Rusev has spent 2014 climbing up the WWE mountain and needs only a few lunging steps to reach the next tier.
Extend the duration of his battles and earn him more animosity from the crowd, and Rusev's rise will continue. As for the rest of his fellow 2014 rookies, character tweaks and in-ring adjustments can aid them in progressing.
Emma, Bo Dallas and Adam Rose are finding that the main roster is not as friendly an environment as NXT. They all thrived at Full Sail University but are now staggering, unable to be much more than role players on Raw and SmackDown.
The following is a look at what can change that.
Even though she debuted this year, let's leave Paige out of the discussion, though. She's already a two-time Divas champ. Moving up the card isn't an issue for her at this point.
However, her old NXT rival Emma has plenty of room to slide upward.
At NXT, Emma's odd dance was a hit; fans did it along with her. But on the main roster, there hasn't been nearly as strong a reaction to her antics.
As a result, Emma needs a way to make a better impression on the crowd. That could come courtesy of a catchphrase or chant. It may be a matter of WWE highlighting her endearing awkwardness.
Right now, there's little reason to pull for Emma. A lot of the blame for that goes on WWE Creative for introducing her so ineffectively. We simply didn't see enough of her personality when she was Santino Marella's sidekick.
WWE can show off both who she is and how talented she is in the ring with an extended feud.
When she took on Paige at NXT Arrival, she was the most captivating she has been. She came off as gutsy, valiant and tough.
Since debuting on the main roster, she hasn't come close to that peak.
She needs to battle someone, be it Paige or someone else, in a series of matches that allow her to wow the fans. That's where they can see her take a beating and suffer ambushes but still come out fighting.
Letting the crowd view her heart is key to her success.
The version of Dallas' character that he's showing at Raw and SmackDown is a poor man's version of what it was in NXT.
On the main roster, he's mostly leaned on his "You just have to Bo-lieve" catchphrase. At NXT, he was entertainingly irritating. He was whiny, self-congratulatory and the kind of guy who was easy to laugh at when security guards dragged him out of the arena.
Having a panel of fans bearing complaints against Jack Swagger is nowhere near as entertaining.
Those segments were Dallas' best work to date.
It's equally important that he show off a dangerous side as well. For now, he's just a pest, and an easily ignorable one at that. As cowardly and slippery as he is, Dallas still needs to hurt his opponents.
Added viciousness in the ring would elevate his matches and his status as a heel.
Alberto Del Rio seemed to delight in leaving his opponents' arms hanging numb at their sides. Randy Orton's eyes glimmer with joy as he stomps on his opponents' hands. This element is missing for Dallas right now.
Harder strikes, nastier moves and a generally more ornery attitude between the ropes would grab the crowd's attention more. It also provides an intriguing contrast to his grinning "motivational speaker" persona.
Rose has a powerful narrative tool around him during every entrance and backstage segment: The Rosebuds.
His posse should serve as the allies his enemies attack. Adding an emotional element to his matches would help make him more than a comic sideshow. There was a touch of that at NXT during his feud with Camacho.
The bruiser left Captain Comic out cold on the May 8 edition of NXT.
Suddenly, Rose had someone to avenge. His gimmick was tied directly into his matches as well.
Randy Savage's enemies often looked to take swipes at Elizabeth. That added depth to his in-ring stories and gave him added motivation to tear a heel apart. WWE should do the same with The Rosebuds.
The other solution awaiting him is to adjust his in-ring style. On the main roster, his move set is mostly a collection of sight gags. He either rolls around the ring or hangs on the ropes and playfully kicks his feet in the air.
That part of his game can stay, but he needs to display more of the brawling skills that made his Leo Kruger so compelling. In a match against Dante Dash at NXT, Rose (as Kruger) was hard to look away from as he slugged it out with his foe.
Rose can bring that element back to his matches even without a change in gimmick. He can be business in the ring and save his partying for when the battle is over.
WWE has booked Rusev better than any of his fellow rookies. He's been portrayed as a destroyer and a man capable of continuing to tear through the roster.
The company also paired him with Lana, who has amplified his character and provided the bulk of the promo work. Her sinister aura, sex appeal and mic skills have all benefited him. She gives fans more reason to pay attention to The Bulgarian Brute.
She has supplied much of his heat as well.
That's where he's lacking the most. Coming out and bashing the U.S. can only get one so far. Rusev needs to get the fans to hate him through more acts of violence.
Kicking Zeb Colter in the head at SummerSlam is the kind of thing we need to see more.
He needs to snap from time to time, knocking out referees, announcers and managers. Then Lana can take control, end his wrath and lead him away from the ring.
The United States Championship is an ideal launching pad for him and his character as well. Imagine if he renamed the title the "Russian Federation Championship," as Rick Poehling suggested (note: link contains NSFW language) on Scott's Blog of Doom.
Having that title draped on his shoulder would allow him a chance to develop the other area in which he needs to prove himself: performing in longer matches.
Most of Rusev's resume so far is one-sided, short contests. He has yet to have a bout go much more than 10 minutes.
Each time that WWE gives him more ring time to work with, the result have been excellent. His brawls with Swagger have been compelling, violent works of art.
Can he maintain that level of quality for 15 or 20 minutes? Can he deliver in the main event when he won't be dominating the majority of the action?
That's what he has to prove going forward as he closes out a year where he is running away with the rookie of the year award.
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