It has been nearly six years since the hottest act of the summer emerged. In 2013, an unsuspecting bearded Superstar and a domesticated monster were forced to enter into an unhealthy relationship. This led to multiple hilarious sketches, as both enrolled into anger management classes.
It’s rare for a Superstar to transcend the industry, and become something bigger than just a character. What happened with ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin wasn’t replicated again for over a decade and a half. Austin, unlike anyone before or since, was a cathartic experience; people lived vicariously through The Rattlesnake, and took pleasure every time he got back at the evil boss, that represented the white collared bosses across middle – America.
But in 2013, Daniel Bryan rose through mediocrity, and grew into an experience. It was no longer just a character trying to connect with the fans; if CM Punk was the voice of the voiceless, Bryan was the voice of the masses. He was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most popular Superstar since Austin in the late 90’s.
It took the company a while to come to terms with his popularity. If doesn’t happen often, but sometimes, there are flashes of brilliance which remain just that – flashes. The likes of Zack Ryder and CM Punk come to mind, even though it was the WWE booking that poured cold water over the momentum they gathered. With Bryan, the company did their best to brush him under the rug and look the other way.
However, the fans wouldn’t. The audience stood defiant, ready to stop any other Superstar from taking Bryan’s rightful place at the helm. In doing so, they booed returning Superstars and handpicked heirs; it was obvious that the fans, for once, realized that they do have power and say in what goes on WWE programming, and exercised those rights.
Can Rusev replicate Bryan’s success in the company?
For the past couple of months, there has been one particular Superstar on SmackDown Live, who, similar to Bryan, has been able to reach out to the audience without saying anything in particular. A Superstar can have the rub of the green due to various reasons; the intangibles aren’t quite common, but it isn’t unprecedented.
Similar to Bryan and Kane, Rusev’s odd – ball relationship with Aiden English led to the Bulgarian Brute winning over the fans. It isn’t always the work – rate or the promo – delivery of a Superstar that wins over the audience. Sometimes, it’s about how relatable a Superstar is, and how hard he works that gets noticed. In WWE, you have to work with the cards that you’re dealt, and while some complain about not getting the opportunity, there are those who make the most of what they have.
Unfortunately, there seems to be a pattern emerging with how the creative books a Superstar that gets ‘over’ on his or her own. Rusev was kept off television for a few weeks, leading to the fans chanting his name during the show. While people talk about striking the iron while it’s hot, WWE seems all too willing to pour water over it.
WWE should learn from their past mistakes
If the Daniel Bryan fiasco taught the company anything, it is that the audience were – and will always be the metric, to gauge how well the company is doing. While WWE did try and look the other way for as long as they could with Bryan, they need to do things differently with Rusev.
The fact that Rusev’s merchandise has been the top selling item on WWE Shop emphasizes on the need to use his popularity. Heading into WrestleMania, there is no proper program in place for the former United States Champion, and the promotion cannot afford to slip up once again.
Rusev has a great personality, and often engages with the fans on social media, something the company wants all the Superstars to do. In Rusev, they have a second chance to do things right – an opportunity they cannot let go. It now remains to be seen how well the creative team can actually book a Superstar that is popular with the audience, but if their track record tells us anything, we might be in for a bumpy ride over the course of the next couple of months.