Replace that Golden Star medal around Rusev's neck with one of WWE's midcard titles and watch him rise.
Winning the Intercontinental Championship or United States title would assure Rusev more spotlight, a consistent spot on pay-per-views and signal that he has climbed several of WWE's rungs. His act will grow stale without his level of competition escalating, without some tangible triumphs on his resume.
The bruiser has seen little opposition since debuting.
Xavier Woods and R-Truth couldn't stop him at Extreme Rules despite their numbers advantage. Big E didn't even last four full minutes against him at Payback. It's now time for him to seek WWE's second-tier prizes.
Luckily for him, both midcard titles have seen their level of prestige go up as of late.
Bad News Barrett has had some excellent showings as Intercontinental champ, including a tremendous bout against Dolph Ziggler on the June 23 Raw. Sheamus won the U.S. strap after being world champion and winning the Royal Rumble. On top of adding star power to the title, he has constantly showcased it, fighting often and against top-notch foes like Alberto Del Rio and Bray Wyatt.
While WWE seemingly forgot Dean Ambrose was champion at times, it has made sure Barrett and Sheamus have been in the forefront.
That amount of focus is what Rusev needs and what either title would bring him. WWE may add Rusev to the Money in the Bank pay-per-view at the last minute, but after the go-home edition of Raw, he was still not on the card.
The list of men who are not yet booked for a match at the upcoming event includes several members of the roster who have yet to win gold with the company. Ryback, Damien Sandow, Fandango and Titus O'Neil, all titleless, haven't had their names called yet.
Meanwhile, Sheamus and Barrett have major opportunities awaiting them at that show.
WWE often finds stories and rivalries for its champions first. Sheamus tangling with Cesaro and Rob Van Dam clashing with Barrett before Payback are the latest examples of that. Besides the added exposure Rusev would get sitting in either Sheamus or Barrett's throne, though, there is an obvious narrative opportunity available with him as champ.
Rusev's anti-American sentiments make him holding the U.S. title ironic. That championship gives him added ammo, something new to boast about during his and Lana's rants. WWE went a similar direction with Cesaro in 2012.
It would be even more irksome with Rusev standing in front of a portrait of Vladimir Putin, waving the Russian flag, though. The Cold War is long over, but compelling Americans to get upset over Russians disparaging the U.S. is far easier than when the Swiss are involved. There's simply more history between America and the country Rusev is saluting compared to the one Cesaro comes from.
Even with the IC title, he and Lana can talk about Russia being the best country on earth and him wearing that championship being proof of that.
It's time for that story. Rusev needs to make upward movement.
Wrestling bookers have previously indicated a wrestler's rise to a new tier after crushing lower competition with its midcard belts. The history of human wrecking balls like Rusev shows that.
Umaga, whom WWE is reportedly modeling Rusev's push after, per F4WOnline (via Wrestle Zone), twice won the Intercontinental Championship. Goldberg's undefeated streak eventually saw him capture WCW's U.S. title. Another dominant powerhouse, Diesel, won the IC title early in his WWE run. Each time, it felt like these men had arrived, holding up a golden trophy as proof of their dominance.
Having Rusev follow the path those wrestlers traversed is wise. If he defeats Big E once more, it's unclear where he will go next.
He's already steamrolled the likes of Zack Ryder, Sin Cara and Kofi Kingston. There are only so many midcarders to step on after that.
Logically, if he's wiped out the bottom half of the card, he should start demanding a title shot. Going undefeated in singles competition for this long has to qualify him for an opportunity at gold.
He has fallen into a predictable story of Goliath kicking over new Davids. There's little intrigue to his bouts for that reason. Is anyone really going to buy that Sin Cara is suddenly going to be able to best him?
Based on how thoroughly Rusev dominated Big E at Payback, the outcome of their next match isn't really in doubt, either.
Placing a championship into his story provides something new but also something exciting. Each win he has as champ would mean more. A win over an opponent wouldn't just be another victory but the process of him stretching out his reign, perhaps into historic territory.
His level of stardom grows with that scenario. With him as either IC or U.S. champ, the shine of his championship belt will draw in the audience's eyes.
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