On the 15th April 2020, WWE came to terms with the release of Zack Ryder. The former United States, Intercontinental and Tag Team Champion had been a fixture on WWE TV since 2007, as a part of Edge’s “La Familia” Stable. Real name Matt Cardona, he tagged with Curt Hawkins as the Edgeheads. He had a stint in NXT with partner Mojo Rowley, but never became the NXT Champions.
He went through a number of gimmicks in WWE, before ending up as “Long Island Iced-Z” Zack Ryder. While competing on WWE’s version of ECW, Ryder produced his won Youtube show. Entitled “Z! True Long Island Story“, the show poked fun at himself and promoted his WWE Character.
The show was a huge hit with fans, garnering a huge following and gaining millions of views on Youtube. Ryder pioneered the use of Social Media in wrestling. He was one of the most followed stars in the company on twitter, and fans clamoured to see their favourite internet star.
Outshining the Rock
Ryder’s merchandise sold out on WWE.com. Despite not appearing on TV and having no merch available at arena’s, he was one of the top sellers in the company, outselling the likes of John Cena and Randy Orton. He even has one honour very few, if any men, can boast.
After 7 years away from the ring, The Rock returned at Survivor Series 2011. To build up to his Wrestlemania match against John Cena, the pair tagged in the main event against R-Truth and The Miz. Cena and Rock were victorious, and the Rock took to the microphone after the match to address the crowd. But as he began to spoke, the deafening yells of the crowd became to much to ignore.
“We Want Ryder” rang around the arena, with the Madison Square Garden crowd longing to see their new favourite star. Ryder had been a regular fixture, every week on wrestling fans computer screens on Youtube. However, in this event, Ryder wasn’t even on the card. It showed the power of social media, one that WWE had failed to capitalise on and one Zack Ryder had mastered.
His reward for “Grabbing the Brass Ring”? A solitary United States title win, a main event program with Kane and John Cena, and being embarrassed by the both of them. Ryder left television, was hardly used and was largely forgotten about my management. A sole Intercontinental title win and a tag team run with Curt Hawkins, where a losing streak was the main focus of the run, encapsulated the rest of his WWE career.
On April 2020, WWE released Zack Ryder, real name Matt Cardona, from his contract. Citing cost cutting measures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, WWE released him along with a handful of talent. This included former tag team partner Curt Hawkin’s, AEW star Miro (Then called Rusev) and Olympic star Kurt Angle. Despite record revenue, WWE elected to release these stars to free up wages, amid the lack of crowds due to COVID-19 lockdowns.
He quickly moved on to pastures new, debuting for America’s hottest promotion, AEW, in July. He made his All Elite Wrestling debut as Matt Cardona (WWE owned the Zack Ryder name), saving real life friend Cody Rhodes from an attack from the Dark Order.
His run in AEW was unmemorable. He was simply a rehash of his WWE character, with the name simply changed from Zack Ryder to Matt Cardona. The fans didn’t want to see Zack Ryder, they wanted something new, something fresh. He wasn’t going to get the fans to cheer him by simply rehashing his WWE character.
He quietly left the company in September after some unspectacular matches, and settled into a role with Impact wrestling the following year. Cardona is still with Impact at the moment and continues to be featured on their show every week.
Zack Ryder to Matt Cardona
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.
Cardona’s New Character
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.
“Deathmatch wrestling really isn’t my cup of tea” – ECW Original Matt Cardona
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 clear 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.
It is a return to the cutting edge with Cardona. Too long have we seen wrestlers leave WWE, and carry on pretending they never left. The long-standing joke “What is — doing in the Impact Zone?!” rang true. Stars like Billy Gunn and Road Dogg (Remember the Voodoo Kin Mafia?), Rikishi and Test entered TNA (Now called IMPACT!) as the same people they had been in WWE.
This is what makes Matt Cardona’s character brilliant.
Matt Cardona – “Zack Ryder is Fucking Dead”
Matt Cardona IS Zack Ryder. The character is what Zack Ryder was in WWE. Is he the Long Island Iced Z? Absolutely not. Because he is the perception of himself in WWE. Matt Cardona/Zack Ryder thinks he’s a star. He’s been told over the past 14 years how much of a superstar he is. He thanks the fans for all he’s achieved, and jets across the world to WOO! WOO! WOO! with all his adoring fans. He is cookie cutter, bland babyface who WWE fans lap up, and the likes of GCW fans want to hurl their bottles at.
Matt Cardona is the best character in wrestling right now, and he’s just being Zack Ryder. As he always has been.