Rusev is undoubtedly a great talent, and one that I feel could have, should have and, under the right circumstances, would have been a huge star for WWE. He had a different kind of look, was pretty good in the ring, showed range outside of the ring, and most importantly, he got over organically. But as we all know, WWE often looks on this natural connection with the fans as somewhat of a criminal offense. Rusev should have been much more than he was for the company.
Over time he understandably got disenfranchised with things and there were rumors that he wanted out. But they always seemed like teases from him to generate some buzz, and even more so when his wife Lana re-signed with WWE. And then he disappeared from TV for months on end, rumors picked up yet again, the COVID-19 pandemic struck from out of nowhere like the sneakiest RKO and he was suddenly released. You never want to see anyone unemployed regardless of feelings toward them, but in my opinion this can only be a good thing for Rusev. Rusev has worked hard to get into the best shape of his career, has shown versatility both in and out of the ring, is likely hungrier than ever to prove himself and is still only 34.
So when I think about it, I’m happy to see him free and think he’d be an asset for any company lucky enough to lock him down. In Impact he’s a guy with a name that can go, in ROH he’s a top guy straight out of the gate, in NJPW he could replace a big guy like Lance Archer, and so on. So here’s a list of the ten matches I’d personally love to see Rusev have once things start getting back to normal and everyone starts running regular shows again.
Let's get right down to business straight away - Rusev is going directly into a battle of the big boys with Daisuke Sekimoto. Sekimoto, has put together a portfolio of greatness between BJPW, wXw, & AJPW as well as other places that he’s worked. He’s one of those guys that always delivers in his matches, comes across as super legit, and if you want to have Rusev start off with someone really fresh that can go, you can’t go wrong with Sekimoto.
As WWE's Big E would say... "BIG MEATY MEN SLAPPIN MEAT!"
If Rusev survives the threat of Sekimoto, let's change things up from hoss fight to just a straight up fight with the original murder dad Minoru Suzuki. I love a good old fashioned hoss fight and what that type of fight can bring, but a match with Suzuki would just be an entirely different animal. The dynamics he brings to his matches can’t be recreated by anyone else on this planet, and as we saw last year in matches with Okada, Liger, & Moxley, the murder father and savior can still go when he needs to at a top level. This would be unlike any match Rusev has ever had in his life and through it’s uniqueness is where I think this one could thrive.
Bandido has been one of ROH’s best pickups in quite some time. Delivering both outside of the company and then when he came in, he continued his trend of being able to work with speed, power and the versatility to work with anyone from Flip Gordon to Shane Taylor in the company. The man flat out delivers, and I think as an opponent for Rusev, they could create a really fun dynamic and have a great match. Their contrasting styles could merge together nicely, creating a truly fresh match that showcases both mens power and speed elements.
Hiroshi Tanahashi may be 43 and admittedly slowing down, but he’s also still the ace, a true legend and one of the greatest professional wrestlers the world has ever seen who can still go at a high level when required. My first thought upon Rusev being released by WWE was about all of the top NJPW stars he could face, and the first that sprung to mind was Tanahashi. If anyone can really showcase what Rusev has in a compelling match with a great story behind it, it would be Tanahashi.
More big meaty men slapping meat. Jeff Cobb represented Guam at the 2004 Summer Olympics, and made the transition over to professional wrestling in 2009. He’s worked various independents, played the Monster Matanza Cueto in Lucha Underground and was a part of the 2017 NJPW World Tag League tournament, working with fellow tank, Michael Elgin. Cobb is a really fun guy to watch, mixing in power (utilizing his amateur background) and some insane agility, pulling off standing moonsaults & shooting star presses. His mix of power and agility makes for some tremendously fun outings, and between the indies, ROH, & NJPW, has put on a great catalogue of tremendous matches. He’d be a great introductory opponent for Rusev in ROH or NJPW.
This one may be a pipe dream for now as Cobb seems to be on the verge of choosing between AEW and WWE as his next employer.
I love PAC. PAC is not only great, but in my opinion he’s been one of the very best singles performers in AEW so far. He was great pre-WWE, he was great when allowed to be in WWE (carrying an entire division on his back), and he once again excelled post-WWE when he returned to Dragon Gate. PAC seemingly has one setting, there is no low, no medium, there is just phenomenal. He has been a real asset to AEW, having some of their best TV matches, delivering on PPV, and looking like the star so many of us knew he could be if given the chance. I’d love to see him going full tilt against a motivated and re-energized Rusev.
My history of watching Michael Elgin has been an strange one. When I first saw him in ROH, he was a fun but generic powerhouse guy. And then as his ROH run went on, he just wasn’t clicking with me, or the fans, all that much anymore. But things seemed to turn around for him when he started working with NJPW. He started to grow as a performer, started showing more confidence in his overall presentation than ever before and was having some of the best matches of his career. Elgin is an extremely consistent performer who has shown he can work with anyone, and as far as delivering top tier matches, has proven himself to be one of the best on the Impact roster these days.
This one may seem like a fairly obvious choice, and truth be told it is, but there is good reason behind it.
Over the last year Cody has undoubtedly proven himself to be one of the very best wrestlers in the world. Let's be real for a second, there are obvious criticisms of his booking in AEW. He is almost always showcased toward the top end of the card in the very same company that he part owns despite saying from day one that this wouldn't happen. Is it an ego trip? Very possible. It's more likely however that his ability to constantly deliver on the big stage has led to Tony Khan putting faith in Cody to get the absolute best out of the rest of his roster. An underrated performer with speed, agility, deceptive strength and a character that's easy to invest in... sound familiar?
Even before arriving in NJPW, Shingo was a great performer and one of the top stars for Dragon Gate. But he eventfully came to a crossroads in his career as he had done it all in for the company and made the call to leave. His arrival in NJPW has produced nothing but greatness, and for as good as he was in Dragon Gate, he maybe even better right now. Shingo is an elite performer, a true Openweight in that he can work a hoss fight, he can work main event heavyweight style, he can work that quick and crisp Dragon Gate style, and if need be he can morph them all together in one hybrid style. It’s the mark of a complete performer and this is a match I need to see, because I need to know if Rusev can hang with this kind of guy.
This one. Give me this one all year. Back in 2019, Ospreay was the hot up and coming highflier, gaining a fan following and being chased by several companies that wanted to lock him down, Since then he has grown as a performer and become more complete overall. He has managed to fill out, built his strength and has transitioned to the heavyweight scene. I have not made my appreciation for Ospreay a secret and strongly feel that in the ring, he was the best wrestler in 2019 and was on a hell of a tear in early 2020 before the pandemic halted everything. We can argue who is the very best in the world all day long, but even if you don’t think it’s Ospreay he’s certainly up there. Over the past few years he has put together an amazing portfolio of top tier matches against a wide variety of opponents and if I am booking Rusev in a collection of potentially great and fresh matches, the list would be incomplete without Ospreay.