Matt Cardona has transformed his wrestling persona since his release in 2020, going from being the jobber Zack Ryder, to being known as the “King of the Death Match”.
The former Intercontinental Champion was released by the WWE in April 2020. While he had a short stint in AEW, alongside Cody Rhodes, he was exactly the same as his WWE character and did not impress in his limited appearance.
However, it was once he signed up with Game Changer Wrestling that Matt Cardona’s new character was born, taking the indies by storm.
How Matt Cardona Became The Death Match King
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.
Speaking of the GCW fans, or as Cardona has begun to call them, “The GCW Universe”. An apparent mocking of the WWE’s sanitised, childish term for their fans, an obvious marketing term.
GCW fans, some of the most hardcore of all fans, did not take lightly to being talked down to by the former WWE wrestler. They were furious with him.
Matt Cardona treated the GCW fans as if he were the good guy, and the fans part of the WWE universe. He talked down to them, as the likes of John Cena would to his young fandom.
With Cena, it’s showmanship. With Cardona, it was clearly patronising. Matt Cardona was basically playing Zack Ryder, the typical WWE face. Of course, that made him the ultimate heel against the hardcore, dangerous and real Nick Gage.
At the GCW Homecoming event, Matt Cardona beat Nick Gage to become the GCW Champion. This was his first ever Death match, and he wore all white attire to amplify the violence and bloodshed on show.
He soon began marketing himself as the “Deathmatch King”, something that Nick Gage was effectively known as for his incredible performances in the match type.
He used it to get great heat in the promotion and all over the indies, with fans incensed that he would brag about his one and only death match appearance.
He revealed it was his first, and last, time he would wrestle in a death match, during an appearance on Talk is Jericho. Matt Cardona joined Chris Jericho, Dr Luther, Sabu and Ruby Soho in talking about the history of Hardcore matches.
Cardona revealed that he only ever wrestled one Deathmatch, and used the hatred from the fans to sell merchandise and get great heat over the use of the phrase. The hardcore fans in GCW hated Cardona for this, and he soon became the biggest heel on the independent scene.
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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.