Updated: Jul 21
How does it feel to lose your job at the start of a pandemic? What role does self-belief play in building back up? What does it mean to be 'successful' in today's world?
Independent professional wrestler Matt Cardona (formerly Zack Ryder in World Wrestling Entertainment) joins the #GoodJourneysPod to discuss resilience, self-belief and overcoming adversity, and to reflect back on highlights from his illustrious wrestling career.
Globally recognised for his work in promotions across the United States and beyond, Matt debuted in the world of sports entertainment almost 20 years ago and found fame in WWE, where he would go on to hold the Intercontinental, US and Raw Tag Team Titles.
In April 2020, early on into the Covid-19 pandemic, Matt was released by WWE and wished all the best in his future endeavours. Over the course of the past three years, he has gone on to carve an incredible path for himself as an independent wrestler, competing all over the world, winning multiple championships, and elevating his personal brand to new heights through his resilience and faith in his own abilities - even being named ‘Independent Wrestler of the Year' in 2022 by leading industry title Pro Wrestling Illustrated.
Matt joined Second Mountain Comms' founder Ben Veal - who was also 'let go' at the start of the pandemic - for episode 17 of Good Journeys with Second Mountain, the podcast series that explores the lives of inspired people and their inspiring stories.
Episode 17 of the #GoodJourneysPod is out now. Listen/watch:
BEING RELEASED FROM WWE IN 2020
"I did not see it coming"
Matt and Ben - who both lost their jobs within 24 hours of one another in early 2020 - discuss how having self-belief, and knowing your own value, can go a long way.
Speaking openly on the 'Good Journeys with Second Mountain' podcast, Matt - who had been an active competitor with WWE since 2007 as the character Zack Ryder - reflects back on when he received the news that his employment was coming to an abrupt end.
"That morning [April 15, 2020] all the talent got a video message from Vince McMahon basically saying that there would be some cuts, and once we got that message, I knew, I'm probably going to be one of the guys on that list. I didn't know for sure ... ultimately the decision was made for me. If I wasn't released in April, my contract would have been up in August ... the call eventually came and I needed it. The weight was lifted off my shoulders. That anxiety - do I stay or do I go - was taken away instantly. The decision was made for me ... my back was against the wall and it was sink or swim at that point. I needed it, and I was ready for it."
"I wasn't quite sure what my next step would be"
As the self-appointed 'Internet Champion' of professional wrestling, Cardona is considered by many within the industry to be a trend-setter and pioneer when it comes to capitalising on digital channels to market his personal brand. As a popular YouTuber and social media personality long before this became commonplace across the wrestling and wider entertainment industries, he found himself without steady employment in the spring of 2020 but with a deep knowledge and understanding of effective online marketing. It was time for some creative re-invention for the character of Matt Cardona.
"As crazy as this may sound, I wasn't necessarily comfortable with the name 'Matt Cardona.' For so long, I was Zack Ryder. Luckily, I had started The Major Wrestling Figure Podcast while I was with WWE ... and I used my real name for the podcast. I'm so glad, because when I was released, I didn't have to think of some weird gimmick name. I could just be me. The name was easy, but we were living in this pandemic, there were no shows going on, and that was really scary. I knew I needed a change; a fresh coat of paint. But I didn't have a game plan instantly ... it was a work in progress, for sure."
That 'work in progress' has seen Cardona's star rise at an astonishing rate since early 2020. He has plied and finessed his trade globally, built his reputation as one of the most sought-after and multi-faceted independent wrestlers in the world, and collected championship after championship along the way - well and truly making lemonade out of lemons.
"Find something that makes you happy"
Reflecting candidly and confidently on the #GoodJourneysPod three years on from being 'let go', it is clear that Cardona is enjoying being in charge of his own professional destiny, re-defining success now on his own terms, and motivating others to do the same.
"You've got to figure out how you define success; find something that makes you happy. Maybe you got fired from your job and maybe it was a blessing in disguise where you can find something else that you're passionate about and find a way to make money doing that. I promise you: you're going to work harder doing something that you're passionate about.
"We [all] only have one life: why spend it doing something that you don't love? ... I almost feel sorry for people who are afraid to bet on themselves. I don't want to look back on my life and have any regrets. It's never too late to change your own story."
Episode 17 of the Good Journeys with Second Mountain podcast is out now.
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