I recently spoke with former UFC fighter turned professional wrestler Matt Riddle, who made an exit from the sport in his 20's riding a five fight win streak. Riddle has long been a lightning rod for controversy in MMA, due to his pro-marijuana stance. Making his debut after gaining popularity during a stint on The Ultimate Fighter, Riddle is one of few fighters to make their pro debut for the UFC. Riddle had a falling out with the company after two fights in his four fight winning streak were overturned following positive tests for marijuana. After bouncing around a couple promotions and finally fighting for one in 2014, Riddle walked away from the sport.
Late last year Riddle quietly began pro wrestling training at the world famous Monster Factory, having his first match earlier in the year. At 29 years old, with an athletic background, worldwide exposure and the right training, Riddle hopes to become a huge prospect in pro wrestling.
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When did you start your pro wrestling training at the Monster Factory, and how has that been for you?
I started probably late October, it's been going good. I've been at it about five months now. I enjoy it.
Do you have any favorite or least favorite aspects to training in professional wrestling?
To be honest, I don't even mind taking the bumps. I can take bumps all day. The only thing that is somewhat challenging is the psychology. Working the crowd and getting them more involved when you're doing moves and going through the matches.
How does this training differ from your day-to-day training when you were actively competing in MMA?
MMA was a little different because you were fighting maybe three times a year. You train all the time, but they're both similar in some rights too. I think MMA is a little harder on the body, because you can wrestle smart and wrestle around injuries. So it's not too bad
Does this mean your MMA career is done? Are you on a hiatus, do you see yourself fighting again?
As of right now I don't see myself fighting again. But if job security comes around, that's really hard to pass up. Right now I'm focusing on pro wrestling, but I still do train MMA two or three times a week. So I'm not completely out of it.
You had your first match, how did that go for you? I noticed you worked a strong style.
I don't get too nervous about anything like that. I've been watching professional wrestling since I was child. I had been at it for a couple of months, and been at it and practiced. It's so much different because you have an idea of where things are going to go out there. It was a lot of fun. It was nice to have a full-on fight without being injured.
Are you going into pro wrestling with any nagging injuries? That seemed to hamper you a little during your MMA career?
The thing is, when I was in MMA I was cutting down to 170 pounds. That's really hard on me to cut that much weight. Sometimes when you cut that much weight your body gets weaker and some of the things I think I can do, I can't. Since I stopped cutting weight I'm about 220-225 and I haven't had a problem. I won't say I won't run into something because you never know. But I feel good and healthy, I'm excited.
Are they going to give you the pro wrestling billing of like 250 pounds?
(Laughs) No, they were pretty honest. When they announced me it was, 6'2 220, I think. That's what I am, 6'2, 220.
How has your size worked out for you? Are you running into guys a lot bigger than you, smaller than you? Being big in MMA and being big in pro wrestling are two different things.
There's a couple guys my size, a few that are smaller. Then there's a lot of guys that are a lot bigger than me. It's a big man's world here. I'm around guys who are like 300 pounds.
Are you going to continue to try to work that stiff, MMA-type strong style like you did in the first match?
It's evolving. I don't think what people saw in my first match is the finished product. But it's definitely a start. I'm still learning and getting things down and adding. Obviously as I go along I'll learn more spots and moves and psychology and get better.
Have you had anybody try to test you in the ring, even playfully?
No, not at all (laughs). I'm a nice guy. Most of the time if someone flips they're just like "don't hit me." Most of the people in pro wrestling are really, really nice.
Your wife is also training with you at the Monster Factory, isn't she? How does that work out?
She is training, yes. I always wanted her to fight and get into that, but she wasn't really down with the whole mixed martial arts thing. She was a two time All-American gymnast as LSU, so she's always trying to figure out something she can do with that. In pro wrestling she can use her gymnastics and wrestling all together.
Are you open to working mixed-tag matches and things of that nature with her?
Oh, I hope so! We'll see what happens. It'd be a good time. It's a cool dynamic.
What are your ambitions in pro wrestling?
I grew up watching WWE, so of course I want to go that route. It's just like fighting, if you fight and you want to be the best or fight at all you want to do it in the UFC. At the same time I'd still gladly wrestle in Japan, the independents or other places.
How do you think that road schedule for WWE work? How would that affect you?
I didn't have to travel a lot for fighting, I was fighting every 4 of 5 months. With professional wrestling you can do it every weekend at some levels, or three or four times a week at other levels. I'd rather be involved in something I could do 3-4 times a week as opposed to every four months.
Do you keep up with the current wrestling product? What do you watch on a regular basis?
I do keep up with it. I watch WWE, NXT, some TNA and Ring of Honor.
Do you have any favorite competitors, anybody who's style you want to take from.
To be honest, and this isn't to take anything away from anybody else, but they all do things their own way, and so do I. I just want to do my thing, my way. Of course I'm going to watch and learn and take whatever people are giving me, but I'm not pointing at one person to take things from. I'll take things from several people.
Pro wrestling and MMA have always been married concepts. We see guys like Bobby Lashley doing both simultaneously. Could you ever see yourself doing that?
You know, maybe at some point. Maybe even in the near future. Right now I'm just going to do the pro wrestling. It's something that I've always wanted to do, so I figured I'd put all of my eggs and this basket and see how I'd do. So far, so good.
How can people follow your journey through pro wrestling, and is there anyone you'd like to thank?