Not a fortnight removed from his surprise appearance at Impact! Wrestling’s Hard To Kill event, Matt Cardona, F.K.A. Zack Ryder, opens up on his runs in WWE & AEW, what he wants to achieve in Impact!, whether we’ll see a follow up to his hit ‘Hoeski’ & living in the moment by being ‘Alwayz Ready.’
We were all reeling at your debut at Impact! at Hard To Kill. Do you have any specific goals you want to achieve at Impact! Wrestling?
“I’m a very goal orientated person. I’m not here to prove anyone wrong, I’m here to prove supporters right & present myself right. So how cool would it be to be holding that Impact! World Championship over my head, by the end of 2021? Why be there just to be there? I’m very happy to be part of Impact!, but I don’t want to be here just to be here. I’m here to further myself & my career. There’s no better than walking away with that World Championship.
Impact!’s roster has expanded so much in the past year. Is there a star there you’re especially eager to get in the ring with?
“You know, I’m a big wrestling figure fan. Coming to Impact! Feels like a Christmas morning where I have all these new toys to play with & I’ve never wrestled any of these guys before! Eddie Edwards, Moose, Sami Callihan or Ken Shamrock! I could wrestle Ken Shamrock?! There’s so many names, let’s just say everybody; Guys I haven’t faced and even guys I have, like The Good Brothers, Brian Myers & Tommy Dreamer; who I thought I retired on ECW like 10 years ago. I’ll take them all on all over again.”
Do you feel you have unfinished business with anybody on the Impact! Roster?
“I came in at Hard to Kill & defeated Ace Austin… but not in the way I would have liked. I want that 123 over Austin, not a disqualification victory. He’s somebody who I think has the ‘it’ factor & I have kept up with his work for a while. He’s a good kid, but he runs his mouth a lot. I’d love to have more matches with him.”
Is a Major Brothers tag team reunion on the cards at all in Impact!, or are you hoping to continue your success in the singles division?
“Brian Myers & I, been there done that with the whole ‘tag team thing’. If I need somebody to challenge The Good Brothers, who better to call than Myers. But if it’s not for the gold… Brian, I don’t wanna team with you. Gold… or bust, that’s it.
Speaking of tags and ‘singles’… I was wondering if we might get a follow up to ‘Hoeski’ any time soon?
“Oh, no no. I’m a one-hit wonder when it comes to the music baby; one-hit wonder.”
Last year you had a great but short stint in AEW, from July until September. Those shorter-term contracts are a little bit rarer, with Chris Jericho in WWE being the most obvious example. What was the backstory of your time in AEW?
“Full disclosure… I had been in WWE for 14/ 15 years straight; my whole adult life. I guess you could say, I had just gotten out of a long-term relationship and I didn’t wanna get straight into a new one. I wanted to ‘date’ a little bit, and I still do; I haven’t signed an Impact! Wrestling contract yet.
I say I’m ‘Still Here’, but I mean in the industry; not with any particular company. There is so much opportunity in this industry right now, and for now, Impact! Is the spot where I’m at. I feel like it has the most opportunity for me. Having only been here a few weeks, it quickly felt like a breath of fresh air for me. I had other means of creative outlet, but I missed the industry. Designing fresh gear, travelling; I don’t even think I realised i missed it until I arrived at Impact!.”
During the past decade, you have been regarded as one of the most held down performers in the entire wrestling industry. What made you so loyal to WWE?
“A few years ago I realised that there aren’t a lot of things you can control in this business. You can control your physique, your workout schedule, diet, your gear; if you can do all these things then you look like a star. But the most important thing is your attitude. When you do that, nobody can make you unhappy, or negative or bitter. The best I can do is walk into work, looking like a star & see if there’s an opportunity for me. I’m not going to win every match or even appear on every show; that just isn’t life. Nobody is champion forever, nobody wins forever but I can say that I have always been ready for an opportunity & here at Impact!, I think I’m going to get a lot more of them.”
I agree. I think that’s a great mindset, because you do never know what’s around the corner. One day you’re winning the Intercontinental Championship at Wrestlemania; the next you’re getting low-blowed and having it ripped from you.
“I mean that’s the thing that started this ‘Alwayz Ready’ hashtag. Some people are going to get that shove & some people aren’t! That’s fine & I wouldn’t change a thing about my career because it made me the man I am today & the performer I am today. I’m grateful for everything I achieved in WWE & when I get more, new opportunities; I’m Alwayz Ready.”
Your departure from the company came in a cluster of WWE releases, all of which were talked about all over the industry. What were your initial thoughts after receiving that news?
“Thank. God! Like I said, I am so grateful for my time in WWE. I’ve never had a ‘real job’ in my life other than WWE, it provided me with so many memories & met so many friends. Everything about it was awesome, but it was time to go. I never resigned the contract that was offered to me, was I gonna resign it? I don’t know, that decision was taken away for me. But that anxiety was relieved; from Wrestlemania 35 to 36, I had no idea what I was going to do because my contract was gonna be up by this past August. My anxiety was eating away at me every single day. When the decision was eventually made for me it was such a relief; thank God. That weight was lifted.
I received a text before the call, so I kinda knew it was coming. But even before that I already had my new logos worked out & shirts ready for the ProWrestlingTees store; Alwayz Ready baby.”
Having performed in front of a Wrestlemania level audience, & having performed in the current landscape, do you feel a difference in your nerves/ mindset as you prepare for the ring?
“At the Wrestlemania where I won the Intercontinental Championship, there were over 100,000 people there… then at Hard to Kill, there were 0 people there. But I was just as nervous for both because I still want to perform and I want to be the best. It doesn’t really matter who’s out there; the wrestling industry needs its fans for the energy and of course I can’t wait for that to come back. Until then, I’m just making the most of what I’m given.
Have you had a match that you’d consider to be most proud of, if so what?
“I get this question a lot but the thing is; I don’t really like holding on to the past. Of course I’ve had some great moments and I’m proud of stuff, but I’m more focused on the future and the matches I can have.
Even just that five minute match I had with Ace Austin at HTK, that was enough to get me hungry and I want a nice, long, competitive match with somebody like that and say to myself ‘hey, this kid is the future’, whilst keeping my own mindset as ‘I am the past, present & future’; I want to prove to myself that I can still go. It’s all a test.”
Chris Sabin recently said he saw a lot of himself in Ace Austin when he was that age. With you having been a similar age to Austin when you came into the industry on a mainstream level, do you see yourself whilst looking at Austin?
“Yeah, definitely. That cocky attitude he has; but he backs it up. Let me tell you, he’s a much better bell-to-bell guy than I ever was. Just watching our match back, I look at him and I’m like ‘what- what is this guy doing?’ He’s so fast & agile, I can’t believe I was even able to keep up. He has a hell of a future, but I’m not in Impact! to ‘pass the torch’, I’m here to light it myself & carry it myself.”
You’ve mentioned ring gear; do you have a personal favourite piece of ring gear? From any wrestler of any generation.
“I think guys like Macho Man & the Ultimate Warrior really stand out to me, because they had a lot of variety in their gear. Some looked the same, but it never was. Eventually Randy Savage started wearing the cowboy hat and the tassels, but did he ever wear the same one more than once? If he did, he wore so much different stuff that you couldn’t ever tell.
I always try to not wear the same gear in too close a period, I like to change it up. Hogan had the red and yellow, which was iconic but it got boring; especially when it came to action figures. How many red and yellow action figures can you make? That’s why I change mine up so much too, I want more action figures! The term is ‘toyetic’. I want to be very toyetic.”
That’s a great term. I’ve not heard that before.
“So it’s like this; if you’re a kid, walking down the toy aisle and you’ve never seen wrestling, you want them to be drawn to that figure; whether it be the gear or the colours or what. I always wanted to be toyetic, someone like Ultimate Warrior, very toyetic. Then Stone Cold Steve Austin, one of the best of all time & one of my favourites; he isn’t toyetic.”
When you were drafted over to WWE ECW in 2009, you re-debuted with your infamous & unique half trunks-half tights. Where did that idea come from?
“At that point, I’d seen just a couple guys in the business do it. I’ll give the guy credit, when I was in Deep South Wrestling, some guy called Crew Jones had it. I thought it was so cool. At the time, I was still tagging with Brian but we weren’t with Edge anymore. We were ‘the Edgeheads’, but nobody knew who we were & nobody knew who I was. Even guys backstage would talk to us and not know who was Curt & who was Zack. So when we eventually split, I knew I had to be drastically different; I cut my hair, one-legged tights, Long Island stuff & Woo Woo Woo. At least that way, if people didn’t strictly know who I was, at least they knew I was the Woo Woo Woo guy. I wanted to stand out, and it worked. Eventually, I had to get a little more serious and switch to trunks. It was actually Jericho who pulled me aside and he goes ‘alright kid, it did its job… now it’s time to switch to trunks.’ And he was absolutely right.”
You have a very relatable presence about you, which came out through your YouTube channel. When starting that up, what was your vision?
“I can’t believe it’s been a decade. When I was doing it, I wasn’t too sure what the end goal was, but I knew I wanted to create buzz. I wasn’t happy with where I was and that by doing the channel, I was either going to get noticed or get fired. I would have been fine with either; I’m glad I didn’t get fired but if I did, I’d at least have buzz elsewhere. I wasn’t the first to start up a webshow and I wasn’t the first to have social media.
I do think I was the first to take Matt Cardona & Zack Ryder and mix them together. I think that’s such a common thing now in wrestling in 2021. Take a wrestler’s social media for example, one minute they’re calling out their opponent… and then their next tweet is about their dog?! Actors in TV shows & movies are not tweeting in character! It’s such a bizarre world is Wrestling Twitter, when you really look at it. I wanted to combine myself and my character, and that’s what I managed to do on Z! True Long Island Story. I brought my friends, family & relationship issues at the time into the show, I became transparent & I think that’s what the fans related to.”
Have you had any chats with Impact! About defending the Internet Championship at all?
“I haven’t yet. I think the whole gimmick of the Internet Championship is that I don’t defend it. But now with MC: The true Long Island Story, the new podcast that I’m starting, we have a trip down memory lane to my old YouTube show & I may unveil a new version of the Internet Championship. And I will say this… when I went to Hard To Kill, the Internet Championship was in my bag just in case Scott D’Amore goes ‘hey you wanna put the strap on the line?’, because as you know, I am Alwayz Ready.”
Your podcast with Brian Myers, the Major Wrestling Figure podcast, has been successful for a couple of years now. What does that mean to you?
“It’s incredible. We started it in August 2018 and if you listen back to the first episode, it’s about half an hour. It’s grown so much, up to the point of today where we’ve just launched the ‘Major Pod Network’ with all these spin-off shows and other shows. We have our own merchandise, we do live shows, have our action figures. We did not foresee this. We call our fans the ‘Major Marks’, we’re so grateful to them because they’ve just wanted more and it is a lot of work, but it is so much fun. They made our podcast successful, hopefully they’ll make our network successful and we thank them so much.”
What are your thoughts on the current Impact! Wrestling Champion Rich Swann?
“He is so good, so so good & so charismatic. I was watching him backstage on the monitor & it’s so easy to imagine what the crowd would be doing, it’s encapsulating. I would love to get in the ring with him.”
How long has your Impact! Debut been in the works?
“I’ve been talking to Impact! For a while, probably since the summer but it just didn’t quite make sense for me to debut yet. We’re talking very casual conversations here too. Hard To Kill was on a Saturday and I actually received the text on the Friday saying ‘hey, you wanna come to work?’. I was in the middle of a workout at the gym, I just texted back ‘Alwayz Ready’ and that was that. I didn’t even know what I was doing, I just wanted to work and it was the right time. The night before I’d done some grooming and had a little confidence tan & then suddenly I received this text. It felt like fate to me.”
Through being so transparent & because of the change in the industry, where we now know more about the man behind any persona, you’ve been able to turn up in AEW & Impact! As ‘Matt Cardona’. Does that feel odd or are you happy with being you in the wrestling spotlight?
“It’s 2021 you know, I could never reinvent myself and become ‘the barbarian man’. We’re now at a point where people are gonna see me in my pool on social media, people are gonna see me at Disney World, or playing with the wrestling figures. Listen, it’s me. Matt Cardona. It’s fun & games, but when the bell rings I’m gonna kick your ass. Love me or hate me, I’m not here to prove haters wrong. I’m here to prove fans right & most importantly prove myself right. I say I’m always ready? Okay, put up or shut up.
Following your release, you had a brief exchange with Miz on Twitter about a piece of merch you’d put out. What happened there?
“Me and Miz are good buddies, he was busting my balls and I was busting his right back. It started when he made a jab at a shirt I had put out. I’d had the shirt ready to go before my release. The shirt said ‘Not There’, it sold pretty well & I’m still here, meaning in the wrestling industry. So I’m still here, but I’m not ‘There’. The shirt was me saying that I am here in the wrestling business, and I am here to stay.”
It’s a very fruitful time to be a professional wrestler & also a wrestling fan, there are so many products on the go and even further outlets for them, like podcasts and ProWrestlingTees. Do you feel secure in the current landscape?
“I’ve been wrestling for a long time and I think 2020 has been my personal favourite year. That is absolutely crazy to say because I got released, and because of the global pandemic, I had to cancel my wedding but it has been so great and the opportunity has been there. Opportunity is all I have ever wanted & if I fail, I am 100% fine with that, as long as I try. Before, there was hardly anything & people told me ‘you can’t do this’, now it’s just me. I’m my own boss. Impact! Is the ultimate opportunity for me, I can’t wait to see what the next couple of months hold.”
A big thank you to Matt Cardona & Impact! Wrestling.
Continue to watch Matt Cardona in Impact! Wrestling, weekly on FreeSports in the UK; Wednesdays at 10PM.