The artist formerly known as Zack Ryder made his first appearance for All Elite Wrestling during this week’s episode of Dynamite. Now under his own name of Matt Cardona, he sent shockwaves throughout the AEW roster by aligning with close, personal friend and TNT Champion, Cody, to help fend off the Dark Order following his defence against Warhorse.
Cardona was talked up to be an absolute superstar on commentary, with Taz doing his best to make it out like Cardona had revamped his look and undertaken a new attitude for the next stages of his in-ring career. Fans have been itching to see the ‘Long Island Iced Z’ finally be treated in a way that matches his former glory. Despite often finding himself booked into underdog stories, and even winning a championship every now and then, in WWE, Zack Ryder never truly lived up to the potential he showed in the early 2010s.
It’s hard to deny the impact that Matt Cardona has had on the industry, many credit his YouTubing days as a pioneering effort, paving the way for the likes of Being the Elite and even Matt Hardy’s Broken universe. It’s incredible to see just how quickly Ryder fell from grace in 2010, jobbing to the likes of Kane and other mid-carders so soon after capturing the United States Championship. Since being nailed in the nads by Eve Torres at WrestleMania 28, Cardona himself has been eagerly awaiting the opportunity to prove to everyone that he can still be a huge star. AEW might finally be that chance.
Considering that Cardona is already sharing screen-time with the likes of the founder and current TNT Champion, this can only mean big things await ‘Strong Island Iced Z’ in the near future. Presuming he and Cody are about to enter into a feud with Brodie Lee and his cronies, once they’ve been dispatched of, I could definitely see Cody putting his title on the line against Cardona.
With debate surrounding who should be the one to take the TNT Championship away from Cody, who has defended his new shiny on a weekly basis in some of the most exciting wrestling matches of the entire week, an argument could be made for Cardona to be his successor.
Matt Cardona has been a perennial mid-carder for the majority of his career, proving himself against some of the best in some hidden gems of WWE lore. By kick-starting his AEW run at the top of the mid-card scene, it would be a huge reward for those loyal fans who have stuck by Matt throughout the highs and lows of his singles career. Cardona could instantly elevate his status by putting together an instant classic with one of his best buds, surely Cody would want to see his pal unleash all of that pent-up frustration in a match that puts him back on the map. Much like he did for his brother Dustin at the inaugural Double or Nothing pay-per-view.
Should Cardona be the guy to dethrone the head honcho, it would certainly be a huge moment in his overall career and a massive reboot for his credibility. But there’s also another route AEW could go down with Cardona, and that is of course by utilising him as a Tag specialist. In the past, Cardona has been heavily involved in the WWE Tag division, often seen teaming with Curt Hawkins (now Bryan Myers in IMPACT Wrestling). Even though his go-to partner is now competing elsewhere, there’s nothing stopping Cardona striking up a partnership with another one of AEW’s underappreciated talents.
Instantly, I see my mind jumping to the likes of Colt Cabana, Joey Janela and Sonny Kiss, three incredible performers that are eagerly awaiting their breakout moments. By siding with Cardona for a run in the AEW Tag division, which is widely considered one of the best scenes in the world today, there’s an easy sell for them to become future Tag champions.
The issue that lies ahead is whether or not Matt Cardona will fit in amongst the traffic jam of independent talent in All Elite Wrestling. There’s a lot of very credible wrestlers who are looking for their big run, granted, AEW are doing their utmost to make sure everyone gets screen-time and has a chance to get over on Dynamite, but not everyone’s going to swim in mainstream waters.
I personally believe that Cardona has enough in him for one last shot at the big time, there’s enough hype left in the former Intercontinental and United States Champion that fans will be willing to rally behind him once again, hopefully taking him through to the successful run he’s been waiting on for a whole decade. This is his time, let’s hope AEW let him sprint with that ball.
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