Interviews

Interview With . . . Matt Taven

Interview With Matt Taven

Inside The Ropes’ writer, Liam Alexander-Stewart recently sat down with former ROH World Champion Matt Taven to discuss his heated rivalry with Vinny Marseglia, the return of The OGK, who in ROH is future World Champion material and why CM Punk and Bryan Danielson should return home to Ring of Honor.

At Best in the World, Ring of Honor saw the return of fans for the first time in 18-months, how exciting was that moment for you as a performer and how was the reaction backstage to the return of fans?

“I mean, it definitely, you know, was something that we had always kind of looked forward to since being in the in the pandemic era and like being in the bubble and you know, you’re spending so many times stuck in a hotel room, kind of just staring at the ceiling, you know, wondering what game you’re going to replay for the a million times to try to wait to try to keep yourself occupied.

You’re always just kind of thinking of that time when the fans are going to be back and like this whole, we get through this and it will all be worth it on the other end.

It was amazing, you know what I mean? There’s so many great moments that happened Bandido becoming the world champion in front of the live crowd. It’s just like, those are the things like I’ll remember just hearing the Opening Music and like Ian and and Caprice going to their booth and the place places going crazy.

So you know, you’re hearing that noise from the back and unfortunately for me, you know, I didn’t know how that far in advance that there was going to be a live crowd there for Baltimore for Best in the World. But at the same time, I was always kind of hoping that was kind of like a like a temporary marker on the calendar like this could be the day.

Unfortunately, with everything going on with Vincent, I found myself in a weird spot where I wasn’t you know, I wasn’t going to be in a featured match which is unusual for me. I mean the year before at Best in the World or 2019 the last Best in the World. I’m the World Champion. And now to find myself not in one of those championship spots, Mike Bennett had earned a spot, a shot at the Pure Title so he had his thing going on. And you know, looking at the first time live crowds coming back and knowing that instead of being in one of these marquee matches, I was going to be in a an in ring segment with with a guy who since the the since before the pandemic has been the bane of my existence. It was kind of a double edged sword It was like man, I really wanted to go out there and feel the energy of that live crowd.

Unfortunately with everything that happened to that point, I was going into this event with a live crowd kind of like of course this would be the event for the first live crowd back but all in all to see like the Ring of Honor fans back there and just hear them scream and yell and like there’s even still stuff like we they were unable to throw streamers, which I know like a the next Ring of Honor show that’ll happen. It’s like we’re still kind of dipping our toes in the water for like a fan to actually be back back and I think I speak for everyone that you know when you when you hit that mat and you actually hear a reaction it’s a whole lot easier to get up off it and and to keep wrestling instead when it’s just like boom, and there’s just like nothing but an echo. Like I think I wanted to stay here I don’t want to get back up.

So the amount of energy that we get from the fans I don’t think that they understand sometimes like how important that is to us but I think it speaks for how good Best in the World was from top to bottom that that energy really drove everyone that normally wants to go out there and show everyone why they’re, you know, considered the best in the world that just kind of boost everyone’s spirits over the top and it’s why from the beginning to the end, that pay per view is fantastic.”

You mentioned the Ring of Honor Bubble and hotel isolations, how difficult did you find that experience and what became your go-to coping mechanism for killing time in the hotel?

“You know, it’s funny because like, I’m not the biggest video game guy and I the first time we went there, I didn’t bring a PlayStation I brought it like the second or third time, but like the first time which was the longest bubble of the bunch, I didn’t bring a PlayStation with me.

So I was like, oh god, what am I gonna do and you tell yourself like, I’ll go there and I’ll do all this work I’m supposed to get done I’ll do some video editing and do like all this stuff that I told myself. And that’s like the last thing on earth you want to do and so I was trying to force myself to do stuff like that but at the end of the day, you know, I’m always going back to just watching wrestling.

So I ended up like kind of making a list of matches I knew that I’d either heard that were you know, I might not saw on TV the past week and I heard was good and or like classics, I wanted to go back so I ended up kind of like putting my phone when you get bored at quarantine watch these list of matches and I think that’s what I ended up doing for the most for the most part but it’s funny because you you think like it’s going to be so low I don’t know like you get used to it so quickly that after the next couple of times even though you’re in there for the same amount of time it’s like man I can do this in my sleep at this point.

Granted now that it’s all kind of in the past at this point I’m much happier with not being stuck in a hotel quarantine by myself but once you got used to it it wasn’t wasn’t the biggest obstacle overcome.”

You mentioned killing time by watching wrestling, was there anyone or any matches that really stood out to you that you checked out during that time?

“You know i i really like more like anyone else with the the resurgence of the Pure tournament and coming back from the pandemic and really got me kinda in that hole of checking out any of the guys that I wasn’t too too familiar with and and obviously I have known a lot of them beforehand but just like the Wheeler Yuta’s of the world and Fred Yahi’s of the world and like just kind of going back and checking out a lot of the independent stuff that I hadn’t seen in a while.

It’s It’s so and Gresham, Jonathan Gresham, I can’t say enough good things about like he’s definitely the MVP of Ring of Honor during the pandemic era like really kind of put it on his shoulders and just going back and like watching even like his Ring of Honor stuff before the pandemic and kind of he’s setting up a this this movement that obviously would come with a Pure tournament he’s setting that up so far in advance that I’m just like watching it I was blown away like man this thing is like he’s planting the seeds for it a year or two before it actually happened.

So I definitely got into Jonathan Gresham rabbit hole a time or two while stuck in quarintine.”

You first stepped into a Ring of Honor ring over twelve years ago, what do you feel has changed about the brand, the product or the fans in that time and what has remained the same despite the large amount of time that has passed since 2009?

“You know, it’s it’s crazy to think you know, in 2009, I had my first dark match with with Ring of Honor and I probably had no business being there. Like I was so new and inexperienced, and like looking around the rest of that locker room. I was like, oh, man, I don’t know. I just I felt so like, Oh, I hope everyone just accepts me.

But it’s it from that day till right now. It’s the same feeling that I felt going in there as an outsider to being a unfortunately a veteran now, the years go by so quick. And it’s that that that attitude, that confidence of everyone in the locker room that really think like no, we are the best wrestling like don’t give a crap what anyone says like, I could care less if there’s two people out there or 200,000 I’m gonna go out there and kind of show everyone why I think I’m the best wrestler in that like, friendly competition between the locker room and you’re like, Ring of Honor calls himself the best wrestling on the planet.

And that’s such a people could just kind of sniff at it says like, Oh, that’s a cliche, like, marketing ploy. And like, no, that’s really the feeling that all those guys have have, like, No, we are the best. And there’s a reason why kind of the evolution of wrestling always starts here in this locker room and moves outwards. And like, from 2009 to 2021.

Maybe even now more than ever, there’s still that there’s that underdog feeling of like, try to doubt us and watch, watch what we go out there and do and like will will step up to, you know, any challenge that’s put in front of us. And the the major thing that has changed is just, you know, 2009 it’s before the Sinclair error starts and before they they end up taking over the the end up buying the company. And from then on, I was able to see, you know, I saw on TV and then our first iPPV, our first real PPV and the crowds going in. And it’s just like, now even even at a time during the pandemic, when we’re not allowed to have a single fan in the building, you look around at just the production they had the giant screens around the ring, the pomp and circumstances that is brought with Sinclair broadcasting is just like it to me it’s the best of both worlds, it has still that gritty indie feeling from the guys that want to prove something but at the same time has a great production, you know, major corporation backdrop and then being able to kind of put the promotion and production behind this product that has really always been a ground roots like us against the world mentality.

So though the combo of the two, I think that’s why I’m most excited to get back on the road because that I really right now see kind of like the merger of those two ideals kind of come into fruition with Ring of Honor.”

I want to ask a little bit about your heated rivalry with former best friend Vinny, as things continue to intensify and break down between you two how difficult is that for you and how much of an impact on your career do you think his betrayal has had over the past year and a half?

“Well, I mean, it’s one of those things that start so far beyond that, you know, and I can think all the way back to 2009. The first time I had like a dark match in Ring of Honor, one of the first people I probably called out to that was was Vinny, you know, Mike Bennett, Vinny those were probably the first people that I talked to after that. It’s just man, you know, being the Ring of Honor World Champion and you think like your friends are behind you, you know, they’re happy for you.

Now I look back and I look at like pictures of it and I can still see kind of the resentment in people’s eyes. And Vinny knew that I had to hurt my ankle while being champion and I was probably looking at surgery and definitely took advantage of that. And now like, during the pandemic, I have two surgeries and they’re for anyone that’s ever been through anything like that it’s it gets easier yeah over time and how and when you’ve done it before unfortunately, but like it’s still such a mental game of like, does everyone forget about me when I’m gone like wrestling is such a here today gone today business that it’s like, there, there’s not enough spots for as many talented guys as there are out there. So as soon as one has to be taken off for injury, there’s going to be another guy that step right into that that position and who knows, maybe there you’re never needed again. So it’s it’s one of those things where you’re rehabbing.

You’re just constantly kind of playing that mental game with yourself. At the same time, with all this stuff that that’s happened between the two of us. So many cool things have also been taken away, like right now, I should be pumped that me and Mike Bennett are back for the first time in years and in Ring of Honor together again and you know, we should be going after Tag Team Championships and all that stuff. But I almost feel bad because I have to get him involved with Vinny and that stuff when I’m sure that that’s not what he came to, to Ring of Honor to deal with. So to me, it’s like this guy has cut me with an axe, he’s broken into my house, he’s caused two surgeries on my knee and then one on my ankle, he has ruined the the another shot for the World Title I was supposed to have, The OGK was supposed to, you know, have a tag team title match, we go into that injured because of Vincent.

It’s like, every single thing that I look forward to is getting ruined by a guy who I used to share those good moments with. So it’s definitely a mental game that you have to play because I have to be able to like, look at my office over here in the corner is a plaque of Madison Square Garden and one of the bottom pictures of it is Vinny, giving me a hug as soon as I come down the ladder. So it’s like I have to play this game of like, do I? Do I get upset every time I see that? Do I ruin my own memory of my accomplishments, because this doofus is in it. Like, it’s just one of those, those things that I constantly have to deal with and in Philadelphia, the fact that this is the very end, the fact that both of us agreed to this will not go on anymore after after that night, it’s going to be in a steel cage. It’s, it’s worrying, because to me, you think you I don’t think about what happens after that night. Because that night is kind of make or break everything that is been going on for the last two years. Either I get past it once and for all or I don’t have or I ran out of options.

So Philadelphia for me is definitely going to be It’s a place where I’ve had some rough memories. You know, I blew out my ACL in that building, as we’re losing the tag titles, and I’m lying on the floor and pain during Final Battle and now I’m going back to that same building where there’s all these crazy memories in my mind. But I’m going back to wrestler, a guy who we used to drive from Boston to Philadelphia to those shows together and now one of us is probably going to change or it’s going to change the trajectory of what happens in our career. Next for sure. After Philadelphia.”

We have mentioned the return of Mike Bennett and The OGK/The Kingdom to Ring of Honor, we saw you guys tear up Japan back in 2015 has there ever been plans for you to return to NJPW and is it still something you are interested in doing [pandemic permitting of course]?

“Well, it’s so crazy because like, I think especially early in your career, when you do anything for the first time, you don’t enjoy it as much as you should and you’re so focused on like doing a good job or like coming back or doing all this that you’re not soaking it in and really smelling the roses as people would say.

Even though me and Mike had gone back to Japan multiple times and multiple World Tag leagues ended up winning the IWGP Heavyweight tag titles. I think there’s still a part of us that we’re so focused on being we’re so thinking about like the next thing like okay, we conquered this now we got to go do something else.

That we never really had a chance to enjoy it as much as we always wanted to and it was something that we would text about, you know, when he’s in WWE and I’m here or there would always be like, Hey man, when whenever the stars align, we got to do Japan again, just kind of like really take it all in for for the experience that it is.

But I personally and I thought I’d be at this point by now and I personally want to take over the the absolute tag world with with Mike. I think we were five years ago, we were one of the best tag teams in the world and I think we’re even better today. I’m so excited to see what we would be together now and we’ve only had a couple of opportunities to really show the world what we would be as a tag team today, and I really don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of our potential.

So now that things are opening back up, I think any place that will have us, we would love to show up and show you exactly why The OGK wants to get back that those those glory days of five years ago and think that we can do it very easily.”

You have become a veteran of the Ring of Honor locker room over the past decade, looking into that locker room and reflecting on yourself back in 2009 is there anyone in the ROH locker room that reminds you of a young Matt Taven when he first stepped into the business?

“Oh, I think there’s a couple of guys like that, you know, I and I think that’s why it’s a good feeling to be a veteran in that locker room and I used to always look at guys that are those would be the Roddy Strong’s, the Kevin Steens there and you’d go to him for advice and you would, you would wonder, like kind of how they either just knew these things off the top of their head or like, just like how their attitude was shaped. And they just, they’ve seen so much and now being in that position.

You’re you’re getting those, you’re on the opposite end of that and you wish you could tell someone like, Hey, this is what’s going to happen in time, but they just can’t see it, because they haven’t done it yet, if that makes sense. So it’s like this weird time travel that you have to do. And I look at certain guys that I almost want to laugh and be like, you are going to be A-Okay, like, there you are so on the right path, you’re going to be great. I mean, Dak Draper is is going to be Ring of Honor World Champion one day, there’s no doubt in my mind. Eli Isom is absolutely fantastic.

I mean, I don’t know if he sees it. But he reminds me of so many guys that have come through the rainwater system, he reminds me of like a young Jay Lethal a young myself like you, he’s such an amalgamation of all these great talents that have come through there. Brian Johnson, who’s a guy that just seems to work so hard, he has a mouth like Matt Taven when he had something to prove where he, you know, just didn’t give a crap anymore was just like going out people’s throats. And it’s like, man, I remember being that angry for a long time.

I was telling anyone who listened to buy stock in Bandito because the price on that thing’s gonna start soaring. before you knew it, it already had happened and I think Bandido is going to be you know, Rey Mysterio is one in 1,000,000, one in a lifetime and I think that Bandido could be our generations, Rey Mysterio, just because he’s so unbelievably talented, and even a better person. So like with that, with that young core that they are, and that’s not even, you know, there’s the Dragon Lee’s, and there’s, oh my god, there’s so many guys there. But like those guys, instantly, I kind of have really drawn to because I see the hard work that’s going in on the other end, and I see just how much they love it.

It makes you feel young again, almost you seem like that young passion and you’re like, man, I remember that I got to kind of psych myself up, you know. So it’s, it’s definitely a place and it’s what you know, I go back to earlier with when we’re talking about how this locker room has stayed the same over all these years. It’s definitely a place where the older guys, the veterans, look, they don’t look down upon the the younger guys, they’re looking to help and we’re all looking to just kind of make this a big family unit that keeps rolling together and keeps growing and growing and growing.

So I know personally, and I’ve seen you know, the Jay Lethal’s, like I said the Dalton Castles of the world work with these with these young guys and really care because they know the amount of of love that these guys have for wrestling in general. And we’ve been there before. So it’s like, Hey, I know you’re not seeing the long view right now. But trust me, everything you’re doing is absolutely on the right path.

So it’s really exciting to see what the future of Ring of Honor is. It’s definitely in good hands. I would say that.”

We have seen The Forbidden Door smashed down in wrestling and even in ROH with Chelsea Green appearing at Best in the World and the IMPACT Slammiversary just a week later, if offered you a match against anyone right now in a Ring of Honor ring who are you taking and why?

“Oh man, I mean for me personally just on a selfish level I grew up a huge Chris Jerich fa, you know, there’s there’s so many people that you grow up watching but there’s only a few that can can outdo father time and last long enough for you to meet your idol in the ring. I’m so personally as just a selfish fanboy since I was six years old, I would love for it to be standing across the ring from Jericho one day.

Honestly there’s so many guys that were from that were used to be in Ring of Honor or cut their teeth in Ring of Honor really made their name and you can pick a name from the very top of any company and they have some sort of Ring of Honor connection and now that everyone’s floating around these you know Punk and Bryan Danielson things there would be no bigger treat I think as a fan to see one of those guys return home and it would really kind of change the landscape of things but at the same time I think it would be for those guys personally, I know how I would feel personally of wanting to give back to a place that did so much for me and who knows maybe they wouldn’t feel that way but I think it would be just a cool moment and probably really cool for them to come back home.

Just give the even if it’s over one more night give those all old ROH fans that tree you know have them banging across a banging on those barricades like the good old days. So I think that’s where my mind goes personally at the same time. All the wrestling is so good right now that any working with anyone is just like exciting for the fans at the same with that being said we also have such a crazy amount of talented guys in Ring of Honorr itself and unfortunately, you know, because of the pandemic we’re still waiting on guys like Joe Henry and Mark Haskins and Adam Brooks and oh my gosh, there’s so many more guys to be coming over that there there is an unbelievable amount of talent in the Ring of Honor locker room.

So it’s like if it happens amazing if it doesn’t happen we still have something really amazing so it’s really just kind of a win win for everyone. I would love to see someone returned back home just because I think the you know, the documentary lover in myself was a good story like that where everything comes full circle but at the same time man there’s so many talented guys and girls in this locker room that no matter what happens I’m really excited for what Ring of Honor has to has to show the world

I’ll keep my Chris Jericho fantasy match out If I can get Jonathan Gresham and Yhe American Dragon and see them across the room from one another I might have to like walk out and be like yeah buddy you got to get out of the seat I got to watch this front row

Mr. Bryan Danielson if you’re seeing this somehow please, for us fans you know what i mean just give us one thing… lock up with The Octopus”

Thank you to Matt for his time and Ring of Honor for facilitating our conversation. You can watch Ring of Honor online via Honor Club or HonorClub VIP.

You can support Ring of Honor via their Honor Club membership programme for as little as $9.99 per month.

If you use any quotes from this interview please provide a link back and h/t to Liam Alexander-Stewart of Inside the Ropes.