Anytime a new Superstar enters World Wrestling Entertainment, the quality of their work, presentation of their character and the opposition they are programmed against are key to their initial success.
"Bulgarian Brute" Rusev was paired with the incredibly attractive "Ravishing Russian" Lana to help complete the visual package. The leggy blonde also handled all promo work, ensuring that his talking abilities (or lack thereof) were not exposed. He has been treated as something special, a force of nature capable of beating anyone put in front of.
To this point, however, he has been programmed against talent perceived to be a step or two below someone on his level. Zack Ryder, R-Truth, Xavier Woods and Sin Cara were recognizable babyfaces, but they were also no match for Rusev.
The former NXT standout tore through those men—in Truth and Woods' case two at a time—and established himself as competitor to be reckoned with. Unfortunately, the fans struggled to connect with the competitor, mostly because they never believed that any of his opponents had a legitimate chance to end his undefeated streak.
On the May 5 episode of Raw, Rusev faced his stiffest competition yet when he squared off with Kofi Kingston. The match was much more competitive, and the crowd was more invested in the match as a result. For the first time, Rusev showed weakness and fans had a reason to believe that the acrobatic Kingston—who had won so many championships in years past—could actually knock off the seemingly indestructible young wrestler.
He did not and, in defeating Kingston, Rusev gained credibility. Beating him a second time on SmackDown just days later only added to the impressive nature of the first victory. When Big E came to the aid of Hacksaw Jim Duggan—who looked to be next on Rusev's hit list—it set Rusev on a collision course with his toughest challenge to date.
Big E is a Superstar who can match Rusev's athleticism and his strength. A former Intercontinental champion who has shown the ability to hang with the top stars in the industry, E is a very real threat to the success Rusev has enjoyed to this point.
If promoted correctly, the match could be one of the more interesting and intriguing on the entire Payback card.
As Rusev continues his climb up the ladder in WWE, increased competition will help him better connect with the audience. As a somewhat generic foreign heel, there are only so many directions the creative team can take with him from a story standpoint.
As a super athlete, however, they can get him over by having him beat recognizable stars in the same way that Umaga did way back in 2006, as he made a rapid ascent into title contention. Rusev is nowhere near as polished a worker as Umaga was then, but the same booking technique will produce the same result.
Yes, he will have to evolve from a personality standpoint but until then, wins over quality opponents will help him capture the attention of the audience.