Matt Cardona Talks Zack Ryder Past, His Wrestling Future, and Challenges An AEW Star

It has been a whirlwind month for Matt Cardona (former WWE superstar Zack Ryder). Although Cardona received his WWE release along with dozens of others on April 15th, life has certainly not slowed down in his household. There's always work to be done for the man who proclaims that he is "always ready." Cardona is the host of the successful Major Wrestling Figure Podcast alongside longtime friend Brian Myers (Curt Hawkins), and the show continues to grow to greater heights with each passing month, keeping Cardona busy while he awaits the next chapter in his wrestling career. We should mention that he's also preparing for a wedding with NXT's Chelsea Green.

So with podcasting, YouTube videos, and wedding planning taking up a good majority of his time, what are Cardona's thoughts on his wrestling future? The former WWE Intercontinental, United States, and Tag Team Champion sat down with this week to discuss it all.

"It's crazy. People think since I got released, I have all this time on my hands. I actually have less time because I'm setting myself up for everything. I say always ready. It's more than just a hashtag. I've been talking to companies about Major Wrestling Figure Podcast products. I've been designing new gear, working on new music. I've been reorganizing my collection. So there's not enough time in the day. I'm not just sitting and getting fat. I'm working out in the backyard. I'm ready to go," Cardona explained.

Having signed with the WWE at 20 years old (Cardona turned 35 on the day of our interview), he has spent nearly half of his life with the company that he grew up watching as a fan. When looking back at his career highlights, one stood out above the rest.

"Number one in ring wise would be winning the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 32," he said. "I know that's the answer everyone expected, but it's the truth. Winning the title after so many ups and downs, just having that match after so many ups and downs. Coming down that aisle, hearing my music play and winning the title was just kind of the icing on the cake. I had already won, just walking out and hearing my music play and then, having my dad slide in. That's not part of the show. That was not storyline. That was not written by a writer. That was Dolph Ziggler waving my dad over it and my dad said, 'Okay,' hopped the guard rail and slid right in the ring."

"But also, the whole year of 2011 when I started my YouTube show, Z! True Long Island Story. I'm so proud of that because WWE, hey listen, it's a TV show, right? There's certain characters. Some characters get more time on screen than others and I was one of those characters that they didn't feel needed more screen time, but I didn't agree with that. I thought I needed to be on TV and I started that YouTube show to get noticed, to create buzz. I either wanted to get noticed or get fired, but I wanted the buzz because if WWE kept me, and thank God they did, I would have been on television and on pay-per-views, get a lot of merch.

"But then again, if I would have gotten fired for the things I was saying or doing, I would've had all this buzz on the Indies or if I went to TNA or something like that. So forcing WWE to use me and proving them wrong was awesome. But also, showing the supporters who were with me from day one, proving them right. And I believe that even to this day is, proving my supporters right is way more important than proving doubters wrong."

Cardona's rise to prominence in 2011 due to the success of his aforementioned YouTube series made him one of the most popular members of the roster during that era. A segment with The Rock at Madison Square Garden (Survivor Series 2011) was even interrupted by "We Want Ryder" chants at one point. However, by 2012 Cardona's momentum had stalled in part because of the way that a storyline with John Cena and Eve Torres had been scripted, in many fan's eyes. We asked Cardona about his thoughts on that period.

"Well let's be honest, it didn't play out the way I had hoped," he said of the storyline.

"I said this before. At the time, I was too naive too, too young, too immature to really... If something was going down, all I had to do was knock on Vince's door and ask why it was happening. I've been busting my ass. I was one of the top merch sellers. I did used to ask that question, 'Why is this happening? Why is all my hard work literally just dying?' Getting pushed off a stage or thrown through a stage or thrown off a loading dock. I saw all my hard work. It was literally a kick in the balls. I got kicked in the balls at WrestleMania, but I never asked that question. I never went to Vince personally. I never went to the higher ups myself.

"So I don't blame anybody but myself for that. People use that term buried. Hey, if you want to say that anybody buried anybody, Zack Ryder buried Zack Ryder because I didn't have... I didn't go up. I didn't go to Vince. I didn't ask questions. So I blame nobody, but myself. Do I wish it would have ended differently? 100%, of course. I saw all my hard work from that YouTube show, starting 2011 as a nobody, ending the year as the U.S. Champion. And then 2012, it just went downhill and downhill fast. I don't blame anybody but myself for that."

(Photo: WWE)

I asked Ryder about the ideas that he did pitch to McMahon and the writing team. Were there any that he was excited about that didn't get used?

"That's one of the things about pitching ideas. You always got to pitch. I'm a firm believer in that. So many of my ideas have gone through. Things like the Edgeheads. Things like the Woo-woo guy. That was all my idea or Hawkins and I for the Edgeheads, and those happened. Are there some that didn't happen? Of course. One of them was that I wanted to get fired and not like the general manager firing me. Like a real getting fired and I wanted to really go and do Indies and with social media, I wanted to create as much buzz as possible. That's an idea I presented to Vince. He seemed to like it, but it never actually happened.

"And I remember a couple of weeks later, it was in a Raw draft (and) that obviously didn't happen either. That Baron Corbin, who I think (was) the general manager at the time, was going to fire me. I was like, 'Oh, that's not what I want to happen.' Because then, people know it's storyline. I wanted to get released like how I really got released now. And then, I would play it up on social media and show up at all these Indies and really create some buzz. That's just something that for one reason or another didn't happen. I kept thinking it might happen, it might happen. And then eventually I was like, 'You know what? Let's not do this.' They weren't going to do it anyway. It wasn't my decision. But then eventually when Hawkins and Ryder reunited, I'm like, 'Alright, I guess we're not going with this whole getting fired,' which thank God because the Hawkins and Ryder thing led us the WrestleMania. So it worked out for the best."

During an interview I conducted with Brian Myers last week, he mentioned that Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows had asked he and Cardona about possibly competing in the NJPW World Tag League down the line. I asked him about that possibility, as well as a dream match for himself in Japan.

"Tag tournament seems pretty damn cool," Cardona said. "Hawkins (Myers) and I, we said, 'Hey, we're released. We're going our separate ways.' But for cool opportunities like something like that, again, I'd love to wrestle Gallows and Anderson in Japan. I'd love to wrestle guys like the Rock and Roll Express or the Headbangers. Right now, we're just doing our own thing. But if the opportunity presents itself or something like that, I would love to do that. And as you said for dream opponents in Japan, I would love to wrestle Jay White. He's at the top of his game right now. I think we'd have some great matches. I think we have a very similar style. So I would love to have some kick ass matches with him."

The obvious future for Cardona seems to involve All Elite Wrestling. He is good friends with AEW Executive Vice President Cody Rhodes and Chief Brand Officer Brandi Rhodes. What does Ryder think about his prospects in AEW and who would he like to wrestle?

"I love AEW. Cody and Brandi, two of my closest friends. Would I love to wrestle with Cody in AEW? Absolutely. Guys who were in WWE, like Brodie Lee, I'd love to wrestle. Guys like (Jon) Moxley. I've had kick ass matches with them both. I'd love to do that. But there's also so many guys like Trent (Beretta). A guy like Trent, who I grew up with, who I started in wrestling school with. I'd love to wrestle Trent. I watch the show every week. You have to. I'm a huge AEW fan. So I would love to wrestle... Honestly, there's so many guys like SCU, Christopher Daniels, Kazarian never got in the ring with those guys. There's so many guys. It's not like who do I want to wrestle. It's who I don't want to wrestle and the answer, I want to wrestle everybody. There's nobody on that roster who I don't want to wrestle. That's the answer to the question really."

However, as we continued talking, it was clear that Ryder also has one name in particular on his list: AEW's rising star Darby Allin.

"Darby Allin is one of those guys who, I'll be honest, I never really knew anything about him until AEW. And then, you see this guy and he comes out on the skateboard. He's got that cool face paint and he's just got this look about him and this aura and all the pre-tapes and the vignettes. You're invested in this guy. I could definitely have some kick ass matches with him. I'd love to have some good storytelling matches in there because this guy could do some stuff."

Cardona went on to call-out Allin further within the course of our interview.

"Hey, and I want to say Darby Allin, if you're reading this, I have lost to a skateboarder before. So I'm prepared. If you can find the footage on YouTube, it's me and Tyson Kidd. We took on Rob Dyrdek. We took on him and 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper at (WrestleMania) Axxess and I believe that aired on his show that was on MTV. The finish of the match was Rob Dyrdek coming down a skate ramp on a skateboard and beating me with a cross body off the skateboard off a skate ramp. So I'm prepared, all right. I've been in the ring with skateboarders before. So Darby Allin, if you're listening, if you're reading, I'm always ready, baby."


Our interview with Cardona went on to discuss wrestling figures, a must when you're talking with the co-host of The Major Wrestling Figure Podcast. Check back with for part two of our interview in the days ahead.

Media: Please credit Ryan Droste and when using quotes from this interview.