But there’s his NXT work too. More than anything else it's his time there that makes me like the guy. He started out as the hired muscle of Sylvester LeFort, progressing quickly into a featured wrestler. In that spot he started snapping a plank of wood with his opponent's name written on it over his knee, a delicious but sadly pre-main roster gimmick.
|Rusev has some tidy facial hair on him, doesn't he?|
His enjoyable pairing with LeFort didn’t last. The Frenchman was quickly dropped in favour of fellow Bulgarian Lana. Within NXT she'll probably be credited with swinging him the call-up, casting LeFort as an inferior manager. Which makes sense. Bad luck has seen the two other LeFort managed wrestlers released or injured, hampering the manager’s ability to establish himself as a force. Lana, who was given the classic treatment of watching her desired charge wrestle from the entranceway week after week before they officially joined forces, is a far more credible manager within the developmental league.
But back to Rusev. He's got an interesting look to him too. He's neither tall nor fat but he looks intimidating thanks to being solid. Or bulky. Bulky is probably the best word for his frame. He gives a good crazy eyed stare, something very important for succeeding in the wild man role he's been given. And he wrestles without boots. That may seem a small thing but it helps to set him apart from his peers. Anything, no matter how small, that does that is a good thing. Standing out from the crowd helps grab and retain audience attention.
It's not just having a manager and snapping wood that made me a fan of Rusev’s work. He's had worthwhile matches against Dolph Ziggler and Kofi Kingston. But then everyone does that. It’s perhaps more noteworthy that Rusev managed to hold attention in matches involving Zack Ryder and CJ Parker.
It's clear that he'll be capable of being an intimidating upper mid-card presence and having enjoyable matches with smaller guys like Kingston to brawlers like Sheamus. In this way he reminds of Umaga. And that's not a bad thing. Edward Fatu enjoyed a career renaissance as ‘The Samoan Bulldozer’, after improving greatly in All Japan, before his death in 2009.
Rusev has debuted at a peculiar time of year. From January through to April WWE’s brain trust is generally preoccupied with WrestleMania. This year they have they added stress of the WWE Network launch. It’s not a period where they can dedicate the time that’s needed to a new act. Although there’s something to be said for having someone floating around on the roster for a bit before their push really kicks off: not so long that they stagnate but long enough to not prompt calls that it’s undeserved treatment that others warrant more.
Rusev’s got everything he needs to succeed though. If he can weather the storm and last until April or May he should find himself being given something to do.