Ring of Honor’s Matt Sydal: It’s a fun time to be a pro wrestler and fan

Matt Sydal Ring of Honor Wrestling

Since exiting WWE, Matt Sydal says his love for pro wrestling has grown even stronger. There was a reason why he added the “Reborn” to his name.

The 33-year-old has enjoyed competing around the world. Through his travels, the New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor star is getting a bird’s-eye view to the present and future of the business.

“What is exciting is seeing the energy building on the grassroots level,” he said, coming off a recent trip to England for Revolution Pro Wrestling and 4 Front Wrestling. “I can really feel the upswing of wrestling. I can feel it when I go to places like York Hall and London. It’s the same thing I feel in Japan and whenever I do shows in the U.S. The fans are getting what they are asking for these days. It’s nice to see.”

A number of quality independent promotions are making waves. Technology has made it possible for fans to take in shows put on by these companies from a laptop, tablet or even television. When talking about the landscape of the business today, Sydal uses a music analogy.

“You have more than U2 selling out arenas,” he said. “There is music besides what sells out big arenas. There is also music that sells out smaller venues. Wrestling is this variety show where in each different area, shows can be tailored and catered for a local audience because, in the end, wrestling is live theater that people enjoy. Each audience has its own different vibe and feel to it. And others can watch many times, too. As a wrestler to get to go to the different places and experiment with different fans, it has been a good learning experience for me. It’s really fun being flexible with what you are doing.”

Sydal takes pride in his current body of work. Even after almost 20 years in the game, the young veteran still finds himself picking up a thing or two from the people he works with.

“I’ve taken a lot of responsibilities, both in creating my own personal stuff and creating with other guys,” he said. “I’m always happy to contribute. I always have an opinion on everybody’s stuff. I really want to see the business grow and expand and get better, and part of that is sharing the secrets with up-and-coming wrestlers. A lot of times when a gap in the business happens, it can be because the older generation didn’t pass along what they know. You can also learn by teaching. For me, starting to analyze from a teacher’s perspective has forced me to reevaluate my own stuff and take a different perspective. And that’s why the work I’m creating now is the best I’ve ever done.”

Like most pro wrestlers outside the WWE Universe, Sydal is building a brand for himself. Whether it’s conceptualizing designs for his Pro Wrestling Tees store or promoting using his big audience on social media, there is a lot to do to get his name out there. Twitter has been this double-edged sword for all forms of entertainment. Wrestling enthusiasts are among the most passionate groups in sports fandom. Whether they like something or not, a performer will know about it. Often within the cyber noise, Sydal finds what is happening in the ring is getting lost in the conversation.

“One can ask a lot about what paint brush you use and less about the painting we are making,” Sydal said. “I think the focus should be on the content being produced and how it’s coming from so many different angles. You have the crazy stuff the Hardys are doing. You have Ricochet and Will Ospreay dazzling every single person online and just letting everyone know wrestling is cool again. The Young Bucks sure move a lot of t-shirts. But it also takes a group effort. It takes a lot of work from the promotions we work for and us as well online. It takes a lot to be a wrestler in today’s day and age. There is a lot to think about.”

Matt Sydal Ring of Honor
Ring of Honor Wrestling

Today’s WWE is much different than it was even a few years ago when the former Evan Bourne was exciting crowds. The company has embraced the in-ring styles of what has been going on in promotions around the world. Performers like Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, Kevin Owens, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe are featured as top names. There is a Cruiserweight Classic underway with competitors outside of WWE. Sydal isn’t surprised to see this evolution.

“This is what happens in the business,” he said. “As they mature and get better, they grow to larger and larger stages. I would love to wrestle all those guys today. I think it’s fantastic. To me, I saw wrestling going this exact direction. When I was in FCW, I saw the groundwork being laid. As I watch NXT blossom and grow, I’ve been in this industry for 17 years. The boys move the industry. You have AJ, Gallows and Karl Anderson. Wherever they are, they move the meter.

“We had an nWo on our hands that was not on national television for quite some time. Here they are making an impact. I’ve known Seth Rollins since he was 17, and he was good then. The boys run the industry. So if you see what is being done today on the grassroots scene, that’s what you will see eventually. That’s how change happens.

“If you want to change the political atmosphere or evolve, you have to be active. There were those who made it through when ratings in wrestling were at its lowest. It had its lowest ticket sales. The people who stuck it through really had true grit. They were the ones that helped wrestling make that turnaround and were on top. Right now you can see the ones left in the business are the true heart and soul of the business. You see them on TV each week or watching them on New Japan World or on Ring of Honor TV.

“They are there, accessible and everybody is getting into it. The talent is driving this industry. I see it everywhere I go in all my travels. The fans and the wrestlers work symbiotically and so well together that the business is kicking off again. I’ve been in this forever. I came in at the end of the high and rode the entire lower period. I see it coming. I feel it coming. All the people who come out to see the events, they are the ones who make this happen. We can’t put on a show without the fans. It’s a participatory pseudo sport. We need everybody we can.”

He is enjoying the freedom these days and being the creator of his own destiny. However, Sydal’s main focus right now is New Japan Pro Wrestling, which has a healthy partnership with Ring of Honor. The run there has been successful, winning the IWGP junior heavyweight tag team championship and the NEVER Openweight  6-man tag team championship.

“There is nothing I would rather do on Earth than work for New Japan,” he said. “Even when I started wrestling, it was never my dream to be in WWE. I wanted to wrestle in Japan. That is what I’m doing, and it feels good. The stuff I’m making is the stuff you wish you saw on Monday Night Raw, on SmackDown, on NXT. We are the ones they imitate. We are the ones they want to steal moves from.

“We are the ones making the movement happen. So I would really recommend people tune into New Japan rather than just think if it’s on national TV, that’s all that’s out there. Everyone is entitled to like what they want, but for me to like the music I like, I prefer to see it at an intimate festival where everybody feels together instead of this mass-produced content with no heart and soul that is more of a machine than an art gallery.”

When he can Sydal also enjoys attending the conventions. The next one on the list is the Masters of Ring Entertainment’s Pro Wrestling Fan Expo 3 on July 23 in Wilmington, NC. He joins Kevin Nash, Jeff Jarrett, Diamond Dallas Page, EC3 and more.

“These are beautiful on a multitude of levels,” he said. “You have the interaction, the socializing and sharing of stories. That’s great. It’s great for the fans because nostalgia is awesome. If nostalgia brings you in the door and you get to see the new era of wrestling in front of you, you get a chance to see a new generation. Every legend had a first match. Every person had a lot to happen on their journey. You get to see people also on their way up at these conventions.

“We all meet together, fans included, in one epicenter of people that genuinely love wrestling. It’s more exciting than any other convention because it has the madness of a wrestling show and the fun of getting to meet your heroes from your childhood youth. That is what is so great about wrestling. You get to meet the people you see and shake their hand, get an autograph and buy their merchandise. I know wrestlers like selling those t-shirts. So you can leave a convention with a great fashion sense, new 8×10 and good conversation with wrestlers you love to meet.”

  • Watch New Japan Pro Wrestling 9 p.m. ET Friday nights on AXS TV and the NJPW streaming service.
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