Ivan Koloff created the blueprint for the cold-hearted, heavy-handed growling brute who stepped on his enemies' throats in the name of Mother Russia, a blueprint WWE needs to follow with Rusev.
Rusev has shown flashes of being able to be just as effective as a monster as Koloff, to be a nightmarish combination of ruthlessness and power from a foreign land just as The Russian Bear was beginning in the late '60s. But The Bulgarian Brute has lost his way, his girl and his edge.
WWE is in danger of having Rusev's career timeline look more like Vladimir Kozlov's than Koloff's.
He has spent months mired in a melodrama built around him pining for Lana. He has sought to replace her with Summer Rae, complete with dressing his new valet up in Lana-esque, form-fitting, way-too-short pantsuits. The angle has made him look foolish. He has spent more time getting slapped than laying waste to WWE's heroes.
Rusev should not be the star of a soap opera. He should not be a comedy character or a middling midcard act. A man that powerful and intense with wrecking ball-like kicks needs to be a formidable foil for WWE's top babyfaces and an unsettling beast with no mercy in him.
Koloff was both of those things.
It was early in Oreal Perras' wrestling career when he found the ideal persona. He ditched the eye patch-wearing Red McNulty character, shaved his head, slipped on a singlet and a Soviet snarl to become one of the best heels in wrestling history.
While he was a skilled mat wrestler, his style revolved around a nasty brawling style. He whipped men with chains and stomped them into the mat. On the mic, he bayed and barked, as aggressive in interviews as he was between the ropes.
To maximize Rusev's skills, the best bet for WWE is to borrow heavily from The Russian Bear's playbook, to have Rusev follow the former world champion's lead.
A Russian Hammer
Koloff's approach to a match was simply to throttle his opponent. There was a coldness to his actions in the ring as he methodically beat down his victim.
In this match against Dan Turner, Koloff began the bout on the mat, grinding down on his opponent. Then soon came the more smashmouth style he was famous for. He cracked his hand against Turner's chest and looked to choke him out.
This is the kind of attack where Rusev most thrives. He is among WWE's best brawlers today.
The more vicious things become in the bout, the better he delivers. Fans have seen that in highlights up to this point, in battles against Jack Swagger, John Cena and Mark Henry.
Note how monstrous he looked attacking Erick Rowan or how comfortable he looked in a slugfest against Sheamus last November.
The aggression he showed in bouts like that, his intensity and his predatory approach to offense are all very Koloff-like. We haven't seen nearly enough of that of late, though. It's hard to be fearsome like that when you're getting run over like Rusev has been.
A Monster Growling
Like Koloff, Rusev is no great orator. Both men are effective in promos, though, despite being one-dimensional.
The Russian Bear was at his best in interviews in which he just spat angrily at the camera. He was disgusted by America and tossed out jabs to what he called the "second strongest country in the world," but his focus was largely on his next foe:
His aggressiveness was key, the sense of danger he created his best asset.
He often promised torture and punishment for those facing him or his nephew Nikita.
Rusev is fully capable of accomplishing all of that. It was during his feud with Cena when that was most evident.
Ahead of their I Quit match, Rusev flattened Heath Slater and began bellowing at Cena. He went on to insult the audience, dismissing them as stupid quitters.
The short promo was no clinic in verbal skills, but rather a display of fiery anger that would surely make Koloff proud.
Unfortunately, Rusev hasn't been able to expand on this kind of work. He's been busy discussing engagement plans (with a far less pronounced accent for some reason) or presenting Summer with "Dog Ziggler."
The Path to Evolving into a Bear
Battling Koloff often meant stepping inside a steel cage or attaching oneself to him by a length of chain. This added to his mystique. He wasn't just a wrestler; he was a gladiator with a fondness of metal colliding with flesh.
Announcers billed the Russian Chain match as a home-field advantage for Koloff. He lost more than his share of them, but he did leave fans with the image of him whipping a man like Ricky Morton across the back with a chain.
Rusev needs more gimmick matches like this.
Have him often invite enemies inside a cage. Have him show off his ferocity in Russian Chain matches. This will allow him to be at his best, showcasing his brawling skills. En route to his only chain-centric match to date, Rusev provided one of his most disturbing moments of his career.
Wrapping a chain across Cena's face and yanking back is very much a Koloff-esque move.
And rather than have Rusev just feel like a rip-off of Koloff, WWE would be wise to use their similarities as a means to elevate The Bulgarian Brute. Have Koloff pass the Russian-monster torch to him.
PWInsider's Mike Johnson laid out an excellent idea with that in mind. He wrote, "I think they should fly Rusev to North Carolina and film vignettes where Ivan presents him with his old Russian Chain and trains Rusev."
The company should make more videos like the one it produced ahead of WrestleMania with Rusev smashing sledgehammers into tires.
There was a very Ivan Drago feel to this clip. It painted Rusev as a super athlete built for the express purpose of destruction.
Having Koloff involved with him in something like this only promises to boost the powerhouse, to further the connection between the two Soviet sadists.
WWE, as it did when Koloff ended Bruno Sammartino's record reign as champ, has a foreign beast with bad intentions on its roster. Presented as a treacherous bruiser rather than the heartsick fool that he is today, Rusev will have a great shot of becoming this generation's Koloff.