A nearly decade-and-a-half dream came to an end on Wednesday as Matt Cardona AKA Zack Ryder, was among over 20 wrestlers fired from WWE as a result of cost-cutting measures necessitated by the coronavirus. But instead of allowing this to be a negative moment, Ryder has taken to social media, embracing the opportunity that being a free agent affords. As Ryder said, “after 14 years in one place, this new adventure is one I’m beyond excited for.”
While it is unknown where Ryder’s new adventure might take him, one avenue that seems likely would be signing with AEW. The relationship between Ryder and Cody Rhodes is well-known at this point. Now both 34 years old, the men joined WWE around the same time, Rhodes in 2006 and Ryder the following year. They came up in developmental, Ryder in Deep South and Rhodes in Ohio Valley Wrestling. They shared a ring just once, in a battle royal in OVW, both spending time there in 2007, but they did share a locker room. And while the two are great friends now, that wasn’t always the case. In fact, as Rhodes told the story on Talk Is Jericho, his initial impression of Ryder was less than positive.
The two first met at an OVW TV taping, which was a big moment for those on the roster to get exposure. Deep South had just closed so Ryder, alongside Curt Hawkins, was headed to OVW. But the day before they arrived, Ryder and Hawkins, then the Major Brothers, made their television debut for ECW, winning their first match. In the eyes of the developmental folks, this made Ryder and Hawkins big shots. The duo arrived at the post-production party for the OVW taping and while Ryder and Rhodes’ accounts differ on what exactly happened, both men agreed that by the end of that night, Rhodes was not fond of the Major Brothers.
For the next seven years, Rhodes and Ryder were not friends. In fact, as Ryder tells it there was some heat between Rhodes, then in Legacy, and Ryder, then aligned with Edge as the Edgeheads, based on a rumor that Rhodes may or may not have spread. Again, the accounts of the two men seemingly differ. But with negative first impressions and untrusting relationships, Rhodes and Ryder were unlikely bedfellows for sure. That all changed however based on a chance conversation between a mutual acquaintance, who brought Ryder and Rhodes together based on their mutual love of amusement parks. To Rhodes’ recollection, the first time the two really hung out outside of work was when they took a trip to Universal Studios in 2014, a trip that Ryder initially thought was a rib. But it was no rib. Instead, it was the start of a great friendship between the two.
— Matt Cardona (@TheMattCardona) June 19, 2018
The two may disagree on which park is better between Disney or Universal, but that doesn’t stop them from frequenting both quite regularly (they make about three theme park trips each year) including going to Rhodes’ favored Universal in the fall for Halloween Horror Nights and a tradition of going to Ryder’s preferred Disneyland and California Adventure at New Year’s for the VIP experience. Rhodes always brings his wife Brandi and Ryder normally brings a date as well. His most recent date, since 2017, has been his fiancee, Chelsea Green, who the Rhodes’ actually encouraged him to ask out one night when the three were at dinner. As they say, the rest is history.
In 2016, Rhodes and Ryder both experienced monumental moments in their WWE careers. For Ryder, it came at WrestleMania 33, when after grinding for so long, he finally achieved his goal of winning the Intercontinental Championship, a title that had meant so much to him. Ryder was able to share that moment with his father, who embraced him in the ring following the ladder match. Rhodes, as Stardust, was in that ladder match as well and had the best seat in the house to see his good friend’s shining accomplishment, one that Ryder has said was the best moment of his life. Rhodes, who was at a crossroads of his own career at the time, hadn’t yet decided to leave WWE. That wouldn’t come until a month later when he stepped into the Greensboro Coliseum for a taping of WWE Superstars and realized the magic just wasn’t there. Rhodes wrestled his final WWE match that night, a loss to Ryder.
But despite the two going their separate ways, their friendship has remained strong, and more than that, Rhodes has been Ryder’s biggest supporter and a vocal one at that. In October 2017, just a few months after Rhodes’ left WWE, he responded to a WrestleCircus hot take that Ryder never got the credit he deserved saying it was a “really inspiring time,” when arenas everywhere were chanting “we want Ryder” despite him not being booked on shows. A month later, Rhodes was asked if Ryder would be a good fit for Bullet Club to which he responded, “Zack works extremely hard…if you don’t believe me, look at the changes in his physique. I’m confident he will be great wherever he is.”
In August 2018, prior to All In, Rhodes answered some fan Q&As and surprised many when in response to who from WWE he would want booked on the show, he said Zack, noting “he works too hard to be just a super jacked dude in the background.” A few months later, in response to Ryder acknowledging he had yet to be booked on a single episode of Monday Night Raw in the year, Rhodes offered perspective with both an inspiring and humorous tweet to his friend.
Some perspective for you babe…several years ago the biggest star in the world(in MSG), the Rock was standing in the ring and the crowd was chanting “we want Ryder”…
Whatever you do now, do it without fear. I mean Pam went and did that Pratt Institute thing… https://t.co/rUymi8SSXr
— Cody (@CodyRhodes) December 28, 2018
The tweet came just days prior to Rhodes’ big announcement, the creation of All Elite Wrestling. So naturally, fans commenting in the feed were quick to suggest Ryder leave WWE and join his pal in the new venture. Instead, Ryder stayed with WWE, reuniting with Hawkins, his long time tag partner, for the first time since 2008. The two found success with Hawkins finally ending his historic losing streak. Together, they won the Raw tag team titles for the second time, marking Ryder’s fourth title in WWE and seventh career title (two on the indies in New York Wrestling Connection, two in Deep South and one in OVW) alongside Hawkins. The duo dropped the titles just a few months later and from that point on, were largely kept off TV. When they did receive television time, it was normally as lowcard fodder for the tag teams WWE was pushing at the time. As a team, Ryder and Hawkins’ final match came on the kickoff show for Elimination Chamber in March. Ryder’s final match period came in a singles squash to Bobby Lashley the following night.
Then, on April 15th, a day that will forever be known as Black Wednesday in WWE, Ryder was released. But once again, he had the support of Rhodes in his corner. But this time it wasn’t just a simple Twitter message. Rhodes headed to Instagram to pen a heartfelt message in which he expressed how proud he was of Ryder, his emotions about being able to share the IC title moment with him at WrestleMania, and his thoughts on Ryder’s overall work ethic. “In a world of weekend warriors and “play wrestlers”, this dude exudes passion and drive for pro-wrestling like no other,” Rhodes said, adding “I have a little rule, and that’s that if you’ve ever “gotten over” in wrestling…you can always do so again. That rule being fully applicable to Matt now. At 34 years young, his best wrestling days are ahead of him. Cheers to a great start and 14 years of unrelenting blood, sweat, and tears. Future endeavors are limitless when you actually endeavor.”
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I’d like to take a moment to say how proud I am to be a friend of @zryder85 – In a world of weekend warriors and “play wrestlers”, this dude exudes passion and drive for pro-wrestling like no other. Through 14 years to see him CONSISTENTLY try to better himself(whether that be his in-ring work, or watching him physically mold himself and his body into such a specimen DRUG FREE with hard work and will). I have a little rule, and that’s that if you’ve ever “gotten over” in wrestling…you can always do so again. That rule being fully applicable to Matt now. At 34 years young, his best wrestling days are ahead of him. Cheers to a great start and 14 years of unrelenting blood, sweat, and tears. Future endeavors are limitless when you actually endeavor. I chose this picture because it was one of my last days at WWE, watching 80,000+ people applaud as Matt won gold was an eruption not only live in the arena but in the locker room as well. Hearing Dolph coordinate for his father to come over the rails(meanwhile I was ass deep into a broken ladder and stuck but had the best seat in the house) and seeing father/son embrace, I thought I’d be jealous or bitter, but I was truly happy and proud for one of my peers. Congratulations my friend, and good luck!
The AEW talk had been ongoing for the prior year but after that message, it went into high gear. And with good reason. Rhodes has made no small gesture of bringing in those to AEW who he’s felt were underappreciated. He’s taken care of his family and his friends, including Shawn Spears, who Rhodes came up with in developmental. Upon leaving WWE, Rhodes wrote a letter talking about why he was leaving the company as well as his thoughts on his time there. Toward the end of the letter, Rhodes addressed his peers, telling them to keep having a better match than they are supposed to. Among the names he mentioned? Tye (Spears), Harper (Brodie Lee) and Zack. Two of those three are in AEW. Might Ryder be next?
Of all the wrestlers who were released on Wednesday, Ryder seems the most likely to go to AEW. Beyond his connection to Rhodes, Ryder is an underrated wrestler who has immense popularity. He enjoyed a run of being the most over person in the entire WWE but the company never fully took advantage to capitalize on his peak. It’s unlikely AEW would make the same mistake. The company lacks a lot of true babyfaces in the singles scene right now, a role that Ryder could easily fill. He has the charisma, the in-ring talent, and as Rhodes has said, the work ethic to success no matter where he goes.
— Matt Cardona (@TheMattCardona) September 22, 2018
It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see these two join up in AEW in the near future. Perhaps the “too sweet” life of Zack and Cody is on the horizon.
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