Matthew Cardona might not ring any bells, especially in WWE. You probably know him better as his ring name of Zack Ryder – the WWE Superstar and WWE Internet Champion from Long Island.
Things didn’t always go Zack’s way with WWE, and he was edged out of competition early on in his career. He lost his U.S. title almost immediately and never really had the chance to develop his character. Rumors began to circulate that he was on his way out. So he took matters into his own hands, at the risk of upsetting the WWE organization, and started his own YouTube web series called Z! True Long Island Story in February 2011. The web show’s popularity grew quickly and led to more TV appearances and a bigger name for Ryder. To date, the show has over 12 million viewers. Zack became the self-proclaimed WWE Internet Champion, and although it’s not an official title recognized by WWE, the branding stuck. His popularity has increased with his effective use of social media. He has amassed over 1,000,000 followers on Twitter, over 435,000 Facebook “likes”, and over 120,000 YouTube subscribers. He was featured on Sports Illustrated’s list of the 100 most influential social media users in sports. But how did it all begin? And what advice does he give to others who dream of being a WWE Superstar someday?
I polled some WWE fans (and a few diehard 12-year-olds named Cole, Jacob, and Will) to come up with a list of questions to ask this WWE Superstar about his unique journey from Long Island - to traveling the world with WWE.
WILL: Who or what inspired you to get into WWE?
ZR: I always wanted to be in the WWE for as long as I can remember. I was a little kid who always watched it on television, played with the action figures, played the video games and just never grew out of it. After high school, all my friends were trying to decide what they wanted to do when they grew up and I already knew I was going to be in the WWE. Everyone thought I was crazy until it actually happened.
COLE: How did you get started in WWE?
ZR: There was a wrestling school on Long Island where I’m from. I went there and started in September 2003. Three years later, there was a tryout application. I signed up for it and went to tryouts and got signed. After that, I was sent to Georgia and spent a year there learning the WWE way. A year after that, I got on TV. It sounds easy but it took a lot of hard work to get there.
JACOB: What message do you wish to convey to kids?
ZR: Follow your dreams. Never quit. Anything can happen if you set your sights on it and you work hard enough and are determined and dedicated enough. No one thought I would be a WWE superstar, but I knew I would be. I never gave up.
WARNER: So how does your Mom feel about it now? I’m a Mom and think I would still cringe every time someone beat up my baby.
ZR: She loves it. She has a huge Zack Ryder life size cut-out in her living room. She used to worry about me more, but she’s used to it by now.
COLE: What sports did you play as a kid?
ZR: I played every sport, football, basketball, all of them. I wrestled in high school, but was never really that big in sports. The only thing I put my time and energy into was WWE. I wore the shirts. I watched the shows. When I was a kid, it wasn’t cool to watch wrestling, but I didn’t care. I lost friends over it. I was so into it. I tried to do my own thing no matter what and was always a fan of WWE.
WARNER: What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned so far in the business?
ZR: Never give up. Be persistent. There were times where people said I was never supposed to be a superstar. I was only supposed to be at the bottom of the card. I started my own YouTube show called Z! True Long Island Story - and everyone started going crazy on Facebook and Twitter. WWE didn’t even recognize me. People thought I was crazy for doing it and that I would get in trouble or get fired, but I didn’t care. I knew I had to fight for a spot. I knew I was going to be a superstar and I just kept doing it. I got the fans behind me and they helped me get noticed.
Check the show out here:
WARNER: It appears that when you didn’t get where you wanted to be in WWE, you took matters in your own hands and started your own web series to build your own brand. You seem to be a fighter in real life. How has being a cancer survivor helped you become a WWE Superstar?
ZR: Whoa, I didn’t think anyone knew about that. When I was a kid, I was really sick. The only thing driving me to keep pushing forward was the thought that I have to get stronger so that I can get to the WWE. I was watching wrestling on TV. I was playing the games. I had a lot of downtime, so it gave me a chance to think about it even more and helped me get through it.
JACOB: Are you affiliated with a charity?
ZR: I work with Make a Wish Foundation through WWE. It’s sad to see kids in that position who are sick, but cool to be able to see them smile when we can give them an autograph and a picture.
WILL: What is the hardest part of being a WWE Superstar?
ZR: The travel. I’m only home one day a week. I don’t have much time at home. Luckily I don’t have a wife and kids, it’s just me. I don’t know how people do it with a family because the schedule is crazy.
WARNER: How did you use social media to gain popularity?
ZR: I got in WWE in 2007 and was just a guy on the show without a big following. That’s not where I wanted to be. I wanted to be at the top. Every time they made action figures, they didn’t make one of me. It aggravated me. The only way it was going to change is if I did it myself. All my friends were using social media for their stuff, so I took a shot at it and it paid off.
WARNER: How do you get along with the other guys? Is it hard to fight in the ring, and then travel on the road with them all the time?
ZR: It’s like any job. You get along with some people and others you don’t.
JACOB: Who is your favorite person to work with or wrestle with?
ZR: My favorite Superstar to get in the ring with is Dolph Ziggler. We have a lot of fun and a lot of chemistry. It’s like wrestling your little brother when you were a kid. You still love each other, but you go at it. In the ring, it’s just business.
COLE: What was your most memorable match?
ZR: It was against Dolph Ziggler at TLC 2011, when I won the United States Championship. My Dad was in the first couple rows and I was able to see him right after the show.
COLE: What would be your dream fight?
ZR: Myself against John Cena. John Cena is the man with WWE. He is the poster boy of WWE. To be in the ring with him, it just elevates you. That would be my favorite.
WARNER: How did you become the WWE Internet Champion?
ZR: It’s not really a real championship. I just made it up (laughs). It started out as a joke and I took my brother’s toy title belts they sell at the store and put stickers on it that said Internet Champion. Then I spent a lot of money and designed a real championship belt. It’s pretty cool. WWE doesn’t really recognize the title, but it’s on the video games and my action figure comes with the T-shirt, so it’s pretty real to me.
WARNER: Do you think they will recognize it with a match and pair you up with someone for the internet championship?
ZR: So far they haven’t, but I never say never when it comes to WWE. It would be cool if they did.
WARNER: What inspires you?
ZR: There are times when I’m down and I think about where I came from. This week I was in Turkey. I was thinking back to when I used to wrestle with giant stuffed animals as a kid in my Mom’s bedroom. And now here I am wrestling in the WWE in real life, in Turkey, with Mark Henry - one of my heroes. I used to have his action figures and now I’m in a ring with him. Then I think that things aren’t so bad. I’m definitely living the dream. I just take a step back and look at life. I might not always be where I want to be, or at the top, but I’m grateful for where I am.
How can fans keep up with you?
What’s next for Zack?
Zack is working on a 3 week special for WWE Saturday Morning Slam airing at 10:30 AM on March 2, March 9, and a final show on March 16 that will crown a new General Manager of WWE Saturday Morning Slam. This fast-paced show features raw, in-ring action and larger-than-life Superstars and Divas from around the world. Click here to see the Promo:
SMS is one of the many marquee titles featured on Vortexx on The CW. This nationally-broadcast programming block reaches 115 million homes and offers online and mobile entertainment aimed at kids. Catch his moves this month on WWE Saturday Morning Slam on Vortexx on the CW
You can also WWE Superstar Zack Ryder at WWE events: