Matt Sydal also known as Evan Bourne during his time in WWE is one of the greatest high flyers to ever step foot inside the squared circle having enjoyed success in various promotions including, Dragon Gate, ROH, WWE, NJPW and currently GFW.
The 34-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri has won numerous championships including the WWE Tag Team Titles with Kofi Kingston as Air Boom and the NJPW IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Titles on two occasions with Ricochet.
We caught up with Sydal to talk about his early work with AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and CM Punk, comparisons between WWE’s 205 Live and GFW’s X Division and what Vince McMahon was like as a boss plus much more.
How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?
I was born to be a professional wrestler when I fell in love with wrestling as a young man I loved watching it but what I loved most was doing it. I felt the same way about baseball, football, and basketball, you can watch any of those sports on television or you can go out and do them yourself and I always preferred the latter. I enjoyed wrestling with my friends and to this day that’s all I do, wrestle with my friends.
Who were some of the wrestlers that you enjoyed watching whilst growing up?
When growing up I always enjoyed watching the smaller guys because I could relate to them more. Rey Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko were all favourites of mine. I was also a big Bret Hart fan.
Early on in your career, you worked with guys like AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and CM Punk, what were those experiences like?
Those guys were a big influence on me. The thing about my career early on was that I wasn’t looking at doing local wrestling shows, I was trying to find the best wrestlers on earth and be on the same shows as them and stand in the squared circle facing off against them.
I had to chase down AJ Styles, Samoa Joe and CM Punk and the respect I have for them was high then, these guys were leaders in the industry and they led by example. The reason why I’m as successful as I am is because they showed me how it was done, they didn’t tell you how to do it but they led by example and I was able to pick up on that work ethic. It was great running with those guys and they were hard to keep up with.
When you first started out with those guys did you know they would go on to make it to the top level?
For me the work those guys were doing back then when I was first starting out was the top level, they were always the top level, there was no in-between. Wrestling is very subjective, the way I see wrestling compared to how other people see wrestling is very different. Ironically now everybody loves the style of Samoa Joe and AJ Styles but I’ve been in awe of Samoa Joe for 15-years.
For me when people are making a big deal about Samoa Joe now it’s not a surprise to me. I know the industry better than anybody and these guys didn’t have to perform for WWE to validate themselves to me or anybody else, they’ve been the best in the world since that started.
They are more recognized now but that doesn’t change the substance, character or quality of the work they have done before. Success to me isn’t about having eyes on your work, to me, it’s the work that stands alone, a painter can make the most amazing painting and two people look at it or 8 million people look at it, it doesn’t make the painting any better or worse, it’s still beautiful art.
You had a spell with Dragon Gate, what was that experience like?
They had an incredible style and a niche market from Japan and were really innovative. If you are to watch what wrestling is now you will see it basically copies what Dragon Gate was doing back then. I really felt as though I was part of something special, I was as tough as I could be, you could chop me a hundred times and my chest wouldn’t turn red, that’s how tough we were in Dragon Gate.
What was it like when you first went to work for WWE?
I received a phone call from WWE asking if I could come and do a tryout and I went in there had a match and ended up getting a contract a couple of weeks later to join developmental at OVW (Ohio Valley Wrestling). Three months later I was the OVW Heavyweight Champion, three months after that I moved down to Florida to FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling), which is now NXT.
What are some of your personal highlights from your time on the WWE main roster?
To call it surreal would be silly, it all felt very real and it was very special. It was an honour and a privilege to work with the guys I was getting the opportunity to work with. For me, it was just great to be able to put a smile on so many faces and to make a connection to people all over the world. It was also a chance to push my beliefs, peace, love and question authority, WWE was a great platform and a great stage for a lot of people and I feel I was able to get a whole lot of benefits from work there.
You worked with Kofi Kingston and became Tag Team Champions, what was that like?
Kofi is the absolute most class act in the business, he and I just had an understanding with the pace and the timing that you can’t force upon people it just happens organically. We just went out there every night and had fun and we were extremely successful, I just wish Kofi and I would’ve had a longer opportunity to be tag partners.
You got the opportunity to work with John Cena, what was that experience like?
When you say I was working with these guys, yes I worked with them in the ring but I’m also working with them every single day, we’re talking at TV, live events, 14-days straight in Europe non-stop. When I worked with John Cena what I witnessed was a man who has the hardest work ethic of anyone I’ve met. John was somebody that desires to be the best at all times and he doesn’t use excuses, he’s a guy that shows up, does the work and it pays off.
To make it to WWE it takes two things, being an incredible athlete and being an incredibly intelligent athlete. Getting to be around a guy like Cena, that mentality rubs off on you, their drives and their goals, you just feel like you’re part of something really special because you know you’re working with really special people.
If it wasn’t for the likes of John Cena, The Undertaker, The Rock, Stone Cold none of us would be doing anything, if these guys hadn’t struck a chord with the mass culture we wouldn’t be here. If CM Punk didn’t have that summer of 2012, if he didn’t drop a pipe bomb would the business be as good as it is, I’m not quite sure.
When wrestling was down the men who stuck with this business and stuck it out became highly skilled, incredibly gifted athletes who can connect with an audience and as soon as that audience started growing every new fan was connecting with the new wrestlers because these guys knew how to do it.
What was Vince McMahon like as a boss?
Vince and I didn’t work together directly very much, I honestly feel as though I could have got more out of my relationship with him but at the time I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t know how to ask the questions or even what questions to ask, I mainly learned through observational stuff.
What I admire most about Vince is his work ethic, you’ve got to understand the level of work ethic that these guys put themselves through; they put their heart and soul into it.
There are a lot of lessons I learned from Vince McMahon and it’s hard to even put them into words because when you have leaders they tend to lead in a tangible fashion and that’s what he did. I really admire him and if I ran a wrestling organisation I would probably try and do it like Vince McMahon does it.
There is a real buzz around British wrestling at the moment, who are some of the British guys that stand out for you?
The first time I wrestled over in England was about 11 years ago now, one of the first British guys I wrestled with was Rockstar Spud who is now in GFW and another was PAC, now Neville in WWE. Neville and I worked very closely together in Dragon Gate and he has always been a tremendous talent.
After my time in WWE, one of the first guys from the UK I had the opportunity to wrestle was Will Ospreay and by the time we were done with our feud in Rev Pro he was on fire and going places.
British wrestling is really unique, there is a great history over there, and they stopped waiting for opportunities and started creating their own by making their own organisations and created their own wrestlers. They weren’t afraid to stand on their own and say we deserve the spotlight, we deserve to be seen. That was kind of a similar mentality to the ECW days, you could get together with the right group of guys and start an organisation that could take over rather than being a guy that just took a job to work for somebody else.
That is why at the moment there is such a buzz around British wrestling because these guys eat, sleep, breathe and live it. I think guys like Neville and Finn Balor have inspired generations but if you go back further to when I was starting out you had British guys like Nigel McGuinness and Doug Williams and you can go even further back to guys like William Regal, back when it was thought of as impossible to make it, these guys were taking steps into the fog, forging a path, shrinking the world to the point where British wrestlers now have the opportunity.
What was it like teaming with Ricochet and winning tag team titles in Japan?
When Ricochet and I went on to become IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, personally for me it was a much harder accomplishment to anything I had ever done previously. Titles in WWE come and they go but to be a champion in Japan was a huge honour for me.
You are currently working with GFW, how has that been?
Since being back with Impact Wrestling I feel like I’ve had more media produced on me than I’ve had in a while. I feel like I’ve got something to say and I have a platform to say it on and no one is going to stop me. The only person that has ever held me back in my career has been myself but right now I have opened the flood gates, I’m letting loose and I’m ready to rock ‘n’ roll.
How would you compare GFW’s X Division with WWE’s 205 Live?
I don’t watch 205 Live on a weekly basis, I will catch up with Neville, Tozawa and Apollo Crews who are all really good friends of mine and they seem to be doing a great job on there.
However, with regards to the Cruiserweight Title, I was in WWE for a long time and there wasn’t a Cruiserweight championship during my time there. I’m not a fan of limiting guys of a certain size and saying you can only wrestle with guys the same size.
That is what I like about the X Division, there are no limits, it is just about going out there and being as creative as possible and grabbing the opportunity you’ve been given with both hands.
What is it like getting to work with Bobby Lashley?
I’m the only person who would be standing in line for the X Division gold, but not afraid of taking on a former World Champion, not only that but taking his lunch and declaring it’s mine now.
The thing with wrestling is that it is both a physical and mental game and Bobby Lashley is unconquerable when it comes to physicality but what I have is the mentality and the experience to know that if there is a way of beating Bobby Lashley, Matt Sydal will find the way.
Is there anyone that you would like to have a dream match with?
For me I wouldn’t have a dream match, I would want a dream battle, where I would be forced to square off against a guy for the course of a year, that is what I’m looking for. Throw anybody against me, I’ll make magic happen, what I do isn’t set, I feed off my opponent, I react and I respond, the more variety of people you put in front of me the more my skill set will grow.
You’ve performed at WWE’s WrestleMania, NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom and coming up is GFW’s Bound For Glory, what will that be like to have performed on three of the biggest shows for three of the biggest wrestling companies in the world?
This is just the life I lead if I was leading my life any other way I wouldn’t get these opportunities. To me, it is stuff I’m proud of but I’m proud of the day-to-day, I’m proud of the small show, I’m proud of the big show. I’m just as nervous for Korakuen Hall as I am for the Tokyo Dome in fact possibly more.
I’m glad to do these things but the things I’m most proud of his giving back to the fans. I’m glad to be on a stage which is large enough to reach out through that TV and grab people and connect with them and that is why I love being part of these big events.
The bigger the stage the more people we can touch and reach out to and I know how I felt when wrestling touched me deep in my little soul when I was about 15-years old watching Tajiri kick Super Crazy in the head and Psicosis wrestle Rey Mysterio. I want to give that feeling I felt then to other people and being part of shows like WrestleMania, Wrestle Kingdom and Bound For Glory is how I do it.
For more information on Matt, you can follow him on Twitter at @findevan