Matt Riddle cautions Colby Covington, UFC stars considering transition to WWE: Wrestling is not easy
Riddle says loving wrestling is more important than anything in making a transition from MMA
It has become trendy in recent years for UFC stars to push the idea of moving to WWE after their mixed martial arts careers wind down. That has become increasingly true after the success of Ronda Rousey, Shayna Baszler and Matt Riddle within the squared circle. Most recently, former interim welterweight champion Colby Covington, newly-retired flyweight and bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo, two-division champion Amanda Nunes and Paige VanZant have floated the idea of a future WWE run.
While both of the aforementioned men are known for their ability to trash talk opponents to build a fight, Riddle -- who fought professionally from 2008-14 and ended his UFC career on a five-fight winning streak -- told CBS Sports that anyone trying to make the jump from the Octagon to the squared circle needs to be ready for a difficult transition.
"I think, if you're a talented athlete and have charisma, you can totally make the jump to pro wrestling," Riddle said. "At the same time, wrestling is one of those things that does not come easy. The fans, just like MMA fans, they can be brutal at times. If you don't bring it or you mess up or you're not doing things right, they're going to be cold. Those guys all have a good amount of charisma, they have a good amount of star power, they're amazing athletes and fighters. But it's a process. When I started wrestling, I could do all the moves and was like, 'This is going to be easy. I'm super athletic and I feel like I can talk.' But when you're out there wrestling, it's a completely different animal. It's hard.
"I wish I could say, 'Yeah, if you're an MMA fighter, hop in.' But to be a good pro wrestler, you have to love pro wrestling. I've loved pro wrestling longer than I've loved mixed martial arts. It's just that I wrestled in high school and I just went on that path before I got into pro wrestling. Tom Lawler is the same way. He's a great example of a mixed martial artist who loved pro wrestling before he started wrestling and he's had pretty good success, I think."
When it comes to Cejudo and Covington, specifically, Riddle says there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration, including size. Covington fights in the welterweight division where Riddle spent his entire career with UFC before one final regional fight at welterweight, but Riddle is three inches taller than Covington and may have had a better frame to bulk up for the wrestling world. At 5-foot-4 and fighting at 135 pounds, Cejudo is smaller than Rey Mysterio.
Also, Riddle said, the world of WWE has more limitations on the lengths to which a fighter can take their trash talk, something he knows plenty about after reportedly generating heat backstage for his attitude toward some of WWE's top drawing stars like Goldberg and Brock Lesnar.
"Maybe their size might be an issue at first, especially Henry because he's 135 pounds. Granted, the guy is a savage and knocks people out and is an amazing athlete. He's charismatic, though, and maybe you put him in the ring with Big Show like Floyd Mayweather and, oh my goodness, you know? Time will tell. We'll see how they go.
"But you also have to realize wrestling is a PG kind of show. A lot of these MMA fighters bring a lot of heat, but they're not going to be able to bring that same heat in pro wrestling. You'd be crossing a line that you shouldn't cross. Because there's lines. Lines that you shouldn't cross. I mean, you're talking to me, I cross lines all the time, you know? But you shouldn't cross [them]."
But MMA is now in Riddles's past. His present is currently focused on being one half of the NXT tag team champions, having won the titles with Pete Dunne earlier this year. Dunne, who hails from England, has been unable to travel to the United States due to travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic.
Dunne's situation led to Riddle choosing Timothy Thatcher as his temporary tag team partner. Thatcher and Riddle were longtime rivals on the independent scene, but that history has only served to make them a better unit in the ring, Riddle said.
"You know, I think we've been rivals for so many years, we've worked so many matches with EVOLVE and over in Germany and the UK, we've had a lot of history but have never teamed before," Riddle said about the partnership. "We've always had a pretty good mutual respect for one another, and we've always been friendly. I think us teaming brings that to light even more. A lot of times, people think teams are randomly put together like we're just doing this last minute, but me and Tim have a history. Putting us together isn't anything too crazy for us because we know each other quite well.
"Same thing with me and Pete. Even though we'd never tagged before, we had wrestled before, so when tag together, we work very well together. I think with Stallion Tim, it's just like Stallion Pete. Different colored eyes, though; he has brown eyes, Tim has blue eyes. But, you know, working with Tim is great."
Prior to his partnership with Dunne and the creation of the Broserweights, Riddle had been a singles competitor. Turning to tag competition has worked out well so far with Riddle and Dunne winning the 2020 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic before challenging Undisputed Era for the titles to become the champions in February.
"Being in a team has some pros and cons," Riddle said. "I like to be the center of attention; when you're a team, you can't be, though, and you have to rely on other people. I like it, though. When you're working four days a week, it's a lot easier tagging than it is wrestling 20 minute matches by yourself. So, teaming, it's a little easier on the body. And having the dynamic with another person, it's not so serious because usually when you're a singles wrestler and it's one-on-one, it's a little more intense. When you're in a tag, there's a lot more dynamics you can play off of."
The grind of the road has not been a concern in recent months, however, with the coronavirus pandemic limiting WWE shows -- including NXT -- to the Performance Center in Orlando without fans in attendance and without the normal touring schedule expected of the wrestlers.
Time at home, Riddle said, has been one of the more welcome aspects of the current situation, allowing for extra time with his family while attempting to keep everyone safe.
"Honestly, I know it's a pandemic, but things are pretty sweet in the Riddle household," Riddle said. "I relax, I go skateboarding, I do schoolwork with the kids and we watch movies. I made a slip and slide out of my wrestling mats yesterday.
"I wrestle only every couple weeks, but we're very safe. They test us before we go in. We wear masks. We do the tapings in blocks so not everyone is there at one time. There's barely anybody there, so we can stay as safe as possible. Honestly, I'm not that busy, but I'm having a lot of fun and just trying to stay safe."
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