Edited by Zack Zimmerman (@InVasionZim)
From Plovdiv, Bulgaria
6ft 0in / 305lbs
In ring debut: November 2008
NXT debut: May 2013
Finisher: The Accolade (Camel Clutch)
Signatures: Body block against the ropes, Corner cannonball, Samoan drop, Spinning heel kick, Knee thrusts to rope-hung opponent
Rusev signed to WWE Developmental in September 2010, making him the first Bulgarian to work for the company. His first appearance on NXT was in a No. 1 Contenders Battle Royal in May 2013, but he did not win and wasn't seen again until an August 2013 singles loss to Dolph Ziggler. He quickly joined Sylvester Lefort's “Fighting Legionaries” stable alongside Scott Dawson. His first gimmick was similar to previous Eastern European guys – he didn't speak English, did things considered a little odd by western viewers, and communicated exclusively through violence.
During his first months, his attire was comprised of not one, but two leather skirts – an ankle length one worn during his entrance; and a smaller one, reminiscent of one worn by the gladiators, worn when he wrestled. He also brought a plank of wood with him that had the name of his opponent written on it, that he would break over his knee before the match began.
After a while, he decided to ditch Lefort, the plank, and the skirts. He employed Lana (the blonde woman featured in his vignettes on Raw and SD) as his “Social Ambassador”, evoking memories of Ivan Drago and his wife from Rocky IV. This change saw a turn in Rusev's fortunes and he has been on quite the roll ever since. He has beaten Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods in recent weeks (despite taking a return loss from the former) and has since moved into a program with Sin Cara.
- Look: Rusev, above all things, stands out from the crowd. While he may not be as tall as other monster heels before him, he is certainly thick enough to compensate. That is not to say he's fat – he looks supremely toned for a 300lb+ man.
- Mobility: Going against the grain of the "standard big heel" of years past, Rusev isn't immobile in the ring. He has a good turn of pace in him and impressive explosiveness, which he uses to full effect in the ring.
- Lana: Rocky IV fandom aside, Lana has helped elevate Rusev much more than Lefort ever did. Rusev has spoken entirely in Bulgarian on NXT (and only a few times at that), so having Lana there allows him to concentrate exclusively on his in-ring work, while she acts as his mouthpiece for furthering storylines.
- Finisher: While a submission finish can work well for a man of Rusev's build and none of his fellow big guys on the main roster are using submission finishes right now, the Camel Clutch feels inadequate in 2014. He applies it well, but finding something more dynamic and unique would really benefit him.
- Language barrier: This may be a more long form problem. While having Lana around will negate this dilemma for the time being, it's not yet known how fluent Rusev is in English. It could be that he is capable of holding his own on the mic should he split from Lana, but as of now that remains to be seen.
- Match quality:As he became more regularly featured in singles competition, one flaw started to come to the forefront – while capable of entertaining in short bursts, he struggles to put on consistently gripping longer matches. This is a problem the move to the main roster may be able to solve however, as he'll be working with more seasoned guys around the loop.
It's not totally clear what option would be best for Rusev. He hasn’t proven the ability to be attention-grabbing week in and week out, but there's only so much he could learn and improve in developmental. He won't be talking or getting into matches much longer than your standard squash, so his current limitations can be worked out behind the scenes and on live events. He's looked good when required to work quickly and Lana will be doing all the storyline work for him, so he can be a bulldozer heel straight out the gate. Ultimately, the move up gives him a chance to sink or swim on Raw and SmackDown, while also freeing up a space on NXT TV.