BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Professional wrestler Matt Cardona, who rose to fame during his 15 years with the WWE under the ring name Zack Ryder, competed for the Empire State Wrestling Heavyweight Championship at Buffalo RiverWorks on Saturday at ESW Brawlfest, taking on defending champ Kevin Bennett.

Cardona won the championship, giving him eight in total, but ultimately lost it back just minutes later, as Bennett cashed in his Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Cup for a rematch.

The competitors spoke to News 4’s Adam Duke prior to their match.

“I will say, I am impressed,” Cardona said early in the evening. “The setup is amazing, the fans are loud, they’re rowdy.”

Cardona, known as the “Indy God” for his success competing at independent promotions across the country, discussed what adding the ESW Heavyweight title to his collection would mean to him.

“My bag probably wouldn’t like it, it’s already ripping because it’s so heavy,” he said. “But that’s what I’m doing. I’m the Indy God, I’m winning title after title after title. So it would be nice to win tonight, the day before my birthday.”

Born on Long Island, Cardona also spoke about how a title with “Empire State” in the name raises the stakes for him.

“I think I’m the perfect representation for Empire State Wrestling,” he said. “Everybody knows me, Long Island Boy. I moved to Orlando, moved to Florida, but my heart and soul is in New York, so if I win the title, I’ll carry it proudly.”

Cardona said he’s not competing across the independent circuit to pass the torch — he’s doing it to light a new torch for himself.

“I’m not an old dog, I’m in my prime, maybe haven’t even gotten there yet. So I’m coming maybe to your town next,” he proclaimed. “And I’m going to win all your belts.”

Bennett said the match was a great opportunity for him, given Cardona’s status, but said he was more excited than nervous.

According to ESW Bennett’s win tied him with two other wrestlers for most ESW Heavyweight title reigns, with three apiece.

“I’ve been wrestling for about 13 years now, so it’s been a while. I have quite the amount of accomplishments myself,” he said. “I know we’re going to have a really good match.”

Bennett said Buffalo RiverWorks is a great venue for wrestling and called it “one of the coolest places to be in Buffalo,” citing concerts, wrestling shows, weddings, and hockey as some of the events that take place at the location.

Adam Duke is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2021. See more of his work here.