It was sometime in the spring of 2004, a few months removed from the night that we started the stolen belt storyline.  I came to Zandig with the idea that the thief should ultimately be M-Dogg 20.  For all the personal feelings that Zandig had for Matt and the entire situation of him leaving, Zandig knew a good idea when he heard one.  He was always about the fans and knew that Matt would be perfect for the story.  It all made sense and I didn’t even need to pull out the heavy guns for my sell job to Zandig.  I simply laid it out to him and he said OK.  Well, I don’t remember what he exactly said, but knowing Zandig and his personality, “OK” would probably be the response he gave.  He was always a man of few words…well, not all the time.  So, now the wheels were in motion.  Next, I’d have to pitch the whole thing to Matt.  I always felt that that would be easy, as I didn’t have any doubt that he would say no.  I shot him a quick email, detailing the idea and his required participation.  He happily agreed and things were set.

2003 was an amazing year for me.  Things just seemed to be happening nonstop professionally and by years end, I was under contract to a major pro wrestling company, TNA.  Barely being 21, this was quite a life change for me.  I was juggling being a full-time pro wrestler and full-time college student.  Thankfully, at the time, TNA didn’t have the busiest schedule, but working anywhere from 3-4 times every weekend on the independent scene, I was swamped.  But, I never saw it as a negative.  Matter of fact, I loved every second of it.  As 2004 slowly crept up, things were still going great and I could see an end to my college career, as I was set to graduate.  That would mean, I could truly focus all my time and efforts on my career as a pro wrestler.  So, as school ended and I was officially a college educated man, wrestling took front and center in my life.  TNA was even getting bigger, as we signed a contract with FOX Sports Net for a weekly TV show.  Now, the independents were busy and TNA had added another two days to my weekly grind as we now had to tape weekly episodes for FOX.

After winning Best of the Best 4.

 

THIEF!!

During this time period, CZW held their fourth annual Best of the Best tournament.  This was a very prestigious tournament at the time that featured some of the countries best junior heavyweights.  It was a one night tournament that I had lost in the finals of in 2003.  Fast forward a year, July 10 2004, and Zandig saw it best fit for me, his Jr. Heavyweight champion to win the whole shebang.  At the end of the night, I had won three grueling matches and had my victory speech cut short by a surprise guest.  M-Dogg 20.  The decision was made to bring Matt in through the front door with the Jr. belt in hand, revealing himself as the thief, and attack me following my win in the finals against Roderick Strong.  It was a shocking turn of events and the seed that we planted in January of a supposed thief, had blossomed into a punk rock kid from Cleveland named M-Dogg 20.  The fans reacted just as we thought, shocked.  Hell, so did some of the wrestlers, as Matt was hidden the entire night in his hotel room.  When the time was right, he was brought to the arena to do his part and he quickly escaped again.  That afternoon, Zandig and I went and picked up Matt in Zandig’s monster truck.  It was a bit awkward as Zandig and Matt met for the first time in two plus years.  But, we all knew that we could do some great business with this story and Matt would be the ultimate enemy, finally crossing into CZW turf.  You see, the CZW crowd was unendingly loyal to their beloved CZW.  They genuinely loved the wrestlers and connected with not only the individuals, but the group as a whole.  These fans saw us every month doing insane stunts and putting on classic wrestling matches and they felt every bit a part of the show as we were.  It was that specialness that added to the emotion of Matt and I’s Cage of Death match that I’ll get into later.  But, I think it’s important to tell that small side of the fans story, so that you can really connect and understand the emotion and drama that our match provided.  With that being said, if you did the CZW fans wrong, you were an enemy till death do us part.  Matt was just that enemy.  The fans didn’t care about his side of the story when he left.  They just knew that he abandoned them and left for what he saw as greener pastures.  Now that he was back, they’d want his head on a platter and they’d want me to serve it to them.

Ummmm….Matt’s alter ego.

 

Fans could quickly see where this feud was going.  It was obviously going to culminate at Cage of Death.  Every storyline culminated on that one night in December every year.  COD was CZW’s biggest event of the year.  It was the culmination for everything that built for the prior eleven months.  We were one of those main stories and we did a great job of building up the interest on our monthly shows in South Philly.  Matt and I never had any singles matches prior and only fought each other in tag matches, and even then, we barely got our hands on each other.  We really wanted to build up the first time we got to lock horns one and one and I think it really did work.  Matt would wrestle every month at CZW building up to COD.  He claimed to be the real Jr. Heavyweight champion and even mockingly defended “his” belt.  But, as much as we did to build interest and drama to our match at COD, the fans and the Internet did way more.

CZW had announced that this match would be a falls count anywhere, loser leaves CZW match.  The stakes were high.  We had some interesting stipulations and of course, if I won, I would finally get my Jr. Heavyweight belt back.  The seeds were all flourishing quite nicely.  As I noted earlier, TNA was on a huge upswing and really growing as a company.  There were many exciting things going on, such as the new TV show on FOX Sports, and monthly PPVs, among other things.  Every thing fell into play for a rumor that said that TNA was issuing a new policy.  This policy would not allow it’s contracted talent to appear on independent shows.  This rumor was started by CZW fans and apparently taken as truth.  As we grew closer to COD, this rumor that really started from nothing had blossomed into fact amongst the die hard CZW fans.  It all developed a life of it’s own, but we weren’t complaining, because interest had really grown to see Sonjay’s “last match in CZW”.  The truth is, there was no truth to this rumor that I was leaving CZW or that TNA had instituted a new policy banning it’s contracted talents from appearing on independent shows.  The truth is, from day one, the idea was that I would finally get my belt back from Matt and that was to be his last match in CZW.  Of course, we had thrown out ideas for his return sometime down the line as well.

 

Matt and Josh, just playing with, errr, I mean, AS themselves on Backyard Wrestling, the video game.

The day of the event, we got there early and started to throw out some ideas for our match.  We knew we had no confines to what we could do.  The stipulations were set, the feud was there, the story told it’s self and the fans believed this was my last night in the company.  We took all that into account when laying out ideas for the match.  I recall sitting down with Eric Garguilio, our play-by-play commentator to discuss things.  Eric had worked in ECW for many years and really had a brain for the wrestling business.  He gave me the idea that it would possibly work if we layered the match with some run-ins ala the Raven versus Tommy Dreamer matches from ECW.  I loved the idea and that’s all I needed to get the wheels in motion in my little brain.  From some reason, Ref Hanson (ref for rival promotion ROH) was at the show.  He may have just been visiting some friends, but once I saw him, I thought of the perfect idea to get him involved into the match as well.  The pieces were falling right into place.  From there, it was just easy.  I sat with Matt and we both were on the same page.   I know we both had the concern that this could either work or fall flat.  Once we saw close to 1200 fans pack the Arena, we thought to ourselves, this is our moment, what we do with it, is up to us.

Here, let Matt tell you his perspective of that night:

Sometimes things just come together, the right time, and the right place. December 14th, 2004 was just such a night. As touched on in part one, I’m asked almost weekly what my favorite match is, and though I hesitate to pick just one (there are so many, for so many different reasons), the one that always jumps out to me is my match against Sonjay Dutt at CZW’s Cage of Death 6.

It was CZW’s biggest show of the year and well over a thousand people had rushed into the historic former ECW arena to catch the action. From what I remember there were many marquee match-ups and a ton of hype had gone into the show. For the first time in CZW history, two side by side rings had been crammed in the arena opening up a whole new avenue for our creative freedom. The pressure was on and I simply hoped to do my best amongst so many other matches. As Sonjay alluded to, I was in ‘enemy territory’ so to speak, and felt like I needed to be on my toes. As I stood behind the curtain waiting to make my entrance, there’s no way I could have foreseen what was about to happen.

As I made my way to the ring, and then watched as Sonjay followed soon after, there was a certain intangible, undeniable, vibe in the building. An energy, an anticipation, a feeling that permeated the room. Sonjay had recently signed with TNA Wrestling and with the advent of the internet, the diehard fans weren’t sure what this meant for his future in CZW. When our match was announced as a ‘loser leaves’ the month prior, everyone was certain they were now witnessing Sonjay’s curtain call with the company.

It was around this small fact we were able to paint our picture. A picture that now, 8 years removed, with only a slight sense of hyperbole, feels like a masterpiece. Sonjay and I really gave it our all that night. I powerbombed him through 2 chairs out on the cement floor that to this day makes me cringe. On the flipside, I was on the unfortunate receiving end of a moonsault doublestomp that landed squarely on my neck and may have been not only one of the most painful moment’s in the career, but the scariest.

We put it all on the line that evening but without question couldn’t, and didn’t, do it by ourselves. It was the people that crammed into an old (albeit historic) bingo hall on a cold December night that made that moment. Over a thousand strong, rallied together, lost themselves in the moment, and at the risk of sounding corny, truly made magic. It is these rare moments that the medium of professional wrestling shows its true power and purpose. The rabid fans didn’t react like the typical, classically conditioned crowd, these were genuine feelings expressed without fear, shame, or thought……pure emotion. What Sonjay and I gave in the ring, we were given back in spades. It was one of the few times I’ve felt a crowd truly understood, and wholly appreciated, the genuine pain of our struggle….of our craft. If there’s anything to take away from this experience, it’s don’t be afraid to lose yourself in a moment, to appreciate something for what it is. Don’t lose sight of that childlike wonder, that awe that inspires us, the magic that drew us all to professional wrestling in the first place.

Writing about the moment, a moment I’ll never forget, and a moment that sticks out so clearly amongst an 11 year career that has spanned 17 different countries on 6 different continents, I want to thank each and every person who helped create that environment some 8 years ago in South Philly. As the mastermind behind it, the one who put himself out there to make it happen, and the man I starred down in a highly emotional, memorable contest, I want to thank Sonjay as well…….though my neck is telling me not to :)

I’d be here all day if I were to describe all the crazy stuff we did in the match (this was the night I debuted the moonsault footstomp).  But, the emotion in that building was electric.  From the moment I stepped out, to hugging some of the die hard regulars in the front row, signifying that this might be the last time I would see these people, to announcer Dennis Shock somberly announcing that M-Dogg had “won” the match to finally giving our boss Zandig a hug in the middle of the ring, I probably had goosebumps that entire night.  But it was truly the fans that made that night and those moments some of the most special, long last memories I’ll ever have in pro wrestling.  And the fact that I got to spend it with one of my best friends in Matt, made it all the more special.

Face to face at Cage of Death 6.

 

Finally got my belt back!

So, after all these years, I want to say thank you to Zandig for believing in my idea.  I want to thank the fans that night.  And of course, I want to thank Matt for believing in this idea from the day I presented it to him, and for giving it his all when we stepped into the ring that cold day in December.

All of our cast of characters are still in wrestling.  Josh Prohibition took some time off from wrestling, but recently returned.  You can still catch him on the Cleveland independent scene.  He has a new addition to his beautiful family, that in the form of a gorgeous daughter named Sophia.  Matt is still a star on the independent scene and recently appeared on WWE’s Tough Enough reality show on the USA network.   Oh, and maybe the first time in wrestling that a stipulation has been adhered to, as Matt never returned to CZW.  How about that!?  Matt’s desire and work ethic is at an all time high in trying to obtain a full-time contract in pro wrestling.  He continues to be quite the world traveler, as he just competed in Russia.  I’ve believed in Matt since before I ever met him and there are very few people in wrestling as deserving as he is to finally get that elusive contract.

I really, really enjoyed writing this piece and well, after all these years, maybe I finally do have a definitive answer to, “what was your favorite match that you’ve been involved in?”

For more on Matt Cross aka M-Dogg 20, please check out:

www.twitter.com/mdoggmattcross
www.mdoggmattcross.com

And if you would like to watch our match from Cage of Death 6, please check out:

www.smartmarkvideo.com