For the second time in four years, WWE finds itself gearing up for a massive WrestleMania in New Orleans with a creative problem on its hands: An act never expected to get as over is suddenly demanding the attention of management.
In 2014, Daniel Bryan rode a wave of momentum and fan adulation to the top of the card. Never originally intended to be the star around whom the show was built, he became the centerpiece of that year's extravaganza.
While not yet over to that extent, or even remotely close to the main event scene, Rusev finds himself thriving on the back of the fan excitement surrounding his Rusev Day shtick, a gimmick that will force WWE Creative's hand and generate sustainable momentum for the Bulgarian Brute on The Road to WrestleMania.
Bryan had longtime indy credibility on his side when he first popped up in WWE. He was respected for his antics in armories, high schools and other smaller-scale arenas before he laced up a pair of boots for Vince McMahon's company.
His hard work, dedication and in-ring ferocity earned him the respect of the audience while the YES! gimmick was the cherry on top of a package the WWE Universe was eager to buy into.
Conversely, Rusev was a performer whose work diehards had always respected. Despite his size, he was fast and agile, a super athlete the likes of which rarely come about. His foreign heel character, though, had been done to death and handcuffed his natural charisma.
Then came a losing streak, a seemingly thrown-together pairing with Aiden English and the genesis of the Rusev Day act.
So over-the-top in its ridiculous and rich in comedic potential, it struck a nerve with audiences, and suddenly, Rusev found himself on the receiving end of "Rusev Day" chants in arenas across the country.
Now it can be argued Rusev Day is the most over gimmick in WWE, with chants and merchandise filling the stands, a sign of respect for a performer for whom the audience had been looking for a reason to cheer.
Even as his popularity grew and the decision was made to mold a sympathetic underdog out of Bryan, management initially refused to go all-in with the Aberdeen, Washington, native.
He was replaced by Big Show and then the returning Batista until the vocal backlash from audiences was so loud and passionate WWE had no choice but to elevate Bryan to the top of the card and tell the inspirational story so many had been championing for months.
Initially, the explosive of fan fervor surrounding Rusev Day went unrewarded by WWE Creative.
Tuesday's episode of SmackDown Live, though, brought with it the first hint of a push for the Superstar, as he earned a United States Championship opportunity against Bobby Roode by way of a victory over Zack Ryder, Kofi Kingston and Jinder Mahal.
If handled correctly, even in the wake of defeat, Rusev can come out of the title match hotter and more popular than he was before he went in.
Particularly if he is treated like Roode's equal rather than the challenger of the week.
Looking Toward the Future
WWE finds itself in a precarious position.
It enters WrestleMania without any substantial plans for Rusev, or so it would seem. But the more he is featured on television, the more fans will champ at the proverbial bit to see him pushed harder and more substantially than before.
The more the company teases fans with the gimmick they have fallen head over heels for, the greater the desire to see it succeed will be.
And like Bryan some four years ago, WWE management will find itself in a situation wherein it created a monster and must feed it rather than shoving it aside and hoping excitement and love for the character dissipates.