By Ed Blair Illustration by Thomas Slater January 11, 2022
Imagine trying to explain the professional wrestling landscape right now to a downcast ECW fan in the year 2000. They would have just watched the wrestling landscape in America shift from three National Societies to WWE (formerly WWF), and for the next two decades they would have watched WWE work tirelessly to make their mark. name synonymous with professional wrestling – a bit ironic, given the insistence on calling itself a “sports entertainment” company. Energy companies and conservative media networks would do their best to create a national brand, but it seemed impossible that anyone could even approach the wrestling juggernaut McMahon, let alone compete with them. Independent wrestling was a sport for die-hard gangsters and lifers, operating under the shadow of a corporate giant.
“At the end of 2015, beginning of 2016, I noticed an explosion within the independent wrestling scene. I’ve noticed that wrestlers are taking their own brands into their own hands and creating these characters on social media. I thought that was really intriguing, ”says Mikey Rukus, describing his entry point into this grueling world of low wages and long commutes. The producer / musician started creating theme songs for mixed martial arts in 2010, and had reached a point where his work was being shown on UFC pay-per-view channels. The fight had something different to offer, however. “Professional wrestling… you have the opportunity to develop your character and explore stories and things like that,” he says. “Creatively it was very exciting.”
Rukus is not wrong. Public interest in independent wrestling has increased dramatically over the past decade, providing a level of visibility not seen since ECW. WWE’s “Development Territory” NXT, is essentially a supercharged version of the independent scene as a whole, giving long-term independent veterans a sweet and sweet taste of the WWE star (and the money that goes with it). Foreign companies like New Japan Pro Wrestling are also obsessed with indies, giving fan favorites like Kenny Omega and the Young Bucks yet another launching pad. New Japan and WWE are each great wrestling companies, but the increased focus of both towards unsigned wrestlers has created an environment of great opportunity.
The timing for Rukus’ new focus on wrestling was sound in several ways. Not only was the wrestling industry booming, but between the increased visibility brought by streaming options and an increase in aggressive copyright enforcement in digital spaces, the use of themed music unlicensed (as is tradition) has ceased to be an option for promotions or wrestlers trying to boost their profile. Rukus worked hard during his first two years at the company, boasting “that between 2016 and 2018 I created over 200 themes for independent professional wrestlers in the US and UK”.
Then some tweets everything changes. It’s hard to believe that a flippant tweet from Dave Meltzer, one of wrestling’s longest-serving journalists, could have been the only genesis behind All in, the first non-WWE / WCW wrestling event to draw over 10,000 people since 1993; most likely something like that was in the works for a second, but it’s a great story. The unique All In show quickly became the active business All the elite struggles, and Rukus immediately knew he had to be involved. “I heard AEW’s announcement in early 2019. I just tried to do what I can do in terms of networking to connect with the right people and start a conversation,” he explains. The commotion paid off. Rukus now serves as the music director for the most fashionable company in wrestling since the Monday night wars, making him responsible for bops such as the infused Moroder “Dark Side of TR“(the theme of FTR), the RATM-by-way-of-sleaze-rock”All about Tha (BOOM!)”And the many other musical cues heard on Wednesday, Friday and sometimes Saturday evenings. He does it all at a terrific rate, producing over 80 pieces in eleven months, sometimes with barely two hours of composition for a theme.
Wrestling is not really about individual success; As much as Hulk Hogan or The Rock could try to convince you, it’s really a group effort. The colloquial phrase for losing a match is ‘getting the job done’, and a big part of doing the job well is helping your opponent (s) look strong, or vicious, or slyly devious like. history requires. In his role as Music Director, Rukus is the ultimate improvement talent. “There are a lot of things that you can fit into the music and relate to the storytelling,” says Rukus. “For all intents and purposes, I always look at the height of the individual first and what their overall story is and I go with a tempo. I look for the tempo first, then I look for something different that maybe could be related to their story. He clarifies, “A big guy is not going to be someone who walks into the ring in a very fast manner; it’s going to be a bit slower tempo. High Flyer would be a faster tempo.
For Rukus, incorporating the backstory is a crucial part of the theme composition process. He doesn’t just work with current or rising stars; literal square circle captions made their way to AEW as well. “In a situation like that, you’re going to want to be able to approach that and create something that feels like a continuation of their story,” he noted. Meeting such high narrative expectations has proven to be a daunting task at times, such as when creating a theme for The Man Called Sting. “He was one of my childhood heroes. So I was very nervous about that aspect, ”he said,“ but at the same time, once you get into the process, it all goes away. ”It’s a haunting piece. but triumphant, recognizable as a Sting-themed riff from his WCW Crow Personality, but with a more aggressive flair that is all Mikey Rukus.
However, it’s not just his work on music for AEW that sets Rukus apart from other wrestling music producers. It is its accessibility, and its vision. “I made a conscious decision early on, like, look, I’m going to be interactive with the fans. I’m going to talk about the process, we’re going to make this thing exciting, ”he said, explaining his very active Twitter presence. Most wrestling themes become one, but Rukus continues to find ways to extend his work beyond the 60 seconds you hear on TV. He released EPs, fleshing out different musical ideas and expanding the character of a wrestler. For the God’s favorite champion EP, he said, “We’ve had a few different edits. But then we had a few different tracks that I created after the fact that were almost like different scenes from a mini-movie for what would be Miro’s character. To this end, he created chiptune versions of popular themes (8 – Bit chaos) with more on the way, and is currently reinventing a large-scale orchestra (AEW Symphony) from a variety of AEW themes.
It’s not just an album for Rukus, though. This is the opportunity to invite fans to join him for a great musical celebration, the scale of which is growing day by day. “We’re going to do sheet music. I’m considering printing it, recording it, and distributing it to symphony orchestras in the United States, then breaking it down to a smaller level – to push it to concerts and college and high school symphony groups across the country. United States. Whatever the ambition of his mission, the end goal is simple: “It’s just to make wrestling music exciting for the fans,” he says. So far the plan is working.