PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- It's a new beginning for a rising star in professional wrestling from the Pittsburgh area.
DJ Z is in his sixth year with Impact Wrestling, which premieres on its new network home, Pop TV, Tuesday night. It's the company's first live event since October, and some outside observers wondered if the end was near. DJ Z remained hopeful.
"The internet makes it sound like our days are numbered, but I never had any doubt."
Powered by a brash persona and athletic in-ring maneuvers, DJ Z hopes Impact's new network home will be the platform for him to take the next step forward in his career.
"I've been a supporting character on the show for the past year or so, not a featured guy. That's something I'm looking to do this year."
DJ Z is optimistic about what Impact will bring to viewers, especially its recent history of showing more in-ring action. The company employs one of Pittsburgh's all-time pro wrestling greats, Kurt Angle, but most of its talent is young. DJ Z singled out former champion Ethan Carter III and Bram as two stars worth watching, and he's been working hard to elevate his own abilities since October.
"Been doing independent shows, going to Lucha Libre practice twice a week, trying to reignite my passion for wrestling."
That passion was sparked as a child growing up in West Virginia's northern panhandle. Later, it brought him to Pittsburgh, where he started his pro wrestling career at the age of 16. He climbed the local independent wrestling ranks alongside other talented prospects from western Pennsylvania, including Corey Graves (now an on-air commentator for WWE) and Elias Samson (who recently debuted as "The Drifter" for WWE's growing NXT brand).
"When I was coming up, we were all trying to get to the next level," DJ Z said. "Guys like me, Corey Graves, we loved wrestling here, but we wanted to do more."
DJ Z signed with Impact Wrestling in 2011, and won the company's X-Division Title the following year. But not long after that, he faced major medical problems. He suffered a ruptured appendix in 2013, which led to the discovery of a five centimeter tumor growing in his colon. It wasn't cancer, but DJ Z couldn't wrestle or work out for months.
He now refers to the medical problems that put him out of action as "a blessing". During that time, he went to school for DJing, which led to him reinventing his on-air persona (and introducing an intentionally obnoxious Jamaican air horn to his act).
His passion for music is as strong as ever. He shifted his focus to producing. His current project involves remixing old wrestling theme songs. Pittsburgh hip hop artist Yury is lending his voice to at least one of DJ Z's tracks. The first finished product will be released online at the end of the month, with more to follow.
As for his pro wrestling career, DJ Z acknowledged this could be his last year with Impact Wrestling. His current contract ends in July, and he may look to move on if a better opportunity presents itself.
"My plan is to be more prepared than ever for whatever lies ahead."
Impact Wrestling airs every Tuesday night at 9PM on Pop TV. The network is a joint venture of CBS Corp and Lionsgate.
DJ Z is scheduled to return to the Pittsburgh area in March for International Wrestling Cartel's 15th anniversary show.
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