Rusev: Five potential opponents for newly-crowned United States champion
By Abel Morton
Last Updated: 30/12/18 11:30am
The Bulgarian Brute, Rusev, sent WWE fans around the world into overdrive when he captured his third United States championship from Shinsuke Nakamura on the Christmas edition of SmackDown last week.
The leader of 'Rusev Day' won't be short of worthy contenders as one of the most popular competitors on Tuesday nights and a man capable of capturing the imagination of the crowd.
We take a look at five possible superstars who could challenge him for his newly won US crown...
Andrade "Cien" Almas
Rusev vs Almas for the US title has money written all over it. Two outstanding in-ring performers who would no doubt have stellar bouts should this mouth-watering encounter come to fruition.
After taking SmackDown by storm following his arrival from NXT in April, Almas has not recently been getting the much-needed showcase that his undeniable talent warrants. When Rey Mysterio returned to WWE last October a collision course with Almas seemed inevitable but as of yet this has not happened.
Almas and Rusev have already locked horns in the past, in a brief program capped off with a mixed-tag match at SummerSlam which included Rusev's wife Lana and Almas' business associate Zelina Vega.
A rivalry over the US title could now do wonders for Almas.
A case could be made for Shelton Benjamin being the most underutilised superstar in WWE. Benjamin is as talented as they come - a world-renowned performer who has earned the respect from the many performers he has shared the ring with.
Yet since being on SmackDown, Benjamin has yet to get the opportunity to properly sink his teeth into a feud and showcase just why he is so well respected by his fellow peers.
A former US champion in his own right, this could be the perfect opportunity for Benjamin to receive much-needed TV time and add a second US crown to an already impressive resume.
It remains to be seen which brand 'The Freak' Lars Sullivan will debut on and unleash his venomous array of brute strength on the sorry souls that he believes deserves to be on the receiving end of his wrath.
Weekly video vignettes hyping up his imminent arrival onto the main roster from NXT would make you believe that Sullivan will be heading right to the top upon his arrival.
So what better way to make an impact than to test his wits against Rusev and seek championship gold on his first couple of months on the blue brand.
When Jeff Hardy gave Samoa Joe a dose of reality on SmackDown last week, 'The Samoan Submission Machine' was visibly mentally bruised.
Hardy reminded Joe that he is yet to win a title on his two years on the main roster. And while that's a fact it was certainly hard to believe given Joe's talent. His failure to capture the WWE title from then-champion AJ Styles during the course of last year may revitalise Joe to now target being the champion of the United States once his personal feud with Hardy is all said and done.
Samoa Joe as US champion will be a feather in the cap for the master of the Coquina Clutch - Joe walking around calling himself the champion of the USA would make for great in-ring promo and a fresh match-up with Rusev would provide for some hard-hitting and entertaining encounters.
Like Lars Sullivan, we wait to see which brand EC3 will land on. His brash, confident and flamboyant personality already has signs for a match made in heaven on the main roster even though he didn't have the greatest of spells on NXT.
As a babyface on NXT, EC3 had the crowd fully behind him but you just got the sense that in order for him to reach the next level, his character feels like it would be more suited as a heel and that's where a feud with Rusev comes into play.
EC3's braggadocio style will not only draw serious disdain for the WWE audience but will make for one of the most interesting US title feuds in recent memory.