Thursday marks one of the biggest nights in the GFW calendar, as Impact airs its annual Destination X live special. One of the most anticipated matchups on the card is arguably its biggest mismatch, as former world champion Bobby Lashley takes on Matt Sydal.
Don't tell that to Sydal, though. While he may not be as big, or bench as much in the weight room, the man once known by WWE fans as Evan Bourne believes he has much a chance of winning as Lashley does. With a title shot of their choosing at stake - and he refuses to rule out the possibility of challenging for the now-vacant GFW Unified World Championship - Sydal is ready to show the world what he can do.
RealSport spoke exclusively to Sydal about his upcoming match at Destination X, what brought him back to Impact, and why he sees himself as a trendsetter in the industry.
Editor's note: this interview took place before GFW announced they were stripping Alberto El Patron of the GFW Unified World Championship
Returning to Impact
RealSport: What brought you back to Impact?
Matt Sydal: Well, it was an opportunity to finish the story that I started right here early in my career and it was really more fate and destiny than anything else. Impact is a place where I can get challenged greater than I’ve ever been challenged before, work with guys that I can feed off of, learn from and grow from. Basically, it’s part of my attempt to conquer the world of wrestling and to be the number one guy that’s talked about on the dirt sheets, online, and most importantly, in people’s hearts and memories. Impact is a great opportunity for me to do that.
RS: What would you say are the biggest differences between Impact and Anthem and how the company was in your previous stint?
MS: Well, my friend, I wouldn’t know because I don’t pay attention to things when I’m not there, but I can tell you what it’s like when I’m here. We are making magic, we are making incredible TV, the crew of guys that I am working with are great. I think a lot of them were there before Anthem and after. You know, I don’t play the politics game, I’m just a wrestler. My only duty is to perform for the people. I understand that it is captivating, backstage politics and all that, but to me, that’s just a bunch of nonsense because I’m looking for a platform to share what I enjoy with everybody else and that’s what Impact has given me through this Anthem team. As long as we keep doing this, business is going to be good.
RS: We interviewed Low-Ki recently, and he talked about how different the Impact locker room environment was compared to other promotions that he’s been a part of. Is that something you feel as well?
MS: Well, every locker room is unique, so every one is different, but this one is special. What’s great about this locker room in GFW is people aren’t worried about walking on eggshells or offending anybody. Everybody is worried about trying to be the match of the night and top each other and push each other to their professional and personal limits.
RS: On Thursday, at Destination X, you’re taking on Bobby Lashley. What are the challenges that come with facing someone who physically, in MMA terms, would be in a different weight class?
MS: Let’s just be honest. Bobby Lashley is 275 pounds, legitimately pure muscle, and some people say that he’s a genetic freak and this or that but they know he’s not. This is a man who’s dedicated himself and who has put in the work and has the results. I can’t start today benchpressing and expect to get as big and as strong as Bobby Lashley. I was born the way I was born, I am who I am. Now, I’ve been on a wrestler mentality since I was essentially fifteen years old, which is just training like an insane person, ignoring the signals that your body says to quit and pushing past your limits, so he and I have a similar mentality in this way.
However, for me, I am someone who is less focused on my opponent and more focused on myself. The Buddha once said “don’t fear the man who has defeated a thousand men a thousand times. Fear the man who has conquered himself.” That is what I am doing. My goal is to be a better Matt Sydal than I was yesterday, than I was a few hours ago. I know because of my past experience and my history, I’ve wrestled five-hundred-pound giants, I’ve wrestled the World’s Strongest Man and I figured out a way to come out on top because wrestling is not just a physical game, it is an extremely mental and cerebral game. My advantage very much lies in that area where physical and mental combined. When these two aspects are working perfectly, there’s no obstacle I can’t overcome. Bobby Lashley really hasn’t been beaten by many people in his career - if you remember his WWE career, he went undefeated for an extraordinarily long length of time. The thing with guys like Bobby Lashley and guys like Low-Ki, when people face off against them, they’re just looking to survive, they’re not even trying to beat them, they just want to survive the night. For me, I know that there is a way to beat these guys and if there is a way to defeat them, I can find the way.
RS: The stipulation around the match was kind of vaguely worded in that “the winner will get a title shot” but wasn’t any more specific than that. Are you only interested in the X Division title or if you win, would you consider going for the world title?
MS: You know what, the title picture is very dependent on what I’m going to choose and I want everybody to know that I am going to be unpredictable, it will be unconventional. I will be X Division champion during this run in Impact. That is my goal when I first walked on the scene. But when an opportunity presents itself to be a world champion, sometimes you don’t pass it up, sometimes you take it on, and if I can beat Bobby Lashley and he believes he could be world champion then I believe the same in myself. For example, one of my homies, if Sonjay Dutt is the X Division Champion, then maybe I just wait around until the epic encounter that I’m bound and destined to have with Low-Ki for that X Division title. You know, it’s a game, it’s a decision that cannot be made in advance. When that match ends, I’m gonna trust my gut, I’m gonna go with my instincts and I’m going to take the path that’s best for me. Not the easiest path but the path that is meant for me.
RS: Destination X is obviously a live broadcast. What are the challenges of live TV versus TV tapings?
MS: Oh man, so for me, everything’s live. My life is live. There’s no second take, there’s no do-overs. The only challenge when you do taped shows is sometimes you end up wrestling twice in a night. If you think the physicality of wrestling once is brutal, imagine trying to put on the most incredible match of the night back to back or with just one match in between. The wrestlers that are able to do these taped shows, it takes a lot. Making TV is hard because the cameras are right up in our face, there’s no time to make mistakes, you gotta take high risk as there’s high reward. Last time, at the last set of tapings, I completely dislocated my shoulder. I went for a hurricanrana, and the next thing, I blinked and I’m in the most intense pain I’ve been subjected to in my entire professional career and my arm is dangling on by a thread. So, anything can happen and anything does happen. That’s the beauty of it, that’s what keeps me coming back every week, because I don’t know what I’m going to do or my friends are going to do, but one thing is for sure, it’s going to be incredible and it’s going to be memorable.
RS: Many people say that you’ve got the prettiest shooting star press in the game. Who would you say has the second prettiest?
MS: I wouldn’t know because I don’t watch people who imitate me. Personally, I think Ricochet has got a hell of a shooting star press. I love Neville’s 360 shooter [Red Arrow], which is, quite possibly, more incredible than mine. Yeah, but everybody else is just a weak ass carbon copy of me, whether it goes from their kickpads to their belts to their armbands. I’m the trendsetter, I’m the leader in the industry and everybody else has just been following right behind me and I’m glad to be leading the group, I’m glad to be leading the charge. I welcome everybody to try and do all the moves that I do because the technique will never be as flawless as mine. It will never look as smooth and as crisp and it won’t be as damaging as mine because I’m the originator and everyone else is a follower.
I encourage people to strive to be more creative, to push the boundaries of their own personal limits, to trust themselves, question authority and to not be a copier. To be an original is the truest form of this business. There are so many guys that have great characters and great abilities, and then there’s also a lot of guys who are trying to do shooting star presses and be me. But, you know, everybody’s gotta start somewhere. Well, I tell you what, if anyone else is bringing shooting stars to Impact, a guy like Andrew Everett, you know, I’m gunning for him. The way I see it, shooting star presses, there can only be one guy that does it and that’s gonna be me and if anybody else wants to encroach on my territory, I will defend it.
RS: The signature match of the X Division is the Ultimate X match, but you’ve not had the chance to take part in one yourself. Is that high up on your bucket list?
MS: No! Are you insane?! Oh, yeah, my bucket list involves nearly dying and dangling from a rope high above the wrestling ring. My gosh, no, please put me in a regular wrestling ring. The Ultimate X is the ultimate danger match. This was invented by reckless crazy maniacs in Nashville so many years ago. Their concern was to do a freak show, do something so wild, so crazy, that people couldn’t turn their heads away. That’s what a super hyped match does and, so, yeah, sign me up if that’s what I’m going to have to do, if that’s the game we’re playing, if that’s the environment, I would use that environment to my advantage. But am I challenging people to a match like that? No way! Because as incredible as that is as a match, I don’t have the experience yet to know how to win.
You put me in a battle royal, I could be there with the biggest dudes on Earth and might come out on top because I understand all the nuances and the technique of the battle royal and how to win. I’ve been in battle royals since day one, for the past twenty years of my life I’ve been doing these battle royals. Now, an Ultimate X I’ve just watched them, I’ve been an observer so, yeah, sure I have a great concept of what to expect but I won’t know until I’m there. But I wouldn’t be surprised if at a certain point this year, you caught me in one of those.
RS: Trevor Lee said in a conference call this week that 205 Live is garbage and some of the other Impact guys says it’s just a pale imitation of what you guys do in Impact. Do you agree?
MS: I mean, I guess? I don’t know, I don’t really watch it other than to watch my homies Neville and Tozawa kill it every night. I think it’s pretty incredible, from the looks of their roster, seems like a lot of guys there are good but again, it’s a lot of guys who’re doing a weak ass version of the style that I’ve proliferated and the kind of style that I acquired from Dragon Gate which is exactly what Tozawa, Neville and Uhaa, Apollo Crews are doing. The guys are incredible, I’m not here to shit on anyone else. But you know, when it comes to this cruiserweight title? I was in the WWE for a long time and there was no cruiserweight title so I don’t believe in boundaries and borders and guys of a certain size can only wrestle and work with guys of that same size. I am into all of it in wrestling.
The X-Division since its inception, has pushed the wrestling forward, has encouraged creative, original content and encouraged people who had not gotten an opportunity in wrestling to go out there and take their opportunity. So I think the X Division, is similar to the cruiserweight division in that it is now guys’ opportunities to make their stance, to take the spotlight. That’s what I do everytime I go out there, whether it’s in the X Division or for the world title, anywhere on Earth, we can just go out there to make a name for ourselves. I admire those guys and what they’re swinging for, and their ideals. And I want them to keep chasing it down but I want everyone to know that there’s a king of the X Division, there’s a king of the cruiserweights, a king of the junior heavyweights and that’s Matt Sydal.
RS: Last year, you achieved something that not many wrestlers get to achieve, which is a five-star rated match. Is that a badge of honor, or do you not pay attention to match ratings or what other critics might say?
MS: Honestly, I don’t pay attention to match ratings. I’m not attached to the fruits of my labour. Once I’m done with that match, it’s for the people, it’s for the fans, for the Meltzers. They can enjoy it.I’m really proud that I received that accolade, like, I mean honestly it’s the biggest honor I’ve received in professional wrestling. What’s beautiful about that is, you just took that match… it was what professional wrestling is supposed to be. I’d be lying to say that I think that’s the best match I’ve ever had. It’s the match that has received the most critical acclaim and I’m extremely proud of it and I want everybody to go out and go buy that PWG DVD, I guess it would be more important if you guys can support the cause. I’m out there every single night, swinging like this. The matches that are terrible come from the same place that all the matches that get a five star. We throw everything we have into every match and honestly, the main difference between this match and the other ones, were the fans were on the same page as us, and it was almost as if it was one big symphony moving in unison. I think that’s where the beauty of pro wrestling can be found. There’s a lot of people who, the way they felt when that match was over, it’s something that you can’t replicate, you can’t duplicate and they’re going to be talking about it for years. That’s the impact I was looking to have.
If Meltzer said four and three quarters or even if he said two stars, that’s fine because that’s for everybody else to take in and enjoy and dissect and deal with. I leave the work on the table, the art is for everyone to enjoy and you can do with it what you want. You can bash me, you can love me, you can admire it, but that’s for everyone else. I release control of it once I’m done. I gotta say, there was something special that night, there was something special in those moments, what we did, creating completely new skills, and then going out and executing them flawlessly after discussing them for 20 seconds just before we go through the curtain. You have to understand, that a five star match like that can’t happen unless you have six pros in the ring and we were just very fortunate. I was very fortunate to be in the ring with five other guys that are out of this world amazing.
RS: How important is it to you that you are able to work dates with other indie companies rather than just being beholden to the one promotion?
MS: Like I said, I just like getting out there, travelling, and working different places. My favourite thing about my current situation is that I am in complete control of my destiny. I take full responsibility and full credit and full blame for everything I do and every match I have because I’m the one in control. That’s the beautiful thing. I’m not giving my power of myself as to how I feel about myself over someone else. It is all inside of me, everything I’m putting out, and the work that I’ve been making last year and continuing on to this year is the best work of my career. I almost feel bad that people still remember me just as Evan Bourne because there is so much more to this story, and that’s what I’m looking to do, move forward and make some new fans, continue to establish myself as a purveyor of the industry.
Lessons and legacy
RS: On that note, a lot of indie talent has been signed by the WWE over the past few years. From your experience, is it a sensible move for these indie stars to be entering the WWE at this point?
MS: Honestly, I don’t know the way the world works in WWE right now but it seems like a great time where you get great opportunities, you have a bunch of wizards of professional wrestling to learn under. You know, that’s the beauty of WWE is that they’re all offering the smartest minds in the business at your disposal at any moment. That’s really why I am who I am today is because I had that opportunity to work with some of the most brilliant men in professional wrestling and the most experienced guys. The William Regals, the Rey Mysterios, the Chavo Guerreros, people who understand the lineage and heritage and respect professional wrestling. I think a lot of guys need to get taught a little bit of respect and hopefully that happens to them up there too. It’s a beautiful opportunity but I hope guys realise that if they got into the business for fame and money then they’re not gonna last, they’re not gonna be great and they’re not gonna be one of the boys. If you got into this business to make quality work, to earn the respect of everybody else and to prove a little something to yourself, then I think they’re gonna be okay. To those guys, you know, I wish them nothing but the best but you have to be ready for that opportunity and a lot of guys get signed very young but they seem ready for the opportunity.
I know when I was twenty four, I was not ready for the opportunity but it came my way and I just had to scramble it and rely on my instincts and my training and you know, I survived. The way the industry was, in 2008, was for somebody like me to enter the WWE, it was very, it was almost a shocker, to the world because, what was going out online at that time, to make it into WWE, you have to be six feet tall and over two hundred and thirty pounds, you know, period. No ifs and or buts about it. But I knew that, just like reality, those rules are malleable, they can be changed. It was a little foggy and I took that first step out there and I could kinda see what Brian Kendrick and Paul London had done. I thought that there might be a step here, a stone to cross this river, to get across, and it was foggy and I think what I was able to do was to start blazing a little trail that everybody could start feeding into and creating their own path. Once they saw that once I overcame the barrier, it showed other people that that barrier is possible to overcome as well. If there’s anything I’m proud of, it’s that. It’s that I empowered to people to say “Hey, if he can do it, so can I,” and that’s why you have guys like Sami Zayn and Kevin Owens on TV right now. It’s been this great team effort. For me, I don’t see the divisions in wrestling, I just see the boys in the back and the fans out there and everybody is working together.
RS: How important is it to you that you are seen as a representative of that St. Louis legacy in wrestling?
MS: It is so important to me because to be seen as part of that legacy I can also be an inspiration to the youth that grew up in Missouri and, you know, it’s the Mid-West, in the US and honestly, people look down on, it’s very hard to make a name for a small town like St. Louis and if I can be known as a legacy wrestler from St. Louis, like the Randy Ortons and Harley Race, the ability to inspire and to show people that you can take something small and if you grow it with the right amount of hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck, I suppose, that anything is possible. That landing on the global stage, is just as possible as never leaving downtown St. Louis. If I can inspire some kids, if I can inspire people, then that would mean a lot to me. When you’re born and raised, I mean right even today I feel a longing for home and nostalgia for the past. It would be real nice to be a part of that St. Louis wrestling scene coming full circle and being able to give back.
Destination X airs live in the US on Pop TV this Thursday at 9pm, and will be broadcast in the UK on Spike UK this Friday, also at 9pm.
Thanks to Craig Simons for his help in transcribing the interview.