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One of the oft discussed topics around these parts is the way WWE wrestlers often use social media in a way that does a disservice to their on screen character. Yes, we all know wrestling is a work. However, like many form of entertainment such as movies, theater, or a great book, you hope to lose yourself in the moment and buy into the illusion that what you’re investing your energy into is “real.” When bitter rivals start wishing one another Happy Birthday on Twitter, or thanking one another post-match for helping them experience a big “moment,” it does cheapen the product. Just save that stuff for a text, or better yet, just walk up to them in the locker room and have a face-to-face.
That said, what if WWE took advantage of one of their star’s social account and used it to give him a much needed boost? Creative could adapt how they present the character based on the personality he presents to the world. What is it we often say about the best performers in wrestling history? The most best characters are the ones that take their “real” selves and then turn the dial up to eleven.
If you were to read through the Twitter feed of @RusevBUL a few things would stand out. The man loves hockey, modern country music, working out, and being a bit of a clown. While I do not and never will watch Total Divas, from what I gather reading Sarah K’s delightful recaps here on PW Torch, Rusev is a funny, laid back goofball.
For the bulk of his WWE run, Rusev was portrayed as a near unstoppable, anti-American monster heel. The start of his run on the main roster saw him go undefeated for almost a year. Then, after his winning streak came to an end, Rusev just sort of floundered. He found his way into Vince’s fickle dog house for the heinous act of getting engaged to Lana. He was made to look like a fool by Roman Reigns in their feud and then in one of the more head scratching angles of the year, he was supposed to be the bad guy against Enzo and Cass when the former sexually harassed Lana time and time again.
Currently rehabbing a shoulder injury, Rusev should be ready to make his in ring return by Money in the Bank. Teasing his return to Smackdown, Rusev has stated if he doesn’t get a title shot right away, he’s going to pack his bags and head home. He’s gone so far as to tout his nearly year long undefeated streak upon arrival to the main roster as a reason for a shot.
From the day that one man slammed another man’s face into a turnbuckle, wrestling has relied on the foreign menace as a go-to bad guy. It’s as worn out a character concept as you can possible have. Also, given the current unrest in our country, and the deep divisions over immigration, it’s in poor taste to use as an angle. It’s a real stumbling block for Jinder Mahal when he’s tooting the “You Americans hate diversity” horn during his promos, and I say this as someone who believes he’s doing some solid work otherwise.
Why not go in the rarely used other direction with Rusev? The Bulgarian brute used to run down America before his matches, but it’s obvious from reading his Twitter feed that Rusev has a robust sense of humor. A segment of the fans have been begging for a way to turn him babyface so they can cheer him on. Despite having little to do of importance, “Handsome” Rusev saved a number of segments during the latter stages of his time on the Raw roster. Let Rusev tap in to the innate wiseass within him. Go a step further and have him embrace his character’s time in the U.S. rather than relying on the tired trope of fighting for “my people.”
Don’t go overboard on the idea, but drop the anti-American schtick and embrace the crowd. Have him turn that sense of humor towards opponents and play it off as an air of self confidence. Allow Rusev to build some swagger because he knows, when the bell rings, he has that extra gear that allows him to crush his opponent. Don’t turn him into a pure comedy act; rebuild him in to the wrecking machine he was for the first part of his career.
It also sets up an intriguing matchup if Vince decides to pull the trigger on Jinder Mahal at Backlash. Sure that seems unlikely, but there’s no denying Randy Orton is ice cold as champion. A newly minted babyface Rusev against an arrogant heel in Mahal makes a lot of sense, especially given their part partnership.
At the moment it doesn’t appear to be the direction Rusev is heading. Next week Rusev has promised to confront Shane McMahon regarding his demand for a title shot (factor in a healthy dose of “Smackdown is the land of opportunity” proclamations). It’s too bad because with Cena out, Orton so cold, and Sami Zayn transforming into Woody Allen circa “Annie Hall” more and more each passing week, there is room for another solid babyface at the top of the card.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS COLUMN: THE CREATIVE CORNER: After backlash to Mahal’s ascension, how should no. 1 contender’s be determined in pro wrestling?