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Pro Wrestling

Plum native a (WWE) Superstar in making

| Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, 7:54 p.m.

Jeff Sciullo said he was a fan of WWE as far back as he can remember while growing up in Plum. In 2005, at age 18, he attended his first independent professional wrestling show.

It turned out to be a life-changing day.

“I always had in the back of my mind to be a WWE Superstar,” Sciullo told the Tribune-Review earlier this month, “but I never knew how to go about it.”

That first wrestling show led to an introduction to trainers who ran the Iron City Wrestling Academy, a school in Pittsburgh that offers the first step to those who aspire to be professional wrestlers. The school, owned by the International Wrestling Cartel, helped Sciullo work his way into the WWE's developmental system.

Today, Sciullo, at age 28, continues to learn the ropes as a professional wrestler at the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, but it has not been an easy or short journey.

Sciullo's athletic background in high school was limited to playing baseball at Plum. He eventually would pay to go to pro wrestling school, where he learned the basics of being a professional wrestler.

He began matches on the independent wrestling circuit, where thousands of wrestlers are working to get noticed and signed by WWE.

“You could not find a more dedicated and passionate man in the locker room at such a young age,” said Chuck Kuzniewski, owner and promoter of IWC Wrestling during Sciullo's time there. “(Sciullo) carried himself as a professional inside and out of the ring and went above and beyond to prove himself worthy of having main-event matches with top-name opponents.”

Sciullo got his first look from WWE in 2012 in a tryout match at a sold-out arena in Hershey against Dean Ambrose, now one of WWE's biggest stars.

The match might have put Sciullo in front of WWE decision makers, but they said he wasn't ready yet.

“I'm not taking no for an answer,” Sciullo said, recalling the setback. “I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get here.”

He continued wrestling for IWC, determined to get better. It took two more years before he got a second opportunity. Again, it was a tryout match but with a better result. With more experience, confidence and time to fine-tune his performance, Sciullo impressed veteran WWE talent scout William Regal, who played an instrumental role in signing Sciullo to a WWE contract in 2014.

He reported to Orlando's WWE Performance Center, a state-of-the-art facility where about 75 wrestlers work daily on improving their skills with the goal of being a big thing on NXT.

The NXT brand of WWE is built around aspiring stars. It was introduced originally as a WWE minor league and prepared talent for two nationally televised shows, “RAW” and “SmackDown.”

NXT still is preparing talent, but it has exploded in popularity. Today, NXT is viewed less as a preparation stage for “RAW” or “SmackDown” and more as an alternative circuit.

Sciullo managed to get his foot in the door, but it was time to figure out who he was and what persona he could play. The most successful individuals in professional wrestling have a great character. That character often is an extension or exaggeration of their personality.

It makes their performance that much more genuine. For Sciullo, the same approach was taken by the late Dusty Rhodes and his then-creative understudy, Ryan Katz. Rhodes and Katz sat down with Sciullo and wanted to know everything about him.

During that talk, a new character was born. Sciullo became known as “The Drifter” Elias Samson.

The character conveys the same relaxed tone Sciullo projects off stage as well as his love for playing guitar, which he carries into the ring for matches.

“The character kind of evolved from there,” Sciullo said. “I call it a character. But Elias Samson is Jeff Sciullo, and Jeff Sciullo is ‘The Drifter.' ”

Samson has made several appearances on NXT television this year, including an August show at Barclays Center in New York in front of 15,000 people for a television taping.

“My immediate goal is to be a mainstay on NXT television,” Sciullo said. “It's the hottest wrestling product in the world right now.”

After success in NXT, most talents get the call to become regulars on “RAW” and “SmackDown,” where the likes of John Cena and Brock Lesnar compete, and a step closer to a mountaintop appearance in a world championship main event, “WrestleMania.”

It's still a long way to the top, but Sciullo already has come a long way to a coveted opportunity.

Justin LaBar is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jlabar@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JustinLaBar.

Jeff Sciullo carries a guitar with him to the ring as part of the Elias Samson persona.
Jeff Sciullo carries a guitar with him to the ring as part of the Elias Samson persona.
Jeff Sciullo dives off the top rope onto his opponent at an IWC Wrestling event in Elizabeth.
Jeff Sciullo dives off the top rope onto his opponent at an IWC Wrestling event in Elizabeth.
Elias Samson, the character of Plum native Jeff Sciullo, enters the ring to the largest crowd he has performed in front to date, 15,000 people at Barclays Center in New York.
Elias Samson, the character of Plum native Jeff Sciullo, enters the ring to the largest crowd he has performed in front to date, 15,000 people at Barclays Center in New York.
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