Over the last year, it’s hard to think of an act hotter than ‘Rusev Day.’ Out of nowhere, those two words exploded across the wrestling world, reaching all corners of the WWE’s audience almost overnight. With Aiden English’s adventurous vocals suddenly accompanying a renewed Rusev, fans quickly got behind the surging movement, rooting for the duo to have a greater presence on SmackDown Live…or something like that. Whilst this was a new part of the equation for Rusev, this was far from the first time that he’d flirted with super-stardom.
Whether it be entering WrestleMania on a tank or sharing the Hell in a Cell with Roman Reigns, Rusev has consistently drifted up and down the card without much consistency. He’d find himself lost in the shuffle at times but was trusted enough to be quickly shifted upward nonetheless. The truth was though, this fan support was something very different. Getting cheers against Cena or Reigns is one thing but this felt symbolic of something much bigger. Regardless of his foe, Rusev had become beloved to a level once unfathomable.
This wasn't a loud minority either, this was a widespread wrestling movement that had captivated live crowds across the globe. That said, the merchandise machine didn’t lead to immediate creative strives. Speaking of such, Rusev and Aiden’s tag title chase failed to end in gold but the crowd’s sheer desperation for their success was an encouraging sign nonetheless. He’d experience a similar response when matched with Shinsuke Nakamura too, before late in WrestleMania season, being added to the US Title scene.
That was another fruitless pursuit but fast forward just three months later, and Rusev finds himself where many feel he’s always belonged: in the WWE Title match of a PPV. Opposite AJ Styles, it’s Rusev’s ability that’ll now once again come to the fore. Luckily for him, behind the wacky catchphrase, this is a performer that’s shown a genuine capability of thriving on the big stage. In fact, Rusev’s in-ring consistency was once at the centre of his appeal, making him a cult favorite long before he had his very own daily holiday.
Athletic, powerful and dynamic, Rusev is a unique member of the WWE roster, bringing a skill-set that stands out even on an all-star SmackDown crew. Especially with English by his side, Rusev is certainly easy to slot into comedy angles. His versatility makes him an asset in that sense, he’s a guy that can fill a range of roles and create entertaining TV regardless. With that being said, it feels as though we’re missing out somewhat. Rusev’s true ceiling almost remains unclear on that scale, his big match catalogue too short to get a real gauge on his range.
There’s been flashes though, shining moments of brilliance. Personally, I go back to that aforementioned clash with Nakamura. Facing ‘The King of Strong Style’ at Fastlane 2018, Rusev quite obviously entered as nothing more than an opponent for the Royal Rumble winner. However, in a reminder of his in-ring knack and know-how, Rusev had the people hooked from start to finish, making them bite big on false finishes down the stretch. Rusev entered to great fanfare that night but making the people believe, against their better judgment, was more impressive than any catchphrase ever could be.
That’s not new for Rusev though, it’s all a part of an in-ring package filled with subtlety and selling. In fact, few wrestlers in the world can maximize minor moments so effectively. As a match approaches its climax, Rusev has a habit of hooking the audience regardless of their prior engagement. From desperation to despair, Rusev’s ability to portray the emotions of a big match is rather special in the moment, even if it isn’t well-suited to a fancy highlight reel. There’s a belief in his eyes that allows even the most lackluster of booking to be forgivable.
For those paying attention, Rusev’s ability is quite clear. However, now with the branding of a star, he’s arguably only still missing one thing: the kind of classic that makes him undeniable even to the most casual observer. The kind of match that’ll stay in the memory, capturing a level of emotion that lives on for quite some time. The good news is, Rusev will find himself in prime position for this feat at Extreme Rules on Sunday. AJ Styles is of course, phenomenal and with the title on the line, a rather special atmosphere could quickly emerge.
Fans aren't easily fooled and I’d assume most will enter the arena on Sunday expecting Styles to maintain his title. However, it’s hard to imagine Rusev doing anything but thriving in this big match scenario. With so much at stake, hooking the live crowd should be easier than ever and at that point, I’d expect sparks to fly. Athletically speaking, this match has all the ingredients to excite. Add in the emotional element though and this suddenly has the potential to be quite magical, especially down the stretch.
Since its inception, Rusev Day has been a beloved daily event. This Sunday marks the biggest Rusev Day of all though, with one match holding the power to catapult Rusev to a whole new level. Extreme Rules is the start of a potential new chapter for Rusev Day: a prolonged run at the top of the card that can finally spotlight his elite in-ring ability. On the most important Rusev Day yet, it’s time for Rusev to finally have the match that makes him truly undeniable.