August 2, 2012
Matt Cross loves hitting the road
By GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
It's a crazy idea, but then Matt Cross has made a decent little career out of his crazy, unique in-ring action. How about a show in Antarctica?
After all, he has already performed on the other six continents on the planet, so why not?
"I get a kick out of saying that I've been to 16 countries now. I think my immediate goal is to wrestle in 20, then I'd like to wrestle in 25. You kind of cut a little niche for yourself in this business," Cross recently told SLAM! Wrestling over the phone. "I have this crazy dream of promoting my own show in Antarctica -- and I know there's only researchers there for part of the year -- but I would like to put on a show for something so that I can say when it's all said and done that I'm the only pro wrestler that ever wrestled on every continent."
This brings forth the interesting question: What makes a wrestling show?
"Is it the fans? Is it a ring? Is it a number of matches? I'd like to get some sort of a consensus on what the bare minimum for it to be a show is, and then move forward with that," Cross laughed. Having recently traveled from his Ohio home to Hamilton, Ontario, for a show where the promoter bailed on paying the talent and only a handful of people showed up, he has to have a positive attitude.
"To me, the biggest perk of wrestling, especially independent wrestling, is just the travel, specifically international. I love seeing other places in the world, and the fact that I've done it because of pro wrestling still astounds me," confessed Cross, who also wrestles as M-Dogg 20. "When I was first starting out, I may have had distant dreams of performing in Japan or Mexico. But to be able to go to places like Egypt and Colombia and Switzerland because of pro wrestling, still, places that I've already been, I can't believe I've gone. I'm constantly excited and blown away just by the places that even have wrestling."
Later this year, Cross expects to return to Hungary and debut in Russia. "If you would have told me 10 years ago that I'd be in Moscow because of pro wrestling, I wouldn't have believed it."
Similarly, had you asked him back in 1999, when he was a youngster with a heavy gymnastics background doing backyard wrestling, whether he'd be on a major WWE show, Matthew Capiccioni -- his real name -- would probably have thought you were nuts.
But there he was on the most recent edition of WWE Tough Enough, which aired in April 2011. Easily the talent with the most experience, the 5-foot-7, 180-pound Cross was eliminated in only the second show.
While he got lots of tips from the trainers, especially Bill Demott, and was exposed to millions of viewers, Cross is rather ambivalent about the whole Tough Enough experience. His main issue was being unable to work.
"When I was on the show, I wasn't legally cleared to wrestle for, I think it was three to four months after it stopped airing. I make my full-time living as a professional wrestler so I was kept from work for many months, which was financially pretty devastating for me," said Cross. He has found some new bookings after the show, and companies that used him before called again, but the time on Tough Enough did not change his life. "If all the interview requests I got were bookings that would have been good, but it was pretty much just people wanting to talk about the experience. Legally I wasn't even able to [talk about it] for a year so, yeah, it was strange."
Cross' main job is being a pro wrestler, so unlike many of his peers who might have a day job, he really feels the ups and downs of the profession.
There was a time when the native of Brecksville, Ohio was one of those wannabes. Though a fan of pro wrestling when he was young, Cross soured on the WWF when his father told him wrestling wasn't real; catching the hard-hitting ECW, especially the battles between Rob Van Dam and Jerry Lynn, a few years later, changed that. After his backyard days, Cross realized he needed to be properly trained and learned the skill set under Cleveland's J.T. Lightning and the All Pro Training Center.
Cross has worked for some of the biggest independent companies in wrestling, including Ring of Honor, Combat Zone Wrestling, CHIKARA and the short-lived MTV product, Wrestling Society X.
Prime Wrestling, his home promotion, offers Cross the unique chance to work on wrestling shows in area prisons. There are butterflies and nerves on regular shows, said Cross, but for the shows in the slammer, there's a feeling of "genuine fear."
"Every show that we've had so far, I've worked heel in the prisons, which is just a rush to get in the face of these guys and be challenging them. Just what they say, what they do, and how they react, it's an absolutely different world," he said. "I remember asking the warden after one show, and I was right up in the guardrail, in these guys' faces, telling them to do something, and who was going to jump, who wants to make something happen here, really in their faces. I asked the warden after the fact, 'These guys are just what, traffic offenders or they skipped on bail, or what?' He's like, 'No man, this is high risk!' I'm like, 'High risk?! What are these guys in for?' 'Murder. There's three cop killers out there.' I was like, 'Whoa. Oh my God, thank goodness you told me that after the show. I was right in these guys' faces. I wouldn't have done any of that.'"
Normally patrolled into staying relatively quiet, the wrestling shows allow the prisoners to let loose for a little while. "I'm sure if you were yelling and screaming or whatever, that's frowned upon, or punishable. Here's this time where all the guys can all be on the same side, so to speak, and decide to all hate one guy. Just the things that they'll yell is so much different. You get used to it over the years -- 'You stink' or 'You suck' -- but these guys are saying the most foul-mouthed, terrible things you've ever heard. Totally different world and I love it."
"For someone who's never seem me, I would tell them to expect the unexpected. I try to leave every match giving the people something, at least one thing, that they've never seen. That was what was so heartbreaking about Tough Enough because I believe in my repertoire and in my skill-set. I have at least a half-dozen moves that either very, very few people in the world are doing or no one is doing. I would love to and think I could easily entertain millions with those moves and that style. Expect things that you won't see other places, just completely, wacky, off-the-wall, exciting things."
One of his buddies is Evan Bourne (Matt Korklan, who worked as Matt Sydal in ROH). Cross explained how paths can diverge, even for two similar friends.
It turns out ROH offered both Sydal and Cross contracts. "Him and I talked about it and both of our goals, dreams and aspirations was to go to WWE. He said that before he signed the contract he was going to see if WWE was interested. I was like, 'Man, that's a great idea. I'm going to do that too.' And then he did that and I didn't follow through, I didn't have the contacts or the wherewithal or the means to do that. Obviously that worked out well for him, which is awesome. I didn't know how to pursue that. I feel like I'm in a good place now, that's the singularity of my focus, trying to get to WWE."
He takes solace in knowing that a good friend from the indy scene like CM Punk has made it. "Look where the business seems to be going right now. If you've got a guy, a friend, CM Punk, on top, seconded, arguably, by Daniel Bryan. Then in the other company, you have Austin Aries. This could be, I don't know if it's a new transitional period, or the dawning of a new era, or a new era, but it definitely seems like for the first time in a long time, ironically enough, they're looking for wrestlers to carry wrestling shows."
How much longer can the 31-year-old unmarried Cross keep chasing the WWE dream?
"I don't know. That's a good question. I've been asked that more and more lately. Any time I start to think about that, I just get, I don't know, overwhelmed I guess, because I try to push it out of my mind. It's just a day to day thing," he said. "I wake up every day, lift weights as hard as I can, keep wrestling, keep doing what I do."
Despite the fancy title of "Producer of SLAM! Wrestling", Greg Oliver laments that it doesn't include any travel with the honorific. To date, he can only say he's been to two continents, all through North America and into Europe. Greg can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.