by Lee Hazell
Rusev is one of the best home-grown WWE talents this century. His explosive beginning with the company, 146 days undefeated, was finished after a WrestleMania loss to John Cena. While the fans have had his back ever since (they usually do with the new stars Cena uses to carve notches in his bedpost) his position has floundered somewhat in the company. Without a compelling feud and 18 months with no gold around his waist, Rusev has recently taken matters into his own hands with his new Rusev Day gimmick and the fans have been more behind him than ever. Just listen to the raucous reaction he got at the Rumble. Rusev talks to VultureHound about Rusev Day, his WrestleMania prospects and what it’s like wrestling with his wife Lana in WWE’s Mixed Match Challenge.
Happy Rusev Day!
Happy Rusev Day, my friend.
How much are you looking forward to celebrating Rusev Day on WrestleMania weekend?
Well it’s the first collaboration between WrestleMania and Rusev Day, so I’m looking forward to it. The tank entrance at WrestleMania 31 was one of the greatest spectacles of all time so we’ve got to make it even more special this time. I can definitely top it, but we’re inside this year so I don’t think I can drive a tank or fly an aeroplane or a helicopter in there, so I’m going to have to come up with something else.
What are your plans for WrestleMania Week?
Maybe get some good food. They have some really good food in New Orleans. I love New Orleans. It smells really bad around but I’ll get over that. I’ll be there, I’ll have fun and Rusev Day will be there. So, that’s all that matters.
How amazed have you been at the WWE Universe’s response to the catchphrase of Rusev Day?
It’s more than just a catchphrase. It’s a mentality. You’re celebrating yourself every day. It’s who you are. That’s what makes it more than just a cool catchphrase to say. People understand and they feel the passion behind it. That’s why it’s had an amazing response.
We’ve seen the Rusev character take various forms over the years. Are you just as surprised as anyone at how this turn of character came about?
Am I surprised? Well, it depends. I always knew what I had. I knew I was more than just the ‘Foreign Guy’. I have personality. Once I had the opportunity to show it, I just did it. A lot of people don’t like it; a lot of people frown upon it; they think I should be stuck in that box but that’s just not me. I’m an artist. I’ve got more to offer than just a one-dimensional character and I feel like the audience – the WWE Universe – sees that and understands it. They’re behind me.
What have been the biggest challenges in getting over?
It was different in the 80s and 90s when everything was more protected but now with social media, you are just out there. I think it’s good because people get to see your personality. Who you are. It’s not who they see in that ten minutes of TV segments. I think that’s why people fall in love with characters that are not necessarily at the top of the programme or WWE champion or whatever.
You are one of the savviest social media marketers in the industry. Any advice you would give to rookies on how to sell themselves on social media?
Show ‘em what you got. For the first couple of years I couldn’t do that because I was in a very specific role, but now that I’m just me, I get to show off my personality and market myself. People watch it, they understand it and they love it. You have to put the work in. It doesn’t matter if you have 10 followers or two-million followers, you can grow. Once somebody likes your stuff they’re going to retweet and then you get to the next person and the next person and that’s how you grow.
The fans seem to be willing your character and Rusev Day over. How different is that for you to experience after so long as a heel?
It just makes me smile every time I hear someone say Rusev Day. When you’ve been in that bad guy role for so long, once you get out of it, to have fun and be you? It’s just good, man. It’s the best time in my career. The most fun I’ve had in my career.
It wasn’t so long ago you had to take to social media to refute reports that you were unhappy with your role the company. How do you feel now?
I just wanted to do more for the company. Nothing has changed, really. What has changed? It’s not like they saw Rusev was unhappy and thought, “Oh, let’s make him happy again,” no, it doesn’t work that way. It is what it is. You just got to go out there, do what you got to do and do it again the next day.
How much freedom are you given to control the Rusev character?
Well, I’m not saying I’m doing what I want because there is always a direction. But then again, who knows me better than me? I know sometimes they write words that are beyond my English. I don’t even want to memorise them because I don’t even know what they mean. That’s what happened backstage when Renee [Young] asked me if I was elated. I really didn’t know what ‘elated’ means. I had to ask her and then she had to explain. Ok, so now I know a new word.
What do you think of Aiden English since teaming with him?
He’s such a good guy. He’s so good; he’s so talented; he’s just on a whole other level. He’s got a theatrics background. He can sing, he can dance, and he can act. He can do it all. When we were put together it was supposed to be a joke. We turned it around. They gave us lemons and we made lemonade. Damn good lemonade, I’ll tell you that much.
You are fighting Elias and Bayley in the Mixed Match Challenge. Do you think that Elias is a better musician than Aiden English?
Absolutely not. Aiden English is a prodigy. No way can Elias out musician Aiden English.
You are teaming up with Lana to form Ravishing Rusev Day in the Mixed Match Challenge. What was your reaction to the news?
Loved it. I’ve never had the opportunity to be in the same ring as Lana before. We were supposed to have a match against each other. Me and Summer, her and Dolph, but she broke her wrist so unfortunately that match we couldn’t do but now we’re actually on the same team. We’re married, everything is just perfect and I’m really looking forward to continuing the Mixed Match Challenge.
Do you think that Lana could be Women’s champion?
Of course. In the women’s division, she’s got the best psychology. You’ve got to put it together and apply it in the ring. One day it will just click man and it will be scary for everybody.
How is training with Lana?
She is the most hard-working woman I’ve ever seen. She’ll do the gym, then go to the ring. She’ll watch, she’ll study, she’ll film. She’s unbelievable. I’ve never met anyone like that. Not just a woman but a man as well. I’m trying to impart the little experience that I have. If she tries it she nails it, and if she doesn’t … well, she’s my wife and I can’t say anything.
Is their added pressure teaming with your wife?
I’m never usually nervous before matches. For some reason, Lana put so much pressure on me for our match together. It’s unbearable. I’m like, “Woman, just relax. It’s okay.” She keeps talking about it and talking about it. She wants to watch more footage and train more. I’m like, “You’re going to be okay. Just calm down.” I feel like it’s going to be a long tournament.
What is it like doing inter-gender matches?
They are so much fun. I got to do one with Charlotte against Roman and Sasha a couple of years back and it was so much fun. It’s so different to what people are used to seeing on TV. The Mixed Match Challenge is so cool. I think it’s going to open a lot of doors for people to have regular inter-gender matches on SmackDown and Raw.
Last year you got to step in the ring with Bill Goldberg. What was that like?
Oh, it was so great. The first time he met me, I went to shake hands and he looked the other way. I was like, “Oh okay, you don’t care about me. That’s fantastic.” And then we had to work together, so he came and gave me a big hug, but I could see right through his Goldbergness. But it was good. We went out there and tried to do a couple of things. Then he slipped. He had to hold my hand so he could get up, but I understand. He’s 65 years old. Things happen, we went through it and now every time he sees me, he’s my best friend.
Anyone you take particular inspiration from?
I love Angle, man. He is the one. He is probably No.2 the best of all time. Or No.1. Something like that. Every time I have to do something funny or something stupid and I really don’t want to do it, I look back and think, “Man, Kurt had to do so much worse.” But then, in the ring, he’s just an animal. He’s the Olympic champion. Umaga was another big influence. He was the man, who when I started training, I was watching him and taking a lot of things from him.
The Accolade is known for being a devastating finisher. Did you always want a submission style finisher or did you want something more high-impact?
My Machka Kick that I do before The Accolade used to be my finisher. Then, when I was in NXT’s performance centre, Terry Taylor gave me the so-called Camel Clutch from back in the day. He said Sheik used to do it and that I should impersonate him, so he gave me that finish. We taped it and sent it to Triple H right away. My only problem was that Jinder Mahal used to do it before me. But Triple H was like, “Well he hasn’t won a match in a while.”
Who do you think is looking to get Machka’d at Fast Lane?
I’m down for anybody. I’ve never backed off a challenge. I’m there. I’m there and whoever gets in my way, I’m going for that ‘W’. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Champ, AJ, or Nakamura, Bobby Roode or Orton. It doesn’t matter. Whoever comes at me, we’re going to have a good time.
Is WrestleMania going to be the turning point for Rusev in 2018?
I don’t even know what I’m going to do at WrestleMania, so it’s very farfetched for me to tell you that WrestleMania is going to be my moment that is going to define 2018. I don’t know. I take it day by day. Each Rusev Day by each Rusev Day.
Do you think that Conor McGregor would make a good WrestleMania opponent for you after your Twitter spat?
McGregor? He’s not coming to WWE. What is he going to do here? He’s got $150 million. What is he going to do here? Move on. Though I would like me, him and Sheamus to get a pint of Guinness and see where we go from there.
Who would you choose as your opponent at WrestleMania?
Vince McMahon. I really want to kick his butt.