Matt is a little different from the others on this list because he’s now 36. But the Markham, Ontario native followed that same vein of passion when he was 18 years old, and it ultimately led him to wrestling as a Luchadore in some of Mexico’s biggest arenas.
"I always liked wrestling, but it was one of those things where you don’t know if it’s gonna be real. Like how do you do this? Where do you go? Where do you start?"
Well, it started on a Saturday in 1999 when he was having lunch at a friend of a friend’s restaurant and a wrestling school happened to be next door. He was immediately interested, though the gym wasn’t open until Tuesday. As the internet was just taking off he managed to find another school in downtown Toronto where the WWF wrestlers Christian and Edge had honed their skills. He went to that school to investigate and left with some doubts as to whether this was something he’d be able to do.
He waited the three days and went back to the original school. The coach there told him straight up it wasn’t for anybody and wanted a two-page essay explaining why this something Matt wanted to do before he took any money.
“I was 18 at the time, right out of high school. It was a decent transition period because I started wrestling school at the same time as college. Once I proved myself I saved every penny I had, paid the school, and that was it. I stopped going to college in October.”
The coach was true to his word, as Matt was only training with four other wrestlers, and he would often send other newcomers away. “This is a protected business,” he told Matt, “It’s not about the money, it’s about everyone in here being successful and giving this school a name so I can train five people at a time.”
Matt caught on quick, deciding then and there he’d dedicate himself wholly to it, and in three months’ time was at a level other wrestlers had taken over a year to get to. They would do wrestling-specific training three days a week while on a strength and size building routine the other four.
“I’ll put it to you like this, when I was 18 everyone I knew was having fun on the weekends. I would be at the video-store, because those still existed back then, renting any wrestling DVD or tape they had. I remember my weekends were full of watching matches and eating: that was my studying.”
After eight months his coach told him he was ready, to which Matt said “Thank God you’re telling me this because I already have a match booked.”
Matt started making zero to $25 per match on the Ontario Independent Wrestling circuit in early 2000, cutting his teeth in front of crowds between ten and 500 people. He then went to Winnipeg, Manitoba in late 2000 early 2001 because there was more opportunity,
Life was cold and hard.
“My home was a 1990 Astro van, and Manitoba isn’t Toronto: it’s -50 C. There were nights where it was like Do I leave the car running while I sleep to stay warm? But then I’m burning gas. Do I put gas in? Or do I eat today?”
Matt’s diet was a whole other story which involves both his present inability to eat tuna and what he calls ‘Mystery Cans’ you can listen to in this audio clip.
He had an arrangement with a gym-owner who would led him workout, shower, and just sit inside for a few hours a day so long as Matt would clean the weights every night at 10:30 p.m. when he wasn’t wrestling close-by.
Despite the hardships, Matt still loved what he was doing. It was what kept him going.
“That was what I’d always go to in the hard times. I could easily go get a job, anyone can go get a job. I could go swing a hammer and make $1,000 a week, but I’m living in a van making nothing. Even if you don’t realize you love it at the time, why else would you do it?”
Matt moved on to Puerto Rico in August 2001 and signed with the WWF. The pay was around $250 American dollars per match, though he’d only work about once a week. Matt used his time there as a learning experience getting advice from stars like The Rock and Kane, who were sent there when work was light, but his time was cut short post 9/11.
“All of a sudden the WWF came to me and said ‘You’re Canadian, you’re not making us any money, and we’re not springing for a work visa for you, so you gotta go.’ I asked one of the agents what to do, and he said ‘Go to Mexico if you want to work and learn.’ So with $600 to my name I jumped on a plane with the address to an office, landed in Mexico, went straight to the office from the airport, and said ‘Hey, I want to wrestle.’”
Matt signed with the Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, the oldest professional wrestling promotion in the world, in July 2002 and soon began training.
It was designed to torture the recruits so the strong survived, not that Matt had a choice.
“I was on a timeline until the $600 ran out, so if it cost me $200 a month to live I had three months to make it. Bottom line was do this or go back home, go back to college, and find a job.”