Matt Riddle blazing a path in professional wrestling after UFC firing

Ryan McKinnell
The Turnstile

Matt Riddle is the only fighter fired from the UFC on a four-fight win streak.

Matt Riddle
Matt Riddle

It’s true. It says so in his Twitter bio, right next to the graphic that displays his 425,000 Twitter followers.

The four-fight win streak part isn’t entirely accurate, though. Two of those wins were eventually made no contests after Riddle tested positive for marijuana — the second of which resulted in his unceremonious firing from the only place he’d ever fought.

“I remember it vividly,” Riddle recalled to Yahoo Sports. “Michael Mersch [former UFC executive] called me and said, ‘Matt, I have some bad news. You failed your drug test. And we’re exercising our right to terminate your contract.’ ”

Thanks to his time in the UFC, those failed marijuana tests, and a firm wrestling background as a high school champion from Saratoga, N.Y., Matt Riddle is now taking the business of pro wrestling by storm.

“To me, it feels perfect,” Riddle said. “I feel like I started with wrestling, and a love of pro wrestling, that lead me to MMA and the UFC. And now it’s come full circle back to pro wrestling.”

One person thankful for Riddle’s transition to professional wrestling is Gabe Sapolsky.

Sapolsky is about as certified in the ways of independent pro wrestling as you can get. He got his start in the business working alongside ECW founder and current WWE “advocate” Paul Heyman and co-founded independent promotion Evolve Wrestling where Riddle currently competes.

“With Matt Riddle, you’re talking about a guy who only had five or six matches, and who only has about 25-50 total matches even now,” Sapolsky said. “He should be wrestling on the smallest indie shows, trying to work on his craft, and instead this guy has just exploded on the scene in every aspect of the game. He’s a phenom. There’s no other way to describe it. I’ve legitimately never seen anything like this before.”

Evolve currently has a working relationship with WWE. Acting on the advice of ex-WWE wrestler Sean “X-Pac” Waltman, the WWE took an interest in Riddle and gave him a tryout last year.

Not even a week into Riddle’s first sessions, Waltman came down to the Monster Factory wrestling school in New Jersey to see the rookie. After a full day spent with Riddle, Waltman quickly called his buddy, wrestler and WWE talent executive Paul “Triple H” Levesque, and said Riddle possessed “it.”

“With a guy like Riddle, coming from the UFC, with his background – and I watched some of his matches – you could see right away that he was a pure natural for the wrestling business,” Sapolsky said. “And this was with something like only five matches under his belt. So, he had no right to be as good as he was at that point.

“So, we figured let’s give him a shot. We figured, worst case, he would work one weekend, and best case, which is what’s happening now, we’d have a bonafide main eventer and star on our hands.”

Blending his realistic MMA arsenal with a natural charisma, Sapolsky thinks Riddle can pave the way for future fighters and athletes to make the jump to professional wrestling. It isn’t just leg drops, flying elbows and clotheslines anymore. Fans are looking for realism and authenticity, something Riddle offers in spades.

On Friday, Riddle will wrestle Timothy Thatcher for the Evolve championship at Evolve 58 in Dallas, Texas, in the backyard of AT&T Stadium, the host of Sunday’s WrestleMania 32.

Rumors are swirling about Riddle potentially signing with the WWE – some insiders suggest the deal is all but done – but for the man who became a UFC fighter after just a few months of professional training, the journey to the WWE has left him wondering what took so long.

“In my mind, I look at it like this,” Riddle said, “I got into the UFC after six months of training. I started doing jiu-jitsu, had my first fight, tried out for ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and got on. In my head, honestly I thought it [WWE contract] would come quicker. Because I got in the UFC in six months, I figured WWE would be quicker. [But] It’s way harder.”

Riddle has spoken with WWE officials and believes if he does eventually get the call, the company will use his real-life firing from the UFC as an angle: “He got fired from the UFC for this or that, he’s a gun-for-hire, like a smaller Brock Lesnar.”

The WWE does have its own strict wellness program that will see Riddle subjected to regular drug testing — something that ended his career as a mixed martial artist. Apparently, though, unlike in other years, Riddle is willing to sacrifice his medicine for a chance at his dream.

“Even if the UFC called me back tomorrow to fight, I’d quit smoking weed until they release me or until I retire,” Riddle said. “And it’s the same thing with WWE. If they gave me a shot, I don’t know how long that stopwatch is going to run. I can put the pipe down, I can put the joint down.”

Matt Riddle in Evolve.
Matt Riddle in Evolve.

The WWE’s developmental league, NXT, is currently gaining momentum among hardcore wrestling fans. The show airs on the WWE Network and to many is a superior product to anything found on regular television.

NXT has done a stellar job signing up-and-coming independent talent, and subsequently using them on the main roster in an attempt to build a new generation of superstars. Independent darlings such as Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Cesaro and former WWE champion Seth Rollins have all been received by the WWE faithful with open arms and wide eyes after successful runs in NXT.

If and when Riddle signs with the company, don’t expect him to toil very long in NXT, as prestigious as it may be.

“If I do make WWE — because in my head, until it’s official, it’s not a thing — I think if they brought me in, it would be very short lived at NXT, and I’d be on main roster extremely quick,” Riddle said.

“Because what do you do with a guy who won his last four fights in the UFC, won his last fight after the UFC, then dominated on the indies? And not only dominated, I’m pretty sure I made every top-10 list for good wrestlers, and I’ve only been doing it a year. But you never know what they’ll do. If your goal is to not be on main roster, I don’t know why you’d be there. If you’re a wrestler in the WWE, then your goal is to be the headliner, main event of WrestleMania.”

When asked how high Riddle’s ceiling is, Sapolsky explained Riddle’s WrestleMania dreams may not be that far off.

“Matt Riddle, Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania one day. I’d pay to see it tomorrow.”

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Ryan McKinnell is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports Cagewriter blog. Have a tip? Email him or

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