WWE's Lio Rush Sets Sights on Regaining the Cruiserweight Championship in NXT

Lio Rush WWE NXT
Q&A
WWE

Lio Rush and his run in WWE hasn’t been without its growing pains. The 25-year-old dynamo is the first to tell you he has learned from past experiences. And now the superstar has found renewed motivation in NXT. Rush is set this week to challenge Jordan Devlin for the cruiserweight championship.

“They’re seeing Jordan Devlin as the savior of the cruiserweight division right now,” Rush said. “A lot of people are high on him right now as they should be. He is an incredible athlete and represents NXT UK well. He has been trained by Finn Balor. I’ve been in the ring with Finn, so I’ve already seen what Jordan Devlin is capable of.

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"Anything that Devlin is going to do in this match is not going to be new to me. I’m relentless, hungry, determined to become a cruiserweight champion to solidify myself as one of the greatest, if not the greatest cruiserweight champion of all time.”

As the often outspoken performer prepares for the show, he sat down to talk about his complicated 2019 and why 2020 looks bright.

Keith Lee and Lio Rush

I think fans are excited to see you back in the fold on a regular basis. Last year certainly had its ups and downs for you. How do you feel you’ve grown or changed as it relates to your approach to WWE and the business as whole? 

Lio Rush: Last year was all over the place as far as ups and downs, trials and tribulations to get back to the WWE right now. As far as how I approach WWE right now and my position, I’m setting the goal for myself this year in 2020 to just have fun. I feel like last year I kind of lost sight of that, I lost sight of why I wanted to be in WWE in the first place. I tried to control a lot of things that weren’t in my control.

I’m focusing on strictly having fun and letting things happen organically ... I’m working on the things that I can control, and that’s how I approach the situation and WWE, how I can improve on myself mentally and physically. The one thing that I’m pretty big on now, and I’ve never really been big on it because I’ve been a smaller guy, but it’s how I can control how I look. I’ve just been at the gym a lot lately, focusing on things I do have control over.

Was there anyone in particular that helped you come to this thought process? 

There have been people here and there that have reached out to me since I’ve been gone, but nobody on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the day, everyone has their own responsibilities and their own situations and problems. Nobody truly ... can understand what you’re going through internally. I feel like I’ve spoken out to the public a lot recently about my issues with mental health, depression, a lot of the things I kind of have to deal with on my own, just because I know who I am. If somebody doesn’t understand me the way I understand me, it can get a little frustrating at times and can ultimately make things a bit worse. I stayed to myself a little bit those six months I was away, being with my family, my wife, my kids, my parents just trying to get a grip on reality a little bit.

What's it like to be in NXT during a time when they have this platform of the USA Network and are making an effort to really spotlight the cruiserweight division? 

It’s incredible to be part of NXT right now. When I got the call from Triple H to be in NXT again, I was a little surprised. At the same time, there was a level of excitement there. He told me that NXT would be on the USA Network. A lot of the USA viewers were familiar with me from my time on Raw, so I had an advantage in that sense to be one of a few who have had that exposure before. The level of talent on NXT is incredible. I can’t even wrap my head around how many top-tier athletes are in NXT right now at the performance center training every day.

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A lot of these guys I’m familiar with from my time on the independent circuit. It feels like a family. It feels like this is where I'm supposed to be. To be on this match Wednesday and represent the cruiserweight division and possibly have the opportunity to represent the division as a champion for the second time, it’s a huge opportunity. I’m definitely ready for it.

Earlier you talked about mental health and its importance. You’re active on social media, which can be a double-edged sword. What are your thoughts on social media?

I feel like social media is a great tool. It is a double-edged sword. A lot of negative can come from social media if not used correctly. I feel like I kind of got a taste of that in my earlier days in WWE, which I feel was needed. If I hadn’t gone through that, I wouldn't have known. You have to screw up a few times in order to learn. Now that I have gone through that, I'm using social media in a way that can inspire and motivate people and push current storylines that are going on that I’m involved in. I definitely think it’s a great tool to promote yourself, brand yourself. I feel like that is the reason I got on Raw. I used to post promos every day, and it caught the attention of Vince McMahon. That’s how I got my opportunity on Raw. 

Bobby Lashley and Lio Rush

There was a tweet you sent out on February 4th that drew attention. It said, “You’re going to miss me.” Could you clarify what you meant by that? 

The tweet I sent out goes back to that I feel like a lot of people are going to miss the person that I am right now. I feel like a lot of people are tempting me to become the person I used to be before I got to WWE. Lately, I’ve been... sitting back and looking at what’s going on in the locker room and outside the locker room. People like Jordan Devlin who are underestimating me, playing Mr. Nice Guy since I got back.

I feel like I’ve been holding back as a performer. I’m out to show everybody that I am the greatest professional wrestler in the world. That I’m the greatest sports entertainer in the world. People are going to miss me because now I’m stepping into this new me. They’re not going to like it as much as the old me that I’ve been putting out there.

Lio Rush Danielle Fishel

Lio Rush has become a favorite wrestler of Danielle Fishel (Instagram)

NXT hype man Josiah Williams put together a great video for Black History Month with you included. What are your thoughts on the current state of representation in WWE? 

I love that video that he put out. I feel like one of WWE’s [big] signings was Josiah. He is an incredible asset to NXT, WWE, and the African-American community. Representation is huge. I feel like right now we have some of the best athletes that WWE has ever seen. I’ve been watching wrestling since age 5, and I feel like I’ve never seen this large amount of African-American talent in WWE as much as we have right now. Everybody is at the top of their game proving that we are just as "deserving" of opportunities within WWE as anyone else. Especially, with this month being Black History Month and being in these top tier matches and leading into WrestleMania, it’s a beautiful thing.

Seeing Velveteen Dream come back and Keith Lee at the top of the mountain, Bianca Belair got the opportunity she had. The New Day are always representing the African-American community. It’s just awesome. I hope that one day — and I know Rome wasn’t built in a day —  that we can just see it as "history" instead of "Black history."

WWE NXT, Wednesdays, 8/7c, USA Network