My Journey To The Top Of The Ladder

Word of Honor is an occasional series of first-person feature articles written by ROH talent

By Matt Taven

When I think back to April 6, 2019, I remember the day in sections, like looking at a photo album instead of watching a video.

The first big moment I recall happened after we finally got through security entering the building and I saw the ceiling. There was the famous Madison Square Garden roof, and underneath it on the wraparound screen was the Ring of Honor logo. With a smile on my face, my eyes started welling up. This wasn’t just my dream. It was all of ours, and I was so proud to be a part of it.

When I get asked about G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden, my mind instantly goes to Las Vegas, as weird as that sounds. While making the cross country flight to Vegas three weeks before G1 Supercard, I thought of all the possibilities, all the different ideas that had been floating around about the historic show at MSG.

By that time, the event had sold out and we all had our sights set on being in a marquee match, but I had my mind fixated on one thing, the only thing I had thought about since returning to Ring of Honor from CMLL in Mexico six months earlier: I need to be in the ROH World Title match, either as the champion or the challenger, to justify calling myself The Real World Champion for half a year. I kept picturing Bobby Cruise making the in-ring introductions as I looked around at a sold-out MSG in the heart of New York City, and it became my obsession.

On the day of my 60-minute draw with then-ROH World Champion Jay Lethal at the 17th Anniversary Show in Vegas, I found out that I would be in the ROH World Title Match at G1 Supercard, turning what was already a pressure-filled show into what may be the most stressful day of my entire life. I had been training intensely for months leading up to the title match with Lethal, but wrestling for an hour on pay-per-view with one of the greatest performers of our generation is a daunting task. 

Even though there would be two more events before Madison Square Garden, I knew this match with Lethal would be my chance to prove that I belonged in the World Title Match at G1 Supercard. I had made some drastic changes since my return to ROH that previous fall, from my hair, to my ring attire, but the biggest change was my overall attitude. I now truly believed that I deserved to be the Ring of Honor World Champion and said so to anyone who would listen. If I didn't deliver that night in Vegas, my chances of winning in MSG were out the window, and all the work, risk, and preparation was for nothing.

That night, magic happened. In what is undoubtedly my favorite match of my career, I felt like I proved to any naysayers that Matt Taven is a World Champion, and if they still didn't believe, well screw them, I proved it to myself. Watching it back, I’m still not happy with the promo I cut before the match. I can tell my mind is racing and I’m anxious, but as far as the match itself, I wouldn’t change a thing. Going into that night feeling the weight on the world on my shoulders and coming out the other end feeling like I had accomplished something special gave me more confidence than I have ever had in my career. MSG couldn’t come soon enough.

The next three weeks are a blur. It started at the television tapings the next night in Vegas with the official in-ring promo announcing that the World Title Match at Madison Square Garden would be a Triple Threat Ladder Match between me, Lethal and Marty Scurll. I was on cloud nine that day and wore an all white outfit to the ring. To me, it had the subliminal meaning that I was now a made man. I felt like I could walk on water and it was my championship to lose.

I had flown out to Vegas thinking that after the television tapings we would be heading home and then filming the promotional material leading up to G1 Supercard at the following event in Baltimore. I was wrong. As I was walking around the venue before the tapings, I noticed a light and camera crew setting up in the empty seats in the arena. I asked a member of the production staff what they were filming. To my surprise, he informed me it was for me and we would be shooting interviews for G1 Supercard today.

Not being as prepared as I normally like to be, I started spouting out things that I had been brainstorming for months, calling the historic building names like Melvin Square Garden, but the one that stuck with fans was MADISON SQUARE TAVEN. Before I knew it, fans were making signs and shirt designs. When I walked to the ring that night in the Garden, I looked up to see a huge Madison Square Taven banner in the balcony. It’s hard to put into words what that meant to me. 

***

I had no idea what was going to happen at G1 Supercard, but I knew that win, lose or draw, I was going to make people remember Matt Taven. The first thing that I thought about was how I wanted to enter MSG. I had already ordered new ring and entrance gear like every wrestler does for a big show, and then I started picturing my entrance. I had declared myself The King of Ring of Honor for months, and in my eyes this truly was going to be my crowning moment. I wanted the fans to feel that from the moment I came through the curtain. 

I pictured my theme music being played live on a grand piano, and then walking out and having the camera operator get a full 360 view of me placing the crown upon my head. Finding a pianist was a much harder task than I expected. A week before the show, Andy “The Butcher” from the band Every Time I Die came through big time and hooked me up with the musician who would end up performing my theme at MSG. 

Another idea I had was to have a different ladder than everyone else in the match, something that when people saw it they would know it was custom-made for me. I pictured myself standing on top of a purple ladder in the middle of Madison Square Garden, and I had to make it happen. Thankfully, the ROH crew made all these ideas of mine come to fruition. A special thanks to Bird and Chrissy (miss you), who made sure that purple ladder made it to NYC. 

The days leading up to the Garden were so jam-packed with stuff that I never really had the chance to overthink things or get nervous. From podcasts, to interviews, to radio spots, to the Festival of Honor, it seemed like every time I was asked about the upcoming ladder match all I could think about was how my vision, my goal, my dream could become a reality. I felt focused and prepared. I had been watching all the legendary ladder matches of the past and thought about every possible scenario. 

The night before the show, I couldn’t sleep, not because of nerves but because of the anticipation. Like a kid on Christmas Eve, I just wanted it to happen already. I brought my tablet to the hotel gym and tried to work out while watching ladder matches to occupy my restless mind. PJ Black walked by the gym on two separate occasions, seeing me in there both times. He eventually poked his head in and told me that I should try to get some sleep because I had a big day tomorrow.

***

Finally, the day had arrived. I made sure that my purple ladder was under the ring and in a position of easy accessibility. Then I found the piano for my entrance, which had just been delivered to the Garden that day. My pianist arrived and we waited for our time to walk through my entrance, but it never came. The day was extremely chaotic for the crew and we simply ran out of time. When I came out for the match, all these moving pieces came together for the first time exactly how I pictured it. Legend has it the piano was plugged in only moments before the entrance. 

Another moment that happened before the match that is burned into my memory was a simple smile from Jay Lethal. People don’t believe me when I tell them, but we didn’t know the plans for the match until a couple of hours beforehand. Marty, Jay and I were brought into a small room with the three Ring of Honor officials and given the news.

In that moment, Jay looked at me and smiled. He stuck his hand out for a handshake and said, “Congratulations.” I could tell by his smile that he was happy for me, but more importantly I could tell he was proud of me and felt that I deserved it. I have made my share of mistakes in my life and have had more setbacks than I can count, but earning the respect of a person like Jay Lethal made me feel like I had made it more than any previous accomplishment. 

When I walked through the curtain, you could feel the energy from the sold-out crowd, but even now when I watch it back it feels like a movie, like it was all an out-of-body experience. The moments that I remember clearly in my head all happened early in the match. Bobby Cruise’s in-ring introduction was even better than I had imagined, as New York City booed me relentlessly after Bobby announced me from Boston, Massachusetts. I knew from that reaction that this was going to be a fun night. 

Within the first couple minutes of the match, I went for the Flight of the Conqueror, diving onto a ladder that was being held by Jay and Marty. My forearm hit flush with the metal leg of the ladder, and for a moment I thought I had broken my arm. Fearing that moments into the biggest match of my career I was seriously injured, I reached over to feel a huge bump already forming. I realized it wasn’t broken, and even if it was I don't think anything could have stopped me from having my moment.

It’s still strange explaining to people how a sold-out Madison Square Garden chanting “F-U Taven!” is one of the best memories I have of the day, but it is. The smile on my face as the crowd was telling me off is only topped by the Cheshire grin I have after I finally pulled down the Ring of Honor World Championship belt.

A huge sense of accomplishment washed over me. After all the sacrifices, heartbreaks, and struggles of the past 11 years, there I was, literally on top of the world. I looked up to the Jumbotron, which had a Madison Square Garden banner hanging from it, and saw myself holding the World Title. The most genuine smile came across my face, and looking back at that picture now, I can say without a doubt it’s the greatest moment of my life.

***

After the match was a whirlwind, but certain moments have stayed with me to this day. Jonathan Gresham, who’s a man of few words, came up to me and told me how happy he was that someone who worked so hard was given that moment.

All day, Dalton Castle and I had been looking for the iconic Madison Square Garden sign that everyone takes a picture in front of, but with no success. Shortly after the match, the general manager of the Garden came up to me asking if they could take a photo of me in front of the sign. I jumped up, screaming over to Dalton, TK O’Ryan and Vinny Marseglia, “They are going to show us where the sign is!” The GM looked at me surprised by my excitement.

He obviously didn’t realize that for a lifelong wrestling fan, there was no greater honor.

Watch G1 Supercard in its entirety on ROH’s YouTube channel.

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