Since leaving WWE in 2014, Matt Sydal, fka Evan Bourne, has appeared in just about every other major promotion in wrestling. He worked in ROH, Impact, New Japan and the indies with many wondering if he would one day end up in AEW.
Those wonders became a reality at All Out when Sydal was a surprise entrant in the Casino Battle Royale. He's since become an AEW regular and Sydal talked about linking up with AEW when he joined The Chris Van Vliet Show.
"It was a really nice surprise for me because I had just finished filming the Ring of Honor Pure Title Tournament in Baltimore for a whole week and sort of thought my next booking wouldn't be till this October set of Ring of Honor tapings. And sure enough, I got a phone call basically the night before the pay-per-view and to see if I was available to work and it sounds like an awesome spot. So, yeah, I mean, it was just done old-school style. 'Hey, give me a call and I'll be on the way,'" recalled Sydal.
"For the last two years, since I left IMPACT in 2018, I've spent basically the last two years just trying to be healthy, be strong, be ready for when that opportunity comes and I sort of felt like that's what I've been putting into the universe. I've really been working towards it. Even though, it's not like I didn't go on podcasts and say, 'Oh yeah, my goal is to be in AEW' because that's just a little more revealing than you want to say, but really, it had been like a focus of mine."
As someone who has been around the block in terms of wrestling promotions, Sydal knows what he wants and what he doesn't want in a company. AEW seems to check all the boxes of what he's looking for with a promotion and he highlighted the progressive nature of their operations.
"That came about because this is an organization that started on the principles that have guided my entire career in wrestling, which is that everything that got us in the past of wrestling is amazing and we're so thankful for all of that. But it's really time to feature the forward thinkers in wrestling for wrestling to be more of an open thing than a closed book," said Sydal. "For there to be less rules and more creativity. For there to be a collaboration, instead of just like a top-down, hierarchy of how things go and AEW is just like a federation out of my dreams.
"So, when I got that call, I was like, 'Absolutely!' I was just so excited and it's one of those moments, where it's like, 'Oh, there are friends I haven't seen in four-five-six years that I'm going to get to hang out with on Sunday.' That in and of itself is super exciting, let alone to debut on pay-per-view which is huge."
Even though Sydal has made five AEW appearances since last month, he made it clear that he's not signed to them or anywhere else at the moment when asked.
"Correct. I'm a free agent," stated Sydal. "Well, I don't have anything booked with Ring of Honor right now, but we filmed eight weeks of TV. So, I had a match with Ring of Honor on Monday and then, my AEW Dark airs on Tuesday or actually, I had an AEW Dark Dynamite the day after a Ring of Honor match. And then, just this past week when I wrestled Sonny Kiss on AEW Dark the night before, I'm wrestling Jonathan Gresham in the Ring of Honor Pure Title Tournament.
"So, it was pretty awesome for me to… I mean, during the pandemic, there was no work. I had zero work; it was very challenging. I mean, I was just holding on by a string there by a thread, a thin thread, but I was just dedicated and I really just believed that we'd be able to come out of this and I would be ready. So, just during the time off, I was making new gear for myself. Me and my girlfriend make all my costumes here ourselves at home. So, we were working on new tights, we were working on new knee pads, we were working on all this stuff and then, the Ring of Honor thing didn't come. Maybe I had a month ahead of time that was booked and then, the AEW thing, I had to be ready the next day for it.
"So, it's just one of these ones where you wait, but when that red light goes, you have to be ready to jump. So, I was just really proud of the work that I done in Dark and now, I get to bring it and show it off in front of everybody because I've been working really hard on all sorts of the preparations to wrestle, but also at my wrestling school. I have a little dojo in Clearwater called the Sai Dojo and I've just been putting in extra work there and so, when I get a chance to wrestle now, my comfort level in the ring is higher, my skills are sharper and I just felt like I couldn't have a better time to get these huge opportunities. I've done a lot of things in wrestling, but you have to understand, as a wrestler I've had 20 years of wrestling, thousands of matches.
"The shows I want to be on are the shows I want to be on and AEW was the only place that I hadn't been to that I was just really wanted to be a part of and since I've been working for them almost a month now – I mean, after this last Wednesday, I was just so fired up on just wrestling in general. Not just my matches or my performance, but just the state of the business in general. I felt like I was at the elements of joy that I had at PWG in the small American Legion building literally transferred right over to this giant, huge mega company, still has that kind of small indie at heart, but yet it has the production level that rivals WWE. So, it's just special to be a part of these movements."
Working with AEW gives Sydal a whole new host of opportunities of matches that he's either never had before or ones that he's had before and would like to have again. He was asked who he is most excited to be working with in AEW.
"Okay, so my favorite wrestlers to wrestle of all time are The Young Bucks, so I'm just looking for a tag team partner for that. I have a few ideas, but I don't want to give my whole hand away," teased Sydal. "So, following them are The Lucha Bros. – wrestling Rey Fenix or Pentagon would be great. I wrestled Fenix once in singles an in a couple multi-mans and I've had two against Penta recently. So, I think I'm back for a Rey Fenix match.
"There's the entire Dark Order. Brodie Lee would be a match I'd love to have. When he was the TNT Champion, I was sort of hoping to work my way up to that level. I'm looking for a rematch with Shawn Spears. He and I wrestled 10 years ago when we were in OVW together and then, we went back at Dynamite and sort of started a feud during the pay-per-view and we blew that off at the Late Night Dynamite. So, I would love to get in there with him again. I have never wrestled FTR and anybody who claims to be the best in the world at wrestling, they are somebody I want to wrestle because when I wrestled the other guys that claimed that, I was very much into the matches I had with them. Because when you wrestle [CM] Punk or Daniel Bryan, anybody who claims to be the best in the world usually is and so that would be a really fun match for me in terms of a first time matchup I've never had."
Another one of those wrestlers who refers to himself as the best in the world – and even has written a book with that title – is Chris Jericho. Sydal had several matches with Jericho in WWE about a decade ago and he was asked if Jericho's moniker is fitting.
"Yeah and I already found out in the ring that he is and I see it all the time. With Jericho, he just has the ability to have fun in the ring. He has this charisma that's unmatched and he can back it up with wrestling," stated Sydal. "That's what Punk, that's what Bryan and that's what Jericho always have done. They love to tell you how good they are because they back it up. Rob Van Dam's another example of that.
"So sometimes, I find myself upset with myself over a little bit of false humility. When I say I want to wrestle these guys who are the best in the world, that's because I'm one of those guys too. I don't have to beat you over the head to do it. I like to just demonstrate it, but so anybody who says they are, I say, 'Well, please. Let's dance.'"
During Sydal's AEW debut at All Out, he infamously botched his Shooting Star Press as he slipped off the top rope and landed on his head. Botches are a part of the business especially for a high-flyer like Sydal and he talked about making an inglorious debut.
"I am so lucky I didn't get injured. I mean, that was the craziest turn of events that happened. I mean, I can say I've jumped off that rope thousands of times and zero times have I had a slip like that. Zero. This was the first one. This is also the first time there were fireworks exploding in the background and there's a million of excuses, but I'm not going to take them," said Sydal. "I mean, it just didn't go well, but what did go well for me was like I said, the universe had my back on this one because when I slipped, I just basically reached back with my arm and as I would have rotated directly onto my head. We already discussed my neck injuries, which are… it wasn't until January, in March I started feeling okay, but I haven't been taking German Suplexes. I haven't been practicing getting dropped on my head because of my neck injury and I mean, if you look at the rotation, that was set up for a pogo stick on my dome.
"I mean, that was the rotation. I reached my arm out, the rope was there and basically, it kept me from turning over onto my head and I just turned partway, landed on my back and then kind of rolled onto my head and so, I mean, it was just super scary. It was like life flashes before your eyes type scary. Just a moment where there was… I didn't know there were 20 other guys in the ring at that moment. It all went condensed into a little dot and man. Yeah, when I landed and I was fine, I was just like 'Alright, alright.' You know how I told you about how I get emotional in matches? Let's just say I had a lot of emotions flowing right there and I was not happy. I was very upset. I was like, 'What just happened' and then Will Hobbs just comes over to me and he's like 'Are you okay?' And I'm like 'Get off of me. I'm fine!' So mad and then, what I did was I laid there because it sounded like everybody thought I was hurt.
"So, using my wrestler instinct, I laid there and marinated on it and because I'm in the ring with guys like I said I haven't seen in tons of years, but have been there through my career since day one like Frankie Kazarian, who's the guy that picks me from the ground and brings me to the back. Who restores me to the moment that I was trying to have is Frankie Kazarian. He's there exactly when I need him. Perfect timing. Looks at me in the face to check and see if I'm okay and as soon as he gives me the look, I know he's ready for me to fire up on him because he's not beating me up. He's giving me a chance to take my moment back and even though, nothing will ever take the attention back from that, I was able to keep going and the match was able to keep going and we just moved on.
"I mean, in wrestling, there's nothing else you can do other than pick yourself up. I mean, there's an old Japanese saying which is, 'Fall down seven, stand up eight.' I don't know why. I just stand up seven times I guess, but what I just did, I just got back up. I mean, resiliency is a huge part of my career. Being resilient is a huge part of who I am in the ring and out of the ring and so, this was a chance for me to demonstrate it. I didn't let it break me mentally. I didn't let it break me physically and does it still hang over me? A little bit, but I don't mind talking about it because reliving it just makes me more grateful to be healthy today."
It's one thing to botch a move but it's another to botch a move in your debut match with a new company. Sydal was admittedly down after the match but he revealed which AEW veteran helped pick him up with a pep talk afterwards.
"I was just mad at myself for the error. I mean, I told you, there's no way for me to be okay. I didn't even start to feel better… where you wrestle in companies, it matters to the fans, but as wrestlers, what matters is who's in the back and who are the guys in the locker room with. And so, company loyalty is important, but also, my loyalty has always been to the other wrestlers, to the guys who taught me and when I got back from that match, Christopher Daniels grabbed me and gave me a short little pep talk," revealed Sydal. "That instantly alleviated my deepest darkest fears and just put me more on a level playing field. Then, more people backstage just made feel better about it and that's what really made my heart stick in AEW, was how these people took me from my moment at my true lowest and when you're down in wrestling, there's plenty of people that will kick you. But I felt nothing but being uplifted and then, that evening, the guys just continued this and I was able to rejuvenate some old friendships and yeah, I felt better after falling than I did before. And I mean, that would never happen anywhere else because I wouldn't even listen to people telling me to feel better.
"I would just tune to them out and be like, 'No, I deserve to be mad at myself over this.' I deserve to be mad because I shouldn't have slipped. But the cooler heads and the wiser men in this business prevailed and they got me to the point where when I drove home, I didn't spend four hours driving home, just hitting my head into the steering wheel the whole time. I just let it ride. I just said, 'You know what? I'm going to come back next week and I'll have another match under my belt and I'll be just as mad about the mistakes I make in that match than the ones in that match.' I just try not to give it more weight than it deserves, but I have to tend to it because otherwise, I don't want to just suppress it and then have it always hang over me. So, this was a last chance of talking it out with the other wrestlers. That really made me get over it in a much smoother and easier way."
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit The Chris Van Vliet Show with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.