Last week, Elias Samson became the latest casualty to have had his last name put on the chopping block. In the past few years, WWE has taken a calculated decision to ensure that the Superstars had mononyms.
However, one of the biggest victims of this decision has been Rusev.
If this were the 90’s, there is a good chance Alexander Rusev would be your WWE Champion. However, in 2017, he is merely just another mid carder, with his character on life support.
Rusev is a talented, multifaceted performer. He has great agility for a big man, and can work a good match if given the opportunity with any kind of opponent. His character, at least when he made his debut on the main roster, was interesting, and had a certain edge to it.
However, as it has happened with numerous stars in the past, he was soon put through the wood chipper that is the top 1% of the main roster.
Back in the mid 80’s, when the United States was embroiled in a war with Iran, Vince McMahon found the ideal scenario to build a despicable heel. The Iron Sheik soon became Vince’s golden goose, and on the back of Sheik’s tyrannical reign as the WWE Champion, Vince ideated the beginning of Hulkamania.
On the contrary, when Rusev was in the midst of his hot run as the undefeated Russian/Bulgarian espionage, he was booked in a match with Cena.
Even at that point in Cena’s career, he had done it all. The logical thing to do would’ve been to feed Cena to Rusev, thereby cementing him as a credible threat to anyone in WWE.
Instead, Rusev dropped the United States title to Cena, and was never able to recover from his decisive and devastating loss.
Tracing Rusev’s career trajectory since losing at WrestleMania 31
Rusev walked into WrestleMania 31 as the WWE United States Champion. More than that, he never lost a match by pinfall or submission till then. Standing on the opposite corner was a man that built his career on chopping down giants and legends alike, John Cena.
However, unlike Hogan’s rivalries with the Iron Sheik and later Sgt. Slaughter, Cena had nothing to lose with a loss to Rusev. Hogan was in his prime when he faced Slaughter. Cena, however, was in the final stretch of his professional wrestling career.
A loss to Cena was devastating for Rusev’s career. Rusev was then placed in the League of Nations faction, which didn’t accomplish the task it was intended to – give the members the rub they needed to once reach the upper echelons of the company.
Instead, the group disbanded, and Rusev was left in a limbo. His career was stranded at a turnpike, and although Rusev eventually won the United States title once again, his momentum was once again derailed – this time by Roman Reigns.
How well would’ve Rusev fared two decades ago?
While Edge’s monicker happens to be the “Ultimate Opportunist” in WWE, there has never been a promoter, who exploited national crises quite like Vince McMahon for drawing big numbers. Whether it was the Iraqi War (with Slaughter), or the growing dissent among the American populace regarding the Middle East in early 2000’s (with Hassan), Vince McMahon never missed an opportunity to introduce a character that would be universally hated.
With Alexander Rusev however, Vince McMahon did not follow through with his initial ideas. If there ever was a time to push Rusev as the anti – American, anti – establishment heel, it was during the United States Presidential campaign in 2016.
With the hot topic among the American people being the Russian interference, thereby undermining the authority – and compromising the electoral process, Vince McMahon could’ve easily used it to not only revive Rusev’s career, but also make him one of the biggest heels in the company.
With WWE now being publicly traded, and with a host of investors to answer to, it is understandable why Vince was unwilling to use the current political instability in the United States to further the storylines.
However, this could also give us an insight as to how Rusev would’ve fared two decades ago in the company – at a time when McMahon, Russo and Dunn would’ve used any real – life situation to draw numbers. Unfortunately for Rusev, it just so happens to be the case of ‘right place at the wrong time’.