BRIDGEPORT, CT – Once again, Matt Riddle has put Brock Lesnar on notice.
Riddle opened Saturday night’s NXT TakeOver XXV card with a spectacular victory over Roderick Strong, then ended the night backstage by promising he will be the one to retire “The Beast Incarnate.”
“My main goal is still retiring Brock Lesnar, that’s not changing,” said Riddle. “I don’t think Brock knows what he’s in for. That match with Roddy was at least five-and-a-half stars.”
The Riddle-Strong encounter set the pace for NXT’s 25th TakeOver event at the Webster Bank Arena, and Riddle spoke with Sports Illustrated moments after exiting the ring—and immediately after a backstage embrace from the legendary Shawn Michaels.
“Me and Shawn, we both love wrestling but we’re very different,” said Riddle, who is coached by Michaels at WWE’s Performance Center in Orlando, Florida. “I think when he first started working with me that he didn’t know how to take me, and now after working day in and day out, watching tape, and taking in his critiques, I’m trying to use what he’s telling me to make myself better. Working with the talent I get to, then get coached by guys like Shawn, I’m only going to get better.”
Riddle is pure athleticism combined with an incredible personality. If his style appears better suited for the cage in MMA, it is because he starred in the UFC for five years and his record stands at 8-3 with two additional victories overturned after he tested positive for marijuana. The cause of his downfall was a propensity for marijuana, and his failed drug tests led to his release. Ultimately, the UFC’s loss was WWE’s gain.
“It’s almost like my life is a fairytale,” said the 33-year-old Riddle. “Winning states in high school after knee surgery, winning nationals, my college coach getting fired, then doing jiu-jitsu and all that, going to the UFC, then getting canned out of that. Then what am I going to do?
“So I started pro wrestling on the indies, but no one would sign me, and now look at me. I’m at TakeOver XXV, going crazy at a sold-out house, just trying to be the best I can be.”
Riddle works a hard-hitting, snug style that is not recommended for the faint-hearted. But Strong did not shy away from contact; in fact, the criminally underrated, former Ring of Honor world champ eagerly embraced the opportunity to lock up in that style against Riddle. Strong has far more pro wrestling experience than Riddle (Strong started wrestling in 2000, while Riddle began in 2014), but despite his incredible talent, has yet to find the momentum in NXT to propel him to superstardom.
“I remember the first time I worked Roddy at EVOLVE in 2016, our original was really good,” recalled Riddle. “Now to wrestle him, a few years later, with more experience under my belt, this match was ten times better.
“It’s an honor to work with him because of his experience and his knowledge. I bring a little something with the MMA world, he brings his incredible experience in pro wrestling, and we meshed them together to create what I thought was pretty good.”
The match finished just before the 15-minute mark, when a gripping streak of false finishes came to a striking halt when “The King of Bros” delivered his Tombstone-variation finisher–known as the Bro Derek–on Strong.
“People think it’s a Tombstone, or the ‘Bro-stone,’ but it’s a Tombstone that I land higher on the back,” said Riddle. “On the indies, I called it ‘The Derek’ because of my resemblance to Bo Derek. So now I’m calling my finisher the Bro Derek.”
Riddle has a plethora of moves to finish off any opponent, but he is a rarity in the business of professional wrestling. He offers a versatile and unique array of elite skills, and oozes power, speed and charisma. Above all, his authenticity is perhaps his most dangerous weapon; Riddle is open and honest about his likes and dislikes, nor is he particularly bothered by those who disagree with his philosophy.
“That’s what makes me successful,” said Riddle. “A lot of people don’t know who they are as a wrestler. Even people that walk into the doors of the Performance Center. They might be world-class athletes or models, but they don’t know who they are in the ring. What’s their character? What’s their backstory? I am me. I’ve always been a character, and my character’s story lives into pro wrestling.”
There is no ceiling for Riddle in wrestling. He is a likely candidate to win NXT’s North American title, the NXT championship, and even main-event pay per views on WWE’s main roster. Plus, there remains a lingering issue with Lesnar that could lead to a career-defining moment in the ring.
“For me, the sky’s the limit,” said Riddle. “And I heard Brock’s cashing in on Monday. They’re paying me enough, I could buy a plane ticket. I could be there on Monday, we’ll see. But no matter where I go, we’re going to have some fun along the way.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.