WWE needs to make sure victory is hard-won for either Rusev or John Cena at WrestleMania 31.
The company has a chance to elevate Rusev, allowing the burly Russian to net two consecutive pay-per-view wins over WWE's golden boy. Otherwise, it can bring an end of Rusev's undefeated streak and begin to boost the United States Championship's prestige. Either way, the focus needs to be on making this a hard-fought, surprise-filled battle.
Have Cena's back be the target where Rusev aims his kicks. Have Rusev's manager return. Force these two powerhouses to whip out new weapons in order to win.
Those are the keys to making this bout as exciting as it can be and making sure the winner gets the most momentum from his triumph.
The Challenger's Weak Point
On Monday's Raw, WWE laid the narrative groundwork for what should be a central part of the story at WrestleMania.
After a match with Jack Swagger, Rusev attacked Cena, zeroing in on the small of his back. He stomped on the base of his spine, slammed him onto the announce table and wrenched his body backward in The Accolade.
WWE should have Cena limp into WrestleMania, playing up the fact that he is not 100 percent. That makes him look more like a warrior the longer he lasts in this fight. For Rusev, it allows him to be a predator, a shark swimming hard toward the smell of blood.
The back injury makes it hard for Cena to do many of his signature moves. On the flip side, it plays perfectly into Rusev's hands. He pounds Cena into the mat with power moves and works on the back in preparation for The Accolade.
The Return of the Ravishing Russian
Involving Lana adds a subplot, character depth for Rusev and a big surprise for the match.
In the middle of the action, Lana emerges from backstage. She timidly approaches the ring. Still angry with her for agreeing to this bout without his consent, Rusev glares at her.
Moments later, Cena grits through his back pain and hits an Attitude Adjustment. He climbs onto Rusev for the cover, but Lana puts Rusev's leg on the bottom rope. Cena is incensed, yelling at her, distracted.
Rusev takes advantage of his foe's lack of focus and regains control of the match. He looks at Lana and they share a moment where Rusev seems to forgive his manager. She yells encouragement in Russian with a slight smile, which empowers her client.
The U.S. champ then goes on a tear, tossing Cena around the ring, Lana's presence fueling him.
Victory Requires an Expanded Arsenal
Both men refuse to relent. Near-falls come in droves. Cena nails Rusev with an Attitude Adjustment, and Lana can only watch on in fear as the referee's hand smacks the mat.
Rusev shocks the crowd by kicking out just before three.
Like he did in his match with CM Punk before WrestleMania 29, Cena turns to moves he's not used to doing. He hits a Tiger Suplex, a missile dropkick and a running powerslam. It takes an Attitude Adjustment from the top rope to put Rusev away.
Going this route leaves Rusev looking formidable, like he is still a special force despite the loss. It has Cena's win feel more significant and has the U.S. title look like something mighty hard to come by.
Rusev kicks out of the Attitude Adjustment, just as he does in the other scenario. While that feat leaves Cena shocked, it electrifies Rusev. He charges forward from that point on, smashing Cena.
He works the challenger's back more before putting him in The Accolade. Cena survives in the hold longer than anyone ever has. Eventually, he gets his fingertips on the bottom rope to escape.
Right before that, Lana tries to pull the rope out of Cena's reach, but the referee forces her to stop.
A superkick gets Rusev a very close two-count. A running powerbomb achieves the same result. It takes Rusev stealing the Attitude Adjustment to end the fight.
WWE taking this bold direction creates a memorable moment for Rusev, both in beating Cena and doing so with his own move. The champ then looks even more unstoppable. The audience is left to wonder who can take down this Goliath.
That not only benefits The Bulgarian Bruiser in a major way, but it makes it so that the moment when someone does finally topple him, it will be even more powerful.