Wrestling news: AEW's Miro (aka Rusev) opens up about WWE release - Sports Illustrated

Undeterred by WWE Release, Rusev Aims to Reach New Heights in AEW as Miro

The Week in Wrestling: Miro refuses to despair after being let go by WWE, Adam Cole marvels at the strength of children’s hospital patients and more.
Author:
Publish date:

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Miro on AEW: ‘Everything in my life has led me to this moment’

Miroslav Barnyashev received a call on April 15 that changed his life.

His character, Rusev, was no more. He was informed that he was one of many performers being released by WWE in a cost-cutting measure as a result of the pandemic. After 30 seconds of anger, Barnyashev was hit with an epiphany: While Rusev Day had reached its conclusion, Miro Day was about to begin.

The release from WWE was a blessing in disguise that allows Barnyashev to build an even deeper connection with his fan base. Despite stretches of immense popularity, there were no plans to go a step further with Rusev as a babyface in WWE, which was confirmed one final time when he was among the cuts. But the 35-year-old was not distraught over the news. He has been through worse and overcome more, especially when he left his home in Bulgaria in 2005.

“When I was a kid, I watched Hulk Hogan on television and told myself, ‘One day, I’m going to go to America and become a professional wrestler,’” Barnyashev says, who is now known as Miro in AEW. “That stuck in my mind throughout my entire childhood. That’s why I learned English. America was my top priority, and wrestling was in my heart.”

Barnyashev confided in his mother that he wanted to wrestle, and she saved up money to send him to wrestling school. When he arrived, there was not a ring, but rather a mat without ropes.

“I asked my coach, ‘What is happening here?’ ” Barnyashev says. “It was amateur wrestling. I lasted two weeks.”

Remaining steadfast to his dream of pro wrestling in the United States, Barnyashev enrolled in college at the age of 18. This allowed him to successfully apply for a work visa, and he jumped at the first opportunity to travel to America.

“I took the first job I was offered, which was painting houses in the summer in 100-degree heat in Virginia,” Barnyashev says. “I lived in a house with 15 guys. I’d never painted nothing but an egg before that, and I was fired that first month and kicked out of the house.”

Thrown out onto the streets in a foreign country, with $100 to his name, the 20-year-old found himself at a crossroads. He briefly considered returning to Bulgaria, but refused to give up on a lifelong dream.

“I was lucky that some of the boys I painted with took me in,” says Barnyashev, who was able to find inspiration in the face of destitution. “Then there were only eight of us living in two bedrooms, which was much better than 15.”

Uplifted by his dreams, Barnyashev never lost sight of what brought him to the United States. He saved the little money he earned, worked as many jobs as the day allowed—his high was four at once—and by the time he was 24, enrolled in wrestling school.

“I had six months with Ric Drasin, and I soaked up every lesson,” Barnyashev says. “He gave me lessons in bumping and in-ring. Then Rikishi opened a school, and I was one of the first students. That was my chance to compete. I gave 100%. If someone was faster, I gave 120%. It didn’t matter if I was hurt or sick, or if I had to work in the day or in the night. No one was going to beat me in practice.”

By this point, Barnyashev had built some contacts through his multiple jobs as permit runner, construction worker, pizza delivery man, strip club bouncer and his favorite, taxi driver, which he did for three years.

“I was working 80 hours, making $2,000 a month, paying for wrestling school and rent,” Barnyashev says. “A friend offered me a job to make some money driving a truck. It paid $80,000. That job offered me money, but it was not my destiny.

“Then is no different from now. I am here to be a professional wrestler. I knew I was fighting life. Before you live your dream, you need to fight life. That’s what I was doing, fighting against whatever life put in my life. Movies have always been important to me, and I thought back to Rocky, the way that movie showed Rocky fight. I wasn’t born with that silver spoon or whatever it is called. It was no different when I got released. I knew in my heart that I should not give up.”

Despite the hardship and hunger, the desire never wavered. Barnyashev fulfilled the first piece of his dream when he entered WWE as a force to be reckoned with as Rusev. His breakout moment occurred in the build-up to his WrestleMania 31 match against John Cena—when he arrived to the ring in unforgettable style, riding atop a tank. Though he never had a run with the world title in WWE, he did meet his wife, C.J. Perry, who plays the charismatic Lana.

“People ask me why I’m not bitter,” Barnyashev says. “WWE gave me a platform. I have the best fan base in the world. And that is where I met my wife. I love her to death. If nothing else came of it, I met my wife. So I can’t be bitter. There is no point to that.”

Wrestling fans became invested in Barnyashev’s work as Rusev, a connection he has strengthened by building substantial followings on YouTube and Twitch. He now has the chance to reach the next tier of superstardom in AEW.

“I came to America for an opportunity, the kind I wasn’t given in my country,” Barnyashev says. “That’s all I want in AEW. That opportunity.

“I love professional wrestling, and it has so much left to offer me. As soon as I got that call [from WWE], I immediately knew I wanted to go two places. The first one, I’m already here. The second, you’ll find out when the time is right.”

Miro made his AEW debut as Kip Sabian’s “best man.” Of course, there are wedding connections to be made with Rusev, who was recently part of the failed Lana–Bobby Lashley–Liv Morgan wedding triangle program this winter, but the new nickname extends far deeper than an old story line from his former employer.

“It’s not a gimmick,” Barnyashev says. “I am the best. I am the best all-around player in professional wrestling. And people remember WrestleMania 31, the greatest entrance of any entrance, until you see how I top that in AEW.”

Many of AEW’s signings have added depth to the roster, but the acquisition of Miro has the potential to add a premiere talent atop the company. He wants to prove his worth against opponents like Kenny Omega, MJF, Jon Moxley and Darby Allin, showing that he has a style and ability that can go with anyone in the world.

“Everything in my life has led me to this moment,” Barnyashev says. “The chains are off. There isn’t anyone yelling at me, saying, ‘Don’t do this. Don’t sell shirts. Don’t smile. Don’t wave to people.’ All the doors that were closed are now open. My fan base knows I’m good. They’ve seen me perform at the highest level. And that’s why I am where I am, my fan base. There would never have been a Rusev Day or Miro in AEW without the fans. Nothing is going to stop me from achieving my dream, and I’m going to take the fans with me when I do it.

“AEW is beautiful. I can create something you’ve never seen before anywhere else in the world. Once I get the opportunity to debut, everyone will find out why the ‘Best Man’ is All Elite.”

Adam Cole on his virtual visit to the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

September is Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month, and a highlight for some WWE talent has been having virtual visits with patients.

Adam Cole is an NXT Triple Crown champion and leader of the Undisputed Era, but when he visited with children receiving treatment at the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, he found himself in awe of the kids.

“There is no greater joy in the world than speaking with children and seeing these giant smiles on their faces,” Cole says. “That feeling is very special. I hope that I’m impacting these kids for the better, and helping them, even in a small way, get through a tough time.”

Cole grew up in Lancaster, Pa., only a few hours away from Pittsburgh, and expressed his admiration for the strength and courage of those receiving treatment at the Children’s Hospital.

“I have always been healthy, and for that I’m very grateful,” Cole says. “But think of all the things we still complain about even though we have our health. These kids have this amazingly inspirational attitude. As much I may have helped them, and I hope I did, those kids were an inspiration for me.

“So many of these kids are going through so much, at such a young age, yet they still have these beautiful smiles and positive attitudes. They want me to keep finding reasons to smile. The joy they bring into the world is overwhelming, with an amazing glow.”

Reggie Miller on AEW: ‘It’s so great that we’re on the same network’

Last week on Dynamite, the Jurassic Express delivered their most impressive outing yet in a show-opener against FTR.

The match highlighted both teams, providing FTR’s Cash Wheeler and Dax Harwood with a platform to showcase their skills as the finest duo in all of tag team wrestling, as well as allowing Luchasaurus to look dominant while also showcasing Jungle Boy as one of the more resilient stars in AEW.

The Jurassic Express is a team that would certainly benefit from a return to packed houses, as their work is continuing to gain traction. One of their newest fans is TNT NBA analyst and Basketball Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, who shared his excitement for the Jurassic Express in a recent conversation with Sports Illustrated.

“I’m a big fan of the Jurassic Express,” says Miller, who is providing commentary on TNT for the NBA Western Conference finals. “The only reason I know those names is because of my son. He’s a big wrestling fan. It’s so great that we’re on the same network.”

The NBA broadcast team on TNT consistently has fun with the moments when they plug AEW, and there was even some synergy when Jungle Boy and Luchasaurus were in the virtual crowd for Game 7 of the Raptors-Celtics series.

“Those are my son’s favorites,” Miller says. “You know how kids are. So many gravitate toward wrestling. It’s the names that grabbed him and the mask, and he’s in love with Luchasaurus and Jungle Boy.”

Miller played the role of babyface and villain, depending on which city he was visiting throughout his illustrious basketball career. If he was playing anywhere near UCLA or Market Square Arena in Indiana, he was always a fan favorite. And he is certainly a larger-than-life hero in the eyes of his son, who relishes watching AEW with his dad.

“You want to be a reflection of your kids, so if they’re into wrestling, then you want to take an interest, as well,” Miller says. “It’s been fun going on that journey with him.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • The Road Warriors will forever remain an iconic tag team, revolutionizing the business and succeeding wherever they traveled. The news of Animal’s death is sudden and heartbreaking, as wrestling loses another one of its giants
  • Roman Reigns dropped big wrestling news this week, sharing that he will likely change his ring attire on Sunday at Clash of Champions.
  • Part of the allure of AEW’s Dynamite is its unpredictability, and that was on display in its parking lot brawl main event last week. Not only was the match fantastic, but it was also refreshing to see the Best Friends share the main event with Santana and Ortiz. 
  • Another highlight from the past week of wrestling was the performance by Shotzi Blackheart in her NXT match last Wednesday against Io Shirai. Blackheart looked every bit Io Shirai’s equal, which is extremely high praise for one of WWE’s most rapidly emerging stars. 
  • The personalities behind Retribution were revealed on this Monday’s Raw in a very underwhelming debut. This felt like an unsuccessful time warp to a bygone era of wrestling. Pro wrestling does not always need to be based off realism, but Retribution came off as cartoonish, especially with ring names of Slapjack, T-Bar and Mace. 
  • While Retribution was taking its first step to obscurity on Monday, another mind-boggling moment took place when Braun Strowman made quick work of the menacing Dabba-Kato in a segment for “Raw Underground.” Strowman is already a bona fide WWE star and didn’t need that moment, so it is a surprise that Dabba-Kato wasn’t put in a spot to shine. This is a story that should be continued, with Dabba-Kato seeking revenge on Strowman. 
  • New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax is underway. Though I think “Switchblade” Jay White will end up victorious, this is the perfect time to throw a curve and have Tomohiro Ishii win. Ishii is magic in the ring, and with ticket sales at Wrestle Kingdom destined to be lower due to the pandemic, it is an opportune time to give “the Stone Pitbull” his moment. 

Orlando-area reporter Jon Alba has repeatedly shown his thorough reporting, especially as wrestling remains so prominent in Florida during the pandemic. 

  • The Total F’n Marks podcast welcomed yours truly on last week’s edition, and their insight on pro wrestling is as informative as it is funny. 
  • Ben Carter introduced himself to AEW on Tuesday night on Dark, in an outstanding performance against Lee Johnson.
  • If you’re seeking a fun wrestling page on Twitter, look no further. 

Tweet of the Week

Great perspective from Sami Zayn, who is inching closer and closer to a triple-threat ladder match against AJ Styles and Jeff Hardy on Sunday at Clash of Champions.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.