Matt Sydal, formerly known as Evan Bourne in the WWE, is one of the best high flyers in the history of professional wrestling. He has competed for a countless number of wrestling companies including WWE, TNA, Ring of Honor, Wrestling Society X, Pro Wrestling Guerilla and Dragon Gate. This past weekend, Matt made an appearance for Northeast Wrestling and challenged the current NEW Champion, Matt Taven, in a classic match. I sat down with him shortly after the match to discuss how he discovered wrestling, getting his start in the business, his time in WWE and more in an exciting interview.
Alex Obert: How did you first discover wrestling on TV? What was the first show you recall coming across?
Matt Sydal: So I don’t really remember the first show I came across on TV, I did not grow up with cable. So when wrestling got really popular on the cable networks, I didn’t have it. But I fell back in love with wrestling at a wrestling camp. I mean I loved the Steiner Brothers, I was into it. But it never became an ingrained thing until I went to wrestling camp my freshman year of high school and kids there loved it. The kids gathered around the TV on Monday night and I didn’t know what was happening. So I went back and I asked a couple of my friends and they said, “Well, just come over to our house for Monday Night RAW and watch.” And watching it with your friends is what really made me fall back in love with wrestling. It wasn’t just me watching it on TV, it was me interacting with my friends, my brothers and all of us watching it together. We’d form alliances based on which wrestlers we liked and didn’t like. It became our obsession. It became our passion. It became the thing that filled our conversations, our dinner table conversations. It became an obsession.
Alex Obert: As it goes for your wrestling style, who were the first high flyers that you discovered?
Matt Sydal: Oh my gosh, I fell in love with Dean Malenko and Rey Mysterio real quickly. And that was slowly followed by Chris Jericho. Then I found Eddie Guerrero versus Dean Malenko from ECW. Then I saw Rey Mysterio versus Psicosis. And then I loved Super Crazy and Tajiri and RVD and Sabu. There were so many guys that just made me jump out of my seat. I wanted to do just what they did. Jerry Lynn was another guy. I saw them and I just loved everything they did. I wanted to get in the ring and do it myself.
Alex Obert: When you were growing up, what were you like during your time at Parkway West High School?
Matt Sydal: Very small. I was one of the smallest guys in my school. But my neighbor convinced me to join the high school wrestling team. And that’s when my life changed. I was always good scholastically, but I wasn’t doing anything athletically. I was kind of an athlete with nowhere to put all this energy. And so I began putting it into amateur wrestling and weightlifting. From there, that’s when I fell in love with professional wrestling. I took the same hard-nosed grind, dedication, effort, outwork your opponent mentality that I had in amateur wrestling and I applied that to professional wrestling. I wasn’t an overnight success and nobody would have ever thought that, but I just grinded it out. It’s what I learned in high school. In high school, I was funny, had a lot of friends, but I worked after school just like everybody else. I was just your normal kid, not in the popular group, friends with a lot of people. About as average as you can be.
Alex Obert: Did you see students wearing DX or nWo t-shirts around that time?
Matt Sydal: Not really. My high school wasn’t a place where wrestling was really accepted, it was kind of an underground thing. The kids who liked wrestling would come talk to me about it because I was vocal and outspoken because I’m crazy person. I was always talking about how much I loved wrestling. People would come to me on the side, they pull me aside and talk about wrestling. They were afraid of being uncool, I don’t know, it’s tough being a kid. It never really offended me. But when I started training to be a wrestler during my senior year of high school, that’s when the word began to get around that I was a wrestler. And I started doing shows my senior year. One guy from my high school got into a fistfight with a wrestler at a show, it kind of caused a stir. People would wonder if I was gonna go to WWE and I just said, “No, I’m just doing it because I like doing it.” And that’s the same reason I do it today.
Alex Obert: Did you attend any WWE events around that time?
Matt Sydal: I went to Badd Blood with the first ever Hell in a Cell match, that was a big one. But we were so far away. The second live event I went to, which was on my sixteenth birthday, it was a local independent wrestling show. I saw the guys in the ring and their family was in the crowd. They just told me, “Oh, that’s my son!” And I realized, it’s possible that I could get in the ring. From that point on, that was my goal, to step inside the ring. I became less of a fan of watching it on TV and more of a fan of doing it. I wanted to be active, I wanted to be moving, I wanted to be a part of it. That’s when things shifted from fandom to my goal of getting into the ring.
Alex Obert: Did you meet any notable names when you were starting out and get advice from them?
Matt Sydal: The first guy that gave me advice when I was really young was Kid Kash. He beat the shit out of me in the ring, he taught me a lesson the hard way in the ring. And then afterwards, he broke me down and told me everything that was wrong and telling me that I was doing the same shtick six months before. He told me. “You need to change. You need to grow. You need to get out of this place and move.” And he gave it to me the hard way. At that moment, it was the only time I ever considered quitting wrestling. Well, one of just a very few. I thought I either needed to quit or get better. And at that point, I made a commitment to do every single thing that he told me so that no one could ever say these things about my wrestling career again. That was just a huge motivating factor. I’d been training for maybe two years, I got ten years of training in twenty minutes with the guy. And that’s kind of how I learned to wrestle, from a lot of tricks of the trade. They can’t be passed along verbally, they can only be passed along connectedly. It has to be transferred in the ring. It can’t be said or spoken, it’s ineffable.
Alex Obert: Your wrestling name began as Lance Sydal, which then turned into Matt Sydal. How did you come up with that last name?
Matt Sydal: I made it up when I was wrestling in my backyard as a kid. My favorite wrestler was Sabu and they would say about him, “He’s homicidal, suicidal, genocidal, he is Sabu!” And I just took the end of homicidal, suicidal, genocidal. I said, “Sydal. That’s me.” Now I’m thirty one, here we are decades later, and I’m still rockin’ it. I love it.
Alex Obert: Where do you first recall seeing the shooting star press?
Matt Sydal: I would watch the Super J Cup from Japan and I saw Jushin Thunder Liger do it. And I never thought I could do it, never planned on doing it. But one day, I got an itch that I needed to scratch and I needed to know if I could do it or not. And then I did it and I was like, “Okay, I can do it.” Then I wanted to see if I could do it in a match. It just became this constant challenge where I was trying to get better. Slowly after ten thousand repetitions, I eventually started to master it out.
Alex Obert: You have a big match coming up with AJ Styles for Ring of Honor. When you had your brief time in TNA, do you recall any backstage interaction with him?
Matt Sydal: Yes. AJ was always a super, super nice guy. The aura that he gives, he’s very tough and physical and rough in the ring. He’s really hard to handle. Backstage however, he is one of the kindest people. Genuine and real. I think that’s one of the reasons people like him in wrestling is because he’s so real and genuine, he’s one of the good guys. You could leave your kids with him. His character is one of his highest qualities that never even gets mentioned because it doesn’t have anything to do with wrestling. It’s just who he is. He was a guy who gave me breakout matches on the independent scene, not at ROH or TNA, but actually at other smaller promotions. The matches he gave me were like that Kid Kash lesson, you learned a wealth of knowledge. It’s knowledge that I would’ve paid for, but I actually got paid to get it.
Alex Obert: With all of the promotions you have worked for, including Wrestling Society X, do you have any idea as to how WWE discovered you?
Matt Sydal: People definitely saw my WSX things. I mean after all, guys stole my moves directly from that. However, it was Nova, Simon Dean, who brought my name up. He was in talent relations. I was actually wrestling in Japan at the time and I got a call from WWE to do a tryout. I met Nova at the place I first started wrestling at age seventeen and he hired me for the WWE nine years later! That’s how the wrestling business is, very tightknit. People don’t go anywhere. If you’re in this business, you’re in it for life. It’s what you are. So I had no idea that the guy that I met at seventeen when I was fetching coffee for wrestlers and setting up chairs would eventually be the guy that gave me the dream job, a career, more than I could ever have dreamed of in life. More than I could ever have thought possible. It’s the greatest gift ever because now I have an amazing life, I’m able to do so much more with my life now. I was totally empowered by this man who owed me nothing, he did it for no reason other than the fact that he believed in me.
Alex Obert: When you started out in WWE, you originally wrestled for OVW and FCW. However, you also wrestled Sami Zayn at NXT under the new format. How do you feel that NXT is an improvement over OVW and FCW?
Matt Sydal: So it’s like if you’re building any kind of structure, you’ve gotta lay the groundwork first. And it’s gonna look rough, the building’s gonna look rough until it’s finished. And what developmental was was putting the poles in the ground, pouring cement, there were laying a foundation with OVW and FCW. And then the final touches came in with NXT. They improved dramatically. I would say it was an exponential improvement. It’s not just a step up, it’s a a very high curve up. What they’ve created is a new version of ECW. It’s its own animal and it’s amazing. I can’t speak highly enough of NXT, of the work that the boys put in. WWE has invested in their future. It’s awesome, man. I kind of wish I’d have been more a part of it, but you can’t win ’em all.
Alex Obert: When you became a part of the main roster, you were on the RAW roster for the entirety of the guest host era. What did you take out of that?
Matt Sydal: I loved the guest host era, it was so cool meeting so many new people. I always felt like one thing that I can do is take somebody who’s watching wrestling for the first time and turn them into a fan, so I felt that the guest host era provided an opportunity to bring their fans in. All I’m saying is if you watch me wrestle, you’re gonna wanna watch me wrestle twice. So that’s what I kept hoping for throughout that whole era. That was the game that I was trying to win at. I felt like every night I would go out there and there were potential new fans watching.
Alex Obert: Do you have any knowledge on how your entrance theme in WWE, Born to Win by Mutiny Within, came about?
Matt Sydal: Mutiny Within was just asked to make a song for me and they made that song. When they combined mine and Kofi’s songs into the Air Boom theme song, Kofi and I had to go into the truck and rework it three or four times before the show. Kofi and I weren’t happy with the lyrics one time and the way the beat kicked in the second time. So then we polished it all up, it was a team effort. When WWE hires people to do tasks, whether it’s graphic design or making music, they don’t just hire some Joe Schmoe, they hire people who are amazing. So they come to you with a t-shirt design and you’d be like, “I never would’ve thought of anything this good!” because they hire top level people. That was one of the coolest things I thought was they made sure to always put you with the best people. So when you got music, it was like you got to work with people who were really good and easy to work with. It was cool to work outside of a wrestling type world.
Alex Obert: The famous RKO you took is brought up all the time, but who pitched the idea for the spot?
Matt Sydal: Randy was the one who wanted to do it that night. I had actually mentioned it to him that weekend. I said, “Hey man, if I did Air Bourne, you can do an RKO. I’ve seen it done before.” And he’s like, “People have done it before?” “Yes, but we need to do it.” I was thinking down the line, that it would happen years later, and sure enough that next Monday night, it was just there in front of us and there for the taking. We took it and rocked it, man. It was fantastic. Even watching it today, it’s crazy how that crowd blew up.
Alex Obert: Something that wasn’t planned was your unexpected match with Mason Ryan. What was the backstage reaction to that?
Matt Sydal: There was no backstage reaction. I mean if anything, they were apologetic because it was a voting thing and they were still tabulating votes from the previous match with Kelly Kelly, but they were counting them against me and Mason Ryan.I had some words with some people after that match, but for the most part, we were just happy we got out of there and nobody got hurt. I just always wished I had better performance.
Alex Obert: Did you just plan on the fly because you were expecting to face Sin Cara?
Matt Sydal: Of course. With matches like that, you can’t predict what’s gonna happen. I did not think the fans were gonna pick him, but they did and I went with it, man. I thought I had him too, dude. At one point, I was literally beating him up. I was physically beating him up. I was on fire, but whatever, he put out the fire because he’s a giant.
Alex Obert: With the many unique and exciting moves you do in the ring, how did you start using the diving double knee attack?
Matt Sydal: It was made up by a Japanese guy named Kudo, who wrestled for DDT. I wrestled Kudo and he attacked me with the double knee attack. And after we got to the back when we were done, I thanked him for the match and told him he was great. I then asked him, “When I go to America, can I do that?” He said yes and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Alex Obert: What do you do for fun now that you’re not on the WWE schedule and have much more free time?
Matt Sydal: I love riding my bicycle on long rides. I do a lot of yoga. I sit around and read. I’ve been able to decentralize my focus. I was so obsessed with wrestling before, it was all I could do. I’ve kind of diversified into other areas, I like to exercise my mind equally with my body. So that way, hopefully something lasts at the end of time. (laughs) One or the other’s gonna hold up.
Alex Obert: You were recently a guest on YouShoot. What’d you think of that?
Matt Sydal: I was really disappointed, I thought the fans’ questions were really bad and not well thought out. I don’t really think that’s a great format for an interview because I think an interview should be done by an interviewer who is a professional and asks questions and follows up like a conversation. This was like asking about this, asking about that. I had a lot more answers that I wanted to give, but nobody was asking the right questions. The depth was very shallow, very surfaced. But I felt it was a great first shoot because I answered questions people wanted to have answered. But for the second one, maybe they can actually give me somebody who can ask some deeper questions. I’m willing to talk about stuff, but you don’t just come out and ask it, you delve into the subject. You can’t just say yes or no to certain things, there’s stories and you have to get all the details for anything to make sense. I just felt like it was just a bunch of short questions. I’m a fan of letting people behind the curtain, but it’s gotta be done the right way.
Alex Obert: Favorite WWE match of yours?
Matt Sydal: Me versus Chris Jericho at Fatal 4-Way.
Alex Obert: Last stand up comic you went to go see?
Matt Sydal: The last person I saw was Iliza Shlesinger. She’s hilarious. She’s unbelievable. She’s a great standup comedian. And I listened to a million podcasts from standup comedians all the time. I love Neil Hamburger. I get such a kick out of what they do. They’re kind of like wrestlers in a lot of senses, so I really admire what they do.
Alex Obert: Favorite venue to wrestle at?
Matt Sydal: It’s this building in Jackson, Mississippi called the Mississippi Coliseum. The fans there are amazing. And you literally drag your bags through the dirt and horse poop to get into the back of the arena. It’s electric in there. What I love about it is that it looks like nothing from the outside, but when you’re on the inside, that’s where the atmosphere was. It was a special crowd and whenever I went there, I really enjoyed it.
Alex Obert: Best BBQ spot in St. Louis?
Matt Sydal: I’m just gonna tell you Blueberry Hill. It’s not BBQ, but it’s a great place to go.
Alex Obert: What are your thoughts on the band Airbourne?
Matt Sydal: Sometimes people tweet to them thinking it’s me and I feel bad. But I don’t know, they’re not my jams.
Alex Obert: What’s the new Twitter name you’re considering using?
Matt Sydal: @MattSydal. But I haven’t got around to it, I just don’t care about computers and stuff. I never log on to a computer. I hate it. I do all my stuff from my phone, all my emails, everything, I just do it from my phone. So it’s difficult to do certain technical changes.
Alex Obert: In closing, which sites would you like to share with readers?
Matt Sydal: Instagram, @MattSydal. Find me on ROH TV, check your local listings. WWNLive.com, I have some matches on that. And go to your local wrestling show, I don’t care if I’m there or not, just go and you’ll love it.
Alex Obert: Sounds good! I’d love to thank you so much for your time.
Matt Sydal: My pleasure!