Perennial underdogs are a huge staple to WWE’s tapestry and, when they finally climb to the summit, the sense of jubilation is unparalleled. You don’t even have to go that far back in history to find notable examples either; the obvious is Daniel Bryan’s crowning at Wrestlemania XXX, but the likes of Dolph Ziggler taking the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio or Sami Zayn capturing the NXT title from Neville at TakeOver: Evolution are also worthy mentions over the past decade. It’s strange, therefore, to think of Alexander Rusev as such an underdog, but as 2017 progressed into this year, the momentum behind his climb to becoming the most over superstar on either roster and WWE’s refusal to give him what is deserved have garnered such a tag to his name.
On paper, his gimmick shouldn’t have worked and lesser individuals taking it on would have suffered greatly, the entire angle plummeting quicker than Shane McMahon from the top of Hell in a Cell. However, the determination by both Rusev and Aiden English to see ‘Rusev Day’ reach such heights of popularity must be commended from all corners; it’s downright hilarious, superbly executed and is now such a cornerstone of WWE that it’s even rivalling the ‘CM Punk!’ chants during uninspiring matches, which is certainly a welcome change to the norm. To add extra fuel to the fire, his win/loss ratio doesn’t make for pleasant reading and the events surrounding his documented request to leave, coupled with the flip-flop in and out of the Casket match at the Greatest Royal Rumble, have only made it spicier.
Of course, the aforementioned request to terminate his contract was more than likely borne out of the frustration that, for all his fan support, he was treading water on SmackDown! Live’s mid-card without really going anywhere. WWE have seemingly taunted both wrestler and audience alike by putting him in matches where a victory would have sent him to the Main Event in pay-per-views, only to continuously pull the opportunity just out of reach like some sadistic carrot dangled from a poisoned stick. It’s gruelling to watch and at times heartbreaking because Rusev is a very competent performer and an excellent heel-cum-anti-hero, but at the same time no-one is surprised – WWE DO have a history with this after all…
Furthermore, it’s reached a point where the United States Championship, a belt he has held with panache in the past, is now below him and a move to RAW fighting over the Intercontinental title would not suffice either; only seeing him with the WWE Championship around his waist will satisfy the wants and needs of the WWE Universe. With this in mind, what better way than to give him the Money in the Bank briefcase to tease the likes of AJ Styles or Shinsuke Nakamura with? If Rusev, akin to Carmella, cost matches with false cash-ins and ramped up the anticipation of when he would finally hand it over to officials, the roof would come off whichever venue it occurred in less time than Santino Marello’s 2009 Royal Rumble appearance.
The return of Daniel Bryan to wrestling has certainly upset the apple cart somewhat as now another huge babyface is back in contention for the top spot in the company but it still seems like a case of when not if, WWE give Rusev his opportunity in the limelight and, if played right, this could create a moment that would rival the very best cash-ins in WWE history, maybe even surpassing them all. As much as people moan, the very moment Rusev holds the most prestigious prize in sports entertainment aloft will instantly quell all grumblings, especially if he holds it for an extended period of time. It will be a triumph for both him and the plethora of fans that hold him so close to their hearts and, to add a very nice cherry on the top of the cake, it will happen on Rusev Day itself. What’s not to like about that?