In WWE, Matt Cardona was clearly a man of many talents who never got a real opportunity to display said talents.

Thankfully, he never appeared content to just exist in the world of professional wrestling. So many current and ex WWE undercard talent seem happy to either collect a check or continue their by-the-numbers routines when they exit stage left from Titan Towers.

Initially, Cardona appeared no different. Or so I thought.

When in WWE, he was always striving to better himself and get himself over, WWE just never got behind him. He was not the first talent to be grossly overlooked, nor will he be the last. When WWE did their best to extinguish his efforts to become a featured performer, he didn’t accept no for an answer. Sadly, with WWE being WWE, they stubbornly ignored him as they tend to do more often than not. Cardona was eventually, and probably inevitably, released after over a decade working for the company.

Whether right or wrong, the reality is WWE never saw a star in Zack Ryder. He wasn’t the first to be told that creative has nothing for him and he won’t be the last. It’s no reflection on his talents. Regardless of how high his ceiling in professional wrestling is, it’s clear WWE did not maximize his potential. If there was a place on their flagship show for Santino Marella, R-Truth and Brodus Clay, there was for Mr. Woo Woo Woo.

In his time with WWE he got himself over despite the WWE machine’s best attempts to cut the legs from under him. Anyone that tuned into his YouTube show “Z True Long Island Story” could see that at the very least there was something there that could translate into a decent mid-card act. He was relentless and creative, alas mostly in vain as WWE never saw much value in him as some fans chanted his name.

Since his release, he initially didn’t make a huge splash outside of WWE initially. The reality is that he was so badly utilized by WWE that it took him a while to get his WWE stank off him. Cardona was presented him as a habitually winless goof and that’s what the audience saw when he started getting bookings following his release.

But Cardona is a creative guy and he has a smart mind for getting himself noticed. So it was only a matter of time before he reinvented himself following his departure from WWE.

Enter Game Changer Wrestling.

GCW, the closest thing to modern-day ECW, is not where you expect former WWE guy Zack Ryder to pop up. GCW is littered with brutal violence, a clannish fan base and is probably the furthest thing from present-day WWE on the present market.

If you asked me what the future would hold had he been announced before his debut, I’d speculate that Cardona would be eaten alive by the rabid GCW fan base. Rather than fear GCW’s mob like culture and everything it stands for, Cardona was savvy enough to use this landscape, as well as his public perception, to his advantage.

Wrestling fans love a target for their hate, and what better target could the loyal audience of GCW have than a clean-cut, WWE nerd who believes he is better than each and every one of them. Just look at Cardona; he looks like a million bucks. He wrestles a safe, by-the-numbers style only WWE producers would encourage and he is about as menacing as a box full of newborn puppies. He represents everything GCW is not. While he doesn’t fit in with the rest of GCW’s roster, it’s this 180 contrast that makes him perfect for GCW.

This would be evidenced at his GCW debut. Cardona would pop up unexpectedly at GCW on the 7th of June following weeks of calling their hero, Nick Gage. The masked Cardona would show up to attack GCW hero Nick Gage and he did it in style.

He teased the crowd by dressing as a druid while displaying Jon Moxley mannerisms in an obvious tease that the purveyor of unscripted violence had arrived to take Nick Gage out. He would leave Gage counting the lights and the fans seeking Mox to be revealed. As the fans frothed at the mouth at the thoughts of a potential Moxley vs. Gage showdown, the rug was pulled from underneath them by the revealing Matt “fucking” Cardona. What a heel move, right.

Cardona soaked in the chorus of “FUCK YOU RYDER” chants like Vince McMahon at a bodybuilding expo. It was the equivalent of being ordering a juicy steak before being served a shit sandwich in its place.

Cardona was reborn and off to the races at GCW.

The Cardona and GCW has just worked. For multiple reasons in this pundits view.

His body of work previous to his GCW run makes him an ideal choice to represent the light to GCW’s dark, gritty product. In his past life in WWE, Cardona has been booked as such a geek that you’d believe that there is no way he would be enjoying a light tube across the skull, and that’s part of his allure. He is the last guy you would expect to see work a death match and watching him in such a match is clever booking. Matt Cardona is naturally so vain, or at least he appeals to be with his well-groomed beard and chiseled physique, that who wouldn’t want to see his smarmy face being disfigured by a pizza cutter.

It’s not all he has going for him either.

Cardona is a worker and his attention to detail has been a key component in maximizing his value. Cardona being the big wrestling fan himself has had the intelligence to rely on nostalgia a lot to fuel up this characters story. The throwbacks to WWE and ECW have been plentiful but not overused. From cosplaying as Vince McMahon from his ECW reboot debacle, to the Brian Myers homage to Edge from One Night Stand 2006, hell tiny things like his use of WWE verbiage and creating his own spinning belt, Cardona is hitting a lot of right notes to keep his act hot.

It’s Cardona’s promo work that has worked best for me. Channeling shades of “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan from his WCW run, Cardona has mastered the ability to play his volatile audience like a fiddle. He oozes confidence and his disdain for the GCW faithful is nothing short of believable. He knows how to work the crowd who hate his guts. The visual of the trash being pelted at him following his GCW Heavyweight title win furthers this comparison too and flipping them off simultaneously was the cherry on top.

Wrestling wise, while no one will see Cardona atop the VOW Match of the Year chart (sorry Matt), I feel he has used his cookie cutter WWE style to his advantage. Trying to work a safe style match against Gage was an ingenious move as it not only assisted the crowd in despising him more, but it also built the anticipation for when Gage would go all out on his perfect body with some not so friendly foreign objects.

Cardona has played his hand perfectly as he has become the embodiment of John Cena at One Night Stand and embracing the hate for his own gain. What does he do next to piss the fans off? Maybe he reimagines the Vince McMahon kiss my ass club in his image, does he challenge Sean Waltman to a Cry Baby match? Perhaps he cuts his own tongue-in-cheek pipe bomb promo on Brett Lauderdale? Does Matt bring a gang of former WWE guys to sit on the balcony of the next Hammerstein show?

Who knows!

One thing is for sure, Matt Cardona has thrived in GCW and he has been booked wonderfully. By having been positioned as the quintessential WWE guy who looks down his nose at the “garbage” wrestling provided by GCW, Cardona has excelled beyond most fans’ expectations. Cardona has been one of the hottest acts of 2021 and arguably the biggest heel of the year. It’s clearly a modern twist on the Jerry Lawler ECW invasion angle of approximately 25 years ago, but much MUCH better.

Matt’s run hasn’t been without its negatives, with overbooking a constant theme in many of his bouts, but I have overall enjoyed his run since attacking Nick Gage over six months ago. Cardona going from regular on WWE C shows to what he see now in GCW has been a welcome evolution.

In an era where modern fans like more cartoonish heels rather bad guys steeped in reality, Matt Cardona has flourished on the independent scene of professional wrestling and long may it continue.

Whether he’s smashing Jordynne Grace with a keyboard or presumably planting his boot into the face of Sean Waltman, Cardona is not done yet, and I’m here for the ride.