The burial of Zack Ryder in the WWE is one of the saddest, most unjust tales in the company’s history.
He went from being the most popular man on the roster, outselling John Cena in merchandise and getting cheered over The Rock, to being left off TV for months, before being released by the company during COVID.
In this article, we’ll explore what happened to Zack Ryder to cause his burial, how John Cena had a hand in his demise and where Zack Ryder is now.
What Happened To Zack Ryder?
Zack Ryder’s momentum was ruined in the WWE, because Vince McMahon did not appreciate him getting over without his permission.
It sounds absolutely ridiculous that the WWE would discourage a wrestler for getting popular with the crowd and outselling John Cena in t-shirts, but they did just that with Zack Ryder.
Long Island Iced Z was never meant to get over. He was a jobber on ECW, looking ridiculous with his one-legged tights and annoying Jersey Shore gimmick.
However, he managed to get over with the fans without even appearing on TV, whilst he was working as a jobber on Raw. He didn’t appear for months, but managed to get cheered over The Rock due to his online persona.
Before social media took over the world as we know it, the former Intercontinental Champion took advantage of this new-age technology to keep in touch with the fans.
He created Z! True Long Island Story, a Youtube show that poked fun at his wrestling career and helped establish his character in the WWE. This was a huge hit by fans, and he quickly racked up millions of views on Youtube.
Fans loved Zack Ryder, and even chanted for him during a segment involving The Rock.
However, he would not be allowed to get too over. He was made on-screen friends with John Cena, who leached off his popularity before stealing his girlfriend (Eve Torres), before Kane threw him off the stage in a wheelchair.
Ryder went from being the top merchandise seller (despite having one shirt) and getting huge cheers, to being rarely featured on TV, and not winning a match for many years.
The work with Cena was originally a high point for Zack Ryder, but he did not know this would be the end his run as a featured star in the WWE.
Speaking to the Keepin’ It 100 podcast, Zack Ryder spoke about what happened to him in the WWE, and how he was buried by the company despite getting himself over.
He said that he realised how his time was over after WrestleMania, when he kicked in the balls by Eve Torres, and what followed was him doing absolutely nothing.
“I started the show in 2011, like I said, doing nothing on TV. By the end of 2011, that’s when I finally get on television and end up winning the US title. The crowd was just incredible, and I have to thank them because they were chanting my name non-stop. It got to a point where they had to do something with me because they just wouldn’t shut up.
Right after winning the title in December, in January of the next year (2012), I started working with John Cena, who was seen as the top guy. It was surreal, doing stuff with John Cena. But then, I got choke slammed by Kane off the stage, and I was in a neck brace and wheelchair. I got pushed off, and that was early 2012. I was thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’
Then, at WrestleMania that year, I got kicked in the balls by Eve Torres. At the time, I thought, ‘Okay, I’m working with Cena, I’m working with Kane, I’m in this WrestleMania match.’ But I didn’t realize it was over until WrestleMania ended. And then, pretty much, I was done. I didn’t continue on with Kane, nothing with Eve, nothing with Cena. Everything that I had worked so hard for just disappeared.”
He Won The Intercontinental Championship At WrestleMania
Despite being held down for years, Zack Ryder was given a huge opportunity at WrestleMania 32.
The then-yearly ladder match for the Intercontinental Championship was due to take place, with Kevin Owens putting his belt on the line in a seven-man ladder match.
The entrants in the match changed tremendously over the months leading up to WrestleMania. With injuries to stars like Cesaro and Neville, the field was completely changed, with some shock members added to the match.
Zack Ryder was one of them. He had no wrestled in a singles pay per view match in years, and was regularly used a jobber on Main Event or Superstars.
He joined other forgotten stars like Sin Cara and Stardust in the match, in what was gearing up to be a disappointing opener at WrestleMania 32.
However, that completely changed. The match was a fun chance to see stars we usually wouldn’t in this position, and Zack Ryder finally got a chance to hear his music at WrestleMania for the first time.
He even went one further, shocking the world by climbing the ladder and winning the match, earning himself the Intercontinental Championship for the first time in his career.
Zack Ryder even went backstage after the show, and took a picture with Scott Hall. As a child, a young Ryder had taken a photo holding Razor Ramon’s title belt, and now Hall was doing the same with his.
In a recent episode of “The Extreme Life of Matt Hardy“, Matt Cardona spoke about his WWE Intercontinental Championship win at WrestleMania 32, calling the moment “very, very special”
“Just being in that match was a win for me. Just to have a WrestleMania entrance and to see my name in a WrestleMania program … it was cool. Then days before , they told me I was gonna win. That’s way too many hours out, it’s a miracle that it didn’t change. I ended up winning the Intercontinental title. My dad genuinely jumped the guardrail and slid into the ring. It’s a moment I will never ever forget. That moment was very very special to me.”
After His Release, He Became The Biggest Independent Wrestling Star
After leaving WWE, Zack Ryder started a brief run with AEW, although he failed to impress and soon left the company.
Ryder, now going by his real name of Matt Cardona, began engaging in twitter spats with GCW champion and infamous deathmatch wrestler, Nick Gage.
It started with Gage and Cardona tweeting each other, Gage seemingly having a problem with the former WWE Superstar. The pair traded barbs on twitter, which seemed like a real dislike for each other. Cardona said in an interview that “Deathmatch wrestling is not my cup of tea”, insulting what Gage has made his livelihood over his career.
Ryder took this feud with Gage, and used it as the basis of his new character. Gage, known as “the King” in GCW, repeatedly called Matt Cardona by his WWE character, Zack Ryder. Cardona used this to his advantage, and based his gimmick around his previous WWE persona.
Due to Gage’s penchant for Deathmatch wrestling, Cardona began to refer to himself as an “ECW Original”. That term is reserved for the stars of the original, innovative Paul Heyman led company of the 1990s.
It is a term that commands respect, including the likes of Rob Van Dam, Tommy Dreamer and the Dudley Boys. Matt Cardona, as Zack Ryder, competed in the poorly received reboot.
By the time Ryder made his way to ECW, they had done away with the hardcore matches that made them famous.
Matt Cardona as Zack Ryder competed in WWE style matches, which did not garner the respect of the vocal GCW crowd. The proclamation of him being an ECW original led him suffering the ire of the GCW fans, helping cement him as a heel in their eyes.
This helped him become one of the most popular characters on the independent scene, and saw him being coveted by both AEW and WWE.
You can read more about Zack Ryder’s indie character by clicking this link.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.