Over the course of the month of March, I've brought back my Pushed to Punished series to analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars. With this being the final edition for the foreseeable future, I'll be tackling the topic of one of WWE's most feared foreigners, Vladimir Kozlov.
In the final few weeks of 2006, Vladimir Kozlov made his initial appearances on WWE television. He scouted his in-ring competition inside the squared circle and spoke of how he was going to dominate WWE during interviews.
Oddly enough, Kozlov was removed from television shortly thereafter and sent back down to WWE's developmental territory Ohio Valley Wrestling for more seasoning. While there, Kozlov won the OVW Heavyweight Championship, which had to mean that backstage officials were certainly high on the Russian native.
In early April 2008, Kozlov finally made his in-ring WWE debut on the SmackDown brand, defeating local athlete Matt Bentley. His entrance was unique due to the fact that he entered to nothing but a single spotlight shining down on him, being one of the few Superstars in history to not have entrance music.
However, after squashing the likes of Stevie Richards, Shannon Moore, Jimmy Wang Yang and other enhancement talent, Kozlov was given entrance music that was fitting of his intimidating persona that July. He remained undefeated in singles competition for many months, but he wasn't in involved in a full-fledged feud until the latter half of 2008.
By September, Kozlov demanded "better competition," which would began his first real push as a WWE Superstar. It wasn't long before he delivered on that promise, setting his sights on Jeff Hardy and everyone else in the WWE Championship picture.
At one point, Kozlov scored a clean victory over the Charismatic Enigma and solidified himself as the top contender to the golden prize. Following an upset victory over Undertaker that November, he was granted a shot at the WWE title at Survivor Series against then-champion Triple H.
During the course of the contest, Edge made his shocking return and was named an official participant of the bout by then-SmackDown General Manager Vickie Guerrero. Edge would subsequently pick up the pin-fall victory and win the WWE title, leaving Kozlov still without gold around his waist.
In subsequent weeks, Kozlov shifted his focus to Matt Hardy, whom he defeated at Armageddon in December. Although Hardy was the reigning ECW Champion at the time, the Moscow Mauler never contended for the strap.
As 2009 rolled around, Kozlov had lost much of his momentum, as he was sparingly featured in the main event scene on the blue brand. Although he remained undefeated, his winning streak didn't do him much good in the Royal Rumble and Elimination Chamber matches, respectively.
Since Kozlov had yet to lose in singles competition, many thought that it was only logical for him to put his streak on the line against Undertaker's storied streak at WrestleMania 25. This was further hinted at on the February 27 edition of SmackDown, where Kozlov shockingly defeated the Deadman in singles action.
On the subsequent edition of Raw, Kozlov fought Shawn Michaels in match where the winner would advance to WrestleMania 25 to face Undertaker. Despite a strong showing, the ruthless Russian was ultimately defeated by Michaels, which would mark his first official loss in singles competition in WWE.
This was the exact moment in time where Kozlov's push came to a screeching halt, as he was never again pushed as aggressively going forward. On the March 13 episode of SmackDown, Kozlov suffered his second singles loss, this time to Undertaker.
Regardless of how much momentum Kozlov had built up to this point, it all came crashing down that March. Following those back-to-back losses, Kozlov was sparingly featured on television and wasn't even featured in a match at WrestleMania 25.
Thankfully, Kozlov was sent packing to the ECW brand in mid-April via the 2009 WWE Draft. This was probably the smartest move at the time, as this gave Kozlov a fresh batch of opponents to work with and change in scenery.
Upon his debut in the Land of Extreme, Kozlov went back to squashing local athletes each week before setting his sights on the ECW Champion that June. He competed against Christian on the July 9 episode of ECW in an effort to earn a title shot at the Night of Champions event, but he came up short.
Later that month, Kozlov crossed paths with Ezekiel Jackson, who came down to the ring following his matches and decimated his opponent. This continued for several weeks before the two were on opposing teams in a tag match on the August 18 episode of ECW.
In the final few moments of the match, Jackson turned on his partner Christian, thus aligning with with Kozlov and William Regal. The three joined forces and chased the ECW Championship, billing themselves the Ruthless Roundtable.
Despite having strength in numbers, Kozlov and Jackson were unable to help Regal win the ECW title from Christian in the latter half of the year. This led to Regal growing upset with the dominant duo, but it was Kozlov who received the short end of the stick.
Following a singles loss to Jackson on the December 15 edition of ECW, Kozlov was ambushed by his former stablemates, turning him face in the process. While this ultimately wasn't the best thing for his character, it was bound to happen sooner or later.
Going into 2010, Kozlov hardly did anything noteworthy on ECW before its closure in February. Shortly thereafter, he jumped ship to the Raw brand, where he made his in-ring debut on the March 8 episode in a losing effort to John Cena.
Regardless of his face turn a few months prior, Kozlov was now seemingly a heel on the flagship show. While there, Kozlov was mostly utilized as an enhancement talent and was once again left off the WrestleMania card.
In May, Kozlov began an angle with Santino Marella where Santino attempted to convince Kozlov to form an alliance. Kozlov refused at first but gradually changed his mind in subsequent months and formed a tag team with Santino, thus reverting back to his face persona.
The dynamic duo scored numerous victories in the months that followed but failed to capture the tag titles at the Night of Champions and Survivor Series events, respectively. However, they managed to reign supreme as the new WWE Tag Team Champions on the December 6 edition of Raw after winning a Fatal 4 Way tag team match.
Sure, Kozlov was no longer the intimidating force that he once was, but at least he was regularly being featured on television. He finally struck gold in the form of the tag titles and was slowly but surely getting over with the crowd as a fan favorite.
Kozlov and Marella defended the straps against a number of tandems during their two-month reign as champions before dropping the belts back to Health Slater and Justin Gabriel at 2012's Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. Although they failed to reclaim the titles in subsequent weeks, they continued to feud with Slater, Gabriel and the other members of the Corre.
Originally, Kozlov was set to do battle with the villainous stable in an eight-man tag team match at WrestleMania 27 with his partners being Marella, Big Show and Kane. Unfortunately, he was removed from the contest after being injured (in storyline) by the Corre the day prior at during a match at WWE Axxess and was later replaced by Kofi Kingston.
Following the event, Marella and Kozlov remained tag team partners but weren't involved in as many matches together as they were before. Kozlov was mainly relegated to competing on WWE Superstars and NXT, where he was named the mentor of Conor O'Brian.
Regardless of O'Brian's elimination from the competition that June, Kozlov continued to appear on the program, entering a feud with JTG. Kozlov squashed the New York native on multiple occasions, with the rivalry concluding on the August 4 edition of WWE Superstars.
The following day, Kozlov was quickly squashed by Mark Henry in match on SmackDown and was stretched out of the arena after the World's Strongest Man broke his ankle. This ultimately be Kozlov's final WWE match, as he was released from the organization earlier in the day.
He was name-dropped by CM Punk a number of days later on Raw, where Punk criticized John Laurinaitis for getting rid of the Moscow mauler. While Kozlov now competes on the independent circuit, he has yet to accomplish anything noteworthy.
Of course, Kozlov's matches were not the most exciting ones to watch, but there's no denying that he was a solid worker inside the squared circle. His background in Russian sambo and freestyle wrestling made him one of the most feared Superstars on the roster, so it's a shame those talents went to waste in WWE.
Going undefeated for nearly a year is certainly an impressive feat, especially in today's age. It's just mind-boggling to me as to why he was de-pushed so quickly after his first loss, as he could have easily remained a top star on the SmackDown brand.
That being said, I guess this goes to show that you shouldn't build a Superstar around a streak, as he'll be rendered irrelevant once it's over. He didn't generate much heat to begin with, but I honestly think that was the least of his problems.
Thanks for reading, Bleachers, and be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on Vladimir Kozlov and his fatal fall from grace. While this may be my final edition of Pushed to Punished for the foreseeable future, look for the column to return at some point in the new year with another set of topics to analyze.
Read every archived edition of Pushed to Punished here.