I can’t recall someone rising to the top in the WWE as quickly as Rusev did in 2014. The WWE booked him better than any new heel in a decade. Yet Rusev is facing a crossroads at Payback which could bring all of that momentum to a screeching halt.
I never would have imagined that a Russian menace gimmick in 2014 would have gotten as over as Rusev did, but it did. Credit goes to Rusev, Lana, and the bookers who protected Rusev and shielded him away from the 50/50 booking we have all come to know and hate. The rivalry with John Cena was a natural hit and for the first time in several years, fans were booing the heel against John Cena.
I had no problem when Cena got his first win over Rusev at WrestleMania. Rusev had done enough damage, including scoring a win over Cena to sustain his momentum. Everyone has to lose at some point, even Brock Lesnar has lost since he returned. Rusev remained hot with the loss and most would agree that he and Cena had the hottest feud going into WrestleMania. Everything was clicking and Rusev was still red hot.
Cena defeated Rusev at WrestleMania but you know what? It was okay. The match was presented as a special event and Rusev received an entrance that separated him from the other WWE stars on the show. Win or lose, Rusev was still coming out of WrestleMania as a hot heel on the upswing. His trajectory looked much different than Bray Wyatt’s did last year coming out of the Cena feud.
Then there was Extreme Rules. Extreme Rules was a different animal. It wasn’t WrestleMania, Rusev didn’t get the glitzy treatment, and it was a specialty match that benefitted Rusev. Sure, Rusev wasn’t pinned nor did he submit in the match, but he lost his own match. Not only that, this was the first disappointing match in the series. The stipulation prevented the guys from tearing down the house as they have done in their previous meetings. Ironically, this was the same problem with Wyatt vs. Cena last year at Extreme Rules and Wyatt still hasn’t recovered from the disappointing match.
Now we have Payback. The feud appears to be heading to a crescendo in a few weeks. Unlike Mania and even Extreme Rules, Rusev cannot lose this match! Losing three in a row against Cena will be an albatross that Rusev may never be able to disassociate himself with. While some will argue that wins and losses don’t matter, I would disagree. Winning and losing individual matches may not matter as much, but losing three in a row, including the finale is a killer. Rusev cannot afford this loss.
Orton, Reigns, and Lesnar need Rusev to remain hot and sustain his momentum as the year progresses. Those are money matches right there that the will all be hurt by another Rusev loss. It is critical that Rusev wins at Payback. The future of the company depends on it.