Even at the tender age of 26, Lio Rush has had a long journey in pro wrestling that has spanned almost every major promotion in the world. And after battling both mental and physical adversities, Rush has not only signed with AEW, he has also been featured as a budding character through his LBO Lio gimmick, which plays on Rush’s real-life passion for investing in money, mental health and life itself. In fact, Rush’s current character serves as a metaphor for his own worldview. The mental health advocate, who noted that WWE paid for his therapy while he was with the company, believes in various types of investments.
“I’m always investing, my interest in investing is always there,” said Rush in an exclusive interview.
“Whether it’s investing in other things, or investing in myself. I’m always trying to move forward, do better and grow. Anything that I do is always an extension of me in some capacity. Even stuff that I did when I was a manager. That loud, brash kind of person, that comedic factor about me. That’s in me. I’m not always like that, I’m a pretty cool, calm and collected kind of person. I don’t really talk that much, I think I’m an introvert, but it’s exciting to be able to show people different layers of me.”
Rush returns to NJPW Strong this Sunday, October 16, from the 2300 Arena in a matchup against El Phantasmo that has a real chance to steal the entire weekend. Though Phantasmo ranked in the top-half of this year’s PWI 500 (No. 232), some would suggest that number is too low. Rush (No. 53) can be considered one of those people.
“He’s really good. He’s really good.” Rush said of El Phantasmo.
“When I met him, I didn’t realize how long [he had been wrestling], but he’s super polished. Super talented. You always want to be in the ring with somebody of his skill level.”
Rush has been a longtime admirer of New Japan Pro Wrestling, which he praised for its approach in treating professional wrestling like a real sport. Now back and reenergized as part of NJPW Strong, Rush is excited about the many opportunities he now has to establish himself as one of the top gaijin (foreign) performers in the venerable promotion.
“New Japan is such an incredible place,” said Rush.
“The history, and the amount of respect it has from viewers, people who are fans and people who are wrestlers. I feel like New Japan just has that aura about it that everybody wants to be there because it’s so respected and the wrestlers are there for a reason. I’m so glad I’m there. I think I was always supposed to be in New Japan, at least I always wanted to be in New Japan before I was in WWE, but I just so happened to make it to WWE first. When I got released from WWE, and New Japan reached out to me, I was so excited. I was like, ‘this is that push that I needed.’”
“It has such a real-life sport and competitive aspect to it, and that’s where I come from. I was a two-time All-American amateur wrestler, I’ve played football, I’ve played basketball and baseball, so I just have a very competitive spirit and nature about me so I’m glad that I’m there.”
Rush debuted in AEW at the AEW Double or Nothing Casino Battle Royale as The Joker before promptly retiring. Though Rush was battling a painful shoulder injury, he admits that the decision was just as much physical as it was mental. But now healthy in both his mind and body, Rush finds himself in a mentorship role after taking the uber-talented Dante Martin under his wing.
“I’ve always had my interest in working with Dante,” said Rush.
“I actually met his brother [Darius Martin] when I was in Ring of Honor and he went to the show as a fan, as a teenager. We took a picture and everything. So it’s pretty cool that it’s come full circle and I’m working with Dante in AEW. I’ve seen so much of myself in him when I was his age and he is even better than I was when I was his age. I had help when I was younger, but I didn’t have someone coaching me and taking me step-by-step and telling me what their experience was. I’m glad that I could be that person for Dante as early as he is in his career. Athletically, he’s amazing. I kind of can’t believe it.”
Martin’s brother Darius is currently out with injury, however his impending return could give way to the most exciting trios team in all of pro wrestling. Fans have clamored for an AEW Trios Championship given the promotion’s depth when it comes to stables and/or triads. AEW recently introduced the TBS Championship, a secondary women’s title that will debut in January 22, and even top star CM Punk questioned whether the promotion has the depth for more titles. Trios titles or not, Rush and Top Flight have all the ingredients to rewrite the book of the six-man tag team, and Rush is here for it.
“That’s definitely an exciting idea,” said Rush.
“Something that is a huge possibility. Whenever Darius comes back and he’s all healed up, who knows? Who knows what’s going to happen within that time. But if it goes the way that you want it to go—and I’m sure a lot of other people who are watching it currently—I think it would be really cool to have all three of us together, that would be pretty dope.”
As AEW continues to establish itself as a top national wrestling promotion, it has had growing pains when it comes to diversity, namely when it comes to Black wrestlers. AEW publicly prioritized diversity and inclusion prior to opening its doors. Given how long the average AEW world title reign lasts (258 days), and with so-called “pillars” such as MJF, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, Hangman Adam Page, Bryan Danielson, CM Punk and Orange Cassidy projecting to become world champions in the near future, it could be years—if not over a decade—before AEW sees its first Black world champion.
Always one to overcome the odds, Rush not only feels he is the man for the job, he believes he’d make a fitting, if not important, representative as a Black world champion.
“Representation, it changes lives,” said Rush.
“I didn’t have too many good examples of someone who can set the blueprint for somebody like me. At the time, when I was a wrestling fan, there wasn’t a short, Black, tattooed, dread-head guy who likes music from D.C. So the path that I was going, I was creating. I think that has opened up doors for a lot of people, but I want to be a world champion. I think I’m more than capable.”
“If I’m not ready for something, I’ll say I’m not ready for something. But I’m ready. I’ve been ready,” Rush continued.
“I want to take that step. I want to be that guy that everybody is looking at and say ‘Man, he did it. And he did it through the face of adversity.’ Because I’ve had some ups and downs in my career, and I’ve showed time and time again that I’m not someone who’s going to just lay down and give up on my passion and my dreams. I think that’s a good role model, just in life. Wrestling aside, to see someone like myself move the way that I move in life and inspire the people who look like me is a beautiful thing. I want to be that. I want to be that for everybody, and I think that I can be that. I think I have the mic skills, I think that I have the in-ring capability, I think that I’m a pretty personable and likable person. And I think I’m real. I think I’m honest. This is a glass panel right here, I don’t hold anything back and I think that’s what a champion is, and I want to be the first African-American world champion in AEW.”
Rush will compete at NJPW Strong’s taping at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia on Sunday, October 17, 2021. Tickets are available at this link.
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