On March 15, Matt Taven was gearing up to challenge Jay Lethal for the Ring of Honor world title in Las Vegas. He knew Ring of Honor's huge show at Madison Square Garden was on the horizon, and he just had to get through one more big match. However, this was no ordinary match. He and Lethal were about to engage in a match that would end up in a 60-minute draw.
“This is what you were built for. This is what you wanted,” Taven recalled thinking before the match while being interviewed on the Jobbing Out podcast. “This is what you've been working toward. Now it's time to go out there and get it.”
The match was a wild one that had been building for the better part of six months, ever since Taven proclaimed himself the “real” Ring of Honor world champion. Some fans were skeptical about the match, as it would be Taven's most high-profile with the company. If Taven had even slight doubts about going 60 minutes, they were quickly erased during the match.
“I was so full of adrenaline that I could have gone another half-hour it felt like. That crowd was amazing,” Taven said. “Jay Lethal is an unbelievable competitor. I know what it means for me personally. There are a lot of melvins out there that don't believe in me. I couldn't love that fact any more because then I get a chance to go out there and go 60 minutes with another one of the best wrestlers in the world and show them how stupid they sound.”
Taven recalled being backstage for the last time Ring of Honor had booked a title match that went to a 60-minute draw. That match took place in Baltimore at Death Before Dishonor in 2015, between Lethal and Roderick Strong.
“You always wonder, 'Could I do that in that spot?’ ” Taven said. “I've always known the answer is yes, and I've just been waiting for the opportunity to show people that I could do something like that.”
While simply putting on that match, which put him in a small fraternity of current wrestlers who have wrestled an hour-long match, was a huge moment for Taven, what came the next day was arguably even bigger.
At the TV tapings in Las Vegas, the title match for the G1 Supercard at New York’s Madison Square Garden was announced. Lethal would be defending the ROH title in a triple-threat ladder match against Marty Scurll and Taven. Taven, of course, knew that announcement would be coming, and while he certainly didn't need the motivation, it added something to that title match in Vegas.
“I've been a wrestling fan since I was 6 years old,” Taven said. “I've dreamed about headlining The Garden. Here it is, this is the home stretch. You're inches away from it happening. All you have to do is go out there and show people why you should be in that spot. It motivated me in ways where I haven't had that sort of fire in a long time.”
This is the first time any wrestling company besides WWE has put on a show at Madison Square Garden in nearly 60 years. Taven has spent his entire career building to this moment. He recalled watching some of the great moments in wrestling history there, from Bret winning the world title to Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon competing in a ladder match. Just walking by the building on the way to the Hammerstein Ballroom to do shows has made him pause, and now that moment is here for him.
“You have the most prestigious title in the world hanging from the ceiling of Madison Square Garden,” he said. “If you need any more motivation than that, you probably shouldn't be in the business.”
Even though Taven has Madison Square Garden on the horizon, he's not overlooking Ring of Honor's stop in Baltimore on Sunday. Taven started working for Ring of Honor when they were doing most of their TV tapings at Du Burns Arena, and he credits one match in particular for really giving him a boost in his career.
“For me personally, I kind of got my job because of the crowd in Baltimore. There was a match between me and Mike Mondo in 2012 that was one of my first matches in Ring of Honor,” Taven said. “For me, I was just a guy happy to be there, and then all of a sudden the crowd's chanting your name. They're going crazy and that sort of momentum launched me to get a full-time spot in Ring of Honor. I'm forever grateful and have a soft spot in my heart for Baltimore. I always look forward to going back.”
From just being happy to be on the card to gearing up for one of the biggest matches in the history of Ring of Honor, Matt Taven has climbed all the way up the ladder at Ring of Honor. So it's only fitting to see if he can literally climb that final rung at Madison Square Garden on April 6.