Claudio Castagnoli made his much anticipated AEW debut at Forbidden Door in June. The vaguely Doctor Who themed show suffered various setbacks, as multiple wrestlers were unable to compete. Bryan Danielson was injured and couldn’t participate in his scheduled bout with Zack Sabre Jr, meant to determine the best technical wrestler in the world. I lived through the year 2018, so I’m familiar with this argument.
While AEW was unable to fulfill the wet dream of the worst guy to buy a seat next to you at a local indie show, we did get a suitable replacement, as Danielson picked Claudio to step into his shoes.
Keen-eyed viewers may recognize the Swiss superman as the former Cesaro, a staple in WWE for a decade. Cesaro had a developmental stint way back in FCW before being called up to SmackDown in 2012, where he became United States Champion for a brief time, before returning to the newly minted NXT for a spell.
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He bounced back to the main roster shortly after, taking part in a handful of tag teams (some successful, others much less so) and winning the inaugural Andre the Giant Battle Royal. This was back when we all had hopes that winning that trophy could mean literally anything at all, so it was actually kind of cool to see. The Cesaro Section was born in 2014, and a team with Tyson Kidd lead to solid success for both men, cementing them within the tag division. After Kidd suffered a career ending injury, Cesaro embarked on a singles career and emerged as a fan favorite, both for his charismatic personality and his incredible talent in the ring.
The Cesaro Section may have been in full swing throughout 2017, but the company struggled to capitalize on the star, even at the height of his popularity. He’d gain momentum for a few months, only to suddenly go on a losing streak. A torn ACL kept him out of action for a short while, but he came back with a new entrance (remember the James Bond thing?) and just as much love from the crowd. He earned a couple title shots but never sealed the deal, hovering around the upper-mid card until WWE elected to do what they do best, and push two singles stars into a mismatched tag team.
The Bar Is Set
I’ve been fairly vocal about my dislike of this practice; for one, it’s always a very obvious attempt to cover up that they can’t come up with anything for both talents to do as singles stars. For another, it tends to overshadow already established teams, favoring the new duo over groups who have teamed together for years.
Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but I gotta hand it to the company here, because Sheamus and Cesaro absolutely worked. After weeks of fighting each other, their best of seven series ended in a no contest, leaving both men to realize they were equally — and maybe perfectly — matched. GM Mick Foley elected to make them a team, giving them a shot at the New Day’s titles at the upcoming Hell in a Cell. They won the match by DQ, which proves Foley has never been wrong about absolutely anything.
The Bar (and their surprisingly decent t shirts) went on to become four time Raw Tag Team Champions and one time SmackDown Tag Team Champions over the course of the next two years. They feuded with just about every tag team imaginable at the time; some bangers against New Day, the Usos, and even Strowman and Nicholas, the small child who became tag team champ at WrestleMania 34.
While that one was a big swing and a miss, the team consistently pulled good matches out of just about anyone who stepped in the ring with them. It helped that both guys are pretty big (Cesaro is 6’5”, Sheamus 6’3”) but still able to move quickly, adjusting to fit whatever their opponent brought to the table. Both are hard-hitters who are more than capable of going back and forth on the mat, which let them work a variety of styles with whichever other singles stars were being forced into a tag team.
The two had great chemistry together, playing off of each other in backstage skits and even delivering in that rap battle against the Usos, and it didn’t hurt that they were each popular on their own. Fans were eager to see more of both men, and as the team grew in popularity, the stock for each talent on their own continued to rise.
Lowering the Bar
On paper, The Bar achieved all the accolades they were supposed to. Multi-time champions, significant runs on both brands, and some absolutely fantastic matches with the best tag teams in WWE. And yet, they never seemed to reach the heights they arguably should have. They were frequently shafted as champions; small time, short matches on pay per views, continually putting over teams with limited shelf life (remember Seth Rollins and Jason Jordan?). They fared slightly better on SmackDown (no longer sharing the ring with fifth graders), but still struggled to get time they deserved as tag champs.
After losing the titles to Miz and Shane McMahon — a duo we’ve all blocked from our minds — they floundered for a few more tag matches before being unceremoniously split up in the 2019 draft. The two would have the occasional brief reunion in the years following, but there was no serious attempt to revive The Bar, and Claudio has since become a part of AEW, allying with Mox and Wheeler and all your favorite people in an effort to make Chris Jericho’s life worse. An admirable goal.
So what went wrong? When looking at Cesaro’s WWE career as a whole, the obvious answer is that the company never wanted to back him. He wasn’t given the significant push he needed as a singles star. They seemed far more comfortable putting him in a tag team role — but even with the immense popularity of The Bar, the team simply wasn’t taken seriously. I know I’ve mentioned it a few times, but watching WWE’s tag team champions lose to a 10 year old was a bitter pill to swallow back in 2018. Especially considering where Strowman’s career went, it’s an absolute shame to look back at that match and consider that this was the best they could come up with for their top tag team.
While The Bar may have held the titles repeatedly, they were never genuinely treated as part of the main event. Instead of high profile defenses and fresh feuds, they relied on recycled matches and losses to Shane McMahon in the year 2019.
The Bar was said to be dominating the division, but we never got to see a whole lot of that. This is a problem WWE still struggles with, but it was particularly noticeable here, when everything else was going so right. The duo could do the silly backstage banter, and then step right in the ring and kick ass, a line many talents still struggle to walk. The enemies-to-friends arc landed, Cesaro and Sheamus had chemistry, and there was even that time the crowd made them a fun little song. All the right cards, and no idea how to play the hand. A true shame, and a fizzling ending to a beloved team that had plenty of mileage left.