All wrestlers have to start somewhere on the path to making their dreams a reality, whether it be a wrestling school, church basement, bingo hall, etc. From there, those wrestlers work their way up to the pinnacle of their dreams. For many, that’s a career in WWE or more recently AEW, IMPACT! Wrestling or even NJPW. But sometimes the journey is just as important as the destination. In LWOPW’s newest feature, “Before They Were Famous,” we take a look at the pre-WWE careers of some of the company’s top current stars, following along on their road to superstardom. In this edition, we look at the long journey of former UFC and NXT star, SmackDown‘s Matt Riddle. Matt Riddle was famous before arriving to the WWE, as a result of his time within the UFC and the fallout which surrounded it. However, this is about his journey to the WWE through his pro-wrestling career. Therefore, the UFC career will only briefly be mentioned.
Matt Riddle was born on January 14, 1986, in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Though Riddle may have never envisioned a career in professional wrestling, he always excelled at amateur wrestling. For those who do not follow MMA, Jon Jones is widely considered one of the greatest of all time within the sport. Within MMA, he has a near-perfect record of 26-1 (1) – with both the loss and the bracketed loss coming from disqualifications. Therefore, he is very highly regarded within the Octagon. As a state wrestling champion, Riddle actually pinned Jones – thus demonstrating Riddle’s talent as a wrestler.
Matt Riddle soon found fame on UFC’s Ultimate Fighter in 2008, where he was Quinton “Rampage” Jackson‘s rookie. Riddle developed a solid career within the UFC, earning a reputation as something of a rising star. As a middleweight, he was deemed one of the hottest prospects for the future of the sport. In addition to being a legitimate tough guy, Riddle is also fond of cannabis – something which has led to his easy-going, “bro” image. He has in the past spoken to VICE Sport on his love for cannabis and how it helps tame his ADHD.
“I did my research. I’ve had hand surgeries, I’ve used pharmaceuticals, and I [eventually] felt like, ‘Holy s***, this is addicting and I shouldn’t be taking this because I want to take more and I’m not even in pain.’ Marijuana never felt like that. I just like the way it makes me feel. I’m about to be 32, I barely work out, and I’m shredded. I don’t think it’s because of the weed, but I don’t think it’s hurting me either, you know?”
Leaving Mixed Martial Arts for Professional Wrestling
Unfortunately, Riddle’s taste for cannabis would bring his UFC career to an end. Multiple failings of the extensive tests for marijuana in the UFC tarnished his very impressive 10-3 record – including a five-win winning streak. Riddle, to this day, is still furious about the release – and rightfully so. With Riddle predominantly smoking weed for medicinal purposes – possessing a medical marijuana card for the State of Nevada – it is easy to understand why he would be frustrated by his release from a company that regularly employs fighters who have failed more serious drug tests. However, this is what led Riddle to professional wrestling after short stints in Bellator and Titan Fighting.
Matt Riddle: Training and EVOLVE
Matt Riddle began training at Monster Factory (Paulsboro, New Jersey) in November 2014. Like Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar before him, to name but two, Riddle’s amateur wrestling background would provide him with all the basic tools necessary to excel within pro-wrestling. His first event match – a no contest against Nick Comoroto – came just three months later. Just eight months later (less than a year after beginning training), Riddle was wrestling at EVOLVE 49. It was here where he would defeat Johnathan Gresham in just under five minutes. Despite the “relaxed bro” persona Riddle takes with him, he is a shrewd businessman. He is determined to make himself more valuable within pro-wrestling. He would work the next thirty-eight straight EVOLVE events, with a gap between his EVOLVE 87 victory over current NXT North American Champion, Keith Lee, and his EVOLVE 90 victory over Lio Rush.
Due to EVOLVE’s friendly relationship with WWE, he still features for them every so often. He held the EVOLVE Championship for 121 days in 2018, therefore he is one of the company’s greatest former champions. Aside from EVOLVE, Riddle has worked all over the world. PROGRESS Wrestling, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, Major League Wrestling, The Crash, Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling, among others, are notable for having featured The Bro. Riddle also has a number of accolades to his name. Before joining the WWE in 2018, Riddle had won the King of Khaos Championship; the PWG World Tag Team Championships as one half of the Chosen Bros (with Jeff Cobb), the WWN Championship and more. His run as PROGRESS Atlas Champion was considered the belt’s highest point as he helped legitimize the division with his matches against WALTER being some of the best PROGRESS wrestling has ever held. He will only add to the growing list of accomplishments as he proceeds further into his career.
Matt Riddle Signs for WWE and NXT Career
After years of developing a reputation as one of the indie circuit’s hottest acts, Riddle finally joined the WWE in July of 2018. He was first spotted in the NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn IV crowd, as has been the case with some of the other high profile NXT acquisitions. Though wrestling numerous house shows prior, Riddle made his NXT TV debut on October 17 2018, where he squashed Luke Menzies in just over three minutes. His NXT TakeOver debut at NXT TakeOver: War Games II saw him defeat Kassius Ohno in seven seconds. It remains the fastest match in NXT history. His next NXT appearance would see him again defeat Kassius Ohno, though in a slightly more competitive match. He would build a dominant, undefeated reputation within the company until meeting The Velveteen Dream at NXT TakeOver: New York. The feud began over Riddle wanting Dream’s NXT North American Championship, which Riddle would never win.
Various attempts to capture the NXT Championship from Adam Cole would eventually lead Riddle to Pete Dunne. The 2020 Dusty Rhodes Classic saw the unlikely couple being but together to compete within the tournament. As mentioned earlier, Matt Riddle’s character is that of the easy-going, stoner bro who can kick your a** when necessary. As the WWE commentary team would say: he likes to have fun. Pete Dunne is far more serious a competitor. An excellent technical wrestler in his own regard, Dunne lacks the charisma of Riddle. Together, they are the perfect balance of seriousness and hilarity. Dunne is the straight-man Martin to Riddle’s comedic Lewis. A win over Welsh duo Mark Andrews and Flash Morgan Webster in the opening round. Followed by a win over Imperium (Fabian Aichner and Marcel Barthel) in the second. And lastly, the big, defining win over the Grizzled Young Veterans (James Drake and Zack Gibson) in the finals was the BroserWeights‘ path to winning the trophy.
BroserWeights, Lockdown and Timothy Thatcher
The BroserWeights would go on to form a formidable tag team. So formidable, in fact, that they would soon capture the NXT Tag Team Championships from Bobby Fish and Kyle O’Reilly of the Undisputed Era at NXT TakeOver: Portland. This would, of course, mark Riddle’s first championship win within the WWE. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, Riddle and Dunne would be separated – with their last title defense coming back in March. With Dunne being stranded in the UK, Timothy Thatcher – long-time friend and foe of Riddle in EVOLVE – would step up to replace him. Like Dunne, Thatcher is a serious competitor not known for being overtly charismatic. Additionally, he is known for being a member of Ringkampf – the indie precursor to Imperium. This inevitably led to Thatcher turning on Riddle, costing his and Pete Dunne’s NXT Tag Team Championships to Imperium earlier in the month, with Thatcher shouting “I’ve had enough of you” to Riddle as he walked away.
This led to Riddle defeating Thatcher on the May 13 edition of NXT. However, an attack on Riddle after the match kept the feud going – leading the two grapplers to the cage. Not an ordinary WWE cage, of course. Nope, not an ordinary MMA cage, either. The “NXT Fight Pit” is something of a cross between the two. An unrelenting, unforgiving steel structure which one must assume won’t be used often within the WWE. In addition to this new match concept, we also got the return of recently released Kurt Angle. Who better than an Olympic gold medal-winning amateur wrestler to officiate this kind of grueling fight? Despite Riddle clearly having the more prominent cage-fighting history, he would lose the fight. However, despite the loss, the nature of this match – the drama, the blood, the originality and the work-rate – made this an arguably Match of the Year contender. This brings – at least for now – this storied feud to an end.
Matt Riddle Moving to SmackDown
In moving on up to SmackDown, Matt Riddle is heading to where he belongs. He is a naturally gifted, freak athlete. He is the kind who despite perhaps not initially wanting to pursue a career in professional wrestling, go on to have a storied career and cement a place as one of the all-time greats (again, think Lesnar and Angle). Unlike many other crossover stars, he paid his dues and honed his craft on the independent circuit. He has become an excellent, highly-entertaining professional wrestler as a result. Additionally, he is also a naturally charismatic performer; making him the complete package. Whereas the Original Bro has all the tools to succeed within the WWE, he does have the tendency to irritate some of the older stars.
His constant goading of Goldberg and Brock Lesnar – both of whom he hopes to retire – has led to some amounts of backstage heat. He has had altercations with both men – with the Goldberg incident hilariously caught on camera. He has spoken of a separate incident with Lesnar; with the former UFC Heavyweight Champion promising Riddle he will never work with him. It is hard to tell whether Riddle’s prominent hunger for competing with the big stars will help or hinder in the long run. Though he has made it clear this is simply his way of working, some of the legends do not see it this way. There is an unwritten constitution with pro-wrestling and to these old-timers, Riddle is breaking it. Therefore, so long as he can work a bit more carefully in this regard, he will go on to have the excellent, accolade laden career he is capable of having. There is only one Original Bro and he’s moving on up.
On this week’s SmackDown, Matt Riddle was announced by Kurt Angle as the latest acquisition for the blue brand. Where does he go from here? With the video package combined with Angle’s endorsement, big things are expected. The sky is the limit for the Original Bro. There’s no doubt he can go above and beyond.
Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.