There’s a few questions that every wrestler, including myself, gets asked in every interview and by every fan that we encounter. One of those is, “what is your favorite match that you have been involved in?”
For me, that’s kinda easy, but kinda hard to answer. I don’t have a favorite match, let alone favorite anything. I like what I like and know why I like what I like. I may have favorites, plural, but I can’t really say that one is the best or better than the rest. So, when it comes to my favorite match that I’ve been involved in, one match ranks very high on that list and it always comes to mind. Sonjay Dutt v M-Dogg 20 from Cage of Death 6 for a promotion called CZW. This was a very special match with a strong build up and story that went on for almost a year, culminating on December 14th 2004 in South Philadelphia.
There’s quite a story behind this match and feud, not just storyline wise, but behind the scenes. M-Dogg 20, or Matt Cross as he is also known, was one of the hottest independent wrestlers during the early 2000s and carved quite a niche for himself as the years went by. Without any TV time or major promotion backing him, he is still one of the top independent wrestlers. Some say he is the most well traveled independent wrestler ever. So it’s not far off to say that he has done and been to places many top contracted wrestlers could only dream of. How did he accomplish all this? Well, talent first and foremost.
Matt and I are very good friends and I consider him to be one of my closest friends in and outside of wrestling. There was a few year span where we would see each other multiple times a month, every month for various promotions across the US and Canada. Nowadays, we only really get to hang out in places like Egypt, Germany and Russia (true story). Well, our friendship really helped make our year long feud in 2004 special and really aided us in making our match at COD6 something even better than special. So special that fans still talk about it to this day.
I can’t exactly recall the first time I met Matt, but it was sometime in late 2002 when I first joined CZW. Even though this was the first time I had met him, I knew him very well. Matt was a “star” in backyard wrestling, something I was very deep in during my teenage years. Much like many teenagers in the late 90s, I was obsessed with wrestling and obsessed with emulating what I saw on TV with my friends after school. My friends and I had created our own backyard wrestling group and every weekend, we’d all gather together, jump on each other and tape it on our camcorder. To put it simply, it was fun. Looking back at my youth, it was some of the most fun I had. It wasn’t just about play fighting, but it was the camaraderie we all had. It was about the creativity we all expressed and most of all, it was about spending quality time with friends who all shared a common interest. Hell, we had a website and everything. And as I mentioned, many other teenagers around the country were doing the same thing. One of those teenagers was Matt.
He had a very cool group over in Ohio where he grew up. They were called the BWF. They stood out above all the other backyard groups that were out there at the time. A lot of that came from Matt and his crazy, acrobatic, and what sometimes seemed like spontaneous stunts. When it comes to wrestling and even backyard wrestling, let’s not forget, it takes two to tango and his best friend, Josh Prohibition was the perfect base for the high flying Matt. Whenever you saw one, there was the other. These two were doing amazing stuff in their backyard and soon, both were doing it in pro rings all over the world. They were such “stars” in the backyard wrestling world that they were even featured on Oprah Winfrey. At the time, the media was having a field day with backyard wrestling. It seemed every local and national news outlet had a story on how dangerous backyard wrestling was (my friends and I were even featured on local FOX and CBS affiliates). Making it on Oprah wasn’t too shabby for some crazy kids from Cleveland. Oh, did I mention they also had a ring? A real wrestling ring! Yes, these backyard wrestlers had a real ring. Can you imagine how my friends and I felt seeing these kids in Ohio in a real wrestling ring?? That was something we could only dream of. We were very envious of how “big” Matt and Josh had become in the world of backyard wrestling. Wow, how crazy does that sentence read. Well, back to Matt and his crazy stunts. Matt was jumping off roofs of houses, off basketball nets, off ladders, just about anything that was really insanely high. On top of that, he was doing stuff wrestlers on TV just didn’t do. This crazy white boy dressed like an OG was flying around Cleveland, complete with red Adidas track pants, sneakers and a bad-ass bandanna, worn Tupac style. I couldn’t help but chuckle when I learned that Matt loved punk rock music. Well, love may be an understatement. The complete opposite of the image his character was portraying. His athleticism as a teenager was leaps and bounds above what all the other backyard wrestlers were doing and it all made sense when I learned that Matt was a gymnast and even competed in the Jr Olympics at a young age. He was an athlete right out of the womb and years later, it was obvious, he was made to be a pro wrestler.
Well, it didn’t end there for my connection to Matt before we were to ever meet in person. In 1999, the Best of Backyard Wrestling vol. 1 and 2 were released in major retail stores and over their 900 line/Internet. This VHS went on to sell, literally, millions. I’m not joking. For weeks and weeks, it was listed #1 under the top sales for the Sports and Recreation genre. And who were the stars of these two VHS tapes? Yours truly, Sonjay Dutt, Matt M-Dogg 20 and Josh. The same company that was behind the “Too Shocking for TV” VHS tapes and DVDs in the late 90s and early 2000s was responsible for the Backyard tapes. Wrestling was at an all time popularity high during this time period. It was the middle of the biggest boom period for pro wrestling. Wrestling was literally everywhere you looked. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie, so, why not collect a bunch of footage of kids doing crazy wrestling matches and stunts in their backyard and sell it to the masses? This simple formula made the company that released the tapes very rich and made Matt, Josh and I, the stars of the tapes, nothing. We were minors and I guess we signed over the rights to them, as I recall getting some paperwork in the mail to sign and send back after they decided that my footage was going to make the cut. The amount of excitement was immeasurable for me at the time. I would have signed anything they asked me to. I WAS GOING TO BE A STAR!!!!!!
I was maybe 17 and excited as all hell that I was going to be a star through backyard wrestling. I guess no one tried to talk sense into me. My fame included being all over the television commercials for the tapes. They aired nonstop on basic cable late-night, and the first time I saw it, I just about hit the roof with excitement. I recall my blank tape wasn’t ready in the VCR, so I had to wait till it aired again for me to record it. A little digging around and I’m sure I can find it, if it isn’t on youtube. HA, wait till the kids at school see this! Matt and I’s “fame” didn’t end just there, as a video game company out of North California named Eidos decided to make a backyard wrestling video game. Not just one, but two. I was a featured character in vol. 2 and Matt appeared in vol. 1. When vol. 2 was released, I was a few years into my pro career and they used my pro name and character as the basis for my video game character, while never mentioning I was a former backyarder. Actually no “backyarders” were featured in the game and the title “Backyard Wrestling” was only linked to the environment of the game. All the matches were in various outdoor locations, some included a real backyard. The company had no pros in vol. 1 and decided to add some pros (and quasi celebrities/rappers/rock-stars) for vol. 2 to increase sales. I was one of a handful of independent wrestlers that were featured in vol. 2. Fulfilling my dream and becoming a pro wrestler was awesome, but being a video game character was icing on the cake. And to think, little did I know at the time that it wasn’t going to be the only video game that I would be featured in.
Matt and I had many parallels. We both loved pro wrestling and were backyard wrestlers. We both went the proper route and got trained. We both are college educated individuals who still choose to chase a dream rather than succumb to the regular grind of life. We both had and still have an immense desire to make it to the top in pro wrestling. On top of that, being so close in age, maybe we were meant to finally cross paths in life. It was inevitable. Eventually we did cross paths and it all led us to our, what some say, epic match at COD6. When I had joined CZW in 2002, Matt had just joined a few months prior. He had already made a name for himself on the independent scene while I was going to use CZW as my catapult to bigger things. Matt (with Josh) left CZW in late 2002 and his departure would take an entire blog to explain, but let’s just say the bridge was burnt. That’s not to say that Matt and Josh were wrong in their actions, it’s just how the Northeast independent scene was at the time. It was a highly competitive and, looking back at it, over-saturated market. Promotions and wrestlers, as the saying goes, had to do what they had to do.
So, as the bridge was burnt, everyone, and I mean everyone had written Matt’s days in CZW off. There was no way, nor any conceivable circumstance that would lead to his return. Well, until July 10th 2004.
As I had climbed the ranks of CZW during Matt’s absence, I had a storyline idea that someone had stolen my CZW Jr. Heavyweight title. And the only reason that I had this idea was that I forgot to bring the physical belt to the January show of that year. This was the first show after I had won the belt and I wasn’t use to remembering to pack a silly belt in my bag on the way to a silly independent wrestling show. The usual was, grab a pair of gear, clean shirt and underwear, boots and hit the road. So, now all of a sudden, I had the responsibility to remember to bring the belt to every show. Of course, I failed at my first chance. Yay for me. So, when I got to the show and realized that I had forgotten it at home, I had to scramble to think of a way out of it. This is after everyone laughed at me or just shook their heads in disgust. Boo for me. Then, all of a sudden, I came up with the easiest plan. What better way to cover up the fact that I had no belt than create a storyline that someone had stolen it. Our boss Zandig went with the idea, even though I had no conclusion to this story in mind. Or in other words, I had no idea on who this mystery thief would end up being. I knew I had at least a month to come up with parts B and C to follow A in this story. And as the months progressed, my mind started to race and then it hit me. Who better to play the role of the thief, than M-Dogg 20. He left CZW on bad terms, no one would guess it to be him. Matt was also a top Jr. Heavyweight that was vying for the title before he left. Of course, in storyline he would do something so dastardly to claim the top prize in a company that he was once a major star in. Now, my only hurdle was to pitch this to Zandig. The boss kiiiiiinda hated Matt for the way he left and when his departure went down in late 2002, he even said that he would never return. Well, as they say in wrestling, never say never.