With the shakeup finally settling down and feuds being developed on each WWE brand, some stars may have dropped off the radar a little through no fault of their own. While we’re watching Nakamura begin his first main roster spat with Dolph Ziggler and the surprising – yet strangely intriguing – rise of Jinder Mahal, one superstar and his significant other have been watching from the side-lines. If anyone had forgotten that Rusev and Lana weren’t going to wait patiently for their next opportunity on TV, then we were sadly mistaken.

As the above video tells us, Rusev feels he is due a championship match – he didn’t say WWE Championship, but that’s what it could be. If it’s good enough for Jinder, then why not him? In my humble opinion, I have to agree. Rusev has been around the main roster for just over three years, yet never really progressed higher than the US Title level. That’s not a slight on the guy, just an observation that perhaps he’s right in that he should be higher on the card. Lest we forget his undefeated streak, coupled with some high-profile feuds with Big Show, John Cena and others.

When I first saw Rusev I groaned a little about how WWE had packaged him. It was as if they’d watched some late 80s/early 90s WWF tapes and thought ‘You know what we haven’t done in a while? Have a stereotypical evil foreigner on the show. You know, a commie, a red, someone we can pigeonhole and have lose to true American heroes.’

I groaned at that purely because gimmicks like that simply don’t last very long, and this guy was seriously talented. I worried for him. Fast forward a couple of years, and the Russian flag has been replced by his native Bulgaria and he’s talking English. Even his on-stage presence with Lana has stepped away from the playbook of Rocky IV (awesome film, by the way) and into something more natural and organic.

A big factor in this terrific development of Rusev’s character in the last 9-12 months has been down to his wife, Lana. The popularity of the Total Divas show has allowed her to be seen in a different light than she was originally portrayed. Now that Rusev himself is making appearances, as well as the promotion of their wedding on WWE, shows the pair are highly thought of by the office. It’s common knowledge that WWE don’t care about personal relationships between the talent when it comes to brand splits or shakeups. To keep Rusev and Lana together shows they’re well thought of.

So can this year be a big one for the couple? Undoubtedly, yes. Even after listening to the pair on Chris Jericho’s podcast, WWE are now beginning to promote Lana not just as the valet or manager of Rusev but as a performer in her own right. Hopefully her transition for the ring apron to the mat will be successful. She’ll be joining perhaps the most talented Women’s Division there’s ever been in terms of strength in depth. I hope she flourishes with the wide variety of opponents she will have.

For Rusev himself, if we’re talking storyline perspective, the push of Jinder – an angle towards the Indian market or not – should in theory give his argument for a similar push some weight. With Bray Wyatt’s criminally short title run and the belt now around the waist of the steady Randy Orton, Smackdown’s title picture looks a little bare, especially given that AJ Styles is doing battle with Kevin Owens for the US Title and Nakamura has only just arrived on the scene. It’s ripe for a recognised, familiar star to step up and have a decent run with the gold. Rusev’s subtle character changes and also those of Lana, should give him some fan support and momentum. His current absence could be filled with video packages and vignettes until he’s healthy and ready to return, keeping him fresh in our minds. A MITB entrant seems a natural spot for him to have and with the other feuds going on around him (Styles, Owens etc.) it’s the perfect cover to allow the Bulgarian to slip through and snatch the briefcase.

From there he could revert back to the style he brought with him when he arrived on Raw. Not the Russian flag or having Lana speak for him in a faux accent, but the strength and toughness his matches had. Anyone who went up against Rusev in the early days of his WWE run was in for a serious fight and beating. He crushed opponents with the gleeful Lana looking on. WWE don’t need to revert back to his old gimmick, just the physicality he brought. Don’t pair him up with anyone either, besides his wife. Rusev works best as the strongman in the arena ready to take on all-comers.

WWE has a history of being reluctant to push anyone who isn’t from the US or Canada when it comes to the main titles. Sure, there have been exceptions, but for every Sheamus there’s a Cesaro. For every Great Khali, there’s a British Bulldog. Sometimes the foreign champion isn’t looked at as a good guy, deserving of holding a big title, more a place holder until the hometown hero wins what they truly deserve. I don’t see Rusev as a bad guy anymore, and I hope WWE don’t either. The best faces always started out as heels. Rusev has had his heel run and it’s time for him to become someone cheered by the masses. He can be that guy and have us chant and root for him. I for one hope 2017 brings us the first (to my knowledge) Bulgarian WWE Heavyweight Champion. And if it’s to be so, may he reign for a long time.

Rusev udrya Rusev machka!

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What do you think? Should Rusev be pushed into the WWE Heavyweight Title picture? Will he be a good champion? Are you looking forward to his return and the in-ring work of Lana? I’d love to hear your thoughts. As always, thanks for reading.