Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Resurrection of Handsome Rusev?

Things are looking up for Rusev on Smackdown
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Rusev's continuing journey to Smackdown had another advancement in plot on last night's episode. The Bulgarian Brute promised that he would show up live next week when the Blue Brand returned to the United States, this after demanding from Shane McMahon (ugh) that he receive a WWE World Championship opportunity at Money in the Bank. Whether or not he receives it is another thing; the fact that his narrative puts him more in McMahon's crosshairs than current Champion Randy Orton's (or even potential new Champion after Backlash, Jinder Mahal's) is just a bit troublesome. Granted, WWE's way making someone important is putting them in feuds against management, but at the same time, how many of those feuds end up being any good? Even McMahon's last feud vs. AJ Styles, though exciting in spots, felt warmed over. Of course, "warmed over" is a great way to describe Rusev's main roster career after losing the United States Championship to John Cena at WrestleMania 31.

Rusev wasn't so much hailed a can't miss prospect coming out of NXT for clear reasons. He wasn't one of the haute indie signings like Seth Rollins, Cesaro, or Dean Ambrose, and NXT wasn't yet released wide on WWE Network. He never had a marquee Takeover match because his transition to the main roster happened around the time of ArRIVAL and the first Takeover. But he quickly showed that he could fill the monster antagonist role on his first dalliances on RAW and Smackdown. Then as his run progressed, he began to show more and more of what makes an incredible wrestling personality, and each new kernel to his personality seemed to emerge as WWE shoveled more dirt on top of him booking-wise. No matter how engaging he's been or how good his matches could be, he's obviously going to be just another guy in the WWE scheme of things because the company has refused to protect him between Mania 31 and this point. Rusev sits in stark contrast to ANOTHER majorly talented dude whose reign ruling the world was just put on hiatus for a month or so thanks to injury.

Braun Strowman is obviously the hottest thing in WWE right now for a few reasons, some traditional, some eccentric. Obviously, he's a special talent, and one would be foolish to argue that he's not the best prospect WWE has had come through its pipelines in a decade. Truth be told, however, it would be just as foolish to argue that his success was undeniable thanks to his raw talent and tools. Ever since breaking from the Wyatt Family at the draft, Strowman has been the most protected wrestler in the company, i.e. he's the guy everyone pretends Roman Reigns is right now. Incidentally enough, Reigns has been instrumental in Strowman's ascension, but that's another blog post for another day.

NO doubt if Strowman had to go 50-50 with Sami Zayn or go from the first Reigns match at Fast Lane into a comedy feud with Dolph Ziggler in a misogynist tug of war over his valet, do you think he'd elicit such nuclear reactions from crowds? If you do, I have some beachfront property on the Sun that I think you might want to purchase. Therein lies the conundrum with a guy like Rusev. How hot would he be right now if he had segued from the Cena feud into something constructive that allowed him to show his development of a comedic dimension, something that wasn't transparently a punishment for him and Lana announcing their engagement in real life because Vince McMahon is a legitimate crazy person?

But as I have written a billion times in the last eight or so years, heat is elastic, and if you're good, you can get back to thunderous crowd reactions. Smackdown seems like the kind of place that a guy like Rusev could be nurtured and cultivated rather than discarded and taken for granted. I mean, look at the way Mahal has been rehabilitated from a complete jobber whose biggest accomplishments before coming to Smackdown were looking like a goddamn Rob Liefeld drawing come to life and shoot-knocking out Finn B├ílor. Now, he still kinda stinks, but he at least has a presence that isn't wholly hollow. He feels like he belongs on Orton's level. The same goes for Breezango and Baron Corbin and Luke Harper (at least before WrestleMania when his push wasn't totally forgotten) and many other souls either lost in the shuffle or in danger of it before the brand split.

A renewed push for Rusev now that everyone knows he's a true high-ceiling main event prospect would be the best thing both for him and Smackdown. All the chatter about "what could have been" for the last few years will wash away if the showrunners stick with him and keep him in a position of prominence, no matter whether he's in the hunt for a title or feuding with an authority figure or not.