Rachel Cushing has made a habit out of making history ever since she made her debut in the Schmoedown, way back in Season 4. As one half of The Shirewolves, she became one of the first female champions in the league, while her recent Innergeekdom victory over Mike Kalinowski has made her only the second competitor (and the first female) to become double-belted.
One of the league’s strongest triple-threat competitors (she’s dangerous in Singles, Teams and Innergeekdom), there is a great argument to be made that despite having only just two years in the league, she should be on the Mount Rushmore of competitors.
An editor who does not actively seek the limelight, she has become a fan favourite for so many people, so I’m sure there were plenty around the world who were heartbroken when it was announced that she and teammate Clarke Wolfe would be stepping away from competition following their Championship match against KOrruption. So as part of our farewell to the Shirewolves and in honour of “The Crusher”, I have taken a look back through her history in the league.
The Crusher made her Schmoedown debut on March 7, 2017 as one half of The Nerd’s Watch, alongside “The Pitboss” Ken Napzok. Their first match together was against Tuff Beats (Perri Nemiroff and Jonathan Voytko) and despite not having competed together before, The Nerd’s Watch came away with a 20-18 TKO victory over their more experienced opponents.
Cushing impressed with her debut and it was not long until she was shooting out on her own in an Innergeekdom Fatal Fiveway against Michelle Boyd, Hal Rudnick, Jason Inman and Jeremy Jahns. The Fatal Fiveway format was different in those days, with one competitor being eliminated in each round, but Cushing beat out Rudnick, Boyd and future champion Inman to make it to the final round, and was the top scorer in the 2nd and 3rd rounds. However, with the final round being on the buzzer and best of five, Jahns managed to hit the first three questions and get the victory.
Just a few weeks later she was the 17th entrant in the inaugural Free 4 All, where she lasted two rounds before being eliminated. Soon after this, she was back in action with Napzok, taking on Team Action. Ben Bateman and Andrew Ghai had been jerks in their debut but for this match they came out with their mothers and acted like respectable gentlemen. If The Nerd’s Watch were put off by this, then they didn’t show it. They went on to beat Action in Sudden Death, 25-24. Cushing then made her Singles Division debut in June against Nick Scarpino and while “The Producer/Seducer” pushed her hard, she came out with the 19-18 victory.
Making a Name
Ken and Rachel’s success saw them playing at Collider Collision in a #1 Contender Match against Rotten Tomatoes (Grae Drake and Matt Atchity). While the pair fought hard, they could not pull out the victory and Rotten Tomatoes won 25-23 to set up a title shot against The Patriots.
Following this loss, Rachel went back to the Innergeekdom Division, which she considered her home, for a match against Mike Kalinowski. By this point, she was beginning to get a reputation for her entrances, and her Galadriel entrance for this match went on to win Singles Entrance of the Year at the 2017 Schmoedown Awards. In the match itself, she went 11/12 in the 1st round to set her on her way to a 20-18 victory.
The next time we saw Rachel Cushing was in the opening round of the 2017 Ultimate Schmoedown Teams Tournament, where The Nerd’s Watch were taking on the newly-formed Above The Line. In a close match, Above The Line emerged 26-25 victors and began a run that catapulted Samm Levine into the GOAT conversation.
In the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament, her first opponent was Marc Andreyko, who she defeated 16-15, missing a perfect Round 1 by just a single point. She finally hit the Perfect Round in her quarterfinal against Stacy Howard, nailing the bonus question as well. In Round 2, she missed on her first question, but hit her remaining 3 for 5 points, before hitting both 1-point steal opportunities that came her way on Howard’s spin to win by KO, 16-3, with only 1 question wrong and 3 possible points dropped. This set up a semifinal against Samm Levine but, like in the Teams tournament, she was unable to get the victory, losing 20-19 as “The Inglorious One” made his way towards the first of his titles.
While her run in the Ultimate Schmoedown tournaments had come to an end, her season was not over. Just a few weeks later she took on Jason Inman, Jay Washinton and Coy Jandreau in an Innergeekdom #1 Contender Fatal Fourway. A score of 7/10 in Round 1 left her behind Jason Inman, who had managed a perfect round but missed the bonus question. However she scored eight points in Round 2 to take the lead, eventually coming second to Inman, who went on to win the title from Hector Navarro at Schmoedown Spectacular 2.
Following Sam Witwer’s victory in a #1 Contender Match for the Star Wars Division, Tom Dagnino crashed his post-match celebrations to announce that he had the best competitor in the division. The Schmoedown world was rocked to the core when this competitor was revealed to be none other than Ken Napzok, who had turned heel and joined the Lion’s Den. Rachel went after him in an attempt to turn him back to the light and while she agreed that The Patriots were too strong, she convinced him to take on the Lion’s Den’s second team, Blofeld’s Cat (Marc Andreyko and Robert Meyer Burnett).
Contracts were signed and the day of the match came around, but only three competitors came out to the table. Ken Napzok was nowhere to be seen and The Crusher was given the choice of forfeiting the match or playing a 2v1 handicap match. She chose the latter and while she put in a strong performance, two heads proved better than one and Blofeld’s Cat won by TKO, 19-18. As their victory was confirmed, Napzok finally arrived but rather than apologising to Rachel for not being there for her, he instead joined the Lion’s Den’s celebrations.
Despite what she may have considered a poor end to 2017, she was rewarded at the 2017 Schmoedown awards, winning Singles Entrance of the Year along with Babyface of the Year and Rookie of the Year!
Rise of The Shirewolves
Ken’s betrayal clearly hit Rachel hard in the moment, but she was soon out for payback. During Schmoedown Spectacular 2, Rachel challenged Ken to a match: she would find a new partner and take on him and Tom Dagnino in the Teams Division.
Season 5 opened with Rachel facing off against another member of the Lion’s Den, JTE, as well as Mike Kalinowski in a Triple Threat #1 Contender Match in the Singles Division. After hitting a perfect Round 1 including the bonus question, she went 4/4 for seven points on her spin of Comic Book Movies and hit both steal opportunities that came her way for another four points, leaving her with 20 points, a high enough score to KO Kalinowski and TKO JTE. The Crusher had hit 100% accuracy in a match for the first time in her career and only missed 1 potential point, due to checking down to multiple choice once in Round 2.
Following this match, she and 2016 Rookie of the Year Clarke Wolfe announced that they had joined together to form The Shirewolves. Emma Fyffe invited them to join her new faction, the Fyffe Club, once they had won their match, but following World’s Finest’s victory over The Kingsmen the pair met with Fyffe and told her that they did not want to wait and wanted to join the faction immediately.
Now with a faction behind her, Rachel Cushing took on Samm Levine in a match for the Singles Title. There was no separating them in the first two rounds, with both getting six points in Round 1 and eight points in Round 2. Round 3 saw Levine take a 1-point lead as he bet the maximum three points while Cushing went safe with two points. Then it came to the buzzer round and once more, The Crusher found herself beaten for speed as Levine went 5-0 in the round to open up a 6 point lead. Rachel hit her two- and three-pointers but could not hit her five-pointer, leaving Samm Levine to defend his title with a 22-21 TKO victory.
With her run in the Singles Division over (for now), it was time for The Shirewolves to take on the Lion’s Den. Clarke and Rachel worked well together and though the Lion’s Den put up more points than many expected, The Shirewolves came away with a 25-22 victory. Rachel was the 26th competitor to enter the 2018 Free 4 All and while she again only lasted two rounds, she managed an impressive 8/10 points, proving the quality of the opposition she was against.
The Shirewolves were back in action at the second LA Live Event, taking on Team Action. In a close affair, Ben Bateman’s untimely mind-blank that saw him confuse actor Giancarlo Esposito and baseball player Giancarlo Stanton, and Action’s miss on their second 5-pointer following a successful challenge, saw The Shirewolves win 23-24.
Going for the Belts
With The Shirewolves going strong at 2-0, Cushing had her eyes set not just on the Teams belt, but also the Innergeekdom belt. Mike Kalinowski coerced Thadd into arranging a 16-competitor tournament in the Innergeekdom Division for the chance to challenge Jason Inman.
Rachel’s first opponent was debutante Markeia McCarty, a member of the Viper Squad who at the time were pushing a feud with the Fyffe Club. A perfect Round 1 including the bonus gave her an early 11-3 lead and she added a further six points after spinning Star Trek in Round 2, though she did allow two steals for two points. At 17-5 down, Markeia spun DC Movies but missed her first two questions. The Crusher hit both steal opportunities for three points, completing a 20-5 KO victory.
This victory set her up for a match at Collision II against Eric Zipper. The Crusher hit the perfect Round 1 and bonus in consecutive matches and went 4/4 in the category of Marvel Movies for five points. Zipper went 2/4 for four points in Star Trek, but two steals for three points set Cushing up for the 19-14 TKO victory – her second 100% accuracy match and first in Innergeekdom!
Cushing’s next match was back in the Teams Division, taking on World’s Finest. A strong combined performance saw Clarke and Rachel achieve their first TKO victory as a team, by a score of 23-19. Following this match, Brianne Chandler chose to cash in her Free 4 All victory and announced that she would be finding a teammate in order to challenge The Shirewolves for the vacant Teams Title.
Rachel couldn’t focus on their Championship Match just yet as she still had to take on rookie sensation and surprise contender Mara Knopic, who had won both her previous matches by TKO. Unfortunately, neither competitor was in good health on the day of the match, Knopic having recently been in a car accident and Cushing being clearly ill. Nevertheless, like the warriors in Middle Earth, the two continued with their match and could not be separated over 3 rounds. What followed was one of the most incredible moments in the history of the division as it took 11 rounds of Sudden Death to separate the two, Rachel finally missing on a Captain America quote to give Mara the 24-23 victory.
While neither competitor was anywhere near their best accuracy, the fact these two managed to keep going despite being in such poor health showed the desire of both competitors and the 11-question overtime (the longest in Schmoedown history) saw this match named Match of the Year at the 2018 Awards.
With her challenge for the Innergeekdom belt over, it was time to take on Brianne and her mystery partner – revealed to be Bryan Bishop – for the Teams Title. After a wonderful Thor: Ragnarok-inspired entrance that saw Cushing come out as Hela, they opened a 13-9 lead in Round 1, which they extended to 24-17 by the end of Round 2. The betting round saw the lead grow even more as The Shirewolves gained two points but Sick in the Head lost one, then after each competitor earned a point in the buzzer round, Clarke Wolfe hit the final question of the round to seal a 29-18 KO victory and make The Shirewolves the first ever female Champions in the League.
While Clarke chose to enter the Ultimate Schmoedown Singles Tournament, Rachel chose instead to focus on the Teams Division, where her next match would be a title defence against Who’s The Boss at Spectacular 3. In one of the best matches of the year, The Shirewolves entered with most of the women in the league in a tribute to the ladies of the Schmoedown. Ben Bateman and Mark Reilly held a narrow lead for the first two rounds but both teams missed in Round 3 to draw level, before The Shirewolves dominated the buzzer round to take a three point lead. Who’s The Boss earned the full ten points in the final round but The Shirewolves did the same, defending their title with a 34-31 victory.
Unsurprisingly, given how her season had gone, Rachel was a multiple winner during the 2018 Schmoedown Awards, winning Match of the Year for her match against Mara Knopic and four awards as part of The Shirewolves: Team Entrance of the Year for their Thor: Ragnarok entrance, Babyface Team of the Year, New Team of the Year and Team of the Year, spending almost as much time on the Comedy Store stage as Baby Carrots himself!
With the Teams Title secured, it was time for another run at the Innergeekdom belt, now held by the face of KOrruption, Mike Kalinowski. Before she could face “The Killer” though, she had to take down Adam Hlavac. Cushing took an 8-6 lead in Round 1 and managed a two-point steal from Hlavac’s Round 2 spin of Star Wars, which he earned five points in. Rachel spun Opponent’s Choice and was given Movie Release Dates, but it did not help Hlavac at all as she went 4/5 for seven points to set up a 17-13 TKO victory.
And so, almost 2 years after she made her Innergeekdom debut, Rachel Cushing found herself competing for the title in the main event of the inaugural Schmoedown Throwdown. A perfect Round 1 with the bonus helped her pull out a 8-point lead by the end of Round 2, but a 5-point swing in the betting round and Kalinowski’s dominance on the buzzer saw him level the scores going into Round 5. Both competitors earned the full 10 points in Round 5 and the title came down to Sudden Death.
On the first question, Kalinowski missed by one letter, writing “Ninko”, while Rachel was able to hit the correct vowel with “Ninka,” in response to a Last Jedi question, and with that, the match was over with a score of 31-30. Rachel Cushing was finally left holding the belt she had always wanted, following in Samm Levine’s footsteps to become only the second ever double-champion.
Cementing the Legacy
With the Innergeekdom Belt finally hers, it was back to the Teams Division to defend the title against Critically Acclaimed. After a great entrance throwing shade at the internet trolls, Clarke and Rachel came out fighting, with Rachel and Bibbiani both earning a Perfect Round (including the bonus) in Round 1. Round 2 saw them go from 14-16 down to 26-20 ahead, which increased to 30-23 by the end of Round 4 following some controversy in the buzzer round. Bibbs and Witney scored 7 points in the final round, Rachel hit her 2-pointer, Clarke hit her 3-pointer and the title remained with The Shirewolves.
Their next defence was against The Odd Couple. Marc Andreyko had been their ally in the Fyffe Club for a season but now they found themselves on opposite sides of the contest. The Shirewolves came out in Game of Thrones themed costumes and their fans must have felt like they were watching the Red Wedding again as The Odd Couple held with Clarke and Rachel through the first 4rounds before going on to win the match 22-25, handing the Shirewolves their first loss as a team and earning the Teams Title from them.
The Shirewolves’ previous successful defences had earned them a rematch against The Odd Couple, which was scheduled for Collision. Following on from their loss, Clarke and Rachel went back to basics with a full focus on the match and though they found themselves behind for much of the bout, they pulled level going into the last round before going on to win 33-30, becoming the first team to ever win the title and then later reclaim it.
A Rivalry for the Ages
While The Shirewolves regaining the title was one of the big stories of Collision, the other was Mike Kalinowski’s victory over Kevin Smets, which earned him the chance to challenge Rachel for the title. The venue: San Diego. The time: Comic-Con. With a crowd of geeks cheering them on, the greatest of rivals went head-to-head once again. Much like the last time they met, Rachel took an early lead and a bad start to Round 2 for “The Killer” saw her ahead by 3. Things changed in Round 3 as the betting round saw the score shift from 18-15 in her favour to 15-18 behind, which stretched to 15-21 by the end of Round 4. While Rachel managed to answer all her Round 5 questions correctly, the deficit was too much to overcome as Kalinowski hit his 2- and 3-pointers to win back the title in yet another contender for Match of the Year.
And so, we reached the end. In a special episode, Clarke and Rachel announced that they will both be stepping away from competition, with their upcoming Championship match against KOrruption set to be their last match regardless of the result.
And what a way to go out, with the match having been announced as a Schmoedown Throwdown. Having faced each other four times over Singles and Innergeekdom, it seemed somewhat fitting that Rachel’s last hurrah would see her face Mike Kalinowski once again.
For one night only the Fyffe Club reformed, with Emma Fyffe and Marc Andreyko escorting Clarke and Rachel out. The Shirewolves put in a strong Round 1 performance but found themselves behind as Chance Ellison produced a perfect round and hit the bonus for a 13-15 scoreline.
Round 2 saw KOrruption hit Kalinowski’s ideal category of James Bond, while the Shirewolves stuck with Dramas and held their own, finding themselves only 3 points behind. Both teams scored 2 points in Round 3 and then it came to the buzzer round. Rachel has often found this round to be a weakness, but she was first to buzz in on the opening 2 questions, before Chance took over to get the last 3 points and extend the lead to 4 points. After Clarke hit the 2-pointer, Rachel put the Shirewolves ahead with the 3-pointer.
It looked like they may take the victory when Mike and Chance assigned themselves to the wrong 2- and 3-point questions, but KOrruption took the lead with their 5-pointer. And so it came down to the last question in the Shirewolves’ career: a 5-pointer to in the game. Sadly, there was to be no fairy tale ending for the pair, as they were unable to get the correct answer and in yet another iconic moment that will go down in Schmoedown history, Rachel was left to congratulate Mike Kalinowski on becoming the 3rd double-belted champion and – after an emotional farewell, Rachel and Clarke stepped away to leave us all broken hearted.
Farewell and Thank You!
Regardless of the result, to have gone from not feeling comfortable in front of a camera to becoming an Innergeekdom Champion and 2-time Teams Champion, not to mention only the second competitor to have been double-belted, Rachel has shown herself to be one of the greatest Schmoedown Pros in the league’s history.
Thank you, Rachel. We hope to see you back in the future!