Ring of Honor star, Matt Taven is no stranger to important tournaments. His career in Ring of Honor began in earnest after winning the company’s 2013 Top Prospect tournament, earning himself a shot at the ROH World Television title. His subsequent victory against current NXT wrestler Adam Cole immediately gained him notoriety as a rising star in ROH and he hopes to replicate that success while participating in CMLL’s Gran Prix tournament.
The self-professed Bad Boy of Boston then saw himself aligned with Adam Cole and Michael Bennet as part of The Kingdom. An unfortunate knee injury sidelined him just as the group dissolved, leaving him without a team and long road to recovery. Before he returned to action in his home company, Taven was given the opportunity to travel to Mexico and wrestle for one of the oldest wrestling companies in the world.
Nearly a calendar year since his return from injury, Taven spoke to us about his time in CMLL, his participation in the Gran Prix 2017 and his plans moving forward in ROH.
ROH World: Before you came back to Ring of Honor you actually went down to CMLL and you have been one of the few Ring of Honor guys who goes down there. Just recently,a banner with your face is flying from the rafters at Arena Mexico. How did you get this opportunity? We see a lot of CMLL and NJPW wrestlers in Ring of Honor guys, but you are the few Ring of Honor wrestlers in CMLL.
Matt Taven: I think the CMLL relationship will continue to kind of grow and there will be more guys to go down there. But I love being the first one to kind of represent the company to constantly be going down there. I love going down to Mexico. But that was another crazy thing where, I had a date set to come back and the Kingdom was all set and ready to go and then it was like, alright, October 1st will be the day you come back. And that’s kind of 9 1/2 months after and the most, you know, earliest, realistic date that my surgeon gave me after both the surgeries was 9 months.
I got a phone call one day saying that CMLL was looking for a guy to come down and they were interested in me from before. Things had gotten delayed in the process in the working relationship with Ring of Honor and CMLL-just getting everyone’s visas for guys coming up and guys going down and they had interest in me before and now they were wanting to finally getting it going, they were wondering if I was getting ready to do.
I remember looking at the calendar and it was three weeks before I was thinking of coming back. And I was doing rehab with the guys down at the Brigham and Women’s Gillette Stadium in Foxsborough where the Patriots are. And I remember coming in there and I was like “alright, new plan, I want to go to Mexico, let’s ramp everything up.” Do you think I would be ready by…I think it was the 2nd week of September? I remember my PT at the time saying “well, if you want it, let’s do it.” I was in there every day, just kind of going at it, going at it, pushing that knee, seeing how it was recovering. I’m not going to lie, I was petrified.
A lot of the stuff that I used to do in the ring involved a lot of jumping and doing things that are risky. Especially coming back from an ACL injury and I kind of mentally was not ready to do them and that date was getting closer and closer and closer. Finally it was like ‘well, all or nothing’. I ended up in Arena Mexico doing something that I have wanted to do since I was a little kid. Knowing the Jerichos and all the guys I used to idolize as a teen and a kid, watching wrestling. I have walked down that same ramp and I have been in that same arena and I’m like ‘well, here I am.
I remember sitting in there after that match and my knee was definitely sore and that was a whole other situation because you really just can’t get ice freely in Mexico. So I was buying these 5 pound blocks of ice every night at like the CVS and having to put that on my leg as I went to sleep after every match. But it was like, after that first match, I was like “wow, i’m ok.” I’m back. And from then on what a trial by fire that was for my knee. It was like 9 matches in the first 13 down. And after that was all done, I was like “hey man, there is no bigger test than you need than that last stretch of matches you just did. We are back and we’re ready to go.”
And it helped, because when I was ready to come back to Ring of Honor I was back to zero fear of my knee being anything but 100%. Which, it probably still wasn’t 100%, but you know, mentally I was ready to jump in the ring and do whatever I used to do and more with my knee with 100% confidence. It was a wild ride and going down to Mexico and to a place where you don’t know anyone and you are just thrown into the situation and you are wondering if your knee is going to hold up, it was pretty intense. But at the end of the day it was like just such an incredible experience because a) I got to live a goal that I have wanted to do forever and b) I knew that from that point forward I didn’t have to worry about the injury that cost me 9 months of my career.
RW: How do you call a match, when you don’t speak the language?
MT: That’s a thing that we kind of ran into in Japan a lot too. But wrestling is kind of an international language. A lot of the stuff you can pantomime and kind of walk through and I obviously know a little bit more Spanish than I know Japanese. And then a lot of the guys can speak some broken English as well. But there was a couple of things that throw you off so much, like it says “suplex – and that actually is a right-handed arm drag.” Even from locking up, they lock up on the opposite side. And so I could remember a couple of nights, where, my first night went really well and then nights two and three I was just trying to learn in the ring, trying to figure things out. So there’s a little bit rocky start after that first night. But that was more of just getting used to the style and like how things would be different there. As far as like the formats in the match, everything so different. Everything is like two out of three falls and not tagging. I mean the heels would all get into the ring, and I’d be like ‘well I’ve gotta jump in there.’ And the babyfaces are taking a knee at ringside and I’m like ‘ok, well, this is different.’
So it takes a little bit of getting used to and it becomes a bit of a culture shock when it comes to the wrestling. So now when I go down there I laugh because I’m used to the things that when I went down there I was kind of just looking around like deer in the headlights. It’s crazy, but you can pick it up quickly.
The biggest thing for me was that everyone down there at CMLL was looking out for me-Marco Corleone, Mark Jindrak, Sam Adonis-they immediately were helping me out and not only giving me the heads up on how things worked down there, but they knew I was down there by myself so they showed me around Mexico City and taking me out and showing me a couple of different places where I could find gyms and stuff was a huge help.
There was a bunch of guys down there – Titan and Ultimo Guerrero and all those guys helped me out so much that it made me being down there go from where I felt like a man not knowing anyone in the planet to “oh I love this place.” And it has helped that every time I go down there, I can go down there by myself and know that I’m absolutely fine that I know how to get everywhere, how to do everything, because those first couple of days everyone down there helped me out so much that now it’s like a second home.”
RW: Speaking of which, you’re going to be heading down to Mexico so you won’t actually be traveling with Ring of Honor on the War of the World’s Tour in the U.K. because you will be heading down for the Grand Prix Tournament. Obviously, it’s gotta be a little easier being in the tournament-it’s singles, so you don’t have to worry about the tag rules. What are your thoughts going into that tournament?
MT: Well, first off, I’m going down there for a three week tour and I will be down there for a good 2 1/2 weeks before the Grand Prix happens. And when I said yes to that, the dates for the U.K. Tour hadn’t been announced yet. So it kind of was like – oh man, I am going to miss the U.K. Tour. But at the same time I have wanted to be a part of the Grand Prix.”
It’s an unbelievable match, it’s such so intricate and I have watched it before and I have been like “wow, it’s so intense.” Because it’s such a long elimination style match, but at the same time, I haven’t been to the U.K. since before my knee surgery so hopefully I can get back there soon. You know, whether it’s with Ring of Honor or another promotion in the United Kingdom, I was like “man I miss the U.K.” So hopefully I will be back there soon, but at the same time, again, I love going down to Mexico, so I’m pumped to go down there for the two weeks or three weeks. and ending with the Grand Prix is going to be phenomenal.
Obviously my goal is to win it. You know, there’s guys like Alex Shelley who have won it in the past, you know, foreigners have gone down there and have won the Grand Prix are few and far between and to add that to my resume is just another thing you can take to the grave with you. You know you can say ‘Matt Taven won the Grand Prix and there’s a very short list of U.S. born athletes that have gone down there and done that.’ So that’s obviously my goal and at the same time, you know, Marco Corleone is the Heavyweight Champion down there and I have always had my eyes on that and I would love to throw my name in the contendership down there. I pride myself on going down there and showing the people of Mexico what Matt Taven is all about to make them want me to come back the next time and it’s been successful every time I’ve gone down there. And I’m hoping that…well, I know that this tour is going to be more of the same and that it will just set up the next time I go back down and go back down because I love it down there and I love CMML and this relationship that we have with Ring of Honor is something special and I’m glad that I’m a part of it.
RW: How do you feel working down there, a lot of what you have to do is pick on the fans and irritate them a little bit and be offensive. How does that work when you are down there with a language barrier?
MT: Well, it kind of worked naturally. Well, not to be too arrogant, but they were kind of seeing how the fans reacted to me and the female fans reacted to me very well which obviously made the male fans not like me as much. So it kind of just works itself out where the first couple of times I was down there, I was getting more of a babyface reaction and more and more I would come to the crowd and you would hear the octave level of the screams be a lot higher than they normally are because it’s mostly females screaming.
It would make the men start booing and then once I was in there doing singles matches a lot of those male fans that probably had a little bit of jealously of “who’s this guy coming down here and now my girlfriend is screaming for him?” They would boo me and they would chant “Mexico, Mexico.” So it got real easy to turn things around and be like “oh that’s how it is huh?” Then, the normal arrogant Matt Taven comes out and I’m kissing 80 year-old women in the front row, and just sitting up on top of the CMLL table just screaming at these people, telling them how much better I am than them. It’s just another day at the office. It’s the same Matt Taven that you see down or you see in Ring of Honor, it works the same way down in Mexico. And once you get that visceral hate from the audience, I can just stand in the middle of the ring and smirk and know those boos are coming. Thank you ladies, you have made my career in Mexico a lot easier.
RW: You recently also earned a Ring of Honor opportunity again Christopher Daniels-what do you see as your goals for moving forward for Ring of Honor and just for your career in general?
MT: Well, you never know what’s going to happen in the wrestling business. It’s such a crazy world where, whether it’s your Mom or your girlfriend is asking you “well what’s going to happen after this?” And you are like “Well, I don’t know, we will have to see what happens after this.” But as far as the immediate goals for Ring of Honor, obviously we worked on those 6 man titles. We had a long road ahead of us that we had planned and we want to see that follow through. We want to see that come to fruition. So we want those back. As soon as TK [O’Ryan] is back and healthy our sights are set on those 6 man tag titles.
We took pride in being the first men to be in the 6 man tag titles and we wanted to be the only men to ever hold those belts as long as possible but unfortunately injuries happen. So now it’s time to get our stuff back. At the same time there’s only one belt that I’ve never won in Ring of Honor and that’s the World Title and whether it’s Cody Rhodes or whoever else might have it, I will always have my sights set on that Ring of Honor World Title. I want to be the first Grand Slam Champion ever in Ring of Honor history and hopefully the only one to ever pull that off and I don’t see my career done in Ring of Honor until I have that belt around my waist.
Click below to listen to the full interview, as Taven discussing his wrestling school and much more.
(Interview starts at 1:12:58)