BOSTON—The most memorable moment in Matt Taven’s career happened behind the curtain at Madison Square Garden.
Taven, Jay Lethal and Marty Scurll all stood beside one another backstage, awaiting the final booking decision for the ladder match to decide the Ring of Honor championship at this past April’s G1 Supercard.
“We were all told at the same time, but the smile on Jay’s face made the moment so much more meaningful for me,” Taven says. “I’ve dedicated my life to this, but I knew I didn’t do it alone.
“I started in Ring of Honor with Jay Lethal in 2014. He knows me and understands the work I’ve put in. Jay’s my greatest rival, and he’s made me so much better.”
In the realm of pro wrestling, that backstage moment is where winners are first announced. But the reason the decision went to Taven was cemented over the past four years.
Taven blew out his ACL at ROH’s Final Battle pay per view in December 2015, then snapped his MCL as a direct result of continuing the match. He fought back from two surgeries and returned to ROH with the goal of giving meaning to the company’s new 6-man titles. He established himself as a draw in Mexico, and crafted an entertaining program over the world title with Lethal, even wrestling him to a 60-minute draw at the ROH Anniversary pay per view this past March.
Taven has been adamant over the past year that, if given the opportunity, he will bring a spotlight and work rate that elevates Ring of Honor.
This past April, inside the hallowed walls of MSG, Taven got that chance.
“Climbing that ladder was the moment I’ve wanted since I was 6,” said Taven. “I’ve given my life and my body to be a wrestler.
“I would have been happy for either Jay or Marty had they won, they’re two of the best in the world. They offered me the same respect, and now the opportunity is mine.”
. @MattTaven Made History At @TheGarden & Became Your New Ring Of Honor World Champion! Relive This Moment & Many Other Unforgettable #G1SUPERCARD Moments Anytime On #HONORCLUB!
Visit https://t.co/KrfEyQvw2Y or download the #ROHAPP available for all Apple & Android devices! pic.twitter.com/wqjFxSgw1W
— ROH Wrestling (@ringofhonor) April 18, 2019
Sitting on the deck of the Scorpion Bar, overlooking Boston’s Seaport, in between bites of ahi tuna tacos and sips of lemon water, Taven outlines his mission statement as champion.
“I put myself up against every other world champion,” says Taven, who has already successfully defended the world title against PCO, Mark Haskins, Flip Gordon, “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams, as well as the “Defy or Deny” match against Gordon, Haskins and PCO earlier this month. A title defense against Jeff Cobb looms on Friday at the Best in the World pay per view. “Our roster is as deep as any in wrestling, and the title defenses speak for themselves.
“I know it’s hard to be away on the road as often as WWE’s champions, but I worked through a lot of pain, including a swollen knee, to get to where I am. I have proven I belong in that main event. If you don’t understand why Matt Taven is champion, you just don’t understand what you’re watching.”
👑#ROH will prove WHY THEY ARE BEST IN THE WORLD on June 28!
Taven V Cobb
Taylor V Bandido
Young V Gresham
Flip V Rush
Castle V Lee
Villian Ent V WIlliams|Haskins|Black
Colt|Aldis V Briscoes
Love|Leon V Rose|Klein#FITETV🖥️
June 28|8pm EST pic.twitter.com/UZrQb34FF5
— FITE (@FiteTV) June 18, 2019
Taven has matured during his 14-year career, which started at the age of 20. During his formative years in the business, he would ride in a van overflowing with future superstars in Roderick Strong, Mike Bennett, the already-established Maria Kanellis, Adam Cole and Dalton Castle.
“Me and Dalton usually sat in the back,” Taven says. “We were the Beavis and Butthead of the crew.”
The wrestlers used that time to hone their craft—and, naturally, have some fun. Taven, a natural-born antagonist, would continually add excitement to the trips.
“One trip in particular, I think I was driving,” recalls Taven. “Actually, I know I was driving because I was pulled over for a speeding ticket. Anyway, me and Dalton decided to speak only in the voice of Randy Newman. This lasted for about a good two hours. Maria finally reached the point where she said, ‘Can we stop? Can we stop the Randy Newman thing?’ And that only meant we had to keep doing it.”
The incessant Newman impressions finally came to a halt when Taven was pulled over for speeding through the backwoods of Indiana.
“Can you blame me?” asks Taven. “I was speeding because I wanted to get to the hotel and stop doing the Randy Newman voice.”
Along with Taven, Kanellis and her husband Mike Bennett formed the original Kingdom trio. Former tag team partners Taven and Bennett remain close, even though they work for different companies.
The pair run a wrestling school together in Rhode Island, and fans of the two cannot help but imagine if Bennett and Taven still worked together on the same roster. After departing ROH for Impact in January 2016, Bennett parlayed his success into a spot in WWE. He is now part of WWE’s 205 Live cruiserweight division, which holds nowhere near the status of Taven’s reign with the top title in ROH.
It is rather easy to ask, “What if?” regarding what would have happened had Bennett stayed in ROH with Taven.
“It’s impossible not to have those thoughts, but you need to talk yourself out of it,” Taven says. “You can always question your decisions. This business is hard enough not to come out the other end what we call ‘batsh-- crazy.’
“If you’re sitting here wondering about what if we switched places, then you won’t be enjoying the moment. A year ago at Best in the World, I was in a six-man. I loved it. This year, I’m in the main event. Mike and I will always look out for each other and we’ll always care about one another. It’s too bad we don’t get to see each other as much, but it just makes the times that we do so much better.”
Congrats Mike Bennett & Matt Taven of the Kingdom who won the IWGP Tag Titles-I feel like a proud papa! Enjoy Ribera! pic.twitter.com/FcG4osEDzm
— The VESSEL of Matt Hardy (@MATTHARDYBRAND) April 5, 2015
Taven is willing to put his ROH world title on the line against any challenger, including the inaugural champion of All Elite Wrestling, which will be decided in a match at All Out this August between Chris Jericho and Hangman Page.
“Are you kidding me?” Taven says. “Of course I would. Jericho is a legend, and I’ve been in the ring before with Adam Page. We had Ring of Honor tryouts together and were signed on the same day. He’s such a genuine guy, I couldn’t be happier for his success.”
Taven is among those rooting for the success of AEW, which is the creation of his former ROH colleagues Cody Rhodes and the Young Bucks.
“If you watched Double or Nothing, how could you not be excited?” Taven says. “I think the world of Cody and the Bucks, they’re amazing. I want more people to enjoy wrestling, and that’s accomplished through growing the industry as a whole. AEW is doing a great job with that.”
A rare quality in wrestling is a full commitment to being a heel. Taven is a wrestling anomaly, relishing his role as a villain in a landscape where so many prefer to sell t-shirts.
“When I was invested as a fan, I loved the parts that made me believe,” Taven says. “The Undertaker’s look and his body bag. ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, he was so genuine from the time he rolled into and out of an arena. They weren’t pretending to be anything else. No one wants to see on social media that I had protein pancakes for breakfast. Posting that would be counterproductive. I feel pride in this character, I’ve built it for years."
THE FOLLOWING IS A HIGHLIGHT OF @MattTaven MAKING WRESTLING HISTORY. THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS TO @ringofhonor AND @TheLethalJay AND ANY OTHER #MELVINS WHO DON’T WANT TO BEND THE KNEE TO THE KING...
🎙 https://t.co/eW9mUbDidM pic.twitter.com/mp7aTqV0HW
— TAKE A BUMP (@TAKEABUMP_POD) June 15, 2019
“Matt Taven’s swagger comes from my own reality," Taven continues, switching freely between first and third person. "I’m better than you think I am. If you don’t think so, I’ll shrink you down into nothing, because that’s who you are in comparison to Matt Taven. That’s been me since I played Pop Warner. Doubt me? Then come out here and watch this.”
Taven is ready for this Friday’s Best in the World main event against Jeff Cobb, who has been a wrecking machine in ROH. Cobb is a phenomenal talent and his story will eventually be told, but this Friday is all about embracing the ascension of Taven as world champ.
“This is going to be a lot different than Madison Square Garden,” Taven admits. “I walked into that match thinking, ‘I can’t believe I’m in a ladder match at the Garden.’ There were people in that crowd who broke trampolines and couches with me when we wrestled as kids. And the finish of that match was perfect.
“But who is Jeff Cobb? Who is he to take my title? Jeff Cobb doesn’t realize the dangerous man he’s going to be in the ring with. I’ve worked 11 years in both the independents and Ring of Honor, I’m not about to lose this title to a guy who’s been in the company for a few months. I am Ring of Honor. I am the company, and I am the best champion in all of wrestling.”
The next chapter in Taven’s career begins this Friday. Critiques will be loud, harsh, and pointed directly at the world champ if match quality suffers in the main event. But Taven is as cool as ever entering the matchup with Cobb.
There will be no Randy Newman impressions, but his current traveling crew of Castle, Vinny Marseglia, TK O'Ryan and Tracy Williams are hungry to attain their wrestling dreams. And Taven will lead the ensemble, carrying the ROH pirate flag, ready to attack any doubters in the authenticity of his mission.
“This is my first pay per view with the belt,” Taven says. “So if you have any doubts as to why I’m world champion, they’ll be erased by the time I beat Jeff Cobb. I was born to rule, and I am the king of Ring of Honor.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.