PWTorch editor Wade Keller presents a special Thursday Flagship edition of the Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast featuring a WrestleMania 36 Preview with ex-WWE Creative Team member and professional stand-up comedian Matt McCarthy.
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So I’m watching Rusev and Lana open up Monday Night Raw with their Divorce Proceeding and, I don’t know, 40 minutes in, it hits me: Rusev and Lana have a lot of chemistry together. He’s delightful and she’s responding to it.
I know, it’s almost like they’re married.
And this is nothing like a divorce.
It seems Rusev has figured it out, the key to getting over in Old Vince McMahon’s WWE Creative, something their die-hard fans have clung to for years despite that key working against every instinct entertainment viewers possess. It didn’t matter that this beautiful woman he had been so happy with had betrayed him, stolen his money, gotten him beaten up, and revealed this his character was less than a man to the entire WWE Universe.
It didn’t matter at all.
Rusev and Lana were the first hour of Monday Night Raw. Hell, judging by the slience that greeted the rest of the show, they were pretty much the whole show. It didn’t matter what humilatingly stupid things WWE Creative wrote for him to say, or what hateful things WWE Creative wrote for his wife to say to him, it was all in how Rusev said them and reacted to her.
Rusev was delightful and fun, and you could see for yourself how he, not someone higher-up the WWE ladder, ended up with this beautiful woman. Hell, when the money lines came, when Lana asked him what did he want – sex, again? – and began listing all delightful ways, well, times and places he had taken her -lines that were designed by their stupid writers to humiliate the cuckold Rusev a final, brutal time, you could see the real-llfe chemistry between these two longtime married lovebirds began to manifest itself in her expression and body language.
It wasn’t that anybody had been manipulated by the story to want to see the two characters back together. It was that Rusev’s light touch made it clear he knew what WWE fans had demonstrated case by case for years.
The story – the ugly, brutal, myogyntic, love-defying story WWE Creative had wasted millions of dollars presenting – didn’t matter at all. For Rusev and Lana, it was about simultaneuusly doing what they were told to do while simultanously being delightful and showing romantic chemistry.
The couple caught a break when the old bigots crafting this nonsense (Paul Heyman is, what, 60 now?) deciding to pair the beautiful, blonde betrayer with the biggest black guy on the roster, Bobby Lashley. It’s bad enough this racist cheap heat trick hasn’t worked in wrestling in decades, WWE had to choose Bobby Lashley to play the role.
Whatever it is that Lashley has in natural size and muscularity, and it’s a lot, he lacks in chemistry with anybody. Hell, the guy left the company because no one remembered he headlined the most lucrative WrestleMania in history. How’s Bobby Lashley supposed to show any Swirl Sexual Chemistry when he couldn’t produce any chemistry at all with the first Celebrity President or against The All-Time Wrestling Daddy?
Lashley gave The Rusevs the perfect sexual blank to contrast their real romance with. You could tell Rusev knew it too. He had more fun, more pep in his step, the more minutes (and there were a lot of them) went by. It was like watching Cary Grant and Grace Kelly play opposite, well, Bobby Lashley. The stupid story circumstances didn’t matter at all. The real story was the physical flirtation between Rusev and Lana.
It isn’t like this doesn’t happen in WWE all the time. I’ve seen it at live WWE shows for years. Fans ignore the stupid stories and just pick wrestlers they like and cheer for them. Explain Randy Orton, except a bunch of fans just decided they liked him. How many WWE Sunday night matches are good precisely because the performers decided to have a good match, instead of a match that tried to fit the idiot story hey were saddled with? Any show where you hear me on the PPV Post-Show Roundtable podcast say the show was much better than the TV build-up, that’s what happened.
Check out The Fiend, Bray Wyatt. He’s not hated. He’s popular. No fan pays attention to his brutality, his socio-pathology, his demonic possession. They just like the music and the mask.
Hell, the other day I was talking to a middle-schooler whose parents loath WWE programming and who has never shown the slightest interest in the genre.
“When I hear the Firefly Funhouse music, I just close my eyes and remember when I would watch the Mickey Mouse Show on The Disney Channel. Then I go back to watching whatever else I was watching.“
I’m not saying Rusev and Lashley should fight on until WrestleMania. I’m not saying sleeping with Lana should be the spoils to winning the blow-job, uh, blow-off match. I’m not saying the Rusev’s should be reunited. I’m not saying anything.
But Monday night, Rusev and Lana beat them all.
(Bruce Mitchell’s columns usually run exclusively in the PWTorch Newsletter. He has been a PWTorch columnist for 29 years. He also stars in the PWTorch VIP podcast, the Bruce Mitchell Audio Show, which originated in 2004, most often cohosted by PWTorch editor Wade Keller. His library of columns dating back to 1990 are available on the PWTorch VIP website.)