Monday, January 12, 2015

The Rainbow Streak-Breaker: Why Darren Young vs. Rusev Is the Money Mania Match

Rusev represents Russia and Putin, so he's a natural opponent for the first out gay WWE superstar ever
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WWE has a Rusev problem right now. It's not so much about the superstar himself. He and Lana comprise the best bang-for-your-buck act in the company right now, and I'm not sure it's even close right now. The problem is a combination of booking vs. expected crowd reactions as well as his WrestleMania endgame. WWE has booked itself into a corner with Rusev in that it has no good challengers for him left in the midcard, and his booking has been unusual for someone who is supposed to get boos. The only heelish thing he's done in his run has been praising Vladimir Putin. Otherwise, he's just a nationalistic wrestler who plays mostly by the rules and has to deal with what amounts to bullying from American forces bitter that someone NOT FROM HERE is doing well.

The lack of opponent and the weak premise behind his heeldom has led a lot of fans, writers, commentators, and even people who work the sources for dirt sheets to speculate that Rusev is being fatted up for sacrifice to John Cena at WrestleMania. Cena right now has nothing to do if the top projected matches come to pass, and he said it himself. If an up-and-comer wants to make it in WWE, that wrestler needs to go through him. While the match itself could steal the show, the expected result would reinforce the current company line. Cena's the only guy that matters, and I don't trust WWE to tell a story that would enhance or elevate Rusev's stature despite losing to that only guy who matters.

All the above isn't to say that Rusev should win at Mania or continue to win until the Sun expands into a red giant and swallows the Earth into fiery, plasmatic doom. Someone should hand him that first loss, but it should be someone who can have a tense, meaningful feud with Rusev that doesn't revolve around shitty jingoism, a wrestler who has cache and future potential and who fits into Rusev's portfolio like the missing piece of his jigsaw puzzle. Luckily for all parties involved, that wrestler stealthily came back to WWE in the last week and was actually standing behind Cena during the cold open to RAW last Monday.

Young fits a lot of profiles for the guy to end Rusev's run
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When last WWE audiences saw Darren Young, he was in the middle of getting turned upon by Prime Time Players partner Titus O'Neil. He'd also recently revealed to the world that he was gay, making him the first professional wrestler to come out of the closet while an active employee of WWE (Pat Patterson's sexual proclivities were the worst-kept secret in WWE and were not fully disclosed until the finale of Legends House.) The announcement hasn't come into play in the WWE narrative, which was at the heart of a debate I had with Dave Meltzer on Twitter a few months back.

Basically, he argued that because Young's announcement didn't move any financials or other measurable ratings for WWE that it was a "non-issue," which to me is a wrong-headed argument to make because the announcement made a lot of queer fans feel more comfortable with the company. However, his argument did make a good tangential point in that Young's sexuality maybe should be used as storyline fodder. Young can be an icon for the LGBTQ community within wrestling if WWE gave him a platform, and no better time exists to give a guy a big push then after he comes back from an injury.

Of course, the caveat here is that WWE writers and ESPECIALLY Vince McMahon have proven to handle sensitive cultural issues with all the nuance and delicacy of charging rhinoceros. Having Young embrace his homosexuality as a gimmick would be a mistake, because homosexuality is not a gimmick, no matter what television stereotypes want you to believe. Rather, Young's sexual orientation can be a thing that's known about him, like his hometown or his finishing move. He can be a fully actualized pro wrestler with traits and gimmicks independent of his shoot-self who just happens to like other men.

And that's where the Rusev feud would come in. Again, Rusev and Lana love themselves some Mother Russia and especially its dictatorial leader Putin. The Russian President has become a figurehead for his country's bigoted laws against homosexuality, and he even took time to remind Olympic athletes that having gay intercourse during the Sochi Olympics last year was against the law. All it would take would be one promo from Lana trying to scathe Young for his "immoral" ways to set the feud in motion. It would give Young grounds to both embolden gay fans by standing up to Rusev and establish that his character isn't a flaming gay dude in a pro wrestling standpoint but as a wrestler whose personal business includes him dating and possibly marrying someone of the same sex. Additionally, Young feuding with Rusev would be a callback to the early days of the Rusev character, when he almost exclusively feuded with and destroyed Black wrestlers.

If the story is told correctly, then it could end up elevating Young and allowing Rusev to be freed of the United States Championship and his burdensome winning streak and move onto greener pastures in the main event. The caveat here is that the story would be told correctly, but at this point, Rusev seems to be the one wrestler that WWE Creative is getting as right as it can get an honorable, babyface wrestler who is being played for heel heat. Sacrificing Rusev to Cena would be stupid. Pushing him to the main event in a rash, last-second move might be too much, too soon. Any other option at his paygrade might be backsliding. But a Young story that would legitimately heel Rusev for the first time since coming up to the main roster? Now that sounds like a story worth telling for the biggest show of the year.