Wrestling & MMA

PRO WRESTLING: Interview with ROH’s Matt Sydal, formerly WWE superstar Evan Bourne

Matt Sydal (above) in action against former Ring of Honor champ Adam Cole at an event in (Central Florida) Lakeland.
Matt Sydal (above) in action against former Ring of Honor champ Adam Cole at an event in (Central Florida) Lakeland. Photo By Lee South/Ring of Honor

Matt Sydal earned worldwide fame in WWE as Evan Bourne.

Since his release from the company in 2014, the high-flyer has gotten back to his pro wrestling roots in Ring of Honor. The exciting performer also recently appeared at the Magic City Comic Con at the Miami Airport Convention Center.

Sydal was last seen wrestling in the city before that as a surprise during an NXT event at the Miami-Dade Fair in 2013. The outing helped him get the green light from doctors after he had broken his foot in four places in a car accident a year earlier.

“They wanted to make sure I was completely healthy, which basically required a dry run,” he said. “I was able to wrestle a fun match and got good reviews on it and got cleared to wrestle. From that point on I was focused on my rehab. I still didn’t feel as comfortable as I should on my foot. I felt like I was a step behind. I did in-ring work after that. I worked out at the NXT school in Orlando. That basically led me to the next year.”

Unfortunately, the company decided to let Sydal go, nixing plans for a triumphant return. The St. Louis native has no hard feelings about the experience.

“WWE was pretty wonderful to me because I was able to rehab my foot 100 percent before I was released,” he said. “So they released the healthiest, the best, physically and mentally fit Matt into the world of wrestling. They were able to make it so during the time I couldn’t have worked at all they would take care of me. They were providing a great support system. Then after I got fired I was healthy and ready to rock. Honestly, I missed wrestling. So if they weren’t going to use me or have anything for me, it was the nice thing to let me go. Sure, I would have loved to stay, but change is always a good thing.”

Even though he doesn’t rule out another WWE run down the road, Sydal is excited to rejoin ROH. There is a unique atmosphere today compared to when he entered the locker room more than a decade ago.

“It feels like there is more to it than the show,” he said. “There is this energy, a lifeblood energy that runs through Ring of Honor. There are ties that began when I was just a young kid trying to cut my teeth in the business. I would drive 14 hours to wrestle on a Ring of Honor show that I didn’t even get paid 20 dollars for. I spent years and years and years honing my craft there.

“It feels like I joined an artist colony of all these wrestlers. Guys that were in Ring of Honor before I was there, new talent and then there are the guys who were there when I was there my first run, all in one place. There are so many people in Ring of Honor and so much talent. It was almost intimidating to be thrown back in with this wealth of talent. I realized my game better be sharp before I got in the ring because these guys were the best in the business.”

It’s been a smooth transition for the alum. He finds himself sharing meals at Waffle House with co-workers he has known for well over a decade and others who are new friends. ROH has made tremendous strides in the years since Sydal has been away, but he feels the company’s core competency has not wavered.

“They create the new young stars of professional wrestling,” he said. “That’s always been Ring of Honor’s key component to the sale of the company. You are seeing the future…I think one of the biggest things Ring of Honor is doing right now are these pay-per-views. They are a tradition in professional wrestling. I think the outreach that they are getting is really good. If you can experience the atmosphere, whether it is backstage or live, of these pay-per-views, you would really know what I’m talking about.

“These shows would make Ring of Honor fans for life. The electric vibe in the building and backstage is something I didn’t feel in WWE, except for a big show like WrestleMania or Royal Rumble. In Ring of Honor, every pay-per-view and show feels like a WrestleMania event. It feels like a big deal. You can feel everyone in the locker room trying to one-up each other. You see guys really going the extra mile. People who have the ability to let themselves flourish in the ring, and they don’t have fear of repercussions for taking chances and risks. I think that is one of the cool things about these pay-per-views. Guys are encouraged to have creative freedom with what they are doing, and it’s really creating a dynamic product.”

Sydal’s reflects on his recent appearance at the old Nashville Fairgrounds and why he believes it was a career highlight.

“It was a building I used to show up to when I was 19 and 20 years old,” he said. “I used to get escorted politely out of the place. I would show up with my bag every week trying to get extra work. I plugged away at that for months and months and months. Then I got to return to it with Ring of Honor and wrestle in a main event. It was such a full circle moment for me. It was a great moment in my career. The Ring of Honor fans in Nashville were absolutely out of control. They were really some of the best wrestling fans.

“Ring of Honor has the ability to attract the coolest wrestling fans that exist. People are really proud to be a part of it. One of the most important things when you are at a Ring of Honor show is that crowd interaction. It’s this symbiotic relationship the wrestlers have with the fans. Without the fans, we don’t have anything. The fans make Ring of Honor special.

“When I first showed up in that building they used to chant, ‘Let’s go jobber!’ It was the first chant I got in the Nashville Fairgrounds. Now it’s, ‘Please come back!’ It’s quite remarkable because there were probably fans that were there since day one. That’s what motivates me to hit the gym every week and go out there and perform better than the week before. It’s a level of respect with these fans….”

The consummate competitor is looking forward to stealing the show in the main event of the 2300 Arena (formerly known as the ECW Arena) in Philadelphia on Jan. 24. Sydal will team with Cedric Alexander and the ACH to battle the Bullet Club’s AJ Styles and the Young Bucks.

“Philadelphia has some of the liveliest fans ever,” he said. “They know the Young Bucks and AJ Styles for being some of the top performers in the world. These guys are legends in Japan, and that is not a joke. They are legends in Japan. The Young Bucks sell their costumes for thousands of dollars. The NWO was very popular and an idea that was stolen from Japan and made a couple of bucks on. Now the Bullet Club isn’t officially Americanized on American television. However, nobody is as popular as these guys.

“For me, being able to be in the ring with guys and trying to steal those fans away from them is a huge challenge. I’ve got this weird uphill battle. It’s been like this my whole life. There are the cool guys and the rest of us. When I go out there in Philadelphia, I’m representing all the outcasts and weirdos. There are a lot of people in Philadelphia who weren’t the cool kids in high school. I’m hoping they will be on my side. Not to mention it will probably be the athletic, mind-blowing match people have ever seen simply because six-man tags are my specialty match. I have no other match I would prefer to be in. The opponents I’m lined up against, it’s just great for me as a wrestler to be in the ring with those guys.”

The daredevil is also anticipating another impressive showing by ACH and Alexander.

“ACH is a man who is so good he makes good wrestlers jealous,” he said. “He is so talented I see unbelievably good wrestlers look at him and all they see is jealousy in their eyes. He is unreal. If people haven’t seen him, one Google and YouTube search, you will be very convinced. Cedric Alexander for that matter is another great one. They may not be in the Bullet Club, but they are cool to me.”

Aside from ROH, Sydal likes to raise the bar against some of the top independent talent on the planet. He did just that against Mikaze at the Ronin Pro Wrestling show at Magic City Con. It wasn’t just the first real comic book convention he attended, but brought back a fond memory.

“I spent spring break my senior year of high school on South Beach,” he said. “I had really just had my first professional wrestling match in front of a crowd just a few months before that. I went down there for spring break. That was when WWE bought WCW and they had that live Nitro. I distinctly remember watching that from my friend’s mom’s house in Miami. Of course, I’ve wrestled in Miami, and things have happened.

“At the same time there is that time in your life where wrestling really captures you. It resonated really deeply with me. I can picture that exact setting. I had never seen cars parked on lawns before. I remember seeing that and remember watching that Nitro with Shane McMahon on it. It was like this huge shift in the wrestling game. That was where I was the moment it went down.”

- Visit www.ROHWrestling.com for everything ROH.

- Follow Sydal on Twitter @FindEvan

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