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  1. 2016TPT_RUSH1
    Lio Rush is a foot shorter than the tallest semifinalist in the Ring of Honor Top Prospect Tournament. He’s also 160 pounds lighter than the heaviest semifinalist, and has 15 fewer years in the sport than the most experienced of the final four competitors.

    But if you think he isn’t big enough or man enough to win the tournament, you don’t know Lio Rush.

    Possessing a big man’s mentality and maturity that belies his youth, Rush -- who turned 21 three months ago -- has been proving his detractors wrong ever since bursting onto the independent wrestling scene less than a year and a half ago.

    “I know it’s a cliche, but don’t be fooled by the size of the dog in the fight,” said Rush, who is 5-6 and 160 pounds. “I’ve been going against guys bigger than me and older than me my entire life and I’ve never backed down.

    “I have a tattoo on my right arm of a hand holding a crystal ball, and the text underneath reads, ‘The Future Is In Your Hands,’” he added. “That tattoo represents everybody in my life that said I wouldn’t be able to accomplish something and me simply not allowing them to dictate my future. My future is literally in my hands.”

    Rush, a spectacular high-flyer and former All-American high school wrestler, defeated Jason Kincaid in the first round of the TPT to advance to the semifinals, where he will face the 6-foot-6, 253-pound Punisher Martinez. The winner of the tournament receives an ROH contract and a future shot at the ROH Television Title.

    While Rush’s rise in wrestling has been rapid, he has experienced his share of adversity as well.

    As a teen, Rush endured a troubled home life that included violent confrontations with his father and the incarceration of a sibling. A month after graduating from high school, Rush became a father.

    He also suffered several gut-wrenching disappointments while pursuing his dream of making it in pro wrestling.

    “No matter what happened, I just made up my mind that nothing’s going to stop me,” Rush said.

    Rush, who grew up near Washington, D.C., fell in love with pro wrestling at an early age. His sole reason for going out for the wrestling team as a high school freshman at Bishop McNamara was because he thought a strong amateur background would help him become a successful pro wrestler.

    “Someday I wanted commentators to say that I was an amateur All-American like they said about Shelton Benjamin, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle,” he said.

    Despite not having wrestled prior to high school, Rush made it all the way to the National Prep Tournament as a ninth-grader.

    Due to financial issues, Rush’s parents took him out of Bishop McNamara after his freshman year and sent him to public school. It wasn’t a smooth transition.

    Deeply affected by the drastic change in environment, Rush began skipping classes and his grades plummeted. At home, Rush’s relationship with his father, a former Canadian Football League player, deteriorated into violence.

    Wrestling was his salvation. Rush lost a total of one match during his sophomore and junior years and earned All-American status as a junior.

    “With everything that was going on in my personal life, wrestling was my only outlet,” he said. “I took out my frustration on my competition.”

    Despite his diminutive size -- he wrestled between 112 and 132 pounds during his high school career -- Rush said he never thought of himself as small. He has maintained that mind-set as a pro.

    “I’ve always wrestled like a bigger guy and tried to train as if I was a bigger guy,” he said.

    Focused on becoming a pro wrestler, Rush declined multiple scholarship offers to wrestle in college. When he was 17, Rush attended an open tryout at Duane “Gillberg” Gill’s pro wrestling academy in Maryland.

    “The trainers there all liked me,” Rush said. “They thought I was super-athletic and said I should sign up for the school.”

    When Rush returned to the school the following week, the door was locked. He knocked repeatedly, but no one answered. He eventually found out that the school had closed.

    “I thought my world was over,” he said.

    Rush’s world took another unexpected turn when he learned that his girlfriend was pregnant at the start of his senior year. He decided not to compete for the wrestling team so that he could get a job.

    The couple’s son was born a month after Rush graduated.

    “I literally walked across the stage at graduation and right into fatherhood,” he said.

    While working various jobs to provide for his new family, Rush never abandoned his quest for a career as a pro wrestler. In fact, the birth of his son gave him even more motivation.

    “My family was very supportive because they knew that me pursuing pro wrestling would allow me to provide for my son down the road,” he said. “They believed that I’d be successful one day. Now I’m not just fighting for myself, I’m also fighting for him.”

    As Rush began searching for a wrestling school, fate intervened.

    Rush’s father had started a Christian-based online talk radio station and was speaking to a class at Bowie State University when he brought up that his son had been a standout in amateur wrestling and wanted to get into pro wrestling.

    One of the students in the class was a muscular young man named Patrick Clark. He had wrestled for a high school that was about 20 minutes from Rush’s school, and he also wanted to become a pro wrestler.

    Clark approached Rush’s father after class, gave him his number and said that he would love to speak with his son.

    “A week or so later, Patrick pulled up to my house in his navy blue Mustang,” Rush recalled. “I jumped in his car and we drove to IHOP and talked. We clicked right away.

    “He told me about the new [Maryland Championship Wrestling] Training Center that was opening up, and we talked about how we were going to be the first two guys to sign up for the school and become pro wrestlers. We vowed to stick together.”

    Rush and Clark did indeed become the school’s first two graduates. They made their MCW debuts in October 2014 after just four months of training and went on to form a popular tag team known as Sudden Impact.

    The team would be short-lived, however.

    When WWE announced that they were accepting video submissions for the new season of Tough Enough, Clark asked Rush to shoot a video of him. Clark encouraged Rush to submit his own video as well, and he did.

    When the 13 cast members were revealed, Clark’s name was on the list. Rush’s was not.

    “I was super-happy for Patrick,” Rush said. “I know some people thought that I would sink after he left for Tough Enough, but I looked at it as a great opportunity to show what I could do as a singles competitor.”

    It didn’t take long for people to find out what Rush was capable of. Last summer, he won MCW’s prestigious Shamrock Cup over a talented field that included former ROH World Champion Eddie Edwards.

    Also last summer, Rush heard that Japanese legend Chigusa Nagayo was starting her own promotion in Japan and was holding tryouts in Brooklyn, N.Y. About 40 wrestlers tried out, and Rush ended up being one of only three (and the only male) to make the cut.

    Ecstatic about getting an opportunity to wrestle in Japan, Rush got his passport and paperwork in order and eagerly awaited the call.

    It never came. Nagayo postponed plans for a male division, and she only brought the two women to Japan.

    Extremely disappointed but still determined, Rush attended an ROH Tryout Camp, where the best training staff in the world spends two days intensely teaching what is necessary to succeed in the sport.

    He received very positive feedback from the trainers but was told that he needed to gain more experience. Rush took the advice to heart and began wrestling for some of the top independent wrestling promotions throughout the country.

    When he attended another ROH Tryout Camp this past December, Rush impressed officials so much that they offered him an opportunity to compete in an ROH ring. He defeated Vinny Marseglia in a Future of Honor match and won over the notoriously tough Philadelphia crowd.

    Rush’s confidence is now at an all-time high, and while others may consider him an underdog against Punisher Martinez in the TPT semifinals, Rush certainly doesn’t see it that way.

    “I know Punisher has said that he’s looking to hurt people, but that doesn’t intimidate me in the slightest,” Rush said. “He has no idea how much fight I have in me.

    “At the end of the day, I will chop down the tree, kick his head off and go to the finals.”

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