The start of Summer has brought on a heat wave of changes in WWE. Despite the fact that they are undeniably talented, two Superstars have each received a long overdue push. Both Raw and Smackdown had matches resulting in upset victories. But in reality, taking one look at their abilities in and out of the ring, these opportunities have been a long time coming. Dolph Ziggler and Rusev are on the upswing, and there’s no one more deserving than these two underutilized performers.
Arguably, no one has had more ups and downs in the WWE than Dolph Ziggler. He’s a career-long chameleon, proving he can play the role of a main eventer one month and be a pre-show jobber the next. He puts the “professional’ in professional wrestler. And while it shouldn’t be surprising for a former world champion to get a win over Seth Rollins, the timing was brilliantly unexpected. Typically, an “open challenge” will be a reoccurring segment for at least a few weeks, so when Rollins put his Intercontinental Championship on the line on Monday, no one thought he would lose it.
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It makes for a pleasant swerve in the dynamic between Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre as well. While they were shaping up to be a fairly dominant tag team, a singles title reign for Ziggler gives us a little bit of Shawn Michaels/Diesel deja vu. The dark, mysterious big man securing victory for the smaller, athletic showoff is not a new idea, but it is a trope that hasn’t been executed successfully in some time. But as a long time Ziggler fan, I have confidence in this one. Something just seems to click. Ziggler has always been just a frizzy blond hair away from getting over the hump and reaching his full potential. Since the Universal Champion, Brock Lesnar, has become a rare sighting, the IC Title might as well the the Raw Championship; or at least the only singles title regularly seen and defended.
While Ziggler and his newfound bodyguard climb up the card on the Raw roster, Smackdown is celebrating an impromptu Rusev Day! After Tuesday’s riveting gauntlet match, Rusev was able to come out the victor and win a shot at A.J. Styles for the WWE Championship at Extreme Rules. Rusev is another guy whose work has gone unrewarded for too long. Between his remarkable in-ring skill and the weirdly endearing charisma of Rusev Day, he’s become the most likable heel in the company. You just can’t help but root for him. And a match(ka) with Styles offers a new type of athlete, a super athlete, for The Phenomenal One to feed off of.
But there has been and always will be a glass ceiling for the foreign heel. While Shinsuke Nakamura is doing all he can to shatter that glass ceiling, time will tell if the WWE is ready for a Rusev Championship reign. What a Rusev Day celebration it would be! For sure, the Bulgarian Brute has earned the right to compete for the strap, and he’s as over as over can be. So, I can’t think of a more gratifying champion. WWE waited to really pull the trigger on the Rusev Day gimmick until now. Maybe they didn’t have confidence in it. Maybe they were waiting to see if it would fizzle out. But it appears that every day is truly Rusev Day. And this Summer, we could even see the start of a full Rusev Year.
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke