May 21, 2017.
What’s that? You don’t know why that date is significant? Well, for those who probably searched Google and came up with nothing, that date stands as one of the biggest ass pulls in WWE history. May 21, 2017 was the date where SmackDown LIVE’s exclusive PPV, Backlash, was held. And that, of course, was the date wherein the main event, Jinder Mahal, a former member of 3MB and a man hat probably won as many singles match in his career as you have fingers in one hand up to that point, defeated a company love interest in Randy Orton to win the WWE Championship. Many didn’t know what to think when the referee counted to 3 on that night. Jinder Mahal was brought up randomly back to WWE, and aside from a couple of matches on Raw, and a failed effort at winning the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal from Mojo Rawley, many thought this was merely a transitional feud for something bigger for Randy Orton. Instead, Jinder Mahal’s run would prove to be the start of a six-month experiment of him holding the company’s most prestigious title.
We all rightfully assumed that Jinder Mahal’s triumph was nothing more than a business move, because why else would you give a jobber the company’s top title at the flip of a coin? Well we tried the experiment. We ran a trial of Jinder Mahal being the face of SmackDown LIVE from May all the way into November. And in my opinion, it was a colossal failure. Jinder Mahal didn’t elevate the title. Rather, he tried to make the title elevate him and make him seem like he’s more important. In the months he was entrusted with holding a title that Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair, Bret Hart, The Undertaker, Stone Cold, Triple H, John Cena and The Rock have all held, he didn’t improve. He didn’t improve in the ring nor on the microphone. He was just Jinder Mahal. There was no doubt that he was motivated and putting in work behind the scenes, but it just wasn’t working out. Over a year later (wow it’s already been that long?) since we’ve survived through that ordeal, Jinder Mahal has not improved in the slightest, and he’s now only used marginally on television because it doesn’t appear WWE has anything for him at the moment. So we can safely say the Jinder experiment was a gamble gone wrong. But what about another heel from SmackDown LIVE? Is Rusev worth a try?
Think about it. AJ Styles has been WWE Champion since the fall of last year. If we’re being honest, other than his match against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series and his last title defense against Shinsuke Nakamura at Money in the Bank, The Phenomenal One has sort of been The Average One hasn’t he? Don’t get me wrong, AJ Styles is still a world-class performer and at his peak, probably the best in-ring worker the world of wrestling has to offer. But it doesn’t take much to see the staunch differences regarding his work over time. In 2016, especially after his heel turn, he was putting up consistent bangers on PPV and on television on a weekly basis as if it was nothing. Then after his face turn in 2017, things sort of took altered, but not to a great degree. In 2018, can you honestly say he’s been GREAT? His feud with Shinsuke Nakamura disappointed and his endless feud with Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn went nowhere, and you’d think with AJ working with all of those guys in the ring would result in great matches. But instead of being left with “WOW, AJ Styles really is PHENOMENAL!”, we are left saying more often than not, “It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great either” these days.
Rusev is entering his first one on one WWE Championship opportunity at Extreme Rules against AJ Styles, and he has a chance to make a great impression regardless of the outcome. While Rusev hasn’t been racking up the accomplishments lately, he has been racking up the notoriety. What started out as a simple two day catchphrase has caught fire, and he has one of the most over gimmicks on the main roster today, though you wouldn’t know it by the lack of opportunities he has gotten to get his character on a bigger platform. My point is this. If WWE gave us 6 months of Jinder Mahal without really putting into much thought about what Jinder Mahal will bring to the company long term, why not take a chance on Rusev? Has he not been buried enough?
I’m not saying Rusev is some sort of magic solution to the WWE Title, and I’m not even saying that Rusev will bring credibility to the WWE Championship. AJ Styles has been a fine champion, and if he holds it past Extreme Rules, I’d be more than content with the decision, because he’s proven he is a trustworthy asset to WWE. But hasn’t WWE been very repetitive and monotonous this year? Rusev is a much more palatable option as opposed to Jinder as WWE Champion right? And if there’s a guy that has paid his dues but has often been overlooked in his career, wouldn’t it be Rusev? At Extreme Rules, WWE is faced with a decision. They can either continue to roll with AJ Styles, which is a good decision, but they can also choose to open Pandora’s Box and give Rusev a try.