On Friday, one of NXT’s hottest new stars, Matt Riddle, will face Velveteen Dream for the NXT North American Championship. But it’s been a long road to get to the WWE for this former MMA superstar, from his initial days as a high school grappler to reaching the pinnacle of sports entertainment.
Not only was he a state wrestling champion at 18 years of age, while attending Saratoga Springs High School, but Matt Riddle also made a name for himself by defeating another future UFC fighter in Jon ‘Bones’ Jones. It wasn’t always easy for him, though; he had a wrestling scholarship at East Stroudsburg University, but after two successful seasons there, he lost his scholarship after his coach was let go. This started him on his journey into the world of MMA. He quickly became a household name after joining the cast of The Ultimate Fighter and demonstrating his love for mixed martial arts. UFC President Dana White claimed that his knockout of Dan Simmler in the opening moments of his second-round match was the biggest knockout in Ultimate Fighter history.
At 21 years old, Riddle was garnering attention, and his career had barely begun. The first impression that Riddle’s win made was important because his second matchup wasn’t as successful, as he lost to Tim Credeur. These fights were the springboard to his professional MMA career with UFC. However, as quickly as it came together for him it just as quickly disappeared. There are different accounts given regarding Riddle’s release; he has stated that he used medicinal marijuana and that led to his release. If readers recently watched the WWE Network special Arrival: Matt Riddle, there is a story told of a situation where he was lied to about a match not taking place. Regardless of the reason, Riddle was gone from UFC. After competing for Bellator MMA, he went on to pursue another passion that he felt he could be successful in, and that was professional wrestling.
His training formally began in the fall of 2014 at the famed Monster Factory wrestling school in Paulsboro, New Jersey. While he was there he learned from current owner Danny Cage and former WWE superstar Brian Heffron, also known as The Blue Meanie, among others. The school has produced a number of stars both before Cage and during his regime. After establishing himself there, Riddle captured the training school championship. Less than a year later, famed promoter Gabe Sapolsky, formerly of Ring of Honor and now operating World Wrestling Network which includes EVOLVE, signed Riddle. Praise for him during his time with EVOLVE, not to mention a continued word of mouth about his MMA career, continued to spread like a wildfire. He was soon in demand everywhere. He fought in Pro Wrestling Guerilla, Revolution Pro Wrestling and as part of a co-promoted event with wXw -Germany. His list of championships is something most only dream about, remarkable considering less than four years had passed since he commenced training. From the United Kingdom to Philadelphia to Germany, to Southern California, Riddle flew all over the world and faced the very best in hopes of reaching the next stage in his career.
As someone that has had the pleasure to see Riddle in person, and witnessed how captivating he is in the ring, he is also very personable after events, interacting and connecting with fans. During Smash Wrestling’s ‘The Northern’ tournament, I had the pleasure of seeing Riddle compete on three separate occasions. He had an outstanding match up against Mia Yim and eventually competed in the final as part of a fatal four-way to determine the tournament champion. It was a special event, and having Riddle a part of it in one of his last Canadian appearances was special. It seemed that regardless of where he was competing and whom he was in the ring with he continued to evolve. He has built upon the skillset that he gained competing in MMA and learned the craft of wrestling. While working with some of the most notable trainers in the industry along the way.
Success in wrestling for Riddle was a choice. During his time on the independents, he stood across the ring from the likes of Keith Lee and Ricochet, contemporaries that he now sees every day in WWE developmental. His ability to adapt has proven to be key to his success, which has been nothing short of meteoric considering he started training and competing five years ago. Riddle himself has stated that it was around the time of Wrestlemania 30, when Daniel Bryan was in the main event, that he was inspired to pursue wrestling. He witnessed how a smaller competitor could be successful using submission style wrestling.
When it was finally revealed that Riddle had signed with WWE’s NXT brand, a smile had to come over the faces of all those that stood behind him. He has shown that he was seasoned enough, and had proven he was ready to join the promotion. In 2015, Riddle auditioned for NXT, and while he wasn’t hired then WWE management was still watching. Since then, Riddle has been busy standing out and making a difference. His first feud with Kassius Ohno was an opportunity to show what he could do. Let the romance with Matt Riddle begin. His time to excel is now. It is only a matter of time before Riddle captures an NXT championship because much like winning, that’s what he does. With his NXT North American Championship match against Velveteen Dream a few days away, Riddle has his sights set on capturing gold, bro.
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