Matt Sydal: “I Take a Lot of Pride and Joy in Being X-Division Champion” (Interview)

For those who were thinking “Enlightened” Matt Sydal was just a character, Sonjay Dutt a few weeks ago proved them wrong. This character is nothing like Matt Sydal himself, a more spiritual, detached but focused version of the wrestler. He opened his “third eye” and, in addition to being a new man, this philosophy brought it to the top of Impact Wrestling when he became X-Division Champion. Last week, during a media call, Matt Sydal explained all that title was meaning for him and how he translated his philosophy of life into a philosophy of wrestling. 

A new man and a new wrestler 

Matt Sydal has been in this business for nearly 20 years, which means a lot of sacrifices and pain to become one of the very best high-flyers in the world. But because of that pain, he planted the seeds of a new quest for himself. “Since 2010 I have been dealing non-stop with injuries, pushing myself through a lot of physical pain and then being able to hang in there with some of the biggest guys.  The word I use is durability, which means it’s just keep getting back up. You don’t break, you bend. I learned through pain and suffering and now all that suffering has created who I am today. There is something special in that, so the quest continues.”

With the help of his brother Mike, “the yoga master”, he opened his “third eye” and built himself a new philosophy in life he was able to translate in his work. “The more I’ve integrated my personal philosophy into my wrestling performances, the more success I’ve had, the more genuine a connection I’ve felt with the crowd and the more liberated I’ve felt in the ring. I feel like I’m making the best work ever by putting what’s in my head out and putting that in the ring because before I was only on my physical. Now I rely on the mind-body connection.” 

To keep this level of awareness, he decided to stay in his own world, with “no outside influences, no cultural conditioning”. Which means not watching what the others are doing in the ring. “I live my life in locker rooms. I live my life picking my nose out the curtain, peeking an eye through and watching the shows that I’m on. But I don’t pull myself out of my reality to stick myself in somebody else’s mess and watch a bunch of wrestlers. When you have no expectations, you can’t be fooled. So if you don’t watch them wrestling, you don’t expect things, you don’t anticipate, you don’t have anxiety. You’re calm, cool, connected in that moment and you just react and move with the flow.”

This absolute connection to the present makes him avoid the past. So I asked about his best match or opponent, his answer was clear. “The moment my match happens means everything to me. But before it and after, it means nothing to me. I’m not attached to the result or the accolades. I’m not attached to any of this. I don’t live my life under that framework of performances, it’s all history. If you can’t assign extra value to it, because you’re just attached to it and then you’re living in the past, you can’t appreciate the present moment fully. So while I’m in it, you can see it on my face that is a special time in my life. But as soon as it’s over, my next match washed away the previous ones. A belt doesn’t make the man.”

This idea of a journey is a lesson he’s trying to give to his students, in his wrestling school in Florida. “You have to be patient. The hardest thing for me has been instilling things like honour and tradition into people because they’re very important to me. Those things have to come gradually and over time because, as much as you respect wrestling when you get into it, your respect and appreciation for it grow and you grow as a wrestler.” Same answer when I asked him about being an inspiration for young wrestlers and fans. “I’m so honoured and thrilled when people look up to me. I know how hard it is to be a young kid and to find wrestling. It’s somebody who I can completely relate to because they probably found wrestling the same way I did. So I want a following, I want to lead a charge, I want to instigate large change on a global level, thinking for ourselves and questioning everything.”

The X-Division Champion

If a belt doesn’t make a man, Matt Sydal fought hard to become the X-Division Champion. “I take a lot of pride and joy in being X-Division champion, now defending the belt. For me, to be the X-Division champion is something that, as much as I love it, I’m not attached to. I don’t need the belt on my shoulder to know my words as a human being. But I feel it pulling me towards it so, whether I want to be champion or not, that belt just stays with me.” That may sound strange but, more than a title, Sydal is trying to defend the way of wrestling X-Division represents. “The X Division was a revolution from inside the wrestling industry. It was the men who cared the most about it, that had the most passion. I wanted to bring the best wrestling to the most people, this was the international brand of wrestling. This is the collective unconscious of wrestling evidencing itself in the modern form. The X-Division exemplified that and set the standard for what wrestling is today. The X-Division that I am leading now is still the crest of the waves and the future of wrestling.”

Impact Wrestling seems to be the perfect place for Sydal, something he confirmed to me. “I wouldn’t say it’s a great place for me to wrestle, I’d say it’s ideal. I think for somebody who wants to lead the X-Division, the only place to do that is at Impact Wrestling. The X-Division is something special that I cherish and that is a lineage that I am carrying. This is the perfect place for me to put on the best performances of my life, to display my skill and my heart. I am completely free and in those moments where I just have these transcendent experiences. When you’re just operating purely on instinct, there’s a special beauty in that. My hope is people can capture it and share it with me.” Sydal was already in TNA when the X-Division started but, at that time, he learned, experienced, met many people, more than shining. And everyone knows people are always trying to find where the sun is shining to shine themselves… 

A Division of International Competition

The X-Division is a World-class league. At Redemption, Sydal successfully defended the Championship against Petey Williams. He will soon have to defend again against AAA Latin America Champion El Hijo del Fantasma. “I intend to be the reigning defending X-Division Champion through Slammiversary. I love the way the X-Division is shaping up because this high level, quality and diversity of competition has really forced me to raise myself to the next level. Working with guys like EC3 for the Impact Grand Championship brought out a little bit of the killer instinct I’ve been looking for. But recently I’ve had the international flavours getting dropped on me with Taiji Ishimori and Hijo Del Fantasma. These guys are incredible wrestlers that do things completely differently, I have been able to react and take on all comers. That’s the beauty of being in the X-Division. 

As the Champion, Sydal sees himself as a leader and an example to follow. “I’m the best competitor in the world so there would be no local talent to go up against me. I’m only looking for world-class. By always working with people who are better than me, I’ve gotten to the point where I’m the Champion and now the world-class challengers are stepping up to me because they’re looking for the challenge. They’re looking for someone who can open their third eye and help them along their path to greatness.”

Wherever the guys may come from, whatever their styles may be, Matt Sydal is ready for everyone who could help him go higher. The recent Impact Wrestling- Lucha Underground partnership brought a new crop of talents to wrestle. “I want to wrestle the wrestlers that want to stand out, the ones that want to make everybody in the back watch the monitor when we wrestle. There’s a lot of guys stepping up, Pentagon and Fénix of course but El Hijo del Fantasma is incredible. There’s no lack of competition but what I’m looking for is the guy that can do it on game day. If there’s a guy that has the courage to walk in the ring with me, knowing full well that I’ve already won the match mentally,  the physical parts are just going to follow them. When I wrestled Fenix for the first time, it reminded me of when I wrestled El Generico and Kevin Steen the first time. Without knowing the guy, or hardly even communicating, we went in there and spoke the international language of wrestling and it just created magic. I think if Fénix and I get in the ring again, there will be magic and, when there’s magic in the air, that definitely favours me.”

When Sami Callihan interfered in the media call, Sydal said nothing, he appreciated The Worldwide Desperado was using any mean to question the authority. He even quoted the match he had at Pro Wrestling Revolver, Callihan’s promotion, to notice he saw game-changing wrestling out there and he hoped everybody could tune into that. He worked there with Zachary Wentz and Dezmond Xavier, people he would love to make his protégé of. “The stuff that they’ve done in Dragon Gate has been tremendous but their growth over the last year has been extremely tremendous. Their focus, their driving, their desire, their hearts, they’re inspiring me to be better. Because if they’re that good at 23 or 24, I don’t know what they’ll be at 26 or 30. I better get back on the horse and start getting create new ideas and pushing my boundaries or just straight out dissolving the boundaries.”

With the power of his “third eye”, Matt Sydal seems unbreakable, unstoppable, unbeatable. The tree may bend, he’s not ready to break. Namasté Matt. 

All pics and screencaps courtesy of Impact Wrestling