At Royal Rumble 2014, the WWE Universe was first introduced to Rusev. Four-and-a-half years of Rusev Days later, the Bulgarian Brute receives his first WWE Championship match at Extreme Rules.
“I’m really, really looking forward to this match,” Rusev said. not just because it’s my first time competing for the heavyweight championship, but because the reputation that AJ Styles has. For years he’s been known as one of the best in the world. I’m really comfortable in my skills that I know I’m one of the best in the world as well. I would love to go head-to-head and finally face him and show to the world that I’m actually as good as I know I am.”
While the Extreme Rules clash with Styles will be Rusev’s first world title opportunity, it’s far from his first high-profile match.
Rusev wrestled John Cena for the United States Championship at WrestleMania 31 – where he rode to the ring on an armoured tank. He battled Triple H at a WWE live event in Santiago, Chile. Most recently, Rusev travelled to Saudi Arabia for WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble where he faced the legendary Undertaker in The Phenom’s signature match: a Casket Match.
“It was actually something that I never expected to happen, and when I was told that I really laughed at Vince,” Rusev said. “When he told me I’m going to face The Undertaker, I laughed at him. I did not expect this match. It’s definitely a dream come true. I’ve been watching The Undertaker since he first debuted and he’s one of the greatest WWE Superstars of all time. It was a great opportunity for me and for my résumé and just for my confidence to know that I can hang there with anybody in the ring.”
And yet, it almost didn’t happen. Shortly after the Greatest Royal Rumble Casket Match was announced, Rusev’s popularity soared and WWE officials had second thoughts. It took intervention from the royal family, Rusev says, to ensure Saudi Arabia could experience Rusev Day for themselves.
“There are so many different rumours but it’s just that I was supposed to face [The Undertaker], and it was advertised, but then seeing how people were reacting to Rusev Day, and everybody was so behind it, I guess that caught [Vince McMahon] a little bit off guard and he thought maybe better not to. So then it was changed to Jericho but then the prince called and said, ‘Hey Vince, you promised Rusev, I want Rusev, I don’t need no frickin’ Jericho!’ so I was back in the match.”
The royal family isn’t Rusev’s only support system. The Bulgarian Brute acknowledges he couldn’t be where he is today without his wife, and fellow WWE Superstar, Lana.
“I learn from her a lot and I’m sure that she does from me at the same time in the ring. She’s been very important from day one. I don’t know where Rusev and Rusev Day would have been without Lana.”
Rusev, Lana, and Aiden English – collectively known as Ravishing Rusev Day – have soared in popularity throughout 2018. And with a Gauntlet Match victory over some of the top WWE Superstars on SmackDown, the stars have finally aligned for Rusev to challenge AJ Styles at Extreme Rules.
“I want him to know I’m ready, I’m coming, “Rusev said. “He likes to say this is the house that AJ Styles built, which is the most absurd quote he can ever have – SmackDown was here way before him, SmackDown will be here way after him – I’m going to prove that by tearing his little house down. I’m going to throw him on the street and it’s going to become my house, my mansion, so be ready, AJ.”
WWE Extreme Rules airs live on Sky Arena and WWE Network on Monday, July 16, from 11am NZST.