Last month, Stephanie McMahon told a crowd at the SBJ Gamechangers Conference in New York that WWE is successful for one reason and one reason only: That they listen to the audience. The comment became an instant meme, as WWE has spent at least the past decade teasing its audience to wait for a payoff that either never comes or takes a real damn long time (as was the case with Daniel Bryan).
For a solid eight or nine months, Rusev and Aiden English were at or near the top of being the most over (wrestling parlance for eliciting either highly positive or negative emotional reaction) performers with the WWE audience. That there was never a payoff before the team broke up with an inevitable lurid lust story in which English made a move on Rusev’s wife Lana, before there was any payoff, reflects a disdain that Vince McMahon and company have for their customers.
Rusev Day began kind of out of nowhere. Rusev beat Randy Orton in a match, got presented a key to his hometown in Bulgaria, and the day was declared Rusev Day. Aiden English was there for some reason, and began serenading Rusev before his matches. Every day would be Rusev Day.
The fans ate this all up. Rusev has lingered for a couple years on the level where the smart fans like him and always thought he wasn’t getting his just due in the storyline. This was great because it was absurd and surreal, and connected with the audience on that fourth wall level where pro wrestling is at its best.
But there was never any payoff. Rusev wound up losing his feud to Randy Orton. Rusev and English were in a fatal four-way for the Smackdown tag-team belts at Clash of Champions last December that The Usos won. Rusev lost in a triple threat match for the US Title at Wrestlemania. He got a WWE title shot at AJ Styles at Extreme Rules and lost. Rusev was relegated to the preshow of SummerSlam for a mixed tag feud with Lana against Cien Almas and Zelina Vega (who are also great and under-utilized). Rusev Day got another tag titles shot at Hell in a Cell last month. They lost, then they broke up.
At WWE events in Chicago and in New Orleans for WrestleMania, RUSEV DAY chants would break out when he wasn’t even on-air. There’s no good reason Rusev and English could not have won tag belts, or that Rusev could not have won a secondary belt like the US Title (and paraded around with it like it was the premier championship) during the time in which fans were gobbling up the story. Obviously, pro wrestling is scripted, but there’s supposed to be something resembling a meritocracy where the most over performers get rewarded with the belt props.
Instead, it’s over, and there was nothing to show for it.