Sunday 8 February 2015

Cena Versus Rusev

We found out on the studio-bound post-Royal Rumble episode of RAW that Fast Lane will feature the first ever (televised) match between John Cena and Rusev. It was unexpected. Despite the two men having a bit of a shout at one another the previous evening on the Rumble fallout show nobody had expected their match to occur until WrestleMania 31. Because a man with a year-long unpinned and unsubmitted streak seemed like the perfect person to throw up against the mighty Cena at the biggest WWE event of the year.

The decision to bring the match forward to Fast Lane is probably designed to make that show seem more worthwhile, encouraging Network subscriptions and pay-per-view purchases. To a lesser extent it might be about making the first edition of what is likely to become an annual event memorable. And it should work. Cena v Rusev is a WrestleMania-level match, a big addition to a B level card.

Fast Lane's a definite for Rusev and Cena. I'll think they'll go to 'Mania too.
But just because it’s worthy of WrestleMania doesn’t necessarily mean it will be good. Cena is capable of great matches but they usually come opposite smaller, quicker men with a varied set of moves. Rusev is bulkier than Cena and only has a handful of notable moves to him. He’s shown himself to be able to turn out very good matches but, like Cena, he does his best work opposite smaller guys. Basically neither man is an ideal foe for the other.

On the plus side ‘The Bulgarian Brute’ has shown an above average ability to sell and he’s improved a great deal over the last year. The first point should ensure that there’s some drama when Cena’s on offence. The second means there’s hope that Rusev will rise to the occasion and enter his strongest performance yet because this match is where it counts.

Sadly match quality is likely to take a further hit with the finish. It seems unlikely that a match would be moved forward from WrestleMania (Michael Cole openly stated that it had been planned for the bigger show) and have it end cleanly with very few alternative matches for either man at ‘Mania. So a less-than-clean ending seems likely.

Reigns, Lesnar, Triple H, Sting, Rollins and Orton all look to be tied up. In theory Cena and Rusev could work with Bryan or Ziggler but in practice it’s unlikely. Cena v Ziggler would be too far a fall for Cena, although that would free up Rusev for a match with D-Bry. A win over Bryan at WM31 could really bolster Rusev’s standing as a heel juggernaut. Swapping opponents, Rusev v Ziggler has happened several times before and would therefore not feel like anything special. Bryan and Cena’s second pay-per-view match would be a big deal, but it’s tough to see how they’d be positioned opposite one another without a championship involved and with them both being good guys.

A second Rusev v Cena encounter looks likely for WrestleMania. There are a few ways they could get to it and only one of them is appealing. The one good way would be to have Rusev defeat Cena completely fairly at Fast Lane. Cena, unable to make excuses, would have to come out and acknowledge that the best man won before pushing for a rematch, arguing that he has something to prove to himself and the world. But we’re likelier to see a double count, disqualification or perhaps even the referee throwing the match out for general over feistiness. That would also create reason for a rematch but it would do so in less dramatic fashion.

Cena losing would be the best thing for Rusev in the long run. Even if he ended up losing a rematch he’d still have that win over Cena and he’d still be able to say he defeated Cena before Cena defeated him. Rusev could take a first loss at WrestleMania and bounce back from it if it was handled correctly and he was booked to seek, and gain, revenge on Cena in a deciding match at Extreme Rules. They could make it a gimmick match to avoid Cena having to take another clean loss. A last man standing match maybe. He’s good at those.

Of course, the ultimate scenario would be for Rusev to defeat Cena at Fast Lane, accept a rematch at WrestleMania, and then beat him again. Two back-to-back pay-per-view wins over Cena would make Rusev look unstoppable to a savvy modern audience. In turn that would make him the ideal initial challenger to newly crowned world champion Roman Reigns. And being the first man to pin Rusev, after Cena’s failed twice, would keep Reigns looking very strong indeed. That’s worth bearing in mind.

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