It’s not seen all that often, but there are times when keeping a WWE Superstar off of television to rehabilitate from kayfabe injuries can result in a big payoff for an ongoing storyline. The idea that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” is the key component, because as we’ve seen over several decades within WWE, nothing gets the fans pumped up quite like a return.
A good example of this in recent months is Big E, who was taken out of action for several weeks with a severe case of “ringpostitus,” courtesy of Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows.
Big E’s absence was the perfect way for Anderson and Gallows to mount the odds against the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions, The New Day, and make it seem like two thirds of The Club would be walking out of SummerSlam with the gold. Big E’s return, however, was perfectly executed, returning just when it looked like his comrades were close to defeat, to put a stop to the madness and continue the rivalry with Anderson and Gallows into this Sunday’s Clash of Champions.
Of course, there are examples of pre-planned time away having the opposite effect, and the current United States Champion and “Bulgarian Brute,” Rusev, might be finding that out the hard way.
Having been decimated prior to his scheduled SummerSlam title defense against Roman Reigns, Rusev took the next few weeks to enjoy his honeymoon with Lana, but it might have come at a poor time. Since Rusev took his leave, Reigns has gotten right back in the hunt for the WWE Universal Championship, fighting Kevin Owens a number of times and even defeating him this week.
The mid-card on Monday Night Raw definitely felt the absence of the United States title, and struggled to maintain the division through the use of the Sheamus, Cesaro best-of-seven series and the budding rivalry between Chris Jericho and Sami Zayn. But Reigns was no worse for wear, leaving there really no need to have Rusev himself around if he had nobody longing to fight him.
Sure, the championship was missed, but it could have been used to further along either of the other mid-card rivalries going on right now, which left Rusev without much hype when he eventually made his return. Naturally, he was going to go right back after the guy who took him out for several weeks, but the decision to continue his U.S. Championship feud with Roman Reigns upon his return might just be detrimental to the push he’d been receiving prior to the biggest WWE event of the summer.
Instead of having us yearning to see Rusev come back, all it actually did was open our eyes to the fact that, right now, he himself is not at a level where his absence could greatly impact the product if he wasn’t carrying the title. He definitely could be, given the right time and efforts, but taking several weeks out isn’t necessarily the best way to go about getting him there for now.
Over the last few weeks, it would seem that Raw is struggling to capture the same level of smoothness that SmackDown usually accomplishes with one hour less each week, while also delivering high impact moments fitting of such a storied brand.
We now realize that the U.S. title picture is where things need to be vastly improved, which isn’t exactly difficult considering it went essentially unacknowledged while Rusev was away, so it leaves WWE with a clear opening on Sunday to give the division the exposure it sorely needs.
Last year, John Cena did wonders for the United States Championship by defending it a huge number of times from WrestleMania to Hell in a Cell, and now Roman Reigns could be in line to do something similar. Like it or not, Roman Reigns is a huge name as far as today’s WWE is concerned, and to see his name dropped slightly down the card would add a whole lot more depth to the roster.
It would also give an opening to guys like Cesaro and Sami Zayn to get their chance at the WWE Universal Championship since the usual suspects wouldn’t be hogging up the main events.
As good as Rusev is, the time he took away following the attack spot at SummerSlam has shown that there really are more benefits than downfalls to having him drop the United States Championship on Sunday, at least if you look at the bigger picture, so he might just have to take one for the team at Clash of Champions and let the powers that be do the rest they can for the mid-card.
This isn’t the end for Rusev, but it will be an uphill battle if he wants to get back to former heights.