Probably the best thing to come out of the renewed tensions between Russia and the United States* has been the duo of Lana and Rusev.
*I can’t think of a second-best thing
For a whole year, Rusev and Lana were WWE’s Boris and Natasha, with Rusev as an undefeated, undefeatable, self-styled Hero of the Russian Federation…
…and Lana as a hard, stern, Soviet-era throwback in a skirt smaller than The Big Show’s elbow pad.
As Lana gained popularity, Vince McMahon decided that she needed to be the next Sable and the female face of the company, which meant she had to turn babyface and lose the hairy, ugly guy she happened to be dating and living with in real life.
Storyline tensions started to arise in the build-up to Wrestlemania 31, when John Cena used enhanced interrogation techniques on Rusev until Lana agreed to give him a U.S. title match.
Rusev didn’t appreciate Lana showing compassion and overstepping her authority, so he sent her home to shoot a WWE Film and replaced her with this Russian lawyer (whose accent was so transparently phony that the announcers were given an audible and told to bury him live on the air).
At Wrestlemania itself, Rusev was pushed into Lana, whose fall from the apron distracted the Bulgarian Brute and allowed him to fall prey to the Attitude Adjustment. The end of his undefeated streak led Rusev to ditch the injured Lana after the match.
Over the following weeks, Lana started to acknowledge her growing popularity and chants of “We Want Lana,” which Rusev resented.
The last straw for Rusev was when Lana begged the referee to stop his I Quit match to Cena after he submitted in Bulgarian.
On Raw, Rusev browbeat Lana for costing him his match and dumped her…
…so later on, Lana walked into the ring and, without saying a word, kissed Dolph Ziggler. Then she kissed him a second time because the fans wanted to watch them kiss again. Footage of the uncomfortable encounter became one of WWE’s most watched Youtube videos of all time…
…beating out all of those other videos of people kissing.
The next week, her apparent ex came to the ring wearing the colors of Bulgaria and made a plea to his woman. Rusev appeared to have mended his relationship with Lana until he asked her to admit she was wrong to have cost him the I Quit match, proving that he hadn’t changed at all: he was still pigheaded, domineering, and, frankly, pretty damn funny.
Lana responded by telling it like it was and slapping Rusev, proving at last that she was a strong Russian woman who didn’t need no man.
She immediately made out with Dolph Ziggler some more.
The storyline hit its first bump when Rusev broke his ankle at an ever-important WWE Main Event taping. Days later, a nearly catatonic Rusev told Byron Saxton that he was a broken man. Could it have been a sign of a babyface turn for the Bulgarian Brute, who had been cheered over Roman Reigns at that year’s Royal Rumble? It was hard not to feel sorry for him… unless you were JBL, who must say “Wah-wah!” at least once every Raw about a babyface with a legitimate grievance.
But then Rusev caused Lana to fall off the ramp and injure her ankle and laughed about…
…interrupted her painful (to the viewer) sit-down interview in her fake Russian accent with Michael Cole…
…then called her a stupid woman-cow, and suddenly JBL couldn’t help but feel for Sad Rusev.
After one Ziggler victory, Dolph (who was totally cool with Lana using him) exposed Lana’s bun and made out with her again for a really, really long time.
What, you didn’t believe me?
So incensed was Rusev that he threw his crutches down and stumbled to the floor.
Enter Summer Rae. Rusev sure wanted to.
The next week, Dolph and Lana decided to “go public” with their relationship, as if their extended make-out sessions on Raw hadn’t been a dead give-away. It was truly one of those romances that made one feel like a kid again. At least Dolph acted like a kid again, using the phrase, “smoking hot babe” in 2015.
Lana explained that Rusev had controlled every aspect of her life, from how she dressed to how she felt about America. (I’m guessing he also commanded her to address him only by his last name)
Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t it Rusev who moved to Lana’s country, waved her flag, put her country’s name on his tights, and pledged allegiance to her president, Vladimir Putin?
She and Dolph delivered a long, boring promo that got the “What” treatment about half-way through, with the pair declaring themselves, “very good friends,” “more than just friends,” “passionate,” and whatever other euphemisms they could think of to explain that they were having regular sex.
Rusev interrupted the PG sex talk to call Lana a “cold fish,” while Dolph challenged the one-legged man to an ass-kicking contest, kinda really sounding like a douchebag and garnering noticeable boos. Summer Rae then stood up for Rusev and slapped Lana, leading to a cat fight that finally got a pop from the audience.
Unfortunately, this segment would set the tone for the entire feud: un-likable, immature characters bickering, punctuated by girl-on-girl fan service brawls that WWE accidentally called, “finger-lickin’ good.”
The following week, Rusev said he was sorry for wasting a whole year on, and I quote, “that snake, blonde-headed witch of a Lana that calls herself woman.” If Rusev regretted his time with just that particular Lana, it made you wonder just how many Lanas were out there.
Douchebag Dolph arrived with Lana in tow to take some more pot-shots at the injured Rusev and make out with his ex right in front of him, knowing there was nothing he could do about it.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Rusev wasn’t injured anymore, beating up his smug tormentor. Boo?
Summer then kicked Lana to the sound of more boos, followed by cheers for some odd reason when she threw her out of the ring. Any guesses?
Just to make sure the fans knew who the bad guy was here, Rusev jammed Dolph’s throat into his crutch. It seemed that Rusev wanted to end not only their dispute over Lana, but Ziggler’s career and possibly life. While Dolph struggled to eat and speak for the next six weeks, he shot a WWE Film.
A Fish Called Lana
With Ziggler out of the picture, there was no one to undo Lana’s bun, which might explain how she ended up on TV like this:
Summer Rae then showed up dressed exactly like Lana, much to the delight of Rusev, who proved that he didn’t hate all Lanas, just the snake blonde-headed Lana who calls herself woman.
Rusev later rewarded Summer’s “obedience” with gifts in the form of this dog named, “Dog Ziggler”…
…and, in honor of the “cold fish” Lana, a dead fish with its head chopped off. “It’s a fish,” explained Rusev. “Take it. Take the fish.” See, what did I tell you about Rusev?
Lana came out to confront her replacement, which of course meant one thing:
Fish fight! I mean, cat fight!
Rusev chucked Lana the fish (that’s Lana #3, for those keeping count) clear out of the ring…
…while Summer Rae was devastated in a way only a woman who had just had her face rubbed into a dead fish could be devastated.
This would lead to another cat fight the next week, except with Summer Rae as the aggressor and The Accolade replacing a dead fish.
Lana and Summer took their shoes off for yet another cat fight the next week, with Summer Rae going down after a single slap. In unrelated news, the “Divas Revolution” was in full swing on Raw, with the announcers begging the audience to take women’s wrestling seriously.
Before Rusev could do any harm to Lana, Dolph Ziggler made his denim-filled return with an ugly studded jacket to clean house…
…and suck face with this bodacious babe-a-rino.
At Summerslam, Lana showed off her new outfit. “No more business suits for Lana!” said Cole, perhaps celebrating Lana’s newfound independence. “She’s in Ziggler-wear tonight!” Okay, no. I guess she figured that if Summer Rae was going to dress just like her, she was going to dress just like Dolph. All this feud needed now was for Dolph to dress like Rusev and Rusev to dress like Summer Rae.
The match itself between Rusev and Ziggler ended in a double-countout, but it also gave fans a chance to see two things they might never have seen before if they hadn’t watched Raw for two months, namely a slap…
…and a pull-apart cat fight. You’d think that Lana would have caught on by now that she was going to get into a fight every night, so maybe she shouldn’t wear impractical high heels to ringside.
Not even these high-heeled faux-sneakers.
Dolph and Rusev’s rematch the next week ended in a DQ, but instead of Lana and Summer Rae slapping each other and getting into a pull-apart cat fight, they got into a pull-apart cat fight with no slaps.
XYZ: eXamine Your Ziggler
To keep the feud from growing stale, WWE injected some good old-fashioned nudity into the drama, with Summer Rae walking into Dolph’s locker room while he showered and running out screaming moments later.
Dolph assured Lana that Summer only saw him naked for two seconds when he caught her in his locker room…
…but as Summer told it, Dolph had invited her into his locker room, started undressing in front of her, then took a shower and asked if she wanted to join in. Afterwards, he gave Summer “the look,” and only then did she realize that Ziggy was trying to seduce her. Even Mark from The Room was quicker on the uptake than Summer.
Summer Rae’s accusations mounted on Smackdown on Miz TV, leading to yet another catfight and Lana walking out on Dolph.
Cracks were beginning to appear, in a manner of speaking.
WWE recapped the recent penis-sighting with one of those reprehensible TMZ-style tabloid voiceovers.
Summer gave her Ru-Ru a very emotional but very detailed apology about kissing Dolph and seeing his tight, glistening naked body. Rusev graciously forgave her, even if she had “betrayed-ed” him.
But missing from the insanity was Lana, who had broken her hand while training for what could only be assumed to be a mixed tag match between the two pairs of adjacent corners in this love trapezoid.
Dolph Offers His Piece
Ziggy himself attempted to either apologize to Summer or stir stuff up with Rusev by coming down to ringside and giving her this gift. Perhaps it was a sardine.
Immediately after costing Rusev the match by making an apparent pass at this girlfriend, Dolph Ziggler blindsided the Bulgarian with a superkick, eliciting boos from the crowd. Ziggler was still the babyface, by the way.
After following an irate Rusev backstage, Summer Rae secretly (minus the millions of viewers watching at home) opened Dolph’s gift, which turned out to be diamond earrings. “You see, Dolph is just a bad person,” said JBL.
At this point, the overbearing chauvinist Rusev was dating the subservient Summer Rae, who made accusations of infidelity and invaded the privacy of the cocky Dolph Ziggler, who was now giving her inappropriate gifts and flirting with her on TV in full view of his injured girlfriend Lana, who was constantly making out with him to get back at Rusev.
At Night of Champions, a mishap with Summer Rae’s shoe cost Rusev his match against Ziggler…
…who now wore Lana’s face on his crotch much like Rick Rude wore Cheryl Roberts’s face on his crotch when feuding with Jake the Snake. Except, like, in a nice way.
Adding to the intrigue/utter confusion, Ziggler kissed Summer’s hand on the way out.
A Shocking Swerve…
In yet another left-field twist, Summer proposed to Rusev the following week on Raw. Rusev reluctantly accepted under the condition that she would have to help him win a title first. At last, this angle looked like it would pay off for Rusev, if for no one else.
…Right off a Cliff
Instead, the angle was dropped like a sack of dirt the following week when WWE announced that, per an article on TMZ the day before, Lana and Rusev had secretly been engaged for a month.
After Rusev, who had not lost a match in his first year, was beaten clean in three minutes by Ryback, Summer Rae publicly berated him for stringing her along while he got back together with Lana. The fans roundly booed Summer during her tirade except when she slapped Rusev, possibly because that was usually the prelude to a catfight. Particularly harsh was when she called him a bath turd.
What was the meaning behind this final swerve? Was it part of a larger plan to turn Rusev into a sympathetic babyface? No.
See, Lana had posted some photos on Instagram with a ring on her finger. In response, WWE first created yet another shocking twist to the storyline just to parody the backstage drama by having Summer propose to Rusev.
Then, management got word that TMZ was going to break the Rusev-Lana engagement story with some exclusive photos (because WWE itself had almost certainly leaked the story to the gossip site in the first place) and decided to put the kibosh on the whole angle.
And all this because of a few photos posted on Instagram. Apparently, Vince thought that the people subscribed to Lana’s Instagram account didn’t realize wrestling angles weren’t real, or else that TMZ readers, who already knew that Lana and Rusev had bought a house together, didn’t realize they were a real-life item.
Perhaps Lana didn’t realize that the McMahons were enforcing kayfabe anymore, seeing as how Stephanie McMahon went to the ESPY Awards that summer and threw away boatloads of money from a potential Wrestlemania program just so she could mug for the camera with her good friend Ronda Rousey. You know, the woman who famously roughed up and humiliated her and her husband at Wrestlemania 31 a few months earlier?
Welcome to the Reality Era, folks:
Where half the Divas division’s angles are booked around the goings-on of a cable TV reality show that openly portrays those angles as a work.
Where WWE itself produces at least a dozen programs for its Network that break kayfabe, including WWE 24, Ride Along, Unfiltered, Legends, Table for 3, and Breaking Ground, then promotes them in their fictional TV universe.
Where Triple H can be brutally beaten and sidelined for a month according to one WWE-produced wrestling show, but take an overseas flight three days later to cut a live promo for another WWE-produced wrestling show.
Where one minute, Raw viewers can see heels and faces mingling freely for publicity-driven charity events, and the next minute see them feuding in front of the live audience.
Where the bosses break character all the time on social media accounts that WWE publicizes every night, but when a lower-card talent’s photos subtly break kayfabe and are picked up by dirt sheets and/or a gossip site, suddenly the jig is up.
This was the moment that Lana, Rusev, and the entire “WWE Universe” found out that TMZ was more canonical than 90% of the official programming WWE puts out every week.
So who benefited from this angle?
Not Dolph Ziggler, the chump who learned that the woman who was just using him to get back at her ex was, in fact, just using him to get back at her ex. He apparently had nothing more to say to Rusev, the guy who secretly stole his girl.
Not Summer Rae, who was immediately moved from being joined at the hip to one man to being joined at the hip to another, Tyler Breeze. At least she still had the dog.
Not Rusev, who was moved into a stable of foreign mid-card heels, the League of Nations, named for the most disastrously ineffectual and impotent alliance of the 20th century. He appeared yet again to be on the verge of a face turn when he cost himself a match with Ryback to tend to an injured Lana, but WWE shifted gears as always the next week, putting his character in reverse, and then neutral.
And not Lana, who is back to being a heel, albeit one who is only on TV every few weeks, is rarely seen at ringside, and gets mic time only to explain that she is saving herself for marriage. So what exactly did Dolph Ziggler do with her that was so “passionate”? Read books together and talk about them?
Gee, who would have thought that creating another Sable would have worked out so poorly for WWE in the end?