The Soviet Union may have collapsed more than two decades ago, and yet somehow the Bulgarian Brute Rusev and his wife, Lana, have been keeping the Red Scare alive in WWE since they debuted in 2013. Rusev is legitimately Bulgarian, while Lana is a Florida native who spent many of her teenage years in Latvia, making their ties to the former Soviet Union genuine if still anachronistic. The more important piece of verisimilitude is that the pair have actually been a couple in real life pretty much from the start of their onscreen alliance, and they made it official by becoming husband and wife in July of 2016. Rusev and Lana create a unique union even among their fellow WWE superstars since company executives paired them up, only for a very real romance to blossom almost immediately.
The even stranger part is that Vince McMahon apparently went on to change his mind about the whole thing once they started getting serious, even going so far as to attempt to separate them onscreen just as Rusev started thinking about asking Lana to walk down the aisle. Obviously, Lana said yes to Rusev, and love conquered Vince McMahon’s will, leading to some interesting things happening to Lana and Rusev’s careers in WWE. Outside of what happens in the ring, Lana and Rusev have proven to be a pretty dynamic couple with bizarre and yet fantastic interests, making their relationship one that fans should have a blast reading about. Despite their ups and downs on television, the pair seem to perfectly gel in the real world, leading to some memorable moments and incredible stories that show a softer side of the Bulgarian Brute and his Russian Princess. Check out our list of the 15 things you never knew about Rusev and Lana’s marriage, and see what has been keeping this pair together all these years.
15. Lana Wasn’t Rusev’s First
Like most foreign stars who make their way to WWE, Rusev has rarely not been constantly paired with Anglophone managers to do his talking for him lest his pesky accent get in the way of fans understanding what he has to say. In fact, Rusev was getting paired up with random managers since before he even signed with Vince McMahon, working with a manager named, Markus Mac, while he worked for Vendetta Pro Wrestling in California. The managers kept coming when he entered the WWE Universe, first entering the ring with future WWE diva, Raquel Diaz, in Florida Championship Wrestling. Rusev switched things up and started being accompanied by Nick Rogers, only to switch things up again when FCW became NXT, and start hanging out with Sylvester Lefort. His connection with Lefort even briefly brought Rusev into the tag division, where he teamed up with Scott Dawson as The Fighting Legionnaires. It was shortly after this tag team dissipated that Rusev began his connection with Lana, who unlike her future husband, had virtually no experience whatsoever in wrestling at the time when they were paired up.
14. Lana Debuted As Rusev’s Manager
Now more than ever, male and female WWE superstars are hooking up at an incredible rate. This isn’t anything new, nor is the phenomenon any different from typical interoffice dating, which has become more commonplace and acceptable as the world evolves to meet the realities of modern romance. The difference between Lana and Rusev and the majority of the WWE couples is that while most of them start backstage, while Lana and Rusev were paired up onscreen from the very beginning of Lana’s career. Lana debuted in NXT as Rusev’s manager, after he had failed to show any strong connection with the aforementioned slew of representatives he had tried his hand at doing business with. Rusev and Lana instantly connected with fans on a level significantly greater than Rusev had ever been capable of doing alone or with his previous alliances, and rumors almost immediately started swirling that their connection might have extended towards real life, as well. It would be a few years until things were confirmed, but chances are it didn’t take long before Rusev and Lana were feeling thankful about their career paths aligning.
13. Their Pairing Was Based On Rocky IV
Some of the greatest WWE gimmicks have been based on classic films, and Rusev and Lana can be listed among the best imitation of this kind. The couple was intended to draw comparisons to Rocky IV, specifically the evil Russian characters Ivan and Ludmilla Vobet Drago. Rusev’s status as a native Bulgarian definitely influenced the decision, although Lana is a far cry from Brigitte Nielsen. Despite some critics claiming that Rocky IV wasn’t up to snuff with the rest of the series, it nevertheless earned its classic status by becoming the biggest financial success of the bunch, and the irredeemable and well-written villains were a big part of why the film connected with the public as strongly as it did. What Lana and Nielsen lack in physical resemblance they make up for in character similarities, as it was really Lana’s strengths on the microphone that elevated Rusev from being a boilerplate foreign monster to a fully fleshed character prepared to turn into a star. Unlike in the movie, Lana has yet to leave Rusev for the director.
12. They’re The Only Couple To Win Best Gimmick
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter has arguably been the most trusted publication in wrestling since it began publication in 1980. The Observer is famous for its second to none coverage of the behind-the-scenes happenings throughout the wrestling world, and also the popular and opinionated critiques of magazine founder, Dave Meltzer. In addition to sterling reporting, Meltzer and his magazine have also awarded annual best of awards for excellence in various wrestling fields, including an award for the Best Gimmick. In 2014, Rusev and Lana became the first ever couple to win the award, presented to them for their portrayal of “Russian nationalists.” Not only were they the first and only couple to win the award but as of 2016, Lana also happens to be the only woman to have won the award in any capacity, as well as the only manager who has yet to be singled out in this manner. Coincidentally, Rusev also won Most Improved the same year the two won recognition as a couple. Unfortunately, they started to receive backlash from their coworkers and employers in spite of these acknowledgements from the wrestling press.
11. They Created Controversy By Praising Putin
Even though the Cold War has been over for decades, relations are still a little shaky between the United States and Russia. Rusev might be Bulgarian in reality, but he and Lana have long portrayed Russians on television, even going so far as to dedicate their victories to Russian President, Vladimir Putin. At the July 2014 Battleground Pay-Per-View, only three days after the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down, Lana may have taken things too far when she claimed the United States was responsible for certain global issues (which many reporters assumed was a reference to the plane crash). WWE responded to the criticism by pointing out that Rusev and Lana had already been an onscreen couple for more than three months prior to the incident, and argued that Lana was neither directly nor indirectly referring to the plane crash with what she said. Of course, the real issue is that even without Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disappearing, it remains a hot button issue to have people praising Putin on American television.
10. WWE Tried To Break Them Up
There have been certain points in history when the WWE rumor mill was spinning out of control, and yet it’s still pretty rare for the company to try and flat out ruin their employee’s personal lives. Based on multiple insider reports (despite the company putting Lana and Rusev together in the first place), Vince McMahon never quite understood how a beautiful blonde like Lana would be attracted to a brutish monster like Rusev. Contrary to McMahon’s perception, the relationship was kicking into high gear in 2015, and was reaching a point where it seemed like Rusev would soon propose. Rather than celebrate his employee’s love, McMahon chose this same moment to have the couple start showing signs of dissension onscreen, ultimately culminating with Lana leaving Rusev for Dolph Ziggler. It wasn’t long before Rusev rebounded with Summer Rae, and the loving couple was forced to feud against one another in the ring at the same time they were falling in love in the real world. This angle went a long way towards killing Rusev’s momentum.
9. Their Onscreen Split Was The Worst
Rolling Stone magazine has long been one of the most respected publications in music and entertainment since the 1960s, and the legendary magazine has recently started covering pro wrestling along with many other diverse topics. In 2014, Rolling Stone made a list of their favorite and least favorite WWE moments of the year, and the worst of the worst was Rusev and Summer Rae feuding Lana and Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler was injured during the feud, and the focus quickly shifted to Summer Rae, who drained all of the potential out of Rusev and turned him into a docile mid-carder for the few weeks that they were together. The feud was an attempt by WWE executives to actually split up Lana and Rusev in real life, but it didn’t work and the two were officially engaged the same time Rusev was supposed to be courting Summer on TV. The result was yet another sign that Vince McMahon didn’t approve of their relationship, and ultimately Summer Rae broke up with Rusev and ran down his character with no retaliation.
8. They Own A Huge House In Tennessee
The cliché might claim first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes happy Russians with a baby carriage, but the cute rhyme leaves out the very important middle step where couples buy their first home together. Rusev and Lana took this step in March of 2015, when they purchased a four-bedroom $644,000 house in Nashville, Tennessee. The couple was dating for just under two years at the time they made the purchase, and with very few references to the relationship having been made onscreen or in news reports, buying the house was in many ways the public declaration of Rusev and Lana’s relationship. It was shortly after the duo bought their house that WWE started trying to break them up, and their mini-mansion probably should have been a sign playing around with their emotions on television wasn’t going to be quite enough to separate them in the real world. Lana and Rusev’s home reportedly includes a full-sized basketball court, a hot tub, and a pond, amongst plenty of other impressive high class accouterments.
7. Lana Took Time Off And Returned When They Were Engaged
The saga of Lana and Rusev getting punished by their company for daring to date one another at least has a happy ending, as the pair’s separation and feud with new lovers was dropped almost instantly after their engagement was announced. TMZ reported that Rusev popped the question and Lana said yes on October 11, 2015, and Summer Rae gave her infamous breakup speech only one day later. Lana and Rusev were mostly taken off television in the immediate wake of their relationship, returning to WWE a few months later and no longer putting on airs about the extent of their connection. Lana disappeared for a few months while Rusev joined the heavily criticized League Of Nations, which probably wasn’t great for the couple, but at least they were no longer being forced to fight with one another. Lana was kept off television with a string of kayfabe and real injuries, and she finally returned to Rusev’s side on a permanent basis once the League ran its course.
6. Lana Was Punished For Marrying Rusev Via A Segment With The Rock
WWE doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to treating their minority workers with full equality, nor has the company exhibited a great deal of respect towards women until very recently. Although women have gradually started receiving more of a fair shake in the wrestling industry, certain remnants of sexism remain. This was made evident when Lana and Rusev were “punished” for defying WWE and getting engaged when they were supposed to be feuding after a break up on television. Lana disappeared for several months after the engagement was announced, only to suddenly reappear for a backstage segment with The Rock in early 2016. The segment was shockingly misogynistic and alarmingly pointless, consisting mostly of The Rock talking about the wild and crazy sex he and Lana allegedly had, while Lana tried her best not to look awkward and offended that her employers would put her through something like this so soon after her relationship with Rusev went public. Considering there was no retaliation from Rusev or even any point to the interaction at all, many insiders took it as further punishment for Lana daring to actually fall in love with Rusev.
5. They Raced Scooby-Doo Directly To Video
Scooby Doo and the gang have solved more mysteries and crimes than any other dog-based investigation team, so perhaps it was only a matter of time before they started solving pro wrestling crimes. The first was appropriately titled Scooby Doo! WrestleMania Mystery, and was released in 2014. Two years later a sequel was released, called Scooby-Doo and WWE: Curse of the Speed Demon. Both films featured dozens of cameos from WWE superstars, the second of which revolved around superstars competing in the inaugural Muscle Moto X Off Road Challenge, a team-based race with a massive cash prize. Rusev and Lana served as one of the teams competing in the race, calling themselves Team Russia and driving the infamous Moscow Express. Unfortunately, WWE once again attempted to break Lana and Rusev up, and in the film, the duo found even stranger bedfellows than in WWE. Rusev kept the Moscow Express, which he started driving with The Miz as his partner, while Lana took The Miz’s former partner Paige and took his car, the 2 Awesome.
4. They Had A Cameo In Countdown
As WWE Studios slowly but surely continues to grow successful in its own right, more and more wrestlers have been trying their hand at acting in WWE films. Racing against Scooby-Doo was one thing, although as a trained actress prior to her time in WWE, Lana longed to be involved in more than simple animated films. Lana appeared in minor roles in Pitch Perfect, American Hustle, and the TV series Banshee, all prior to becoming a wrestler. As far as WWE Studios, Lana also made a cameo in the Dolph Ziggler-starring Countdown. Rusev and Lana appeared in the film in roles very similar to their wrestling characters, both of whom interrupted Ziggler’s narcotics officer in his attempt at saving a kidnapped child. Not long after Countdown was released, Lana also starred in the WWE Studios film, Interrogation, opposite WWE Hall of Famer and former World Champion, Edge. Rusev does not appear in Lana’s first starring vehicle, but there’s always the possibility as the two earn more significant film roles that they may one day bring the other along for the ride.
3. Their Wedding Reception Was A Circus
Destination weddings are the best way to ensure your friends and family are going to enjoy themselves throughout the entire experience, and Lana and Rusev not only found one of the most creative destinations for a wedding imaginable, but they also went the extra step in reversing the trope by bringing the location to them. Lana and Rusev actually had two wedding ceremonies, the first of which was a lavish beachside affair, attended by friends, family, and an entire circus. There were elephants, games, clowns, big tops and everything you would expect to see at a regular circus. There was also the added bonus of a wedding taking place at the start of the show. The happy couple made sure to have their circus by the Pacific Ocean for added effect, allowing them the sort of unique fun only available at the greatest show on Earth and the private, romantic experience of a quiet walk on the beach all in the same night. Most amazing of all, the circus wedding still managed to be the less extravagant of their two ceremonies.
2. They Had A Second Wedding Ceremony In Bulgaria
It’s pretty hard to top a wedding with live elephants and balloon animals, which is why Rusev and Lana felt the need to take a trip halfway around the world in order to do so. Granted, the real reason for the trek was an opportunity to visit Rusev’s homeland of Bulgaria, where he and his wife celebrated their second wedding ceremony. Lana described the second ceremony as “very traditional” and “very Bulgarian,” although the pictures released to WWE.com after the event would seem to imply “very fun” was the real adjective at play. Prior to the ceremony, Lana converted to Rusev’s family religion at a Bulgarian monastery, perhaps a small sign of just how serious she was being about the word “traditional.” Lana also explained her philosophy towards her wedding was to go big or go home, which is probably how they justified going all the way to Rusev’s hometown of Plovdiv when they wanted to confirm their marriage for a second time.
1. Plenty Of WWE Superstars Attended Both Weddings
WWE is just like every other successful company in that many of the employees of Vince McMahon’s empire see themselves as one big happy family. Couples like Rusev and Lana are merely the tip of the iceberg in terms of this camaraderie, with the full extent of these friendships revealing themselves at weddings like theirs. Dozens of WWE superstars made the treks to both the circus and Bulgarian wedding, with names like The Bella Twins, Natalya Neidhart, Naomi, Jimmy Uso, Renee Young, and Maryse, all having been spotted in the wedding photos. Natalya and Naomi were actually involved in the second wedding at least, where they served as two of Lana’s bridesmaids. We imagine just about anybody would be happy to take the trip to a beachside circus, but the WWE superstars who traveled all the way to Bulgaria really said something about how much they care for one another. Perhaps more importantly, it remains as proof that love can indeed conquer all, and that despite WWE trying to break Lana and Rusev up, their closest friends refused to tow the company line in that respect.