help but think Cesaro might be #1 next year.
Andrew Rosin: I underrated Cesaro, and I'm sorry.
De O'Brien: 2013 was a hell of a year for (Antonio) Cesaro, who rung the New Year in by defeating the Great Khali on Main Event to retain his US Title, then going on to successfully vanquish all comers to hold that belt until April. The thing that stands out for me over the course of a busy year for Cesaro is that in May he began a feud with Sami Zayn, and that's the incident that made me sit up and pay attention to what had thus far been an alright series of career moves for Cesaro. Cesaro and Zayn, two men who worked together in another lifetime, each managed to make the other look even better than they had previously - no small feat for two competitors who were already technically sound and visually stunning - and that lit a fire under NXT to start raising the bar for matches even further than they had prior. Follow that with the 2 out of 3 falls match that Zayn and Cesaro had in August of 2013 and Cesaro's match against William Regal to finish out the year in December, and you had a wrestler no one could remain neutral about for very long.
Brandon Stroud: Superiority in human form. Absolute superiority. Cesaro may be the first wrestler I've seen since I was a child that causes 100% suspension of disbelief and wonder. I never really dug him as Claudio Castagnoli, but CESARO in big capital letters, giant swinging people on television and throwing giants around like they're nothing? Unbelievable. He doesn't have Daniel Bryan's scrappy, naturalistic spirit, but he doesn't have to. As close as we're going to come to a perfect, physical pro wrestler as we're maybe ever going to find.