Zack Ryder has seen some major ups and downs since he started with the WWE. Ryder, whose real name is Matthew Cardona, is 6’2 and weighs in at 224 pounds. He starting wrestling with the company in 2006, not really going anywhere with his career for some time. But he suddenly became an Internet sensation in 2011 thanks to the success of his YouTube channel and Twitter page.
Sadly, he soon faded back into obscurity as the WWE took over his web show and he was given terrible storyline after terrible storyline. Then, just when Ryder fans were convinced the company was done with him, the Long Island Iced Z shocked the world when he won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 32. Fans were ecstatic, only for Ryder to lose the title on Raw 24 hours later and to fade right back into obscurity. For the next few months, he appeared on Raw and SmackDown only sporadically when the show needed someone to be defeated in a match lasting roughly 10 seconds.
But now it looks like Ryder’s career might be on another upswing; this week on Raw, he helped lead Team USA to victory in a 16-man elimination match, and spoilers from Thursday’s SmackDown suggest the WWE has a significant role for him going forward. Are we about to see the return of the Ryder Revolution? Or are fans about to be disappointed yet again?
Here are five facts you need to know about Zack Ryder.
1. He Battled Cancer in High School
In an interview conducted earlier this year, Zack Ryder revealed that part of what inspired him to pursue his dream of being a wrestler is the fact that he went through a cancer battle in high school.
“I had a tumor in my foot, spread to both my lungs,” Ryder said. “Surgeries, chemotherapy, all that. It sucked, it did…but the thing that kept me going was that I knew I had to beat it to get here because this was my destiny. I don’t know why. I wasn’t born into this business, but for some reason, my whole life has been to get here.”
Ryder also noted in the interview that he hasn’t talked too much about his cancer battle because he didn’t want this to define him or for it to be seen as the reason he’s in the WWE.
2. He Started Wrestling on Long Island
Ryder is often referred to as the Long Island Iced Z, and that’s not just a part of Ryder’s fictional persona. He grew up on the island, born in Long Beach on May 14, 1985, and it was on Long Island that he launched his career.
Ryder began wrestling in 2004 with New York Wrestling Connection, a promotion located in Deer Park, New York. At the time, he wrestled under the name Brett Matthews. He soon teamed up with Bryan Myers, and the two went on to become Tag Team Champions.
Speaking of his time with New York Wrestling Connection, Ryder particularly praised his trainer, Mikey Whipreck.
“He taught us everything from headlocks to paying your taxes,” Ryder said. “He knew everything. And he was the perfect teacher because he actually experienced it, as opposed to other people who don’t know anything and are training people and are basically stealing people’s money.”
Just one year after debuting with New York Wrestling Connection, Ryder appeared as a local jobber on an episode of SmackDown, taking on Matt Morgan. In 2006, Ryder signed up for WWE tryouts, and he officially signed with the company in February 2006. Upon signing, he was sent to Georgia to train with Deep South Wrestling, where he was given the new in-ring name of Brett Majors. A year later, he started appearing on ECW.
3. He Gained Much of His Popularity Through Social Media
Zack Ryder has Twitter and YouTube to thank for much of his success with the WWE. Though he signed in 2006, by 2011 he found himself unsatisfied with his placement on the roster. He basically had no major role in the company, even though he imagined himself as becoming a Dwayne Johnson or a John Cena one day.
“I got in WWE in 2007 and was just a guy on the show without a big following,” he said. “That’s not where I wanted to be. I wanted to be at the top. Every time they made action figures, they didn’t make one of me. It aggravated me.”
He decided to take matters into his own hands, beginning a YouTube series called Z! True Long Island Story. The WWE was not involved in the creation of the show whatsoever, and the editing process involved three hours of him slaving away at his computer. The whole show was shot on a Flipcam that Ryder’s parents got him for Christmas.
“People thought I was crazy for doing it and that I would get in trouble or get fired, but I didn’t care,” he said. “I knew I had to fight for a spot. I knew I was going to be a superstar and I just kept doing it.”
Fans were taken in by the story of an underdog fighting to be recognized, and the series became a huge hit; over the next year, despite the fact that Zack would rarely appear on Raw or SmackDown, “We Want Ryder!” chants could consistently be heard on just about every show. By June of 2011, four months after starting his web series, Ryder was finally given his first match of the year, and the Ryder Revolution only picked up steam from there.
But Z! True Long Island Story later became an official WWE show, and Ryder says that at this point it wasn’t as enjoyable.
“It just wasn’t fun anymore and I think the fans could see that,” he said. “WWE’s editing the content on the show was different, and it just became like a job. I’m glad the show is over, I’m glad I did it and it definitely changed the way WWE, whether they want to admit it or not, looked at social media.”
4. He’s Dating Emma in Real Life
The WWE is full of relationships between wrestlers, whether it’s Paige and Alberto Del Rio or Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Zack Ryder recently began a WWE romance of his own, forming a relationship with fellow performer Tenille Dashwood, a.k.a Emma.
When they first started dating is unclear, but the two went public with their relationship on New Year’s Eve 2015. Many of the WWE relationships are rather private, with fans only finding out about them through paparazzi photos. But Ryder and Emma are quite open about the fact that they are dating, and they are constantly seen embracing in pictures on their social media.
Emma is currently away from the WWE due to a back injury sustained during a live event. She underwent surgery in May, and Zack Ryder took to Instagram at the time to express support for his girlfriend, saying that he was taking a flight to go be by her side.
“She worked so hard to get back on the main roster,” he said. “I know she’ll be back again!”
5. He Has a Gigantic Toy Collection
Outside of wrestling, one of Ryder’s hobbies is toy collecting, and he’s got literally hundreds of them at home, some on display and some in storage containers.
Many of the figures are WWE related, including a Hulk Hogan action figure signed by the man himself. His collection also include Wrestling Buddies dolls, a Randy Savage stretch toy, and of course all the Zack Ryder figures.
Not everything in the collection is related to wrestling, though; he also has figures related to Ghostbusters, Guardians of the Galaxy, Back to the Future, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Star Wars.
And speaking of Star Wars, Ryder is a huge fan of the franchise, as is his girlfriend Emma.