Rusev is in a must-win situation at WWE Battleground.
There’s little about Rusev that isn’t impressive. Built like a fire hydrant in a bulking phase, the former power lifter curls beer kegs for fun and can get an entire crowd to cheer for anyone to kick his Bulgarian backside.
By this point in his career, Rusev should have won at least one of the heavyweight title belts but he never quite regained the momentum from his initial run. The 6-foot, 304-pounder made his main roster debut at the 2014 Royal Rumble and swung through the WWE like a wrecking baltic. He captured the United States Championship in November 2014 and didn’t suffer his first pinfall loss on the WWE main roster until WrestleMania 31. He lost the belt to Mr. Hustle, Loyalty And Farts Red, White And Blue streamers, John Cena.
He did run into a string of bad breaks. An injury, time off to marry a Diva who allegedly gets more heat off camera than on and a public engagement announcement that pissed off the guy who writes the checks and getting lumped into a faction who’s only real connection was “not being American.”
For the last 18 months, Rusev has bounced around to different-but-awful angles with Dolph Ziggler, Kalisto, Roman Reigns and Big Cass then disappeared quicker than an anti-Putin journalist in March to have elective shoulder surgery and missed WrestleMania 33.
Returning and rekindling a feud with Cena at Battleground this Sunday makes sense as Rusev had some of his best matches against the 86-time (wait, sorry, 87-time) World Champion. Rusev being a Russia sympathizer and the flag match stipulation sweetens the pot because, well, read any newspaper and you’ll figure it out. Maybe Rusev was also in that meeting with Don Jr.?
Heading into the PPV, Rusev finds himself caught in a similar situation to Bray Wyatt. Both men are championship contenders continuously landing in the L column in feuds and high-profile matches. Smackdown Live GMs Shane McMahon and Daniel Bryan didn’t even take a returning Rusev seriously. Remember Rusev appeared via satellite and demanded a title match at Money in the Bank, a request they didn’t take seriously because Rusev wasn’t on the card. When the bosses don’t make a big deal about your return, why would anyone else? I vacationed for a week, and my boss was so happy to see me when I got back he waited until lunch to call me a moron. Such a peach.
Rusev is languishing without Lana or a title belt and needs a major win or something much more impactful than just cutting off his mullet. If the WWE has inclinations to turn Rusev babyface, Battleground would be the place to do it. He’ll already be a fan favorite in front of Philadelphia crowd that likes John Cena about as much as they like Dallas football teams and NFL commissioners. Smackdown needs more heels in the main event and mid-card than just Corbin, Owens and the occasionally mischevious AJ Styles.
A loss at Battleground would leave Rusev looking for an opponent and a purpose a month before the second biggest PPV of the year. A Cena victory does nothing for the 15-year veteran. He’ll still be an integral part of SummerSlam, win or lose, and most likely be the only man American enough to take down Jinder Mahal. He’ll probably do it on a US battleship while sporting red, white and blue Zubaz.
This Sunday, Rusev will find himself facing off with the guy who made him a major player in the WWE. He must walk out of Philadelphia with the Bulgarian flag raised high above his shoulders.