After winning a 5-man Gauntlet Match and pinning The Miz on Tuesday night, it looks like it’s time for Rusev to grab the main event spotlight. The Bulgarian Brute, who is over as one of the more popular performers on the company roster, will get a shot at A.J. Styles and the WWE Title at Extreme Rules.
It’s a long time coming for Rusev, who took the company by storm when he made his move to the main roster in 2014. Booked as a dominant heel in feuds with John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, and Roman Reigns, Rusev was the perfect fit as an anti-American wrestler who reminded many of villains of the past like Ivan and Nikita Koloff, Baron Von Raschke and The Iron Sheik.
Rusev is the first Bulgarian-born performer to crack WWE’s main roster.
WWE is doing the right thing by moving away from the Styles-Shinsuke Nakamura feud, concentrating on other rivalries heading toward SummerSlam and Survivor Series. Rusev is still booked as a heel wrestler, but his “Rusev Day” gimmick and his connection to his real-life wife Lana has made him an instant hit with WWE’s fan base.
It was only two month ago fans and the wrestling media were talking about the former United States champion leaving the company following WrestleMania 34 and an on again, off again match with The Undertaker at The Greatest Royal Rumble show in Saudi Arabia.
Rusev’s path to the main event has been skewed, much like many other heel wrestlers who were booked improperly during their careers. Nikita Koloff was one of the better heels of the late 1980s until he became a babyface after Magnum TA’s near-tragic accident. WWE booked Bray Wyatt as an unstoppable force upon his arrival, but his popularity with the fans softened his dominance. The same holds true for Braun Strowman, Kane and Undertaker and Sheamus upon his arrive on the main roster.
WWE must work double-time to promote this as Styles versus a rising superstar. It’s a feud opposite of the Styles-Nakamura confrontation where agility and history dictated one of the better stories told in some time. Rusev is big, strong, powerful and skilled as a beast. Styles is crafty, a ring technician and one of the smaller heavyweight champions of his generation.
Opposites attract, which is something WWE is counting on in this confrontation. Can Rusev reach the top of WWE’s mountain, or will he become another big man who grabs for the brass ring, only to be turned away? Will the company make this more than a one-match event? More importantly, does this kind of a feud capture the fans’ attention enough to divert attention from a Jeff Hardy-Nakamura feud for the United States Title?
The most important part of how this feud is booked is Rusev and his ability to sell the match and a feud with Styles, who he shook hands with after the Gauntlet match. WWE hopes it has struck lightning in a bottle with this confrontation. Fans hope they will see a superior main event at Extreme Rules.
Personally, I hope we see a change of champions, where we can finally say it’s “Rusev Day” and have it mean something more than just a catchphrase.