The WWE tradition of a brute trampling over jobbers will prosper with Alexander Rusev.
With Rusev, WWE is tapping into an oft-used archetype: the monster heel. His effective character and intimidating look combined with his athletic prowess will have his career look more like Mark Henry's than Giant Gonzalez's; he'll be more Umaga than The Great Khali.
The recent NXT transplant has mostly been grumbling in Bulgarian since debuting at the Royal Rumble.
Once WWE steers him toward the ring, allowing Rusev to demolish his opponents as he did at Full Sail University, the company will benefit. Enthralling dominance is on its way: an ox from Bulgaria stomping toward excellence.
From Umaga to Brock Lesnar, the great monster heels have all had an imposing aura.
Big, nasty men wearing sneers have played vital roles in WWE throughout the years. It's Rusev's turn to take this mantle on.
He's by no means the tallest monster heel in WWE history at only 6'0'', per WWE.com, but his weight (305 lbs) sits on all the right places. His shoulder muscles bulge. His barrel-shaped torso makes him look like a man difficult to take off his feet, much less keep down for a three-count.
WWE has made the most of that build, producing a fantastic package to complement it.
His manager Lana adds sex appeal and an added layer to his character. His pre-match ritual makes him more memorable. His dramatic, symphonic entrance music elevates his character.
When Rusev began his career with WWE developmental, he didn't have all these details to assist him. He was a mutton-chopped powerhouse who struggled to stand out.
Back then, he spoke English and didn't need Lana to translate. He only showed flashes of who he would soon become.
His current incarnation is a more marketable one.
Though the Cold War has long been over, there is still something compelling about an Eastern European villain. Rusev's nationality and story of being bred as a super-athlete is reminiscent of Ivan Drago's in Rocky IV.
His foreignness and wild nature, which requires a manager to rein him in, is a big part of what worked for Umaga.
Umaga's facial markings, animalistic roars and unpredictability made sure he was not confined to the background. He became a memorable part of the product, far more than when he was known as Jamal.
WWE has found a similarly effective funnel for Rusev's strengths, setting up him for success.
Packaging and girth can get a monster onscreen, but without sufficient in-ring ability, flops are certain to come.
WWE pushed both Gonzalez and Khali as unstoppable giants early on. Their immensity grabbed fans' attention. Their lack of agility and grappling skills prevented them from holding on to it.
This is where Rusev will separate himself from the least successful monsters in WWE history.
He's agile, surprisingly quick and far more in control of his body than plodders like Gonzalez and Khali. It's hard to not first take notice of his overwhelming power, but there is a fluidity to his ring work that belies his build.
In a recent match against Xavier Woods, Rusev showed off his physical gifts, rattling the ring with Woods' body while also operating smoothly between the ropes. Even though he seems to botch a Samoan Drop attempt, there is plenty to marvel at.
Rusev merges his power moves with quick Muay Thai-style kicks. He is effectively vicious and demonstrative, making for compelling action even when he's steamrolling over his opponents.
While Khali's wooden movements limit his ability to create great matches, Rusev is capable of standout bouts thanks to better body control and dexterity.
Rusev's "super-athlete" gimmick is a fitting one. He's no sideshow act trying to pass as a wrestler; he's a sportsman with a natural affinity for the theatrics WWE requires of its Superstars.
His striking, look and strength alone would likely garner him some success, but in an era where athleticism is rampant, he won't drag behind his peers in that department.
His explosiveness is on par with Big E's. That was evident in a bout against CJ Parker in which he charged at his foe with impressive speed.
This is just a snapshot of Rusev's potential. When he's given longer matches and continued opportunities, we'll find out just how stellar he can be.
The present continues to borrow from the past, as evidenced by Rusev's similarities to WWE's previous monsters. Some stories are worth retelling. Some characters pop up in new forms again and again.
This is true for Rusev, WWE's latest villainous titan, a bulldozer awaiting his shot at demolition.
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