“That’s a great question, I don’t normally get asked that. I was on the trajectory in my mind to go play in the NHL. I got as far as apple cores and did some tournaments up in Medicine Hat (Alberta) and Sue-Saint-Marie (Ontario) but being a kid from New York and unless your last name is Mullen it’s hard to really find to many opportunities so I didn’t have a lot of the same facilities and practice and I’ll be honest talent that some of these other kids had so as we went to play these tournaments up in Canada I was 18,19, 20 years old and these kids were 16 and just flying past me so my father said ‘listen get your degree because if this dream doesn’t happen you never know’.
Little did I know that the divine winds would blow and a teaching degree would lead me to my ultimate dream which was wrestling. I still play (hockey) and I play in a league once a night on Thursday’s and I’m an avid fantasy hockey players and very deep into the league. I love it. It’s a great game. I think between my love of hockey and my love of Rush I’d say I’m an honorary Canadian.”
As a teacher early on in your career, what parallels could you see between that and your time as a wrestler?
“I was talking to my friend Tommy Dreamer the other day and I would say the worst thing I ever did for my pro wrestling fandom was to become a pro wrestler. The politics. A, I had no idea that there were politics in teaching but there are and there are politics in wrestling. If you’re a good teacher you can close your door and teach to your kids and their grades will speak for your ability as a teacher and it will transcend the politics. Sometimes that’s not the case in pro wrestling but if you just keep your tunnel vision then you’re in ring work or your on the mic work will speak and transcend all the politics. That’s the parallel that comes to mind, immediately.”
Discuss your training under Johnny Rodz.
“I always look back on this long strange trip and now hindsight is always 20/20 and you realize why you went through the things. But at the time, I walked into Johnny Rodz it was still a closed brotherhood they didn’t just let anyone in. So for the first say three months they literally beat me up and I didn’t know any better. My first month in I had torn tendons in my right ankle. I had cracked ribs, I had busted noses, eyes and then finally for a while they were alright. Now we’ll show you a trick or two and we’ll let you in on a little secret here and there so it was a great initiation because it prepared me for so many of the things that were to come. I loved it. It was a labor of love. I was there when they opened and when Luis the janitor mopping up at night shutting off the lights, he would say come on time to go. I was just enamored with the whole entire to do.
I didn’t know you could become a wrestler. I thought you were just born a Harley Race. I had no idea that you could go and learn this and I was working out in a gym in New York and I saw another guy wearing a wrestling t-shirt and this was before prowrestlingtees.com and everyone having a t-shirt so you’re drawn to it. Hey, wrestling? I like wrestling too. A few days later that friend brought in a great crude print out when the internet was in its infancy. The third name down on the list of on the name of wrestling schools was Johnny Rodz. I was hey, I know that name. I went and I remember I drove past the place three times before I ever found the courage to go in. From there, again they didn’t just let anyone in, in that they didn’t want to just pull the curtain back and expose everything to everyone. So it was walking in with a handling of tender feet but that’s how I stumbled upon Johnny Rodz and again if not for the divine wind.”
Your short-lived feud with Kurt Angle gave you exposure. Was there more planned for a longer program between the two of you?
“Well first and foremost, I always say there is a term in wrestling ‘he made him’. Meaning when a more experienced wrestler would go out and have really good matches with an inexperienced unknown, that wrestler makes the unknown wrestler. Kurt Angle made me and to this day I have so much thanks and credit to give to Kurt because the world would have never known my name had it not been for those series of matches.
As far as intentions go, there is an old saying that’s why pencils have an eraser. I don’t know what the intentions were but in the end, the WWE used that publicity to put me onto a character avenue and I believe it was Eugene that went on to capture the Gold medal. In hindsight, that was the right move. So I don’t know what the intentions were but I know Kurt and I wrestled a lot on non-televised events and that really helped me just learn the craft. But as far as the 3 matches they had on TV, I don’t know if there was any intention to go anywhere further with that. Knowing me if there was something, I would have done something that would have shot that right down. (chuckles)”
WWE’s venture into recreating the ECW brand that you were a part of wasn’t met with the best of results. Describe how you felt your time in ECW went and where you thought it was headed.
“I’ve always tried to walk that line of fan/wrestler and sometimes it’s really hard. But I was able to see that the thing is if you were looking for the old ECW, WWE wasn’t going to give you that. They were going to give you WWE’s ECW. And if you’re comparing it like comparing apples to oranges. The roster wasn’t the same, the venues, the ceiling, the liberties that the guy was allowed to take. On that note, I just think that fans got into an uproar over oh, this isn’t the original and you’re right it’s not and it’s almost on you to realize that this is something different. So that’s that.
As far as from a wrestler standpoint, all I did was see that this was an opportunity. To me, Raw was a crowded crowded room and Smackdown was a little less crowded but you still couldn’t get in. ECW was just this hole in the wall, this bar down the street that anyone could go into. Whatever opportunity you could get to make, the 6-8 to 12 minutes of television that you are being given could still not being taken advantage of. So I just saw it as an opportunity. I saw it as a chance to wrestle and it was RVD and Sandman and Tommy Dreamer and Danny Doring and I just saw it as where we could learn and grow and establish lifelong friendships and I didn’t know what was going to happen at the time.”
Upon being returning to ECW and taking over for Tazz, you returned as a commentator. Why the change in role?
“I believe it was Mick Foley, that was moving on and Tazz was moving not up but I don’t like to say that one was above the other. Tazz was moving on as well and there was an open chair there. They had those production meetings before the start of television and there were 800 things that Vince and everyone needs to take care of. The last thing Vince was going to worry about was who was going to do color commentary for ECW. My friend, Joey Styles said ‘you know Matt Striker talks a lot and he seems to know a lot about wrestling let’s try him’. And Vince said, okay and that’s how that started. I could see the writing on the wall. They couldn’t find something else to do with me during that time and some guys get cut. So I was pretty fortunate that this came along and this kept me in the WWE for nearly a decade when the guy that’s not even 6 feet tall, and 210 lbs at most and maybe a good talker at best shouldn’t have stuck around as long as I did to be announcing really really a silver lining for me. That’s how it came about, because of Joey Styles.
The WWE announcing is to tell stories. They don’t want to know that that move is cattle mutilation. They want to know why it hurts and why Daniel Bryan is going to do to Mark Henry. Vince likes the story. He doesn’t really want to know so much about wrestling per say. So when I came on and said Cattle Mutilation or Michinoku Driver and things like that is was foreign to the ears of the Cole’s and the Lawler’s. This is why places like Ring of Honor and now Lucha Underground and TNA exist because yes it’s all wrestling yes it’s all chicken breast but it can be made a million different ways so if you don’t like what is being served at that restaurant go down the street and try the way we do it. So it’s Vince calling the shot. If he wants the move called the FU and not the Death Valley Driver, okay got it. I get it.”
NXT has earned a lot of praise over its development and growth in its characters. During your time hosting the show, what could you foresee happening with the show? What talent then stood out to you that either is or isn’t with the promotion any longer?
“I remember sitting in LaGuardia Airport and the executive producer of WWE television, who normally files privately and I don’t know why he was flying commercially but I don’t know why he would sit and talk to me but he told me of this concept and it was given the green light. It was his brainchild and to this day. You can say whatever you want about WWE producers but the man is a television genius. Every single Cole vignette or video or any entrance that you see and love it comes from the mind of that man. So what came to me and said it I thought it was awesome. So we got a list of all the development that he had envisioned I knew that I had wrestled with him down in Deep South and my trip to OVW so when they brought up a Wade Barrett or a Brodus Clay I knew that just right away that these guys were just going to be great. I was wrong about a few guys too. Oh, what was his name? It wasn’t Eli Cottonwood. He looked like Bruce Prichard. He was very tall, Jacob something. I thought that kid was going to be a star. The tall blond, good looking and then 3 weeks later the kid was gone.
But when they brought in Bryan Danielson/Daniel Bryan, it was let’s see what this guy can do? I would snicker in the corner. I had no idea who this guy was. When they brought in Low Ki as Kaval and teamed him with Layla and Michelle, again it was like great for some of my buddies to show you guys how good they are. I came up with guys like American Dragon and Low Ki and stuff like so I was able to see who was going to be what and also able to see who wasn’t going to make it. He was in the Ascension. He isn’t a kid now but what do they call him? Was it Connor O’Brien? I mean he’s been in the system for years but I there was always something missing there and he disappeared for a while and now Good bless him and all due respect and he’s got this new Ascension thing going on and all but you got see what it takes but to answer your question to see who has it I was pretty on point with just the exception of a couple of guys. It wasn’t Jacob Goodnight that was Kane’s character.”
Describe your time spent on the independent circuit competing and commentating. What matches stood out for you during that time, either being in the ring or sitting at ringside?
“I was really intimidated to come back I’ll admit that onto the independent scene and its impact because it was WWE style that was wrong or indifferent so I was concerned that I wasn’t going to be able to do the things that these kids would do and pull out and get reactions. I remember I was in WXW in Germany and I was partnering with my friend Trent Barretta who is over in New Japan now and he was much younger than me in the business and far more talented than I’ll ever be had to explain to me times have kind of changed and as we were planning our offense against our opponents. He was ‘give me more, give me more’, but where I’m from less is more. For me, a hip toss was enough. No no, a hip toss, a leg drop and pull him in for an armbar. Okay, I’ll do it your way and we went out and did it his way and the people responded so beautifully.
So I kind of had to marry the now with the then so psychology will never change, emotional investment will never change and I’m sure the wrestling will never change and selling and registering will never change. It’s just how to get the people to believe what you’re doing because they’ve seen everything. Guys have seen power bombs on tables on fire and kick out at 1! So I mean you have to make them believe that a small package at the end of the match so they can bite here and make it believable. That was one of my biggest things. And there are a lot of great guys out there now like Curt Hawkins and all these other guys that can marry the two styles and make it into a nice potpourri.”
During NJPW’S Wrestle Kingdom 9, both you and Jim Ross were the English commentators during the event. Which match stood out to you during that event and why?
“The talks began between Jeff Jarrett, Scott D’Amore and myself and guys can be difficult and talk themselves out of a booking and I said to myself, I’m never going to be that way. My goal was going to be, yes, no, okay. When Jeff and Scott talked to me before I could finish the sentence where do you need me to be, when do you need me to be there? I was on board immediately. Then when they said it was Jim Ross along with me. Jim and I had worked together before in WWE and it comes back to being a clash there. He has his style and I see where the trajectory of where the style is going. I knew that that would be an interesting little dynamic there.
When we got to Tokyo, we sat very quickly with the people from New Japan and their only direction to me was we want people who have never seen this before, we need you to educate the new fan so that’s what I did. I went out and I tried to and I went out and tried to explain this style and these wrestlers to the new fan. Then social media just came out in droves with annoyance and utter hatred for me but I always like to talk to those fans and say I wasn’t commentating to you on that night. I was commentating to the new fan and sometimes it leaves a bad taste in their mouth that we want a 10-year-old kid to know who Nakamura is but, in this day and age, that’s where the money is.
I mean, when I was a kid I was the same way when people started knowing who Hulk Hogan and the Masked Superstar was I felt offended because in my own selfish narcissism I thought wrestling is mine. This is my little thing, you can’t know who that is. I understand the venom that comes from the fans. But that was the objective to educate the new fan, the first time fan and there were points in that show especially the last three matches where JR was nice enough to kind of let me drive the ship and for him to say kid, go on out there, but that was really nice the great, the veteran the hall of Famer, the voice Jim Ross literally with his hands said go, go, you do the thing. So during the Nakamura match and the Okada matches pardon the term, I’m losing my shit because I’m dancing the fine line between fanboy and wrestler and I don’t dance that line well because I’m always going to be a fan.”
As part of Lucha Underground, both you and Vampire completed your first season commentating the action. What have you found to be the biggest difference in Lucha Underground than working under the same role in WWE?
“Well the first thing was for me it was great to just sit back down, put on some headsets and just watch wrestling. Not that I didn’t like being concerned with driving storylines, the main thing with Lucha Underground was the storylines build themselves. All I was told to do was just talk about the wrestling and I can do that. That’s the first thing that stood out. The second thing that stood out was a lot of the guys at Lucha Underground are encouraged, are not afraid, go out and top the next guy, go out there and make it hard for the next guy to get a reaction and that’s not the case a lot of times.
In WWE, the main event is very protected. There are sometimes, there are guys that are put in positions that they are just not ready for. They are not ripe, they are still a little bit of a green banana. So the thing about Lucha Underground is that the guys that are put in their position are very very very very well equipped to execute that position well from the first match to the last match. So those are my main differences. Not really having too much head production in my ear which I never minded because to have Vince McMahon talk to you alone is an honor. To have him, trust you to get out his information to assimilate his story to put along with his product, that’s a real honor. The thing here with Lucha Underground, all I had to do was to call the wrestling, have a good time and occasionally scream out shit in Spanish of course.”
What do you foresee for yourself and Lucha Underground moving into 2016 and beyond?
“Another thing I really like and still do is about Lucha Underground is leading and working with some of the legends of different styles that don’t really get the credit they deserve. I was in a corporate environment where you know who the forefathers of that style are and they get their respect.
For me to go and work with a Konnan and go and work with a Vampiro or Chavo Guerrero or a Blue Demon or Mil Muertes. To me, they also carry this heir of legend this heir of wow. Konnan is really so much to Lucha Libre in the United States that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves. I’ve never seen or never talked to another person who didn’t say if you dig Rey Mysterio or if you dig the Lucha Dragons. If any of it you kind of have to give credit to Konnan that is here in the state. As far as what I look forward to, it would be some more good wrestling and I look forward to seeing a lot of new guys. I just look forward to new, cool, hip. It’s hard to do something new in our business Lucha Underground has done it I’m really fortunate to be a part of it.”
Was there anything you wanted to encourage, share, promote or make fans aware of?
“I just think that I would be remissed if I didn’t use the slight access to the public eye that I have to draw attention to things that are important to me. Everyone uses social media to just put themselves over and tell you what show they are going to be on and ask you to buy their t-shirt. I get that but there are things that are near and dear to me Autism Speaks, Special Olympics, Animal Rescue things like that I think that maybe it says something. Matt Striker, I know who that is oh Animal Rescue let me google that, then I’ve done my job. So those are the things that I would like to get out there and to support independent wrestling.
Support WWE and NXT and they really are the head of the snake and do drive the ship. Go out and do there and cruise the internet. The world is so small. Just go on Youtube and type in World of Sport or type in All Japan from the 80’s or go look at Puerto Rico from 10-15 years ago and stumble upon a wrestler you’ve never heard of before and go into what I like to call Youtube holes and watch at 11:00 a half hour match and its 3 in the morning and it’s been Billy Robinson for the last 4 hours. That’s cool if you really love wrestling. Take it like a tree with branches. Don’t just go up the trunk of the tree kind of go out here and there and look out at the different stuff and see what you like and what you don’t like. And don’t be a d***!”