Here’s a deep cut and personal favorite from world traveling ass kicker extraordinaire Matt Cross.
By KIP DOYLE
Matt Cross is punk. He’s also an underground legend.
Punk legend? Not exactly, but maybe he should be. Cross doesn’t consider himself a musician, but he certainly lives the life of a traveling punk rocker.
Booking his own tours, printing his own merchandise and crashing at friends’ apartments on the road. This is how Cross stays alive.
“What is more DIY than an indy wrestler? I have no agent, everything goes through me… I have my own shirts. I have a guy design the shirts and I hawk the shirts,” Cross said.
Over the past decade, Cross, also known as “M-Dogg 20,” has made his name as one of the top independent wrestlers in the world. Beyond his extensive work across the US and international indy scene, he has been featured on MTV’s Wrestling Society X, the Hulkamania Tour of Australia, and Tough Enough, WWE’s reality show on the USA Network.
Cross first began to garner attention for footage of his backyard wrestling in the early ’00s. Of the thousands of enterprising teenagers doing this activity at the time, Cross probably became the most nationally renowned.
Cross’ gymnastic training, physical gifts and creativity helped him build a move set that was almost futuristic. He easily mastered the moonsaults, the 450 splashes and the shooting star presses before moving on to his own daredevil creations that had rarely been tried before, if ever.
It was as if he was a living, breathing video game character. Which is fitting, because he was the cover boy of “Backyard Wrestling: Don’t Try This At Home,” which was released on Playstation 2 and XBox in 2003.
While the crazy flips are still part of his repertoire, Cross has developed into a well-rounded world traveler of a wrestler, able to deliver top-notch matches with the speediest lightweights up to the freakiest of giants.
The travel, the training and the injuries all demonstrate an undying dedication for pro wrestling, but another passion is obvious when observing Matt Cross: This dude absolutely loves punk rock.
Growing up outside of Cleveland, Cross had dedicated much of his youth to the highly regimented world of gymnastics. His schedule was four hours a day, four days a week. Music was not a major influence on Cross until he attended radio station WMMS’s annual BuzzardFest in 1995. Cross would accompany an industrial-loving friend to the festival.
“I remember walking around, seeing the bands he wanted to see, but then Face to Face caught my attention and I was like, ‘dude what is this? This is the best stuff I’ve ever heard!” Cross said.
“He said it’s called punk music.”
Cross started to dig in to his new discovery. Operation Ivy’s “Energy” solidified his undying trust in the genre, he said.
“I remember that moment, from the very first time I heard (“Energy”) I was running around in circles and I was like, dude, all other music is dead to me,” he said. “It’s weird because I was like 14-15 then, and now I’m 32, and it’s like I never looked back.”
“It wasn’t a set of rules that I molded my life to fit, (the concepts behind straight edge) were things I already believed with a movement running parallel.”
At the same time that Cross was getting deep into punk rock, his peers were trying to learn how to party, but drugs and alcohol had never appealed to Cross.
“When I was at these parties and said, ‘I don’t feel like drinking,’ someone told me about straight edge. ‘Oh, you’re straight edge,'” he said. “It wasn’t a set of rules that I molded my life to fit, they were things I already believed with a movement running parallel.”
Cross discovered straight edge and connected closely with the message and rage of straight edge bands from Minor Threat to Earth Crisis.
“I started reading the lyrics and they were kind of capturing that anger I was feeling at that time, especially with the whole ‘I don’t want to drink and everyone wants to do it and it’s lame, in my opinion,” Cross said.
The timing was right to explore the Cleveland hardcore scene, with active bands like One Life Crew and Prohibition 2000.
“I always thought One Life Crew (was) just so awesome. Their first album, ‘Crime Ridden Society’ on Victory (Records) was just so rad. Just so cool,” Cross said.
Tony Erba has been a fixture of the Cleveland scene for over 20 years with bands like Face Value, Gordon Solie Motherfuckers, Nine Shocks Terror and Amps II Eleven. Erba, who now fronts Fuck You Pay Me, is also a rabid pro wrestling fan.
Cross sees parallels between his career in pro wrestling and Erba’s in punk.
“He was like this punk, I don’t know if you can use the word ‘legend,’ but he was like this local ‘living legend’ kind of guy who just loved wrestling,” . And I was just making my name in wrestling (at the time) and loved punk rock.”
Cross had been a wrestling fan growing up, but his fandom exploded into an obsession after being exposed to ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling). ECW’s revolutionary approach to pro wrestling raised the stakes forever regarding storytelling, risk taking and audience participation.
“Why did I love wrestling so much in that 1998, 1999 time period? What I’ve come to see in the past 12-13 years is, you know what? It was the crowd,” he said. “I thought New Jack was the best wrestler in the world. Was New Jack the best wrestler in the world? Probably not.”
The low rent venues, the blaring music. The cursing, the sweat, the blood. The guard rail just inches from the ring that literally brought the crowd into the action. In ECW, Cross saw his “birthing love of punk rock personified in the sport.”
“Why did I love wrestling so much in that 1998, 1999 time period? What I’ve come to see in the past 12-13 years is, you know what? It was the crowd.”
Cross’ musical endeavors never moved beyond the hobby level, although he does play drums in a Misfits cover band. A career in music was never a major consideration, yet still, he didn’t see himself working a typical 9-to-5. Cross was inspired to become a pro wrestler.
“How do I pursue this punk rock life? If you hear punk rock and you get it, and it clicks on some deep level, it will effect all the decision you make from that point forward because you just start seeing things differently,” he said.
The bands that have stuck with Cross the closest are The Misfits and Against Me!
Cross uses The Misfits font on his ring gear. The catchy and creepy Glenn Danzig-era Misfits carry a sense of mystery that intrigued Cross.
“It’s almost the same in wrestling, if you see too much of someone they become a regular person,” Cross said. “To me, (Misfits guitarist) Doyle is not a normal person. He is a monster. The end.”
Cross’ father played the banjo, so the rootsy sound of Against Me! has been a natural favorite for him.
“Tom Gabel, at the time, started with this whole folk-punk thing and it was like, ‘This is the stuff my dad likes plus the stuff I like,’” he said.
Cross and Gabel, now Laura Jane Grace, met at an Against Me! show at a Cleveland punk house during the band’s early years and have remained in contact since.
Cross isn’t the only punk rock wrestler. CM Punk is the most well-known, but there are other punk and hardcore fans in the industry.
“The big one is Daniel Bryan. I don’t know if people would see him and be like, ‘Oh, punk rock guy,’” he said.
Cross tagged with Bryan on a tour of Japan for Pro Wrestling Noah for several weeks in 2009.
“We had lots of time to bond and talk and long flights. We were wrestling each other and/or tagging most of the tour and we didn’t really know each other. I told him what (music) I like, but I was surprised to find out about some of the stuff he was liking.
“And I know he’s really down to earth, like, clam digging, makes his own bread, and just like an earthy dude, but I interpreted it more in the hippie sense than I did this DIY, nearly crust-punk thing,” Cross said.
Punk and Cross became friends years ago on the indie scene, so it was a treat for Cross when Punk and former wrestler Lita visited him while on the road.
Cross said he found out about Lita’s extensive knowledge of punk rock music.
“We were at the gym, and during our workout we got to talk about music,” Cross said. “I had admittedly thought (Lita’s punk style) was more a part of the gimmick, but she knew her stuff.”
NXT wrestlers Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn are both punk fans. Cross said Neville has an affinity for two-tone ska, while Zayn is actively discovering bands that built the foundation of punk.
“(Zayn) is soaking it up like a sponge and loving it. It’s really cool because he has that excitement about it because it’s all new,” Cross said.
Cross traveled extensively with Neville and Zayn in 2012. He recalls riding in a car and jokingly telling them that their musical journey would soon bring them to the scuzzy altar of G.I.S.M. with a loud preview of “Endless Blockade of the Pussy Footers.”
Peelander Z “And they are both like, ‘Turn this off, this is awful,’ like this is the worst thing they ever heard,” Cross said.
Pro wrestling has allowed Cross to see bands in settings he would be unlikely to encounter otherwise. He got to see Dead To Me in Berlin while on tour, and he took time off in September to catch the Riot Fest in Chicago.
His friends in Peelander Z (‘If they come to your town, you have to see Peelander Z. It’s so crazy and hilarious,’ Cross said.) upped the ante by hooking him up with all access passes for the final day of the festival.
‘“It’s just been great to be able to befriend bands and be in a situation where you can follow shows and live this life that’s kind of similar,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun.”