On this past Wednesday’s episode of NXT on the USA Network, one half of the NXT Tag Team Champions Pete Dunne – who is stuck in the United Kingdom due to travel restrictions – surprised his partner Matt Riddle with a replacement until he’s able to return to the US. That opponent debuted on NXT and it turned out to be longtime international indie star Timothy Thatcher, who helped the team retain their titles by defeating Undisputed Era‘s Roderick Strong. While many fans were excited to see Thatcher debut in such a big fashion after joining WWE this past February, long-time fans of both men were also intrigued at this seemingly random pairing – because for three years on the international indie circuit, from the US to the UK to Germany, these two men did not get along. In fact, their first encounter was kicked off by betrayal.
Matt Riddle and Timothy Thatcher both came from very different career paths in arriving in NXT. Thatcher started out in the West Coast indie scene in California in 2005, fighting his way through EVOLVE Wrestling and Germany’s Westside Xtreme Wrestling (wXw) in the 2010s, and finally getting to NXT in February of this year. Meanwhile, Matt Riddle was a charismatic MMA fighter who competed for UFC until his firing over multiple failed drug tests in 2013. He attempted to continue his MMA career in Bellator and Titan FC, but by the following year, he had left MMA for pro wrestling. He trained at the Monster Factory in 2014 and following a WWE Tryout in 2015, he signed with EVOLVE Wrestling. It was there that these two technical fighters would first cross paths.
After weeks of feuding with Drew Gulak‘s Catch Point stable, Riddle finally agreed to face them as the tag partner of EVOLVE Champion Timothy Thatcher at EVOLVE 52. But less than two minutes into the match, Riddle turned on Thatcher and joined Catch Point, setting up a feud in EVOLVE that ran from EVOLVE 56 through EVOLVE 58 and ending with a No Holds Barred Match at EVOLVE 62. Timothy Thatcher won all three contests. Thatcher would go on to a record 596-days as EVOLVE Champion.
Their feud picked up in 2017, but this time the battlefield shifted to Europe. In March of that year, Riddle finally picked up his first win over Thatcher in England with London’s Revolution Pro (RevPro) at Live at the Cockpit 14, and a week later they had a rematch in Germany in the finals of the wXw AMBITION tournament. Riddle won again, closing their war to 3-2 in Thatcher’s favor. In April, they would meet again, this time during WrestleMania Week in Florida, where World Wrestling Network (WWN), the parent company of EVOLVE, Full Impact Pro, American Combat Wrestling (ACW), and others, was looking to crown its first WWN Champion. Matt Riddle won again, outlasting Thatcher, Fred Yehi, Jon Davis, Parrow, and “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams in Six Way Elimination Match at WWN SuperShow. A few weeks later at EVOLVE 82 in New York City, Riddle would defend the WWN Championship against Thatcher, evening their series at 3-3.
That fall, both men would reunite in England, when Matt Riddle was set to defend his PROGRESS Atlas Championship against challengers WALTER and Thatcher – both of the wXw stable Ringkampf – at PROGRESS Chapter 55: Chase The Sun. Neither man was victorious that night, as WALTER reigned supreme and becoming the new Atlas Champion.
In January of 2018, Thatcher and WALTER would once again try and take gold from around Riddle’s waist. Ringkampf headed to Pro Wrestling Guerrilla (PWG) for Mystery Vortex V to face off against PWG World Tag Team Champions The Chosen Bros, featuring Riddle and Jeff Cobb. This time, Ringkampf would not claim victory. Three months later, they would meet again in PWG, at PWG All-Star Weekend 14, in their final singles encounter before Riddle headed to WWE that July. Riddle was victorious again, moving to 4-3 against Thatcher, with four straight singles victories.
Now it’s 2020 and both men are in NXT. While Riddle no doubt respects Thatcher’s abilities, the roots of rivalry have been set during their three-year battles around the world. And with Thatcher losing that war 4-3, perhaps we’ll see Thatcher truly make his mark in NXT by doing exactly what Riddle did in EVOLVE to make his own mark – turn on the Champion.
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