Wrestlemania XXXI Preview – United States Championship: Rusev vs John Cena

One of the great surprises in all of wrestling over the last year has been the tremendous improvement of Rusev. I was a major detractor of Rusev back when he was in NXT. I thoroughly enjoyed his NXT debut match against Dolph Ziggler, but felt that he quickly grew tiresome. His athleticism and build were always impressive, but his moveset was limited and his ring psychology was questionable at best.

Ever since Rusev and Lana moved up to the main roster, the formerly Bulgarian Brute’s stock has skyrocketed for a multitude of reasons. For one, his undefeated streak has been booked well. WWE has made his infallibility into a believable narrative, and it’s never gotten to the point where I’m rolling my eyes and saying, “Enough already!”

Secondly, Rusev himself has improved exponentially in the ring. His wonderfully agile superkicks and spinning heel kicks are a treat to watch, and his ring psychology is now decidedly above-average. Of course, it would be foolish to disregard the influence of Lana on Rusev’s success. Lana has risen to the upper echelon of wrestling managers in her year on the main roster, as her goofy fake accent and fabulous sense of timing have gone a long way toward getting both herself and Rusev over.

One mystery revolving around this match is Lana, and whether she will even appear. In kayfabe, Rusev is upset with her for accepting the match with John Cena in the first place. In real life, she’s off filming a movie for WWE Studios. I strongly believe that Lana will appear at Wrestlemania, but her role is a major question mark, in a good way.

How about that, I managed to get into the fourth paragraph of a John Cena Wrestlemania match preview without mentioning the man himself! For as much as the CENAWINSLOL trope is tired — and perhaps a touch outdated — the fact remains that I will be shocked to see Cena lose this match.

I can see a few different ways to do this without damaging Rusev too much. For one thing, an undefeated streak can only last so long before you have to let the wrestler see what he can do with his actual gimmick. Here’s two options that I think would be palatable ways for Cena to break Rusev’s undefeated streak, without damaging him too much in kayfabe: Either Rusev passes out in the STF (much like Rusev’s tougher opponents have passed out in The Accolade), or Lana throws in the towel — a classic finish that we haven’t seen in quite some time, and one that would further develop the Rusev/Lana tension.

Here’s what I don’t want to see from this match: AA, kickout, STF, rope break, AA, pinfall. Here’s another thing I don’t want to see: STF, Rusev taps. Those types of losses really could do some serious long-term damage to Rusev’s credibility, and would enhance Cena’s reputation as the guy who always goes over clean against promising young talent. Here’s hoping WWE is smart enough not to go that route.

Regardless of the circumstances, I believe we see Cena walk out of Wrestlemania holding the first belt he ever captured: The United States Championship.