(CBS Baltimore/CBS Local) — Matt Taven is a natural storyteller. The Ring of Honor World Champion masterfully crafts epic battles of good versus evil in the ring and then will turn around and regale you with an unbelievable, yet 100 percent truthful, story from his time on the road. His enthusiastic delivery will have you feeling as though you’ve been friends for years.
Say what you will about his villainous Matt Taven character, but it’s impossible not to like the man behind it.
The 34-year-old, who has been actively competing in the ring for more than a decade, now finds himself as the face of a promotion in flux. With the drastic shift in the wrestling business and the departures of key talent, it is now up to him to push ROH forward and grow its fan base. In April, he was given the keys to the ROH kingdom in front of a capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden during the G1 Supercard of Honor. And on Friday he will be defending the world title on pay-per-view for the first time when ROH presents Best In The World.
Much like himself, the man he’ll be going toe-to-toe with is also tasked with carrying this new generation of ROH forward. Former Olympic wrestler Jeff Cobb has been steadily climbing the pro wrestling ladder since his debut, and his ascent has picked up pace over the past couple of years. With every match, he’s built upon a reputation as being a dominant grappler, comprised of equal parts freakish strength and athleticism. But those credentials and pedigree are of no consequence to Taven, who says he’s champion for a reason.
I caught up with Taven as he prepared for their high-stakes showdown. The champ opened up about the challenges currently facing ROH, as a well-funded competitor enters the wrestling landscape, his feelings about being one of the leaders of the promotion, solidarity in the locker room, and one more wild tale from the road.
Describe the pressure that comes with being the Ring of Honor Champion given the major changes in pro wrestling at the moment?
The pressure for me is just to maintain the tradition and legacy that Ring of Honor has set for the past 17 years. It has always been a place where the evolution of wrestling takes place. So, for me, it’s kind of like you’ve taken the flag of Ring of Honor, and now you have to keep guiding it in that direction that it had been going for years.
Since I started, I’ve seen the first pay-per-view, I’ve seen the growth of the company, [having a show in] Madison Square Garden, the Honor Club, stuff like that. We’re always looking to grow the fan base, and with so much going on in wrestling, you want to make sure that any new fans that might be dipping their toes in the water can get a taste of what Ring of Honor is all about and hopefully become a destination for their viewing from here on out.
You mentioned growing the fan base. What are some steps that you think Ring of Honor needs to take to continue growing and stay competitive, as AEW comes on board and now AAA Lucha Libre is coming more into the United States? Obviously there’s always WWE, too.
I think they did a great first step after the roster turnover by adding guys to the roster that are going to be so beneficial for the future of Ring of Honor. The Banditos of the world, so young and so talented. RUSH, who’s an international star. PJ Black who’s been successful on many different stages. PCO, Mark Haskins, “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams. They did such a good job with adding fresh faces that now fans can see brand new matchups they’ve never seen before. [They can] really get a taste of guys who they might have only heard of or have only seen here and there, now [they] are given a big spotlight. With so many talented guys in the wrestling world in general, grabbing such highly touted free agents was a great first step.
Something that will really guide us moving forward is appealing to all of these different fan bases with an international flavor.
Best In The World is your first pay-per-view where you’re defending the title. Are you nervous at all? What emotions are you feeling?
I’m not very nervous. I won this title after years of scrapping and getting to this point and finally winning inside Madison Square Garden is a pretty big stage. So, I’ve kind of gotten those nerves of being in the main event out of the way. Now it’s more of having something to prove.
Being champion, I kind of feel like I’m the champion for a reason and now let me show you why. At the same time, ROH has had me on such a schedule of title defenses. Already in two months, PCO I’ve defended against, Mark Haskins I’ve defended against. Flip Gordon I’ve defended against. We’ve had the Defy or Deny event in Portland that I was able to win.
It seems like every time I go out there I have to bring my A-game, because ROH is putting me against such unbelievable opponents. At the same time, this is what I’ve been waiting for. This is what I’ve been looking to prove to people, that I am the best in Ring of Honor, and Best In The World is going to be no different.
Jeff Cobb is one hell of a competitor. He’s a former Olympian, he’s strong and agile. But Matt Taven has literally sacrificed everything to be in this position, and Jeff Cobb is not going to take that away from me.
Jeff Cobb, your opponent at Best In The World, is another guy who has the company on his shoulders at the moment. What are your thoughts on working with him as competitor?
I’ve never actually stepped foot in the ring with Jeff Cobb. This will be the first time we ever square off, which is kind of different for a pay-per-view match. But it shows you the type of fresh matches you can have in Ring of Honor right now.
You can’t take anything away from him. He’s a former Olympian, a legit amateur, a guy who has freakish strength. But at the same time, out of nowhere, he can bust out a standing shooting star press or moonsault. He’s agile and can move. It’s going to be a tough task, but as great as Jeff Cobb is, there’s a reason why Matt Taven is world champion, and I’m just going to show that much greater than Jeff Cobb come Best In The World.
Hands down, the greatest wrestling story I was ever told was by you and Vinny Marseglia and T.K. O’Ryan, the other members of The Kingdom. It was about getting T.K. home after breaking his leg in Las Vegas. That odyssey will live in infamy. Is there any sort of story that can come even remotely close to that?
There’s never really a dull moment when it comes to traveling with the three of us especially, and our van at Ring of Honor, going from show to show, is always full of surprises.
We get a lot of great gifts from fans. Art and different things like that. One guy in particular came up to Vinny and gave him this really, really large hunting knife. It was like a Bowie knife that came in a beautiful case, and it had this great handle. Vinny was enamored with it as soon as he opened it. He was like, “Oh, this is really cool!”
I was like, “Well, you know you’re not going to be able to get that home. So we’ve either got to check it or mail it and ship it back to New England.”
The weekend goes on, and as you try to remember your head for the most part, something might slip your mind. Now, with Vinny, you don’t realize, being around him so much, what Vinny might look like to a person who doesn’t know him and how intimidating you might be.
So we roll up, and there’s me half asleep and Vinny with his dreadlocks and T.K. with his long hair. We don’t look like the most normal people, and we get pulled aside because of the six-man tag title belts that are in [our bags]. Then, all of the sudden, a supervisor gets called over, and I’m like, “Huh, I wonder what’s going on here.”
All of the sudden, out of Vinny’s bag comes this giant hunting knife. And they just look at him, and they look at this knife, and they’re like, “Uh, uh, sir, uh, you can’t have that.” And he’s like, “Oh, I forgot all about it. You can just get rid of it or whatever.”
But this poor lady, of course, she happens to be a smaller woman, who pulls out this giant knife while Vinny is in front of her and staring at her. She was not too excited or too happy to have to be the one to break the news to Vinny, who looks like a psychopath at six o’clock in the morning, that his giant knife isn’t going to make it through security.
Those are little things we don’t realize being around each other so much, that we must look like this real ragtag group of guys going through the airport to outside people.
Listen to the Take A Bump podcast for great guests and stories from the Ring of Honor world.
Ring of Honor Best In The World
Friday, June 28, 2019
Baltimore, MD – UMBC Event Center
Main Card: 9:00PM
ROH World Championship Match
Matt Taven (c) vs. Jeff Cobb
ROH World Television Championship
Shane Taylor (c) vs. Bandido
ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Championship
Villain Enterprises (Marty Scurll, Brody King, and PCO) (c) vs. Mark Haskins, PJ Black, and “Hot Sauce” Tracy Williams
Pure Rules Match
Jonathan Gresham vs. Silas Young
Nick Aldis and TBA vs. The Briscoes
Dalton Castle vs. Dragon Lee
Flip Gordon vs. Rush
Mandy Leon and Angelina Love vs. Kelly Klein and Jenny Rose
Chuck Carroll is former pro wrestling announcer and referee turned sports media personality. He once appeared on Monday Night RAW when he presented Robert Griffin III with a WWE title belt in the Redskins locker room.
Follow him on Twitter @ChuckCarrollWLC.