We eat your words

Blackheart: The New Lio Rush in CZW

How small changes to his character have made a huge difference for Lio Rush in CZW.

Over the past six months or so, Lio Rush has been developing and refining a new character. But you’ve probably only noticed it if you watch Combat Zone Wrestling. While Rush is still a plucky young go-getter type in other indy promotions, and he appears in a ton of them, his gothed-up “Blackheart” character can only be seen at CZW shows.

He comes to the ring with, yup, a black heart painted on his chest and strange undead veins on his face. They change the video to black-and-white when he makes his entrances, which are slow and methodical, almost zombie-like. His entrance theme is Ciara’s version of the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” originally recorded for The Last Witch Hunter film. It’s a much slower-paced, droning, and frankly, quite haunting version of the already nihilistic song.

I don’t know how much longer Rush is going to keep this character up, but I like it. He might be in CZW for a while, since it looks like his year-long run in Ring of Honor is over with, after having won the Top Prospects tournament in 2016. He’ll end up in another major promotion soon, and he’s been working dates with EVOLVE lately, which is certainly a top-tier indy wrestling promotion in itself. My guess is that he’ll eventually end up in Japan or back in Ring of Honor before making his way to WWE. He’s only 22, but he’s been wrestling since mid-2014 and has been one of the fastest-rising indie stars ever. He has big things ahead of him, so I don’t think CZW is going to have him for long, and he’ll probably leave this unique Blackheart character behind, so we should probably enjoy it while we can.

The whole thing started back in September. Rush, a two-time Wired champion (CZW’s second-tier title), was taking on Joey Janella in a ladder match. He hadn’t gone totally goth at this point, though this is the match where he debuted “Paint it Black” as his entrance song. This is also the first time he had a black heart painted on his chest. Kind of easing into the character. Janella comes to the ring wearing his signature 80’s sunglasses and scorpion jacket similar to the one Ryan Gosling wore in the movie Drive (if you haven’t see this flick, you should catch it like pronto), and his theme music is from the film, too. Good entrances, if nothing else.

The match showcases Rush’s furious style, which is basically the CZW house style anyway. This can get annoying at times and the fans don’t help much at times. At CZW’s latest event, Sacrifices, David Starr and Zack Sabre Jr. were giving the crowd a wonderful display of classic mat wrestling and they had the audacity to chant “boring.” Someone’s going to get very hurt or killed trying to please these people.

Well, anyway, the Rush/Janella match was pretty original. I have to say, this was probably the most insane ladder match I’ve ever seen. Yes, yes, plenty of flips and kicks and at one point Rush turns himself into a human cannonball as he flips over the top rope, but believe it or not, this is actually quite a tame match by CZW standards. It’s no deathmatch, and there’s no blood. Certainly nobody is getting busted over the head with light bulbs or bleeding profusely because of barbed wire. And thank god, really, because I generally fail to see the art in a match like that. No, this is “just” a ladder match, but in a lot of ways that makes it far more dangerous. Janella and Rush fall from some serious heights, and not just once or twice, either. At one point, Rush is splayed out on two ladders set up between the ring and the barricades and Janella uses the tallest ladder to scale the freaking roof scaffolding, dropping his body straight down. Of course, both guys look like they’re dead after this, which is kinda the point of these things: leaving you wondering if the performers are actually hurt or not. And that’s pretty fucked up when you think about it. So I’ll try my best not to think about it too much.

Anyway, you’d think a spot like that would be the end of the match, but, no, several more risky spots occur, and it just feels sadistic watching the whole thing playing out from my big puffy chair in my basement. Nevertheless…

Janella won that match, beating Rush for his CZW Wired championship. Supposedly this is the reason Rush went full goth for his next match. At least that’s what the commentators surmise. They also speculate that maybe it’s because his girlfriend broke up with him, even though she’s still his valet. Some weird cuckolding implications there, eh? All this does is make Rush seem like an emo kid, rather than a dark broken type. More mystery might have helped here, fellas. Well, whatever, there have certainly been worse excuses for a gimmick repackaging.

On December 10, at Cage of Death 18, Rush and Sami Callihan had a wild, brawling, jumpy, flippy kind of match. Callihan has a cat gimmick? Very strange stuff going on here. And it’s really weird hearing the crowd chant “meow” for the guy. Though I guess if you’re going to have a kitty-cat gimmick, you might as well take it all the way.

After a brawling start, Rush dives out of the ring onto Callihan three times in a row. Randy Orton would not approve of such shenanigans. Then Rush amps up the flippy-shit quotient by about 100. I can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single wrestling hold in this thing until the very end, when Callihan tried to submit Rush for the win. Rush ended up picking up the victory, though.

Last month, during the CZW: Decisions card, Rush had his first shot at the main CZW championship when he faced Joey Gacy. Rush is supposed to be playing the heel, but Gacy is a whiny character, so Rush was cheered like a face. It’s hard not to cheer for the guy, actually. Even a dastardly attack from behind while Gacy’s back is turned can’t get the crowd on the champion’s side.

You know, there’s a lot of criticism about guys like Rush and Ricochet not selling, and there’s definitely some merit to that, but what I noticed while watching this match was that Rush does sell, though not for very long. Sure, why not, a superkick to the head hurts, but one can shake it off in a few seconds or so. Well, it’s not like Rush has a lot of choice in the matter. If he wants to keep up the kind of pace that the crowd demands, he has to keep moving. And if you keep moving, you simply can’t sell for very long because the next flurry of moves is coming right behind the first.

Another observation while watching this match: these very fast-paced matches are more like simulated MMA fights than simulated wrestling. Even in the most cartoony days of the WWF, there were always rest holds that at least looked a little bit like actual wrestling. Those days seem to be on the wane, now, as the pacing dictates that there is no rest, and therefore no rest holds. So the “wrestling” part of professional wrestling is virtually gone, except for Japan, of course, and the rare anomaly like the aforementioned Zack Sabre Jr. who deals almost exclusively in wrestling holds. Perhaps, then, the phrase “sports entertainment” is actually a more accurate way of describing professional wrestling, at least on the American indie scene.

The best line of commentary from this first Rush / Gacy match was, “Who the hell carries a sledgehammer in a baby carriage?” Earlier, Rush had entered the match pushing a black baby carriage down the ring and nobody knew why. Turns out, of course, that a baby carriage is the optimal place to hide a sledgehammer. Sledgehammer or no, Rush ends up losing the match after a fakeout ending where it appears as if Rush has won the title, but a second ref restarts the match after revealing that Rush had used his sledgehammer to win the match. After the match is restarted, Rush gets pinned with a rollup and a re-match is scheduled, this one under “CZW rules,” which, of course, means that there are no rules.

Early this month, at CZW: Sacrifices, the two had that re-match. The announcer begins by saying that Rush’s “official weight” is 165 pounds. What he doesn’t mention is that this weight is only after Rush has eaten two triple-layered cakes and washed it down with a few two-liters.

Gacy takes advantage early, mauling the hell out of Rush, because, yeah, why not. Besides, it makes sense, because a brawling, no-holds-barred match would definitely favor the much bigger Gacy. Things even out, though, when the weapons start coming out from under the ring. There’s garbage cans, of course, but also sledgehammers, cinderblocks, staple guns, gardening equipment and Legos. But of course there’s Legos.

It was pretty cool watching Rush smash a cinderblock to pieces with his sledgehammer after Gacy, whose head was on the thing, moved out of the way at the last minute. Of course, Gacy was never in any real danger, but it made for a pretty exciting moment nonetheless. Rush eventually wins the match with a rollup. His feet were on the ropes, but I guess it really isn’t cheating if there are no rules. Right? I dunno? Anyway, this leaves open the possibility that Gacy could claim shenanigans and get himself a re-match.

Really, I can see why a lot of old-school wrestling fans don’t dig this kind of frenzied pace. So much psychology is lost in the action. And one really does worry about these guys’ longevity. If they slowed things down just a bit and sold a little more, they could put together as much of a compelling match as they do with their constant dives and flips, and they might not kill their bodies so much, which will come in handy during the second half of their life, when they’re no longer wrestling. But it’s their body to destroy if they want to, and besides, if the fans are demanding this kind of thing, it’s pretty adapt-or-perish at this point. It’s a newer, emerging style, and Lio Rush is one of its best practitioners.

Finally, as the Blackheart, he has a neat, compelling gimmick to go with his in-ring work. And a compelling character is part of that “it factor” that can make or break a wrestler’s career. It’s really what Rush has lacked up to this point, and it’s great to see him adding the final piece to his puzzle.

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