At Extreme Rules on Sunday night, WWE rolled out budding monster heel Alexander Rusev for a handicap match against R-Truth and Xavier Woods. The match was already facing steep odds to connect with the crowd. These days, neither Woods nor R-Truth are seen as strong threats to win a match against anybody, let alone Rusev.
Rusev has taken an old-school route during his current rise, defeating a cavalcade of lesser opponents. A handicap match was not going to put his chances of victory in doubt, especially since he has mostly had his way against this tandem on TV.
The Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, was clearly seeking entertainment outside of a predictable match between Rusev and two underdeveloped characters. They found that entertainment in Rusev's stunning manager, Lana.
Prior to Rusev's entrance, Lana dedicated the match to Vladimir Putin, the controversial president of Russia. This drew a strong reaction from the pro-American crowd, not to mention chants of “USA.”
Lana's trolling of the Izod Center, however, wasn't nearly enough to discourage them from ogling her. Her seemingly unattainable beauty is part of the Rusev package, and some would argue it's currently the highest point.
Billed as the Ravishing Russian, Lana's tight-fitting business suit, short skirt, full red lipstick and heels exude sexuality.
Prior to delivering her weekly address, she poses, showing off her figure to a demographic that trends strongly toward males.
Sunday night, that demographic showed its appreciation with loud “we want Lana” chants that were acknowledged on commentary by Jerry “The King” Lawler. In a match designed to get Rusev over as a force, that's tantamount to a “JBL” chant.
The chants, while encouraging for Lana's character, are somewhat of an indictment on Rusev. As long as Rusev is booked in matches where his victory seems to be a certainty, it will become more difficult to impress fans. With a siren like Lana strategically leaning over the ring apron to manage her talent, it becomes impossible.
Rusev is often compared to the late Umaga. Like Umaga, Rusev is billed as a monster, he rarely speaks and he must be guided by a charismatic handler. It's also worth mentioning that Rusev too works barefoot.
In Umaga's case, the handler was Armando Alejandro Estrada. Estrada's exaggerated self-introduction began to appease live audiences, even outshining his client. As a result, WWE did away with the heel manager's popular catchphrase.
If Rusev is Umaga, Estrada is Lana. She is quickly proving to be too popular for her own good. If WWE wants to present Rusev as a strong heel threat, Lana may not fit into that equation. But the question remains: Without Lana, would fans still care?