Rusev Day: A Look at Rusev’s WWE Career

Rusev Enters on Tank

In a day which will forever be dubbed as Black Wednesday, a lengthy list of talent were released from their WWE contracts.  An almost certain attempt to cut costs during the turbulent times we find ourselves in, many dreams were brought to a sad, cruel end.  Senior referee, Mike Chioda – WWE’s head referee since 2005 – was released.  Legendary Hall of Fame inductee, Kurt Angle, was let go.  Black Wednesday did not discriminate against talent and perhaps most notably, Mirsolav Barnyashev (Rusev), was among the casualties.  Of the current crop of stars let go, Barnyashev is possibly the biggest name.  Though his release should come as no surprise considering the months of teasing his exit, it still bears some surprise.  Without further ado, let us take a look at the WWE career of the man dubbed the Bulgarian Brute.

Alexander Rusev Signs with World Wrestling Entertainment

Immediately upon signing for WWE in September 2010, Miroslav Barnyashev was given the name Alexander Rusev.  A big man, standing at six-foot tall and weighing around three-hundred pounds, Barnyashev was clearly signed with the intention of bringing legitimacy to the roster.  He was sent to work in Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW) – WWE’s former developmental territory.  Rusev would spend two years down in FCW, being managed by Raquel Diaz (Shaul Guerrero) – the future wife of his future manager, Aiden English.  A collection of injuries – most notably a broken neck in 2012 – would cut short Rusev’s promising FCW tenure.  He returned on May 30, 2013 to what was now called NXT.  In his comeback match, he lost in a battle royal to crown the challenger for the NXT Championship.

Alexander Rusev
Photo: WWE

Brief stints of being managed by Sylvester Lefort and teaming with Scott Dawson ultimately led to Rusev joining future wife, Lana.  Prior to adopting Lana as his manager, Rusev was floundering in NXT.  Losses came quick and fast and it was clear the character was directionless.  However, upon joining with Lana, Rusev would go onto defeat a number of main roster talent – most notably Kofi Kingston.  Rusev’s finisher, The Accolade – a nasty adaptation of the Camel Clutch – would regularly put his opponents to sleep.  Rusev and Lana would go on to establish themselves as the true Ivan and Ludmilla Drago (a nice Rocky IV reference for you) of the WWE.  Just as Drago spoke the famous “I must break you” line to Rocky, Rusev adopted “Rusev crush”.  This character would soon take off on the main roster.

The Russians Are Coming

Rusev made his first main roster appearance at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, 2014.  He would compete in the annual Royal Rumble match.  Perhaps more memorable for being the night CM Punk walked out of the company and Daniel Bryan was controversially left out of the main event – won by Batista, it will forever be Rusev’s debut.  It took four men to eliminate the Bulgarian – clearly booked strong – from the match.  He would then remain off of WWE television until the April 7th edition of RAW.

He would return to squash Zack Ryder (another unfortunate casualty of Black Wednesday) in a short match.  Soon after, the comparisons to Drago would only grow louder – the Bulgarian Brute would take a more Russophilic approach to the ring.  Lana – already dubbed the “Ravishing Russian” by WWE commentary – would have an anti-west, pro-Russian Federation influence on her client.  Rusev would go on to “crush” most of the WWE roster in the name of Russia.

Instead of celebrating his native Bulgaria – a map of which is tattooed on his arm – he would celebrate Russia.  Upon winning the US Championship from Sheamus on an episode of RAW – during an impressive undefeated streak which went on for thirty-six matches – Russia’s adopted son celebrated with the Russian Federation’s national anthem.  He did this with Russian President, Vladimir Putin’s, face displayed on the titantron.  Of course, just as Nikolai Volkoff‘s “evil” Soviet Russian character was defeated by the likes of the ultra-American personified characters of Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter, Rusev would be met by his own generation’s incarnation.  Of course, Rusev would come face-to-face with John Cena.

WrestleMania 31 

By the time of WrestleMania 31, Rusev was arguably at the peak of his powers.  Undefeated (outside of Royal Rumble eliminations and a disqualification loss at Survivor Series 2014) and still US Champion, Rusev was here to stay.  However, as with any character booked as the “evil foreigner”, there is always the worry that after their first defeat, they disappear.  Nikolai Volkoff is one such example.  Vladimir Kozlov was perhaps the most fresh reminder – an undefeated Russian who eventually lost and became Santino Marella‘s comedy partner.

Fans hoped that Rusev – who had become a sort of cult favorite – would not go down the same path.  At WWE Fastlane 2015, Rusev successfully defeated Cena – who passed out during the Accolade.  Of course, this would not be the end of the feud – Cena never loses feuds to anti-American characters.  At WrestleMania 31, Rusev – who memorably entered the match to the Russian anthem inside a tank – was defeated by John Cena.

Following WrestleMania 31

The following month at the Extreme Rules PPV, Rusev would again lose to John Cena.  This time, the defeat would come in the form of a “Russian chain match” (if only the Bulgarian knew about the Chain Gang).  This is where dissension between the Bulgarian Brute and Lana would be teased.  Rusev would send Lana to the back during the defeat.  To make matters worse, he would again lose to John Cena a month later at Payback, this time in an “I Quit” match, after Lana conceded defeat.

All of the hype surrounding Rusev was gone.  The mystique completely destroyed.  Russia’s adopted son was no longer the dominant bastion of anti-American pride he once was.  The following night, Rusev formally fired Lana and returned to being the Bulgarian Brute.  Until 2017, he was involved in a myriad of meaningless feuds, outside of his League of Nations union with Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and Wade Barrett.

Rusev and the League
Photo: WWE

It’s Rusev Day

Whereas similar characters like Vladimir Kozlov were unable to survive after their initial defeat, Rusev somehow persevered.  As mentioned earlier, Rusev was a cult hero to a large portion of the WWE universe.  After entering WrestleMania 31 on a tank, his cult status was only solidified.  It also helped that Rusev has a strong Twitter presence.  On social media, Barnyashev’s likable personality is often displayed through funny and heartfelt Tweets.  He was able to translate this personality to the ring through the next incarnation of his character: Rusev Day.  Linking up with Aiden English (another Black Wednesday release), who would become the new mouthpiece of Rusev in Lana’s absence, created a universally beloved duo.  Whereas they were initially heels, arrogantly citing every day as Rusev Day, the catchphrase somehow caught on.  Upon their entrances to the ring, fans would lavish them with a chorus of “Rusev Day” chants.

Turn to Babyface

For the first time, he was able to display aspects of his hilarious personality.  During a backstage WWE segment, wearing a hooded sweater, he specified that with the hood up, “hoodie Rusev is unstoppable.”  He had segments of celebrating Rusev Day with the New Day.  During one segment, Xavier Woods hilariously played Rusev’s theme song on the trombone.  Rusev and English would turn face for the first time in both of their careers.  Eventually, they would welcome Lana as the third member of the Rusev Day stable.

Eventually, in October of 2018, English would turn on Rusev – citing Lana as a negative influence on Rusev and Rusev Day.  This would culminate in a match and victory of Rusev on the October 23rd edition of SmackDown Live.  Rusev would win a third US Championship during the Rusev Day run, but nothing more.  Eventually, Rusev would be kept off of TV, in what many deem as an attempt by management to reduce Rusev’s – who was never supposed to become so naturally over with the fans – popularity.

Feud with Lashley and Eventual Release

He would begin feuding with Bobby Lashley on the September 16th, 2019 episode of RAW.  Lashley – in storyline – had begun an affair with Lana, who had referred to her real-life husband as a “sex-addicted control freak”.  What followed was a polarizing, controversial feud (by present-day WWE standards) that would see the two behemoths fight over Lana.  Eventually, the married couple would have an on-screen, kayfabe divorce, with Lana “marrying”  Lashley shortly after.  The whole feud left a foul taste with fans.  Though it was entertaining in parts, it did all involved no favors.  Rusev wrestled his last match on February 17th, 2020, in a losing effort with Humberto Carillo against Bobby Lashley and Angel Garza.  Rusev Day had finally come to an end.

What Next for Rusev?

Though many will argue Rusev’s character was mishandled and unfairly treated for years, Miroslav Barnyashev managed to survive within the WWE sphere for almost ten years.  That is an impressive feat in itself and is indicative of the likability and talent of Barnyashev.  However, it is certainly a crime that he never managed to achieve a big world title victory.  Especially during the peak of Rusev Day, where he was the most over superstar on the roster.  Rusev’s release may be upsetting to many given the circumstances, but he is a talented man.  What next for WWE’s former Bulgarian Brute? Who knows.  One thing is for sure: should he want to continue his professional wrestling career, Rusev would be a prized asset for any promotion.  Thank you, Rusev.

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