Last Monday on Raw, wrestling fans bore witness to a rare sight: Rusev actually physically got one over on Roman Reigns, and stood tall over his twitching carcass after a thorough beat-down.
After what feels like a lifetime of the two feuding themselves into a pit of stagnation and predictability, the WWE Universe finally got to enjoy not only seeing the insufferably indestructible Reigns get his, but some inkling that their upcoming match at Hell in a Cell mightn’t be the obvious, one-way affair that hitherto we have come to expect from the duo.
The sparring between Reigns and Rusev is yet another one of those Raw feuds that fans are reminded is still going on every week. As such, the full details mightn’t be fresh in everyone’s memory, so allow me to bring you up to speed. Long long ago in a galaxy far far away, Roman Reigns came off his drug-related suspension, humiliatingly failed to capture the WWE Universal Championship by way of punishment, and instead decided that he’d thrust himself into the U.S. Championship scene.
The feud started off well, with Roman Reigns embracing his naturally unlikable persona and trolling on Rusev and his marriage to Lana. There ensued a championship match — the buildup to which featured Reigns roundly defecating all over Rusev on a weekly basis — which didn’t even get started, as Reigns instead decided that he would lay waste to Rusev before the match even got under way, thus showing his complete disinterest in the U.S. Championship. Rusev, and the supposedly prestigious U.S. title, remained off our screens for a number of weeks while Roman Reigns had another go at third wheeling the Universal Championship scene. His championship ambitions were scuppered by Rusev, who made a run-in and cost Reigns his No. 1 contendership.
This instigated what should have been an awesome back and forth feud — Rusev had proven himself to be someone of capable with screwing with Reigns’ life, but this was never capitalized upon. Instead, Reigns continued to issue beatdowns on Rusev on a weekly basis, meaning that their title match at Clash of Champions was a predictable affair in which Rusev easily picked up the win after 17 minutes of no-selling and making a bitch out of the “Bulgarian Brute.”
For this entire program, fans have been absolutely justified in their frustration with Roman Reigns. The proud Samoan is supposed to be the babyface in this affair, and yet absolutely nothing has been done to generate any sympathy for him. Initially, it was a genius move to pit the fledgling Reigns against Rusev — it is, after all, impossible to cheer for the dude who spends his promo time running down the USA.
The trouble is that Reigns is only entertaining on the mic when he’s being crude and needlessly unkind to people; all of his attacks on Rusev have been unprovoked, carefree, demeaning to Lana, and totally graceless. If he were a heel that would be fine, but fans are being expected to support a man who is just plain nasty, and who keeps on beating the holy hell out of an equally nasty man who nonetheless just wants to get on with his life and is worthy of more sympathy than the ostensible good guy.
This is why Rusev’s showing on Monday Night Raw was of pivotal importance to this rivalry. It has been a long time coming, but WWE creative has the opportunity to spend the next week in the buildup to HIAC allowing Rusev to physically get one over on Roman Reigns.
For a start, it would actually inject some intrigue into their upcoming Hell in a Cell match, which is vital given the onesided massacre that has typified this feud so far. But it would also restore some balance to the clear-cut heel versus face dynamic that this match needs, and that WWE has so emphatically failed to deliver so far.
Let’s hope that Rusev gets to tower over Roman Reigns a few more times before their showdown at HIAC; the last thing that WWE needs is to create another Super-Cena, where title matches (especially with belts of precarious prestige like the U.S. one) aren’t just accolades-in-waiting for wrestlers who have the WWE machine behind them. Otherwise, WWE will find themselves in a position where a guy who ought to be its top heel is nonetheless rooted for as a matter of principle.