At SummerSlam, the United States Championship will be on the line as Rusev defends against Roman Reigns. In many ways this match is an incidence of ships passing in the night. Rusev has been on a tear as of late and has been a focal point of Monday Night Raw since the draft. On the flip side, Roman Reigns returned from his a wellness policy suspension and has been downgraded. He went from being included in the main event of WWE Battleground to fighting for a secondary title on what is arguably the WWE’s second major PPV of the year, Summerslam.
Summerslam Preview: Rusev vs Roman Reigns
Just six months ago, the two were in vastly different places in their career. Reigns had been riding the forced wave the WWE brass had predestined for him. A lengthy feud with the company’s COO, Triple H, meant that Roman was heading for a Wrestlemania showdown as the company’s chosen star up against the dastardly and unscrupulous man in charge, backed by the power and legacy of his wife and heir to the McMahon empire, Stephanie McMahon.
However, in trying to recreate the organic feel of Stone Cold Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon from the Attitude Era, Roman, through no fault of his own, found himself derided by the WWE Universe, who felt that his place in the company was unwarranted. Nevertheless, Roman was able to vanquish his opponent and wrest the title away from him, standing in triumph at the end of the show.
Rusev in the Doghouse
Meanwhile, Rusev, after suffering what seemed to be doghouse treatment from revealing through social media that he and Lana were officially an item during a storyline that had separated the two, was pitted against the New Day as part of the League of Nations faction that consisted of Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and an oft injured Wade Barrett. All though the foreigners defeated the tag team champions, the win was empty, garnering nothing but a win in the record column.
The next month at Payback, Roman was again in the main event, this time defending the WWE title against A.J. Styles in a matched that was mired in controversy. The interference of Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, as well as the Usos, led to an immediate rematch being announced for Extreme Rules, all while Rusev never even appeared on the card.
The Turning Point
Thirty days can be a lifetime in the WWE and the next PPV, Extreme Rules, proved to be the point that Rusev’s star began to rise as Roman Empire came crashing down. Roman defended his title once again against A.J. Styles and although he kept the title that night, Seth Rollins return and subsequent attack on the champion garnered more cheers than Reigns had received in his entire time as champion. Rusev, though placed lower on the card, squashed the then United States Champion Kalisto and became a United States champion for the second time in his short career.
At WWE’s Money in the Bank, Roman was to defend his title against the returning Seth Rollins, who despite his dirty deeds, was beloved by the WWE Universe. Before their match, Dean Ambrose’s Money in the Bank match victory granted him to opportunity to challenge any champion at any time and he did not wait long to cash that chance in.
During the main event, Seth Rollins cleanly beat Reigns. This was a peculiarity that would make more sense in the days to come. Ambrose ran down to the ring and made the night special for the former Shield members by besting Rollins and becoming the champion. Ambrose completed the trifecta for former Shield members holding the same title within minutes of each other. Rusev quietly extended his championship reign by defeating super dad Titus O’Neil. It was a match that saw him exhibit brute strength against a foe just as large as he is.
Monday Night RAW set the stage for the former Shield compatriots to settle their differences and the convoluted title picture at WWE Battleground, more than 30 days in the future. The more than thirty days was an important note. As LWOS’s own Tom Terzulli reported, Roman was suspended for a violation of the WWE’s wellness policy. The suspension was announced just two days after he lost the title. It kept him off WWE television until right before his rematch at WWE Battleground.
As Roman sat out for the month, Rusev was embroiled in a conflict with underdog Zack Ryder. Ryder had recently won and lost the Intercontinental title. Although WWE teased that Ryder could once again do the impossible, the company proved that it’s vision for Rusev did not include allowing fluke title changes to interest the fans. Instead, Rusev predictably defeated the Long Island Iced Z. Battleground was much less forgiving to Roman, who returned to take the pin in the triple threat main event.
Breaking Up the Wedding Celebration
With Rusev in need of a strong opponent to solidify his dominance and Reigns falling out of contention for the vacant WWE Universal championship, Roman reared his ugly head during Rusev’s celebration. First, during a lambasting of America, Rusev was interrupted by Roman. This surprised many, as Reigns does not represent the typical American patriot. Rusev rebuffed Reigns’s challenge, only to have the former Shield member crash Rusev and Lana’s live Monday Night RAW wedding celebration.
After the insult of his wife being embarrassed on television, Rusev demanded to fight Reigns at Summerslam, with the United States title on the line. Unless the WWE has more faith in Reigns than most believe, this match will pit two men who are in very different laces. Reigns should be used as a credible threat to Rusev and an important notch in Reigns list of defeated challengers. Reigns neither needs nor deserves the strap at this time, while Rusev’s star can continue to rise by defeating a man who has an impressive list of accomplishments.