Matt Cardona On Career Resurgence, Texting Vince McMahon, NWA Run, WWE Return, More

Graham GSM Matthews@@WrestleRantFeatured Columnist IVJune 9, 2022

Matt Cardona On Career Resurgence, Texting Vince McMahon, NWA Run, WWE Return, More

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    Credit: National Wrestling Alliance

    The thought of WWE's Zack Ryder holding the NWA Worlds Heavyweight Championship–a title with lineage that dates back nearly three-quarters of a century–would have been unfathomable a few years ago.

    In fact, the thought of Ryder finding success anywhere but WWE was tough to visualize at one point seeing as how he appeared to be a lifer there. However, getting released by the promotion in the first wave of pandemic-cited "budget cuts" in April 2020 proved to be the best thing that could have happened to him professionally.

    In addition to a short stint in All Elite Wrestling, the rebranded Matt Cardona has left his mark everywhere he has been, most notably Game Changer Wrestling in the summer of 2021. It was there that he turned heel for the first time in nearly a decade and became one of the most hated performers in the entire business.

    The self-proclaimed Major Player now finds himself headlining events for the National Wrestling Alliance, including Alwayz Ready on Saturday. The pay-per-view will feature an appearance by the current NWA Worlds Heavyweight champion despite suffering a torn bicep late last month.

    Ahead of Alwayz Ready this weekend, Cardona sat down with Bleacher Report to discuss his career resurgence, texting Vince McMahon recently, the possibility of a WWE return and more. Check out the complete video of the interview on the next slide and read on for the highlights.

What He Wants to Accomplish in NWA and How He Defines Success

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    Cardona's NWA debut at Hard Times 2 in December, where he ambushed then-NWA worlds heavyweight champion Trevor Murdoch, took everyone by surprise. He wasted no time in making his presence felt and winning that title two months later.

    The 37-year-old was already finding success in GCW and Impact Wrestling, but NWA stood out to him in a completely different way.

    Although Cardona respects the history and tradition of the promotion, he wants to see it taken to the next level and feels he's the guy to do it as the reigning champ.

    "I went into NWA with one goal in mind: to be the top dog, to be the champion," he said. "And that's just what I did. I went after Trevor Murdoch, I beat Trevor Murdoch, and it did not make a lot of people happy. I didn't make a lot of friends in the locker room, especially with a lot of the things I said about NWA. As a kid, I thought it was old, dated and boring, and before I got there, I thought it was old, dated and boring. I want to change NWA, I want to help NWA and, selfishly, I want to help myself."

    What fans will see from Cardona at Alwayz Ready on Saturday will be completely different than anything he did previously in WWE. He was adamant about not resting on his laurels when he left the company two years ago and took the proper steps in reinventing himself yet again.

    As a result, he feels he's in his element at the moment and that he's more successful than ever before, an extra-impressive feat considering his best work hasn't come on a major stage.

    "I'm not living in the past," Cardona said. "Back in the day when somebody left WWE, they'd go to the indies and do the same old shtick, Honky Tonky Man-it-up and sell some gimmicks, but not me. I'm proving you don't need WWE and you don't need AEW to be a successful pro wrestler, and I don't just mean wins and losses. I mean money! And I would argue success should be defined by happiness, not so much by money. Of course, we need money to live and I'm making a lot of it, but I'm the happiest I've ever been and I'd argue I'm the hottest I've ever been."

Enjoying His Heel Run

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    Although Cardona spent the first few years of his WWE career as a heel, he was best known for being a fan favorite from 2011 through 2020. That's why it came as such a shock when he decided to turn villain upon his arrival in GCW in 2021.

    The heat he received for winning the GCW Championship from beloved independent star Nick Gage was truly remarkable. Trash was thrown in the ring, obscenities were chanted and he was almost attacked by audience members.

    It was exactly what he wanted.

    "When I went to GCW, I was hated," Cardona said. "They were flipping me off. I wasn't used to that. Then when I won the championship, they were throwing bottles at me, pizza cutters at me. There were people in the crowd with my action figure being hung with a noose. I was like, 'What is going on here?' Independent wrestling has really taken off to new heights because of social media, there's Fite TV, there's streaming. If you go to Atlantic City to see GCW, it's not just the couple of hundred people in attendance. People all over the country and world are watching."

    Word of his polarizing title win spread fast and caught fire with the internet. More and more fans started flipping him off in the months that followed, and although it started out as a minority, he eventually had to become a full-fledged heel everywhere he went because he was so despised.

    "If there are people who genuinely hate me, that's great. I don't care," Cardona said. "I'm not trying to to prove doubters wrong. I'm trying to prove myself and my fans right, and if I get some new fans, great, glad to have you, but I'm not trying to prove anyone wrong. I don't have a chip on my shoulder. This is me."

Returning to WWE and His Relationship with Vince McMahon

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    As much as he's digging what he's doing at the moment and loves the freedom he has to do whatever he wants, Cardona would still enjoy the opportunity to compete under the bright lights at WrestleMania one more time.

    That said, he stressed it's more of an option available to him down the road than it is a formal goal, reiterating that he doesn't need either of the major companies to consider himself successful.

    “I'd be lying if I said I never wanted to wrestle in Madison Square Garden again or never wanted to wrestle in a big stadium for a WrestleMania," he said. "Of course I would. I'm not saying that. But I'm also not saying that I'm doing everything I'm doing now thinking, 'What can I do to get back to WWE?' or 'What can I do to go to AEW?' I don't give a sh*t. Sorry, I don't. If Tony Khan or Vince McMahon or Johnny Ace or Bruce Prichard called me, of course, I'd pick up the phone and have a conversation, but that's not my goal right now.”

    Cardona revealed earlier this year that he sent a picture of himself holding several title belts to Vince McMahon. He confirmed that his former boss responded soon after simply saying, 'Wow' in all caps.

    The former Zack Ryder was under contract to WWE for almost 15 years, but it wasn't until after he left that he started to develop a real relationship with McMahon.

    “I always had a good relationship with Vince, especially the last couple of years," Cardona said. "I'd go into his office, not necessarily to get things done, but I was sick of pitching ideas to the writers and all that B.S. If it's going to happen, it's going to happen because Vince wants it to happen. Listen, not everything I pitched happened. A majority didn't, but at least I found out from Vince and not some writer.

    "I never had Vince's number and I never texted with him, but then last year, I got a happy birthday text," he confirmed. "I wondered who the 203 number was and someone said it was Vince McMahon. I was like, 'Oh, sh*t.' So, I text him every once in a while for the hell of it.”

If His Current Character Would Work in WWE

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    Part of what has made Cardona's stint in GCW so special is that everything he's been doing would never fly in WWE or even AEW. He knows how to get under the skin of the audience and does it exceptionally well.

    Having not completely closed the door on a WWE return in the future, he believes his current character could be a success there with the proper push.

    "There's certain things I'd have to tone down like the cursing, but other than that, I absolutely think it would [work]," Cardona said. "It's just a different side of me, it's the evolution."

    Cardona has been reinventing himself since the start of his run in WWE and has known when to switch it up when something isn't working. He's of the mindset that you must always be innovating or risk getting left behind.

    A one-off Royal Rumble return could be in the cards in the future, but realistically speaking, he knows it would likely be as Zack Ryder, the moniker he used for a majority of his WWE career.

    “I wouldn't be opposed to coming back as Zack Ryder," he said. "I love my 'Always Ready' music. It would basically be me, just with the old Zack Ryder name. No more 'Oh Radio,' none of that stuff, even though Downstait did make the harder version of it.

    "I would love to come back as me, Matt Cardona, but I think realistically, the WWE has that IP and they've invested a lot in that name, so I would have no problem [doing it], even if it was a one-off at the Royal Rumble or something like that. I think it'd be interesting.

    "If I were to come out, I don't know if the people would boo. I think I'd get a huge pop! I think I'd be a babyface again."

Comparing the Companies He's Worked For

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    Cardona spent so much time in WWE that he recognizes them as the top dog in the industry, but he's had positive experiences everywhere he's been since leaving.

    Each promotion has its strengths and has provided him with the tools necessary to become a complete performer.

    He's walked away from every promotion having gained a new skill set as well as an appreciation for the place he finds himself in his career right now.

    “Obviously, WWE is No. 1, there's no denying that," he said. "AEW is incredible as well. Impact was super-great for me because I needed a second chance to find myself. Even though I was a babyface in the beginning, I was able to have the matches I wanted to have. The first time I was able to talk backstage, I read what was on the sheet, and Tommy Dreamer was, like, 'What are you doing?' I said, 'I'm reading what's on the sheet.' He said, 'No, say whatever you want.' That's awesome. When you go to NWA, there's no sheet of paper that gives you an outline.”

    Killing it in both NWA and Impact has simultaneously been as much of a blast for fans watching as it has for him doing it. As long as he's creating controversy and buzz and leaving fans wanting to see him get his comeuppance, then Cardona knows he's doing his job correctly.

    "Impact has that stink on it, which is unfortunate, but I feel like with Impact and Matt Cardona, their stories are parallel with the highs and lows, but we're both on the rise," he said. "If you watch Impact week to week, the storylines make sense, everyone's doing something, the matches are awesome, fans are energetic, and it's fun to do Slammiversary which is a big show and then Alwayz Ready a week prior which is my show for NWA. It's been a lot of fun doing everything."

    NWA Alwayz Ready airs live on Saturday, June 11 on FITE TV.

    Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, WrestleRant, and subscribe to his YouTube channel for more wrestling-related content.