Matt Cardona in GCW: Long Live The Deathmatch King

“What do you despise? By this are you truly known.”

-Frank Herbert, Dune

On September 4th 2021, Jon Moxley showed up at GCW’s The Art of War Games and did what most everyone in that crowd wanted to do: smashed Matt Cardona’s head through a bunch of glass. With that came the end of one of the best and most entertaining short title reigns ever put together.

Credit: Robert Starkz-Bellamy/@mouse3911

Matt Cardona captured the GCW title to some of the most authentic heat I’ve seen since Tommaso Ciampa turned Johnny Gargano inside out at NXT Takeover: Chicago in 2017. It is impossible to overstate just how much they hated Cardona winning, showering him and the blood soaked ring with trash and boos while Cardona, stained red and embedded with glass, dropped to his knees and clutched the belt to his chest like it was the only thing he had ever wanted in his entire life. It was a great match with an even more memorable post match, a perfect setup for Cardona’s antagonistic run as champ.

What helped to set the stage for this is how beloved Nick Gage is by GCW fans. This is a wrestler who connects with his fans like no one else; when Gage says he would kill or die for them, you believe it. Gage and Cardona had been having some online back and forth to set things up, laying the groundwork for Cardona’s character build. Cardona, callously fired by WWE after 15 years, turned his corporate wrestling background around on the GCW star, playing up his fame, time on television, and lack of significant indie wrestling experience as reasons he was better than Gage. Everything about Gage was the opposite of Cardona, just like everything about GCW is the opposite of WWE: gritty vs. weak; overproduced vs. do-it-yourself. With that, we had the setup: an indie wrestler on his home turf matched up against a cocky WWE superstar who thought his presence alone would make GCW better.

Cardona continued to expand on the gimmick by bringing more WWE-isms and antipathy to GCW: calling the GCW World Championship the GCW Universal Championship; describing himself not as a wrestler but as a superstar; calling the fans at shows the GCW Universe; calling himself the Deathmatch King; and, the pièce de résistance, remodeling the championship belt after the old John Cena spinner belt with touches of Cardona’s signature purple.

Funny enough, and to put into perspective just how good he has been at getting over as a heel, Cardona’s reign of terror was ended to great applause by another long time WWE employee in Jon Moxley. Moxley, though, has rid himself of the perceived softness of WWE wrestling with brutal brawls in AEW, NJPW, and GCW (among other places) since leaving. Cardona, objectively, proved his mettle in that match with Gage, but his entire persona has leaned heavily into a deranged, sarcastic version of an ex-WWE guy. Moxley escaped WWE, Cardona took it with him.

What Cardona has also done since defeating Gage is create a foil not for a particular wrestler or personality in GCW but for the audience itself. His presence on social media allowed him an outlet to persistently poke and prod at fans despite only having three actual appearances in front of a GCW crowd. He has called out fans online and posted all manner of cringey, tactless tweets to repulse GCW fans. He’s been flat out annoying to GCW fans, wrestlers, and owner/promoter Brett Lauderdale.

The level of difficulty in producing a character that people genuinely want to see beaten is astounding, but Cardona’s whole career has been creative and adaptive. Even while he was off TV for long stretches in WWE he built a successful YouTube channel, Twitter following, and podcast network, among other things. There is a fine line before a character becomes hated in a way that bores people, and Cardona was able to ride on the correct side of that for over a month. His match with Gage got him trending on Twitter, and his antics all summer have been one of the best things in wrestling since fans returned to arenas this year.

Cardona’s run should be sincerely remembered as one of the more outstanding short term title runs we’ve ever seen. Both he and GCW deserve a lot of credit for this story, one that was in fact best served as an abbreviated tale. Now, Cardona, who has also been working in Impact, has an entirely new side he can tap into going forward. What is intriguing is where Cardona decides to take this. Does he push this version of the character further in GCW or other promotions, retreat back into something more resembling his long time WWE persona, or does he come up with something entirely new?

Like he says, for whatever is next, Cardona is Alwayz Ready.