For over two years now, the United States Champion, Rusev, has been one of the most underrated superstars on the WWE roster. At one point, it seemed as though ‘The Bulgarian Brute’ was going to take off. He was soaring up the card as if he had a rocket strapped to his back – long undefeated streak, United States Championship run, then BOOM – John Cena happened.
It took a while for Rusev to recover from ultimately losing out in one of the premiere feuds of 2015. Yes, it was a premiere feud. I don’t care that their first match was brilliant and it was all downhill from there. It was still one of the more heavily featured angles in WWE. I’m willing to throw them a bone for that bizarre Russian Chain Match.
What is different about a Russian chain as opposed to any ol’ regular chain anyway? What makes a Russian chain particularly intimidating? I digress.
Somewhere along the way, Rusev fell down the rabbit hole of a ridiculous love triangle feud with Dolph Ziggler and Lana. Somehow, Summer Rae got involved. Ziggler was caught naked backstage and Rusev presented a dead fish to Summer Rae. It was really romantic and I’m having a hard time fathoming how this storyline failed, now that I think about it.
Before my Twitter feed blows up with smarks calling me an idiot, I should clarify that was sarcasm.
During the fall of 2015 and winter of 2016, Rusev was gallivanting about with Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio, and King Barrett as a part of the League of Nations. That gimmick was super over, and led to some really historic, important stuff like a totally inconsequential victory over the New Day at Wrestlemania that was, for some reason, NOT for the WWE Tag Team Championship.
Again, sarcasm – the League of Nations sucked. It led nowhere and had virtually no long-term ramifications on the WWE landscape, despite JBL repeatedly yelling about how awesome they were. I hate to break it to the Wrestling God, but Orlando Jordan and The Basham Brothers formed a better stable (The Cabinet) than the League of Nations.
Just when Rusev’s arrow was trending downward, he won the United States Championship from Kalisto, whose “good Lucha things” couldn’t do enough to restore prestige to the title. Many assumed this only happened so that Cena could reclaim the U.S. Title upon his Memorial Day return to WWE.
It didn’t happen that way, though. Rusev actually managed to get a little momentum going. He entered a program with Titus O’Neil that was centered on Rusev humiliating O’Neil in front of his children (always funny). Lo and behold, it led to Rusev coming out on top! He was actually on the winning end of a singles program!
He parlayed that into ANOTHER singles program win. This time, he successfully defended his title against Zack Ryder in dominant fashion. I was legitimately afraid of what The Accolade looked like – it was as if Ryder had no bones holding his torso together. I thought Rusev slipped and accidentally shattered Ryder’s spine and ribcage in half. Brutal.
Now, we’re approaching summer’s end, and Rusev is working Roman Reigns and he’s headlining Raw. He’s weathered the storm of midcard mediocrity and is on his way to doing ‘top guy things.’
Let me tell you – ‘top guy Rusev’ is a blank freaking check.
Rusev’s shtick is both a heat magnet to children and people who still think wrestling is real (despite the fact that it is 2016) and a wink and a nod to the smarks, who appreciate the humor in his work. He’s a master of appearing menacing and sprinkling bits of comedy throughout his promos. He’s a sneaky top tier wrestler on the microphone.
He can back every bit of his character up in the ring, too. A solid worker regardless of who his dance partner is, Rusev is showing he can be a reliable 20-minute performer. Just look at the last two episodes of Raw – he had a tremendous match with Reigns. The week before, he headlined the show against Cesaro. This isn’t even looking back at his Cena feud, his WWE Network special when he defeated Sheamus for his first U.S. Title, or when he was headlining Smackdowns opposite Reigns in late 2014.
All due respect to Lex Luger, but Rusev is the real total package. He’s great in the ring. He’s great on the stick. He can get anyone over (see: Reigns). That’s a guy who can headline house shows every other night and fill arenas.
Top guys do ‘top guy things,’ and Rusev seems to have a daily itinerary full of them. The man has ‘main event’ written all over him. Let’s see it happen now, WWE.
Stoney Keeley covers the WWE for WrestlingNews.co, covers the NFL’s Tennessee Titans for Pro Football Spot, and is the Editor of The SoBros Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @StoneyKeeley and the SPOT’s Tennessee Titans Twitter feed at @spot_titans.