A little more than one year ago, WWE signed then-22-year-old Lio Rush from the independent circuit, another in a long line of travel-sized daredevils that picked up the nuances of the business in seemingly record time. But that's not to say that Rush is simply a face among the crowd. Fans of Ring of Honor, EVOLVE, and Combat Zone Wrestling, among other reputable promotions, learned very quickly that Rush is at least a cut or two above the ordinary performer - and at his young age, that's quite alarming.
Now paired with the brawnier Lashley, Rush has a plum spot on WWE's flagship show, while also maintaining residence on 205 Live, where he's able to demonstrate his cultured physical grace. There's much to learn about WWE's young sensation, as though his life in wrestling is only a few years old, he's already made an indelible mark.
10. Sporting Chances
Rush would be far from the first wrestler to have a background in sports in their youth. Many of today's Performance Center hopefuls have been culled from sports such as weightlifting, volleyball, and even both forms of football. Even those who have wrestled for years built their base on sports during their formative years, and Rush is no exception.
As a young man, Rush played baseball, football, and basketball, but admitted in a 2016 interview with SLAM! Wrestling that the squared circle life held much more appeal for him. He said about the appeal of wrestling, in part: "I liked how there was so much attention focused on one person rather than a team, so I always had it in my mind that I wanted to do that."
9. All-American Made
Rush didn't just play team sports in his younger days. He also took up amateur wrestling as a teenager, and it was his viewership of WWE that steered him in that direction. At that age, Rush wasn't sure exactly what it took to become a pro wrestler, but he remembered hearing WWE announcers extol the amateur wrestling credentials of Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, and others. Logically, Rush figured that path might possibly bear fruit.
In an ESPN.com interview: Rush discusses his progression in the amateur field, going from National Prep in year one, to qualifying for state in his second year, to earning All-American status in year three. Having such a gifted and well-honed athletic base would only serve Rush well in his future days.
8. WONDERFUL Advice
As a young man seeking the right road to professional wrestling success, Rush had a chance to pick the brain of a cemented veteran and star of the industry, who told him that he needed to eat, sleep, and breathe professional wrestling, to make it the absolute focal point of his life. Rush would admit that by doing that, he's been able to succeed at the level that he's at today.
The wrestler that Rush received that advice from is his current Raw brand co-inhabitant, Matt Hardy. Rush went so far as to turn down collegiate opportunities based on his amateur wrestling prowess, because pro wrestling was his sole focus, and it was all he wanted to do with his life. Seeing as Rush is on WWE's main roster today, it's certainly worked out to this point.
7. False Move
There's commitment, and then there's commitment with an emphasis. In Rush's case, he was so committed to following the wrestling dream that after his high school graduation in 2013, he made the decision to move from his home in Maryland down to Orlando. That's because he learned about WWE's brand-new Performance Center, and figured if he was going to go all the way, he needed to get in with the state of the art training facility of wrestling's premier company.
Rush moved to Orlando with all of his possessions in tow, only to learn something quite disheartening: the Performance Center didn't take walk-ons, especially those with no prior wrestling experience. Slightly humbled by the experience, Rush packed up everything he had and moved back home to Maryland, which is no short trip via ground. But the wrestling goal did not die there.
6. Dream Team
Ultimately, Rush would link up with the MCW Training Center in Joppa, MD, which is run in conjunction with the Maryland Championship Wrestling that would break Rush into the business. The school was convenient for Rush, in that it was not only close to home, but also re-opened after a long period of dormancy, so the timing was just right.
The individual who turned Rush onto the MCW Training Center was his friend and fellow MCW alumnus Patrick Clark, who you know better today as NXT's resident charisma machine Velveteen Dream. Rush and Dream would actually form a tag team called Sudden Impact, partnering up until Clark was formally signed by WWE in the fall of 2015. The two would also be occasional opponents, having wrestled each other at one of CZW's Dojo Wars events on New Year's Eve 2014, when Rush had only been an in-ring wrestler for several months.
5. Dedication To Training
In between his time at MCW's Training Center and his call to WWE's Performance Center, Rush continued to further his in-ring education, taking part in CZW's Dojo Wars program that was mentioned in the prior item. Wrestlers of various backgrounds and home bases have descended upon CZW's Academy in southern New Jersey to pick up further seasoning, and Rush took advantage of that opportunity.
According to CZW head man DJ Hyde in an interview I conducted with him last year, Rush made the two-hour drive from Baltimore three times a week, just to improve his craft under the tutelage of CZW's trainers. At one such Dojo Wars event in May 2015, Rush would defeat the irascibly magnetic Joey Janela, who would end up being Rush's final CZW opponent more than two years later.
4. An Early Opportunity
Rush also attended a Ring of Honor training camp at age 20, just six months into the business. According to Rush, when he revealed his age and his experience level at the end of his tryout match, he said they were 'absolutely shocked' at how well he performed, given the metrics. One year after that tryout, Rush would be put in a coveted spot, one not afforded to very many wrestlers that have just 18 months of ring time under the belt.
Two nights before WrestleMania 32, Rush challenged for the Ring of Honor World Championship at the promotion's Supercard of Honor X, Night 1 in Dallas. Though he lost a near-20 minute match to champion Jay Lethal, Rush drew raves for his performance, and the match seems to be the consensus choice for best of the first night.
3. Brothers In Combat
On 13 May 2017, Rush ended the five-month CZW World Title reign of "Chainsaw" Joe Gacy, kicking off one of the shortest reigns with the belt in company history. Thirteen nights later, Rush dropped the gold to Davey Richards at a Defy Wrestling event in Seattle. Nonetheless, Rush, at age 22, chiselled his name into the list of CZW Champions for life.
Rush is not the only former CZW World Champion to be under WWE contract today - in fact, he's one of six men in WWE's employ that have staked a claim atop the Combat Zone mountain. The other five individuals include Drew Gulak, Biff Busick (Oney Lorcan), Drake Younger (NXT official Drake Wuertz), Chris Hero (Kassius Ohno), and Jon Moxley (Dean Ambrose).
2. Game Ender
Rush's final match with Combat Zone Wrestling, as previously noted, came against Joey Janela. The match took place at the Once in a Lifetime event that famously brought deathmatch deity Atsushi Onita to the United States for a bloodbath with Matt Tremont. Rush and Janela, for their part, pulled out all the stops in the semi-main, causing a bit of controversy among online critics when Rush no-sold a bump off of a ladder through a table.
Lost in the hoopla over that spot was the manner in which Rush finished off Janela. In a nod to his forthcoming home, Rush used a sledgehammer on Janela, before ultimately finishing him off with a Pedigree. Subtle, no? Sixteen days later, WWE officially announced Rush's arrival, and Rush did in fact get the photo op with Triple H that his CZW swan song seemed to be angling for.
1. The Final Hour
The match with Janela wouldn't be Rush's last as an independent wrestler. The following weekend, Rush put over now-fellow WWE talent Matt Riddle at EVOLVE 90, before working his final indy show the following night for Maryland Championship Wrestling, where it all began. Appropriately, the event was called Final Hour, and saw Rush make his exit in a somewhat unconventional manner.
Rush's final match with MCW was in am impromptu nine-on-two handicap match that saw him and his trainer, The Bruiser, clean house. Originally, Rush was wrestling Bruiser, when a horde of heels attacked them following a referee bump. In the confusion, the challenge was made for the disparate handicap bout, which saw Rush and Bruiser eliminate the opposition one by one. With that in the books, Lio Rush was on his way to the WWE Universe, where opportunities are being had, and many others await.