One of pro wrestling’s most used tropes is that of the dissolution of a friendship. Best friends make bitter enemies, as we’ve seen with Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, Seth Rollins and The Shield, and Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa. But as we all painfully experienced last year with the Festival of Friendship and the break-up of Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho, a slow turn, with just the right moment, can be far more heartbreaking than kicking your partner through a barbershop window. And will last year’s Festival of Friendship had all the pomp and circumstance (literally and figuratively), a small vignette involving Rusev, Lana and Aiden English seemed to lay the groundwork for another one, with its own heartbreaking moment of subtle reality.
After showing a couple seconds of two road buddies bonding and having a good time backstage, Aiden English leaves Rusev alone where he is soon joined by his wife, Lana. For the first time on WWE television not called Total Divas, Lana dropped her Russian accent and spoke sternly to her husband. She called her husband out on his recent success and popularity, but pointed out that “something was holding him back”. As Rusev seemed oblivious to Lana’s meaning, he asked “What could be holding me back?” And in perfect Hollywood storytelling, English re-entered the camera shot to reclaim something he’d left, with Lana just smiling at her husband.
The drop of the accent was no accident. It added an authority and seriousness to Lana’s words, as if she was actually talking to him as his wife CJ rather than Lana. She brought up how popular Rusev Day was, and brought up his match with The Undertaker – while many still consider it a literal burial match, keep in mind that he was one of less the 10 wrestlers on a card with over 70 who actually got to have his own singles match, and it was with The Undertaker. This was a big deal. And while the world has finally come to marvel and admire Rusev’s comedic timing, both on Social Media and on camera (as well as on Total Bellas or Southpaw Regional Wrestling), we all kinda want him to be just a little more fierce than farce. And sadly, as long as he’s 100% full blown Rusev Day, he can never be much more badass than he is now. Because, like Lana said, something is indeed holding him back.
There’s no way they’re cancelling Rusev Day any time soon. The merch has become one of 2018’s top money makers for the WWE, the crowd are chanting “RUSEV DAY” like it was “YES!” in 2016, and Lana is still an incredibly popular character, both live and on Social Media. Nothing about that needs to change. But in order for him to get some of his mean streak back is if he ditches the sidekick. As long as the king has a court jester, he’ll be distracted from the actual war. He can still remain the fun, arrogant, buffoon who mows his lawn on Instagram that we now know and love, but he can unleash it now without having to worry about a sidekick whose singing would only cheapen the beast.
It may not be next Tuesday. It was not be the Tuesday after that. But another Festival of Friendship is coming. The WWE is about to give the fans exactly what they want – a Rusev push, the continued ride of Rusev Day, and Lana to finally drop that Russian accent – but it’s going to come with a heavy price. The sacrifice of Aiden English.
And on Rusev Day no less.