SmackDown Live started their Extreme Rules booking by determining who would next challenge A.J. Styles for the WWE Championship.
A gauntlet match saw five of SmackDown’s top main event talents battle it out, with a surprise winner. In a match that saw the likes of Samoa Joe and Daniel Bryan, it was a very happy Rusev Day as the Bulgarian Brute won the match and will be getting his shot at AJ Styles next month.
The move to make Rusev the No. 1 contender is an interesting one. Take away the fact that Joe and Bryan are on the show. Rusev became a fan favorite organically, against what the company was looking to do with him. Because of that, it seemed highly unlikely that Rusev was ever going to be elevated above the high mid-card status he was in.
When he and Aiden English were in the tag team title picture, they got close but never won the prize despite being the most over team in the division. Money in the Bank was another example. Rusev was in the Money in the Bank match, but no one actually thought that he was actually going to win it.
That’s why Rusev’s win on Tuesday was so surprising. The guy that WWE cast aside despite him being one of the more popular acts in the company finally was getting his shot. For whatever reason, in this moment, WWE listened.
Now, it might be a little too late for this push as Rusev is nowhere near the peak he was a few months back. Yet it is still a welcoming sign that WWE might be more willing to push superstars that the fans are behind.
Rusev is going to get his chance to sink or swim with the big fishes of the WWE. He is going to get the next month or so to showcase all of the skills he needs to be that main eventer that the audience feels that he is.
The promos will need to hit the mark. The in-ring work when Extreme Rules rolls around will also be under intense scrutiny by those in the back.
Pushing Rusev into this title match might be more of a test to see if Rusev can hang more than it is an endorsement of Rusev as a main eventer.
WWE’s new duel-branded PPV model allows them to mess around with the title scenes on both shows during these B-shows between their Big 5 (it’s clear why Rusev is getting a shot at Extreme Rules and not SummerSlam). That means more opportunities for guys like Rusev and Big E on SmackDown Live.
In a few weeks, Rusev is going to get the title shot that fans never thought he would get. Rusev is going to fight for the WWE Championship against AJ Styles.
It could be a test of Rusev’s skills or WWE could have woken up on the right side of the bed and realized that the Super Athlete is a superstar that should be pushed.
Either way, fans should enjoy this ride because who knows how or when it will end.