Say what you will about the potential reason for it, Rusev battling Cesaro at the end of Monday Night Raw felt like a callback to a different era of pro wrestling. A wonderful place in wrestling history when mid-card titles meant something.
The crowd felt that way about it, too. While we can already use some revisionist history to realize that this was partially done to elevate Rusev in an attempt to make him look even stronger heading into his SummerSlam match with Roman Reigns, that 15 minute main event bout felt special — as if it were a WWE Network Special level match, even.
To make the match feel slightly more special, we had each wrestler go two separate routes to get there as Raw progressed. Rusev had his wedding celebration ruined by Reigns. Cesaro got there after beating Sheamus in a sneaky-good scripted kicky-violence match earlier in the evening.
That added just a little more fun to the main event. The fans were already invested in each performer from earlier in the night, then as Rusev is buttering up Mick Foley in an attempt to get out of his SummerSlam match, the Raw general manager made an impromptu main event that honest to goodness felt like a spot the WWE decided to give the belt to the Swiss Superman.
That’s probably the most important part of all this. From the very moment the referee ringed the bell, it sincerely felt like a championship match that Cesaro had a chance of wining. Not only because of the setup to the match, but because of the way it played out over the course of the last 15 (or so) minutes of Raw.
Cesaro was kicking out of damn near everything, Rusev had the look of despair on his face, and the challenger even managed to overcome Sheamus’ (initial) run-in to stay in the game. Destiny seemed to be in the stars for the bald-headed superhuman… and it had at least me hooked to the TV as if Michael Cole was about to tell me if I was going to have more kids.
I was invested.
Maybe it was only me. But it couldn’t have been very literally only me, as the live audience got more and more into the match as it got a bit longer in the tooth. They felt it in the insides of their bellies as well. That Cesaro might get his biggest post-brand extension push and that the WWE cares not for just building monsters for Reigns to later take down.
When was the last time anyone felt that way when watching a mid-card title match that didn’t feature John Cena?
The outcome of the bout didn’t ruin it, either. Sure, I’m playing up the fact that it felt like Cesaro could have won as a huge reason to why it felt so special, but the fact that the WWE stuck to its Bulgarian biceps was equally as impressive. In a way, even if indirectly, Rusev’s performance through the main event — all of Raw, really — only further cemented him as the rightful holder of the United States Championship.
That’s another aspect that made it feel special to the point it elevated the title. The WWE didn’t use the somewhat cheap “shock and awe” of having Rusev drop the belt on Raw to garner a reaction. Instead, the company put all its chips on two men to wrestle a great enough bout that people would be (mostly) happy regardless — and it worked!
Admittedly, I can be caught up in the moment. The five minute afterglow of post-Rusev awesomeness (see what I did there?). But I don’t think it is that. I truly believe that maybe the WWE is actually going to have Rusev go over Reigns at SummerSlam. Even better than that, I believe — maybe with my heart, and not my head — that this is a sign that the WWE is going to do a better job booking mid-card titles again.
After all, hurling it as the showcase event of the latest addition of Monday Night Raw, if for no other thing than that, is a pretty good start to it, right?