Matt Riddle was a recent guest on Ring Rust Radio and talked about a variety of wrestling and MMA topics. Here are the highlights they sent along:
Ring Rust Radio: You became the first ever WWN champion in Orlando during WrestleMania weekend, representing all of the companies under the WWNLive umbrella. Having only been in the business for a couple of years at this point, does it surprise you that you’ve reached this level so quickly or did you always expect to catch on immediately and have this type of meteoric rise?
Matt Riddle: Well, you know when I first started wrestling, like when I first started MMA, I got to the UFC within eight months of training with jiu-jitsu and kickboxing. So, when I started training pro wrestling, I thought I was going to get to the WWE in like six or eight months. When that didn’t happen after I tried out and I realized all that goes into pro wrestling, it didn’t matter how good you look or how good you wrestle, you have to be great at everything, you can’t just be great in the ring you also have to be great on the mic. You have to be real, and I know that sounds funny with pro wrestling but you have to connect with people and engage with people to get them involved one way or another. Whether it’s booing or cheering, that’s my job is to get the crowd up. Wrestling was just a lot harder and I didn’t realize it. I know it sounds like it took forever for me to get where I am today, but compared to MMA it did take forever. Took me a little over two years of wrestling on the Indies to get here today. I think it also comes to the matches I had in Evolve and other companies. Promoters saw the potential in me and the value in me. It was because of companies like Evolve, PWG, Progress, and Beyond Wrestling. Those are the big ones that gave me a push and made my name worth something on the Indies.
Ring Rust Radio: There’s been a lot of discussion recently about hits to the head, especially head butts, after Katsuyori Shibata’s injury. What are your thoughts on attempting to limit headshots? Is this just the nature of high-impact sports, or should there be more actions taken to MMA and pro wrestling safer?
Matt Riddle: I will tell you this; you should never shoot headbutt somebody. I don’t like diving head butts and don’t see the purpose. In real life, I would never jump off a building or porch and try to headbutt you, that’s guaranteed brain damage. It’s just not a realistic move. Even with Shibata, I told them we can do whatever, but no head butts. I am really against brain damage. I know I fought in the UFC, but at the same time I had a good record standing at 10-3 in MMA and 9-3 in UFC regardless of no contest. Most of the times I left the fight with no scratches, but sometimes I would try to slug it out and get Fight of the Night. I only did that maybe two or three times out of my 12 fights. I know guys that every time they fight, they fight like that. Even when it comes to wrestling, I see my friends trying those reckless moves in the ring. I think to myself, ‘I know your 22 and 23, and you feel fine now, but s**t adds up. By the time, you are my age and 31, you’re going to be like Rock. Then by the time you are 35 and 40, you are going to be over.’ In my opinion, if you ask anyone I ever wrestled if I hit them hard in the face—wait I take that back cause I did hit Drew Galloway hard in the face, but I kicked him in the chest and my foot slipped and got him in the face—I never kick anyone hard in the head. I never knee anyone in the head, I forearm people hard, but I do it in the safe spots so you don’t get brain damage. You may get a bloody chest or bruised shoulder, but you will never be like, ‘Wow I saw a bright light when you hit me.’ I would never do that to someone. My job is to keep people safe and entertain.
Ring Rust Radio: You often hear about how tough it is to go from professional wrestling to MMA with CM Punk being a prime example, but for you, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in transitioning from MMA to pro wrestling?
Matt Riddle: With MMA and Jiu-jitsu, you aren’t working with people, you are working against them. Trying to set them up to catch them in a trap. You hide your strikes, submissions, and takedowns. You hid your setups so no one knows what you are doing. In pro wrestling, you telegraph every strike, takedown and every throw I am about to do. Very rarely is it out of nowhere. Most of the times it’s a comeback and they know. When you are entertaining a crowd of 700 people live, there is no instant replay, so you have to make things larger than life so people can see if first hand. The other hard thing for me was selling. When you fight and you get punched in the face, you don’t show it. In pro wrestling, you barely get touched and you have to show a lot.
Ring Rust Radio: I read an article you conducted recently discussing your interactions with fans; taking pictures, selling shirts and hanging out with fans after matches. Over the years you hear a lot of stories about wrestlers not embracing fans in this manner or perhaps feeling bothered by fans. Is this just something that’s part of your personality or did somebody advise you on how to deal with fans?
Matt Riddle: You know, even when I fought in the UFC, I wasn’t able to sell merch or anything like that. When I was in the UFC, I would get tickets for a fight, and then what I would do is go in the crowds and watch the rest of the fights. A lot of times I would end up taking pictures and signing people’s books. I didn’t care if I got any money or anything, I was just there enjoying my time and watching the fights. Not that I feel like I owe it to anyone, but I was just enjoying myself. If someone comes up to me and asks for an autograph or picture, who am I to say no? It’s the same thing with wrestling. When I go out to my merch table during a show, I have heard old timers don’t like that because they think it’s disrespectful. When I am sitting in the back when all my friends are wrestling and I can’t see s**t because I am in the back. So, I would rather go out to my merch table, hang with the fans and watch the matches from my table. I am not in a front row seat, so I am standing in the back and have a great view of the action. I don’t think I go out of my way to hang out with the fans, but I am there with them. If someone was like, “Hey let’s go get a drink” and I am already hanging out with them, why not? I have seen other wrestlers who would say I am not hanging out with that mark. I would tell them we are all marks man, we are wrestlers. I may hate them someday, but right now I love the fans and they seem to love me. I enjoy their company and I enjoy watching wrestling. I feel like that’s why I get along with so many people on the Indies. I feel like we are all the same person. We are 16-35 years old, we love wrestling and like hard-hitting wrestling. We just have a lot in common with that demographic and I feel like that’s why I get along with them. I don’t feel out of place, it feels like home.
Ring Rust Radio: You’ve spoken recently about WWE’s interest in you. Would you be open to working with the company in the future and what are some of your goals you’d like to accomplish before making that leap?
Matt Riddle: I just don’t want to go to WWE this second. They have so much talent on their roster and so much going on. I am not saying things won’t change, but right now I am working in the Indies and building my reputation. I get to work the style I want to work 100 percent and no one is telling me what to do. If I went to the WWE right now, it would be a big deal, but not as big of a deal as it could be. I like wrestling right now, working tournaments, winning titles and going all around the world. At the same time, I feel like there are a few things on my bucket list to do before I go to the WWE. I would like to wrestle for New Japan or at least wrestle in Japan. If I could be in Zack Sabre’s situation, that would be ideal for me right now. He wrestles for New Japan, Evolve and PWG. He wrestles for all the promotions I do, but he also does New Japan. I am very interested but have not talked to them directly. I have run into their people at the indie shows and that’s how I have been working my way into New Japan. That’s how I got my match with Shibata. I have another big match with someone from New Japan and they will have people from their office at that match. Hopefully, they like what they see and say something. If not, no biggie. I am doing great things, but ideally for the resume checking off New Japan is my goal. Maybe in the next few years, maybe five, then I can debut in WWE and make it a big deal. I would go straight into the big show, no NXT. Nothing against NXT, but I have done UFC and a fair amount of the indies. I feel like the route I am going, and the credentials I will have when I have that meeting with the WWE, I think the better. The more name value I have the better. The more undeniable I am the better. Then I can get what I want. Not necessarily get what I want, but yeah that’s it exactly, to get what I want.
Ring Rust Radio: It’s no secret that WWE has been combing the independent scene, looking for top talent and that you have to be firmly on their radar right now. With that said, is there anything that would give you pause or apprehension before going to WWE? Anything that concerns you about potentially wrestling there?
Matt Riddle: That’s exactly why I wouldn’t want to go there right this second unless they had a great story line and everything was ready to go with a big push when I got there, which wouldn’t be the case. That’s why I would rather work other places and get the experience I need. I feel like there are too many people there right now. When you start training, fighting or wrestling, your stopwatch starts. Eventually, you are going to turn it off and you can’t turn it back on, your time is over. I feel like on the indies, the amount I work and the people I work with and the experiences I have, I feel like I learn ten times as much as I would in the WWE. I feel like I get more attention and time and put into more positions where I am holding the whole show. In the WWE, I would just be a pawn right now, a little part of the whole show. In the WWE, it is such a big production. I am a little too immature to go there right now, but in a couple more years and keep doing what I am doing, will make me more valuable and the time even better.
For the full interview, check out Ring Rust Radio.