“The saddest thing in life is wasted talent” -A Bronx’s Tale, 1993
That line became a central theme of Chazz Palminteri’s one-man show that eventually hit the screen a few years after its theatre run as a part of Robert De Niro’s directorial debut. Palminteri’s semi-autobiographical street drama follows a youth during the racial tension of the 1960s. Lorenzo, the boy’s father, brilliantly played by De Niro, oppose Palminteri’s mafia boss character, warns his son throughout the film about the pitfalls of wasted talent.
Sadly, this theme was so identifiable because it played a continuous role in the entertainment field throughout history, specifically the live event business where the performers lead somewhat of a nomadic lifestyle to make each city on their schedule. Everything from professional wrestling to music and film have seen careers cut short when talented performers struggled with substance issues.
That’s why it’s so concerning that there are reports from The Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer that WWE star, Matt Riddle was written off of television on Raw because he was sent to rehab after his second wellness policy violation. This isn’t the first time Riddle made headlines, as he was accused of sexual assault by a female independent wrestler a few years ago, who filed a lawsuit against him and WWE. Riddle claimed that he had an affair with her, but it was consensual. The lawsuit was later dismissed and at least from the WWE side, it appeared that he was cleared of wrongdoing in that situation.
How this stint in rehab reflects upon him might be a different story.
Matt Riddle, who made a name for himself as a competitor in the UFC, was released from his MMA contract in 2013 after multiple failed drug tests for marijuana. While THC is medically and even recreationally legal in some states, fighting under the influence of anything is dangerous for both athletes. This isn’t about pain management or recovery from injuries after a fight, this is as simple as if a fighter is intoxicated when they compete, they might not be as able to protect themselves or follow the referee’s instructions. It’s not a question of ethics, as it’s widely accepted that there are medical benefits to THC, but rather the safety in combat sports.
Regardless of your personal view of THC, it seemed like Riddle would rather smoke marijuana than be a professional fighter because he couldn’t pass the required drug tests.
Originally, when I heard that Riddle was going to make the transition to pro wrestling, I didn’t expect much, not as a knock against him, but rather that it can be a difficult transition to go from a sport where competitors are trained to try to prevent their opponent’s offense to a business where there’s a level of cooperation. That said, he found success rather quickly, taking to the ring rather naturally when he broke into the business in late-2014. Within three and a half years, a portion of that time he spent working for PWG and Evolve, Riddle was offered an NXT contract in 2018. He had a successful tenure on the developmental brand before he landed on the main roster in 2020 and he initially floundered as many former NXT stars did when they moved to either Raw or Smackdown. In many ways, at least early in his main roster run, Matt Riddle was booked to look like a dork. He was cast as a Rob Van Dam 4:20 persona without being nearly as cool as RVD so the result was just scripted attempts at lame comedy. Finally, in mid-2021, he began to work with Randy Orton, and the association with a much bigger star allowed him to turn the corner to get over with the audience.
As we know, Orton has been on the sidelines for several months because of various injuries and there’s no set time table for his return. Still, Riddle took the momentum that he had from the RK-Bro team and used it to become one of the featured stars on Raw.
I have to say, I’m not a fan of the whole “bro” gimmick, maybe it’s because it’s a reminder of all those Vince Russo interviews when he deflects blame for the collapse of WCW, but I find Riddle’s promo delivery cringe worthy, not trendy. He’s fine in the ring, but I wouldn’t necessarily rank him as one of the top performers in the company either. That being said, there’s no doubt that Riddle is over with the WWE audience. It might not be my cup of tea, but the scooter and the “bro” character are popular among the crowd.
That’s why the rumors of drug issues are so disappointing.
Since Riddle’s gimmick is based on the whole 4:20 culture and the fact that he was given the boot from the UFC because he continuously failed drug tests for marijuana, it’s no surprise that he’s a THC user. However, the WWE Wellness policy, specifically since the legalization of THC in many states, no longer tests for marijuana use on the roster. While steroids are possible, the rumors suggest that Riddle failed for hard drugs since he was sent to rehab. For example, if Riddle failed for cocaine, not only his career, but his life would be in danger. His health is obviously more important than a spot on Raw so assuming he actually failed for hard drugs, the WWE made the right decision to send him to rehab.
On a podcast earlier this year, Riddle claimed that his personal life was in “shambles” because of a very difficult divorce that was proceeding while he was getting the best television exposure of his career. It’s possible that Riddle wanted time off to deal with some of his personal problem, of it’s possible that those personal problems are what led to the failed drug tests. Dave Meltzer reported that the most recent failed test was Riddle’s second Wellness Policy failure in the span of just a few months, which was why his match with Seth Rollins was rescheduled for Clash at The Castle.
For Riddle to abruptly be written off of television, I’d guess that there’s credibility to the reports that he was sent to rehab. Hopefully, he gets his problems taken care of and can return to the company in healthy condition. To put it in perspective, Riddle was signed to a WWE deal less than four years after he started training to be a pro wrestler, and in the four years that he’s been under a WWE deal, he has a spot as one of the more popular stars on Raw. Those are opportunities and chances that shouldn’t be squandered. The ability to make good money in the biggest sports entertainment organization in the world after just a few years of experience shouldn’t be taken for granted. Where things get tricky is that we assume that Riddle will be brought back to WWE television after the stint in rehab, but it would be understandable if it would take some time with several clean drug tests before management would continue to invest TV time into his character for the show.
Robert De Niro was right, the saddest thing in life is wasted talent, but hopefully that won’t be the story of Matt Riddle’s career.
What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.
Until next week
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