For years, the music and professional wrestling industries have been working together to turn ordinary men and women into larger-than-life heroes and villains through the use of entrance themes. These themes help to establish the character the wrestler is attempting to portray before they even step through the ropes. Along with a good visual and of course skilled in-ring ability, entrance music is the cherry on top of the pro wrestling sundae.
In the 1940s and ’50s, Gorgeous George, a flamboyant and colorful “heel”(industry word for bad guy) wrestler would come to the ring to “Pomp and Circumstance” in order to get under the crowd’s skin. He is credited as the first to utilize ring music.
As pro wrestling evolved from simulated sport to full-on spectacle, ring music became the norm and by the 1980s every pro wrestler needed a unique song to accompany them to battle! The frontrunner of pro wrestling in the ’80s and ’90s was Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation or WWF (currently WWE) and his go-to music man was Jim Johnston. Johnston composed the themes for some of pro wrestling’s greatest characters and carved a spot for himself as the standard for pro wrestling entrance themes.
Flash forward to 201o and Mikey Rukus, a young family man working as a retail manager for 60 plus hours a week, begins to supplement his income by composing and performing unique walk-out music for local and regional mixed martial artists. Through a good understanding of networking and a strong work ethic, Rukus began making a name for himself as a quality musician as well as a smart businessman who recognized when something was clicking. Though even as he kept busy his motivation waned as he became restless with the cookie-cutter “fighter music” he composed in the MMA world.
Between the heyday of Jim Johnston and the start of Rukus’s career, the professional wrestling industry waxed and waned as the now WWE became the only big name in town after Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling(WCW) and Paul Heyman’s smaller yet equally as influential Extreme Championship Wrestling(ECW) both went under and were absorbed by the ever-growing media machine that was World Wrestling Entertainment. During this time Johnston, the one-time top guy in the industry was removed from his position in WWE and eventually replaced by production duo CFO$ in 2017.
As the music industry changed so did professional wrestling and in 2015 the independent professional wrestling world was on a fast track as new independent promotions were able to reach a wider audience through online streaming and more wrestlers were able to make names for themselves via social media.
“In late 2015, early 2016, I noticed an explosion within the independent pro wrestling scene,” Rukus told Tony Schiavone on AEW’s podcast “Unleashed,” “I noticed that wrestlers were taking their own brands into their own hands, and creating these personas across social media. I thought that was really intriguing.”
As pro wrestling got hotter Rukus got busier. Between 2016 and 2019, Rukus composed over 250 entrance themes for independent professional wrestlers all over the US and UK. It wasn’t long until the stress of deadlines and continuing to work full-time in retail started to burn him out. As he weighed his options, Rukus decided it would be best to hang up his trusty 7-string Ibanez “workhorse” and focus on furthering his path in retail. But before he could his wife talked him out of it saying he would “never find peace” if he walked away from his passion. Saying to him, “You did this to not only show your kids that they can dream big, but this is something you’ve worked forever for.”
Three weeks later the wrestling world would change forever as Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, Matt and Nick Jackson and Tony Kahn revealed their intent on starting All Elite Wrestling. A new promotion intended to be an alternative to McMahon and the WWE and provide real competition on a large scale as well as new jobs for pro wrestlers. It also was the “in” Mikey Rukus needed to do his passion full time and make some nice coin doing it.
“I felt inside that this was mine. This was my opportunity.” Rukus said.
After trying to go to the source directly and attempting to contact Cody and Brandi Rhodes, Rukus continued to try and find a way to the ears of the Elite. As he did, former clients in the MMA and indie pro wrestling worlds began tweeting to the Rhodes and vouching for him. “Mikey Rukus is your guy!” They cheered.
Finally, Rukus scored a conference call with AEW executives, including Brandi Rhodes who told Rukus that what stood out to them was how many people spoke up for him. Telling him, “That really means something to us.”
After hashing out specifics, Rukus was hired on as AEW’s full-time composer, responsible for all of the wrestler’s themes as well as themes for AEW programming and the upcoming AEW video game. Rukus is the proverbial “One Man Band” who composes and performs all of the instruments and vocals for his themes as well as handling the nonmusic side from licensing all the way to metadata specifics.
“Our goal is to give fans as much excitement as possible.” Rukus told Jon Alba on the “One on One” podcast.
His long-term vision is to not only reach as many people as possible but to teach those coming up how to continue to progress forward in an increasingly crowded field.
“If you’re pushing for a dream, know where you have to go to get there,” Rukus explained when asked what advice he would give newcomers, “Try to take baby steps…create opportunity and experience. Failures are never failures and losses are lessons.”
Long live King Rukus.