Some time has passed since “Black Wednesday” occurred. Of all the names released that fateful day, in my opinion the one who has the most potential to be a draw and a main event player, is Rusev.
At the time of his release Rusev was not being used on TV as he was in the middle of a contract dispute. Prior to that he was a part of a highly controversial storyline with his actual wife Lana and Bobby Lashley. At the conclusion of that story, Rusev seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth.
Rusev and Lana stormed on to the main roster in 2014 playing off of Americas anti-communist fears by portraying a Bulgarian and a Russian who hates America and loves Russian President Vladamir Putin. I was skeptical of that character working in modern times (that stuff was HUGE in the 70’s and 80’s) but they sure did get over. Their peak as anti-American heels came at Wrestlemania 31 in San Jose when Rusev took on John Cena for the US Title. Rusev burst in to the stadium that day on a MFN tank in an iconic moment. Rusev fell victim to Cena that day but he left his mark on the business forever.
In the months and years following Wrestlemania 31 Rusev had starts and stops and teases of main event pushes but they never really pulled the trigger. He ended up getting himself over as a babyface with his “Rusev Day” moniker but that really made him come off as a mid card comedy act, and he was treated as such.
Now that the shackles are off and Rusev is a free agent, lets analyze where he could end up.
Most Likely: All Elite Wrestling
Rusev going to AEW would follow the trend of the day. AEW recently hired Brody Lee, Matt Hardy fresh off of WWE TV and they also employ many other former WWE wrestlers and agents and are linked to former WWE Tag Champs the newly released Revival (now known as the Revolt). There are lots of intriguing matchups for him in AEW but he would be middle of the card at best. Anywhere he goes he would have to be a babyface at first and in AEW that would put him a distant 5th or 6th on the depth chart in that category.
The Combat Republic recently learned from someone close to those within AEW that Tony Khan is not interested in picking up too many of the newly released talent and will be holding off signing new wrestlers while the COVID-19 pandemic has the world on shut down (im assuming that does not effect the Revival who most likely debuting there soon). Khan is sensitive to the perception of being the home for WWE cast offs, which was a hole that the old TNA fell into and never really shook off. Dont be surprised if AEW is All Out on Rusev.
Best Fit: New Japan Pro Wrestling/RoH
If there was ever a place perfect for what Rusev can do in the ring, its New Japan Pro Wrestling. In New Japan, Rusev can bring his sambo experience and show his aggressive style that he was not allowed to show in WWE. He wouldnt need to be a heel or a babyface there either, he can just be the big bruising foreigner that takes ok all comers. I would kill to see a Rusev-Ishii or matches with Okada and Tanahashi. I honestly think New Japan is the best fit for what he offers and he would be primed to make a lot of money there.
The big question here is when will talent even be able to freely travel between Japan and the US? It’s a real possibility that overseas travel restrictions unless it’s for essential business will be restricted til the end of the year and if so does that remove NJPW from the equation? Could that open the door for a RoH? I honestly could see a combo deal with RoH and NJPW here. RoH has less domestic visibility than Impact but have been big spenders lately and use their NJPW relationship to entice talent who are looking to break through in Japan. Recently RoH outbid several suitors for Bandido and Brody Lee and spent big money on Matt Taven. Do not count out RoH here.
Longshot: IMPACT Wrestling
A company that I would not completely rule out is Impact. They have taken themselves out of the top free agent market and focused on younger more unknown talent and top talents with some baggage. Rusev could make good money here and have more independent freedom but the real question is: Does Impact want to get in the game?
Impact has more stability than ever before, on a good network, and has money to spend but has been unwilling to do so unless it’s guys in their 50’s like Ken Shamrock and RVD. Rusev immediately would upgrade their main event scene and have some fantastic matches with Elgin, Moose, Eddie Edwards and other but his domestic visibility will take a hit unless Impact decides to go for it and make a play for some other free agents at the same time.
Highly Unlikely: NWA/MLW
Due to the current pandemic I would say that the two companies in the US being hurt the most are MLW and NWA. Neither promotion has big TV money coming in as they are predominately seen on YouTube and in the case of MLW, they rely heavily on live gates. It will take a while for both to recover and they have even less visibility than Impact and RoH so I really don’t see them making a play for Rusev, but stranger things have happened.