When it comes to pro wrestling; you either get it or you don’t. For those people who get pro wrestling, it often becomes a lifelong obsession and explaining it to those that don’t is nearly impossible. Storylines like the current one featuring Lana, Rusev and Bobby Lashley makes such explanations almost impossible.
All three superstars had been away from the WWE for an extended period of time. Bobby Lashley was shelved due to an injury that required surgery. The reasons for Lana and Rusev’s time off were far more nebulous but it appeared that Rusev in particular needed some time away from the squared circle. The months leading up to their time off had not been great either, particularly after the awkward and unnecessary demise of Rusev Day.
Still, the absence of the married duo had not gone unnoticed by fans.
Rusev reappeared a few weeks ago at the side of Maria Kanellis as part of her now seemingly forgotten feud with her own husband. Then a couple of weeks later, Lashley and Lana returned at each other’s sides with their tongues down each other’s throats.
This was one of those moments when kayfabe almost became a thing again, as the lines between reality and story got really blurry for a moment.
While the storyline still has yet to be fleshed out, the basics of it seem to be that Lana has left Rusev for Lashley. Now, Lana and Lashley are rubbing it in his face every chance they get. This will obviously grow into a huge feud between Lashley and Rusev, the only question being how much TV time they’ll waste with it.
Nonsense like the Rusev/Lana/Lashley love triangle is exactly why outsiders have problems taking wrestling seriously. This is not to say that storylines aren’t necessary. Feuds and theatrics are a huge part of the business and highly necessary to frame the action in the ring. The problem with stories like this specifically is that they’re nearly impossible to take seriously. This is why a lot of people still refer to pro-wrestling as soap operas for dudes.
The ridiculous part is that it isn’t the first time WWE has involved Lana and Rusev in a storyline like this. It’s at least the third. First, they broke Lana and Rusev up on screen, putting Lana in relationship with Dolph Ziggler and pairing Rusev with Summer Rae. Then, as part of the destruction of Rusev Day, Aiden English tried to destroy Lana and Rusev’s relationship by hitting on her in a hotel to prove she was unfaithful. The weird thing about that one was Aiden just wanted Lana off the team and wasn’t looking for a sexual relationship with her. He felt like she was ruining a good thing and wanted Rusev to be his buddy again.
The irony is that this new storyline proved Aiden right about her.
Despite Rusev being over with the fans as either a face or a heel, WWE keeps thinking that he needs this relationship nonsense to make him interesting. Rusev, Aiden and Lana had pure gold with the Rusev Day gimmick. Fans sang along with Aiden as he introduced them. They bought the team’s merch. Reputedly, the Rusev Day t-shirt was the WWE’s top selling shirt at one point. Fans wanted them to be tag champs. Instead, WWE broke them up with the previously mentioned awkwardness. To make matters worse, creative didn’t seem to have a plan for any of them post-Rusev Day.
When a wrestling fan sits down with a non-fan to watch whatever show is on that night, there is a lot of great stuff to get them hooked. Show them Private Party’s high-flying offence and they are amazed. Show them Braun Strowman throwing half the set at someone and they are stunned. Show them ‘The Fiend’ and they aren’t going to sleep for a week. If you show them some of the soap opera antics WWE has been putting on screens lately, everything they think about wrestling will be validated. The old complaint is that wrestling is fake. This kind of stuff is the part that’s fake, not the action in the ring.
WWE has a long history of this. Years ago, they ran with the Edge/Lita/Matt Hardy love triangle, another time where kayfabe got really blurry for everyone. Even after Matt Hardy was phased out of the storyline, the onscreen relationship between Lita and Edge continued. The story got to a point where they were about to have a Live Sex Celebration in the ring, which was thankfully broken up by Ric Flair. These segments got ratings but were unlikely to earn them any new fans or change any minds.
It’s important to note that what WWE is doing with Rusev, Lana and Lashley is not the same thing as what someone like Joey Ryan is doing. Joey is expanding the boundaries of wrestling in creative, interesting and, to some, divisive ways. He is certainly provocative, but it can’t be denied that he’s also unique. On the other, the current love triangle storyline is derivative and uninspired. All three of the superstars involved in it are capable of so much more.
The only way this current storyline turns into something interesting is if the WWE uses this opportunity to reunite Aiden English and Rusev. The fans are virtually guaranteed to get behind a Rusev Day reunion, something that could be great for the WWE as well as everyone involved.
WWE is constantly trying to bring in new fans. If not, they wouldn’t be involving someone like Tyson Fury the same way they have with other celebrities and sports stars in the past. If they want to be successful in that endeavour, they need to stop wasting good talent on played out, recycled storylines that offend the intelligence of the people watching them. They are capable of better and fans expect better.
So, as a company that makes wrestling programming, WWE needs to start showing fans that they get it and do better.
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