Happy Saturday TJR Faithful and welcome to a long overdue, brand spanking new edition of A Matter Of Character. I wanted to make a return to the format this week to discuss a superstar that I’ve seen getting rave reviews for his work. A superstar that most seem to think is destined to have great career, but that I am far more critical and skeptical of. I’m talking of course about The Bulgarian Brute, Rusev.
Now don’t get me wrong, on paper he seems to have what you’d need to succeed in the WWE. He’s big, he’s strong, and he might have the WWE’s sexiest Diva at his side in Lana. All of this as far as I’m concerned is window dressing. To really have what it takes to be a compelling character in the WWE, you need to have more than physical skill and a beautiful woman by your side. You need to have a quality that draws a viewer in; a charisma, and ability to captivate with your words, or a truly great gimmick or shtick. The question is does Rusev have any of these qualities?
This week I’m going to take a close look at the Superstar formerly known as Alexander’s character, from his physical make-up, to his personality and motivations. Along the way I will critique him, pointing out his strengths and weaknesses, and even make some suggestions for improvement where I see fit. Let’s Do This!
Physicality is the one outstanding strength of Rusev. He might not be the tallest of brutes in the WWE, but the man is wide. He is a compact wall of a man that looks every bit as dangerous as they’d like you to believe he is. He also stands out because of his ring attire, specifically the fact that he doesn’t wear shoes while he competes (or demolishes) his opponents. He has a great look, comes across as menacing and has separated himself visually from everybody else in the company, which are all positives for him.
What might be even more impressive about Rusev is his actually physical capability. He is as strong as an ox and as agile as a jungle cat. That kind of power and agility converging within one human being is rare. In fact, off the top of my head I can only think of two superstars who had a semblance of Rusev’s strength, size and speed (Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley). It’s fair to say that physically, Rusev has the tools to be successful, but physicality is the only arena where he excels in the components of character development.
This is where I start to lose interest in Rusev. He has a look and ability that makes me interested, but aside from that, there is nothing else to see. The guy has no personality. When the most interesting part of your personality is unintentionally coming across as a hulked out George Zimmerman, patrolling the ring for any African American Superstar to get your hands on, and fostering the hashtag “RacistRusev”, you really don’t bring much to the table when it comes to personality.
Now not having a personality is fine when you can demolish opponents and have someone else do the talking for you. Lesnar isn’t a great talker, but Paul Heyman might be one of the greatest, which balanced things out for Lesnar. Lesnar was also infinitely more menacing and interesting upon his arrival because he was an active force within the narrative, but that’s neither here nor there. Rusev has Lana to do the talking for him, and while great to look at, she doesn’t bring much to the table as a character herself. She for all intents and purposes is a sexy Russian Leslie Knope, acting like an obsessed fan girl writing “I <3 Putin” in her notebooks. She is a completely derivative character and she brings no originality to a role we have seen a thousand times before in film and television. I may be in the minority, but I need more than an aesthetic.
Words and Actions
Now when it comes to the words and actions of Rusev, he has yet to bring all that much to his character. I don’t think that he or his handler are all that intelligent and he lacks intensity, which I suppose is supposed to show that he is disciplined. If that is in fact his story I’d want to see more of that be incorporated into the character. He is a fine wrestler, but hasn’t demonstrated in-ring greatness by any stretch of the imagination and he hasn’t been as destructive as you’d like to imagine he’d be. Basically he just comes up short in every way other than look and pure physical ability if you ask me. He is an aimless character with no plans, no ideas, and no purpose.
As I said, if he is in fact incredibly disciplined, trained to respond only to Lana, then make that more of the basis for the character. Have him respond specifically to her instruction in matches. Make her a more vocal participant in the matches. Make her his strategist, his leader, and an integral part of what makes him who he is. He is the perfect physical soldier, with no spirit and no personality to speak of. Then my interest in his character would become finding out what made him that way.
This is most likely his weakest component, because he is just like every other “Monster” the WWE has tried to introduce. His motivation is simply that he is big and string and wants to demonstrate his strength. I’m yawning just typing that. He’s Ryback without a catchphrase, he’s Lord Tensai without the window dressing, he’s Brodus Clay, Sylvester Terkay, Vladimir Kozlov and countless other big and supposed dangerous men to enter a WWE ring. Interesting thing is none of these guys were ever stars. They had a run at the mid card, had a flash in a main event here or there, and then they were gone, either relegated to comedy or being fodder for real stars, or being relieved of their duties entirely. When I look at Rusev, I don’t see a Brock Lesnar or a Roman Reigns, or even a Bobby Lashley; I see another name I expect to be added to the list of monsters turned comedy characters/fodder for champions.
Rusev’s motivation should clearly be Lana. He should be her completely obedient super soldier. He doesn’t make a move without her instruction or consent. That kind of a character is different than most and would without question have me intrigued. Why is he so obedient to her? It would also be a concept we haven’t seen in the WWE before, because she would basically be his brain. She would formulate strategy in the ring, she would tell him what to do and when to do it, and she would get a boatload of the credit for his victories. She’s more than just his handler, she is half the very dangerous equation. He brings the physical tools she doesn’t have to wrestle with the men but she is the brain behind the operation, as opposed to being a Vladimir Putin obsessed halfwit.
The conflict under the scenario I’ve dreamed up is simple, without Lana, Rusev will not act, meaning to truly incapacitate him, you must remove Lana from the equation, which would make for some fun and interesting storytelling during some matches. Furthermore, we could find out what Lana did to make Rusev into her physical surrogate. It could be terrible and make us sympathize with the completely controlled Rusev, and hate the villainous Lana. Finally, eventually Rusev can break away and become his own person, which would be a whole process in and of itself. There is simply way more story to tell if Rusev was completely being controlled by Lana, and wouldn’t make a move without her.
Going forward I feel that the WWE needs to figure out how to stop Rusev from becoming the next Vladimir Kozlov or Tensai or Ryback. You want him to be someone truly useful, someone we can believe will be a monster and an interesting character for years to come, like a Brock Lesnar or a Roman Reigns.
The key is to provide him with a personality. He has the physical tools, now give him a personality and tell a real story. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of Lana always having wanted to be WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but knowing she couldn’t be because she was a woman. So she has commissioned this physical specimen, The Bulgarian Brute Rusev, and bent him to her will. She broke him spiritually and all he knows now is her desires. He jumps when she says jump, he annihilates when she gives the order, and he does nothing until ordered to. He is completely obedient to Lana, and serves as the body she would have needed to fulfill her dream of becoming the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. She is the brain, he is simply the body.
Any title he wins, she holds it when they come to the ring, not him, to demonstrate who really holds all the cards in their pairing. It’s an interesting visual, and as far as I know, unlike anything the WWE has ever done. It’s a truly intriguing story to tell which means the WWE will likely not tell it. I guess we’re left to count down the days till Rusev becomes Santino’s sidekick, or worse, has to sell to Santino’s Cobra.
There you have it, but as always I want to know what you think! Is my assessment of Rusev to harsh? Does he bring more to the table than physicality? If so, what? Does my idea for Rusev and Lana intrigue you? Can you definitively tell me that Rusev won’t be the next Kozlov/Ryback/Tensai? Or does WWE’s history with these kinds of characters speak for itself?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying X-Men: Days of Future Past might be the single greatest course correction a film franchise has ever undertaken. I loved it and everyone should definitely check it out! Have a great weekend everybody!