“I was looking for someone to carry Evolve once I left. I guess I found him. She’s all yours, Bro!”
The crowd roared in response to the above words from Johnny Gargano to close Evolve 69 in support of their chosen hero, Matthew Riddle.
It was a moment that, if not unthinkable, would have at the very least been extremely hard to predict when Riddle debuted in Evolve on 10/17/15. I was unfamiliar with him before Evolve, so at the time actually thought he had even less experience than the eight months he’d been in professional wrestling (although he’d only wrestled a dozen matches in that time, all for Arena Monster Factory).
Two main discussions/rumors were surrounding Riddle going into his first weekend with the promotion: his MMA background and his participation in Evolve possibly being part of getting him ready for a WWE contract.
So “Deep Waters” did not get a particularly warm welcome from the Evolve crowd right away. “You can’t wrestle” chants would follow him for a bit, perhaps at least partially rising from worry of someone undeserving coming in and plowing through more established talent. Thing was, even from his first matches against Jonathan Grisham and Chris Dickinson a couple of extremely interesting things were noticeable for those paying attention: Matt Riddle wasn’t trying to do MMA in a wrestling ring, and he was far from undeserving.
From the start he was committed to learning and excelling at the specifics of pro wrestling as it’s own art form. His MMA background certainly influenced his style (to great effect I might add), but he was in Evolve to WRESTLE. He embraced the nuances inherent in his new sport, and he was good. Very good. Better yet, Riddle improved every single time he got in the ring. As I mentioned in a spotlight piece on rising stars back in July, I’ve never seen ANYONE develop as fast.
Equally adept at mat wrestling as he is with vicious, brutal looking strikes, Riddle’s able to work a variety of styles based on his opponent and always turn in a compelling, engaging performance.
This is where I’d say he won the fans over little by little, but objectively it didn’t take much time at all. By the time I first saw him wrestle live at Evolve 67 on 3/19/16, a mere five months and seven matches after his debut, Riddle was already incredibly over as a heel and it was clear his skills were respected. The “you can’t wrestle” chants were gone and the audience was booing him because of his character while still clearly showing respect for his skills. The boos wouldn’t last much longer either, as Riddle was just too good for the crowd to resist cheering, and the controversial finish in the main event that very night where Timothy Thatcher ended Riddle’s undefeated streak would actually be the first step towards a double turn for the participants.
Said undefeated streak could have been everything the pre-debut doubts about Riddle were concerned with. A new, unproven talent unfairly plowing through established stars and crowd favorites. Instead his devotion to his new craft was apparent from the first second he stepped into an Evolve ring, and Riddle enthralled the fans through angles including joining Catch Point, feuding with Thatcher, etc. The undefeated streak served its intended purpose of establishing Riddle as a prominent threat, and any win over him in Evolve is still a huge deal capable of instantly putting his victorious opponent in line for a title match.
And again, most importantly he just kept getting better and better every single time he got into the ring. He was comfortable and confident against world traveled opponents with tons more experience, and had particularly incredible matches against stars like Chris Hero, Zach Sabre Jr., and many others.
Going into Evolve 69 tension had been teased between Riddle and his Catch Point teammates, with Drew Galloway making overtures to have Riddle join his unit and help him destroy Evolve from within. When Riddle came out as DUSTIN and Galloway attacked a defenseless Johnny Gargano, crowd apprehension turned to delight as he attacked the duo and rescued the Icon. His full face turn and crowning as Evolve’s new centerpiece was complete, and the cheering was deafening.
The adulation has only increased since, and Riddle has continued to consistently knock it out of the park against the likes of Chris Hero, Jeff Cobb, DUSTIN, etc. This coming weekend he’ll face the debuting Anthony Henry in Joppa, MD, then the following day I’ll have the privilege of seeing him again in Queens as the issues with Galloway come to a boil in a big grudge match.
Matt’s extremely friendly and approachable, and I’ve talked to him numerous times at Evolve shows in Queens at La Boom. His enthusiasm about wrestling is genuine and contagious, and it’s been a delight seeing his excitement as the crowd came around and the “Bro!” chants grew in number and volume with each subsequent appearance.
Perhaps the most impressive thing is how much further Riddle could conceivably go. He performs at a downright extraordinary level for his experience, which has just passed a mere two years in the business. He has all the tools and commitment to be a huge success wherever he goes, be it the multitude of other indie promotions he’s steadily collecting championships in, or an eventual WWE/NXT run. Forgive the cliche, but the sky’s the limit for the “King of Bros” no matter what the future has in store for him.
But for now Evolve is definitely “Bro,” and I couldn’t be happier.