Matt Cardona first came to the attention of pro wrestling fans in 2007 under the ring name “Zack Ryder” in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE). The two-decade veteran of the squared circle’s ability to self-promote on social media is legendary. Along with his early catchphrases — “woo woo woo” and “you know it” — Cardona commanded the crowd’s attention even when he wasn’t used as a regular performer on WWE’s television shows.
Still, after more than a decade with the company and a highlight-reel moment at WrestleMania 32, where he won the Intercontinental Championship with his father in attendance, WWE released Cardona from his contract in 2020. Ever passionate about forging his own destiny, Cardona continues wrestling on the independent scene and is now one of the most celebrated performers in the industry.
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In September 2022, Cardona stretched his wings beyond the squared circle by appearing in the musical The Last Match: A Pro Wrestling Rock Musical. He even lent his vocals to one of the show’s songs, “I’m Awesome” by Sylvana Joyce, C. Robert Smith, and lyrics by Jason Huza, proving there’s more to this talented performer than many fans are aware of.
BarBend caught up with Cardona via email to talk about the challenging life of a pro wrestler and how he’s maintained a consistently great physique throughout his career. Check it out below.
As a free agent, Cardona has been busier than ever, filling his calendar with match bookings across the globe. In between appearances for high-profile outlets like Impact Wrestling, the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA), and All Elite Wrestling (AEW), Cardona also wrestles for upstart companies like Game Changer Wrestling (GCW), where he became a world champion in 2021.
Cardona’s penchant for electrifying the crowd earned him the #13 spot on Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s (PWI) top 500 list for 2022. Landing that high on the vaunted PWI 500 is a hefty accolade for any wrestler in any company to celebrate, but Cardona doesn’t rest on his laurels.
“I was not surprised one bit. I should have been in the top 10!” Cardona says. “I’ve worked my ass off since getting released from WWE in 2020 to reinvent myself. I don’t have a chip on my shoulder, though. I’m not trying to prove anyone wrong — I’m trying to prove myself and my fans right.”
A post shared by MATT CARDONA (@themattcardona)
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The relentless life of a pro wrestler involves near-daily travel, late nights, and a constant search for a new gym on the road. Despite the challenges, Cardona has managed to stay in great shape since he first burst onto the scene.
“Pro wrestling is year-round. There is no off-season,” he says. “You have to look good in your underwear 365 days a year. It’s very important to find a lifestyle that you can maintain. I never want to look better for a certain show and then see my results disappear.”
Cardona trains in the gym five or six days a week, but his unpredictable schedule means his workout philosophy revolves around adjusting to his circumstances.
“I’m currently not following a specific program,” he says. “It really depends how my body is feeling and what type of gym I’m in. Am I in a ‘real’ gym, or am I rushing a quick workout in a hotel gym? My schedule is so hectic that I am forced to make the best of any situation.”
As for nutrition, Cardona has a simple strategy for dealing with the pitfalls of finding food on such a packed schedule: “If I want McDonald’s, I’ll get McDonald’s. But I’ll punish myself in the gym the next day.”
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If you follow pro wrestling, you know it comes with plenty of risks. And in June 2022, Cardona ran into some bad luck when he tore his biceps during a match, requiring surgery.
“I was wrestling Blake Christian at a GCW show in Las Vegas, and earlier in the day, I had already worked a match against Rich Swann,” he recalls. “I hate wrestling multiple times in a day. Your body can never get properly warmed up again after cooling down after already having a match. Blake flipped out of the ring, onto me, and I felt my biceps tear instantly.”
A post shared by MATT CARDONA (@themattcardona)
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Cardona continued— and won — the match and was back in the ring after three months of rehab. And while he still has to be cautious about his biceps, he knows his body well enough not to push too hard.
“Luckily for me, I grew up in gyms,” he says. “My dad owned gyms and taught me the fundamentals of bodybuilding from a very young age. I’ve been wrestling for 19 years [and] my body is beat up [so] I’m not trying to break any records with the weights I’m lifting. I also take warm-ups and stretching a lot more seriously now than I did when I was younger.”
Of course, pro wrestlers must travel as light as possible as they are constantly on the go, but some items are non-negotiable when it comes to Cardona’s gym bag.
“I can’t forget my headphones,” he says. “I also need my shaker full of BCAAs to drink throughout my workout. My Cardillo weight belt is an absolute must for back and leg days.”
Below is a sample of a chest workout Cardona regularly uses. He also throws in some ab work and 20 minutes of cardio, including walking on a treadmill at an incline set to 15 and speed set at three.
Learn more about Cardona’s upcoming endeavors at TheLastMatchMusical.com and by following his social media.
Hankering for more insights from the industry’s biggest and strongest? Check out these other interviews from BarBend:
Featured Image: @themattcardona on Instagram
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