WWE superstar Rusev was interviewed by Bulgarian show At Cafe where he shed light on his experience transitioning as a journeyman worker to eventually working as a professional wrestler in WWE. The interview was conducted last month before WWE Super ShowDown. Thanks to Chris George for the transcription.
Rusev began his journey in a work and travel exchange program through his college in order to begin taking his first steps in America.
“I went there when I was 20,” Rusev said. “I signed up in the European College [in Plovdiv] and I wanted to go to the work and travel exchange program and I had the desire to go there and become a wrestler since I was a kid. I was focused on that and I was also very fluent in English. It used to be very expensive to take part in the [work and travel] program, some loans were taken and friends helped. It was hard but thanks to God and all of the friends that I have found myself in America.”
“We were 15 people in the [work and travel] program,” Rusev said. “We were living together in a big house. We painted houses. After a month they thought that I was not good at it and despite my contract being for four months, they kicked me out from the house. They told me [I had] thirty minutes to pack my bags. And I didn’t know anybody in America apart from two people I worked with, these guys were cool…[I had] 100 dollars! Rich man!”
Rusev went on to tell how he traveled from Virginia to California to further his work career. It was in Los Angeles where Rusev began making connections with people who would help solidify his foundation in America.
“I started cleaning stores,” Rusev said. “We removed flooring, cleaned it and replaced it. After that I worked at Wendy’s, I made sandwiches, I quit after 2 weeks. I can’t have seven managers and two workers hanging over my head. After that a friend of mine moved to Los Angeles. [And I thought] Hollywood, Los Angeles, it has wrestling, it has everything. And we set off from Richmond, Virginia with a old car, model 1988, red on the inside, red on the outside, amazing. And then, four days later we arrived in Los Angeles, California. And then Svilen Nikolov, a man I didn’t know then, who would later become my best man, accepted us into his home until we adapted.
“[My friend and I] started with a Bulgarian construction company,” Rusev said. “As you can [guess], strong boys, we can’t just wait for the perfect job. So we slowly we worked our way up. We rented our own apartment. After that he quit, I did as well, and went to be a welder, then again worked in construction, I delivered pizzas, then delivered food at another place. [I also worked] in a striptease club, they took me for my good looks. After that I delivered some parts for boilers. All kinds of work, you name it.”
Speaking about how he arrived at his Bulgarian Brute character, Rusev credits taking aspects of inside jokes with his friends combined with elements of Rocky films as how he developed into the Rusev character viewers see on television.
“[WWE] gives you an option to submit names you like,” Rusev said. “And I was thinking about it. Then to make a joke with my friend Vasil, Vasil Rusev, who I used to share a rowing boat with, I chose Rusev. And I was Alexander Rusev with Alexander later being dropped. I liked Alexander because it sounded [mighty] and Bulgarian. But then it got dropped because Vince Mcmahon said ‘Ugh, Alexander, they’ll start calling you Alex as a nickname and you have to be a Russian/Bulgarian villain, we’re dropping it’.
“I made [the catchphrase ‘Rusev udrya, Rusev machka’] myself. Our character, mine and Lana’s, that we present in the ring was very [inspired] by Rocky IV, we took a lot from there. And I remember a scene where Rocky’s trainer says that whatever Drago hits, he destroys. And I was thinking how something similar can work for me. And one day we had to record it in studio and that’s when ‘Rusev udrya, Rusev machka’ was born.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit At Cafe with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Chris George contributed to this article.