Is Western Pennsylvania the next hotbed for professional wrestling prospects? I’m not ready to say that yet, but maybe it’s time to have the conversation.
The area’s proud lineage includes some of the biggest and best of all time. In recent year, there have been plenty of success stories. Corey Graves turned the early end of his in-ring career into what could be an even brighter future as a commentator. DJ Z started his career in the Pittsburgh area before finding success in TNA. Elias Samson arrived in WWE’s developmental system last year, and seems poised for big things as “The Drifter”. Don Arner (a.k.a. Cassidy Stone) was among the 40 finalists for the most recent season of “WWE Tough Enough”.
It’s taken years for all of these guys to get where they are, but the latest Western Pennsylvania prospect came from out of nowhere.
WWE officially announced the signings of 19 new recruits to developmental contracts this week. The list includes some of the past season’s “Tough Enough” contestants. There are some highly regarded former independent wrestlers. Then, there’s Daniel Matha.
Daniel Matha is so new to the world of professional wrestling, it’s virtually impossible to find any record of him. His background in the business includes about three months at Ohio Valley Wrestling’s training school and little more than a handful of matches. Yet somehow, he not only got a tryout with WWE, he got signed.
His story is is the kind that must cause sleepless nights for the veterans of pro wrestling’s independent scene.
Daniel Matha grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania, and attended McDowell High School. He lettered in wrestling, but he really made his mark on the football field. As an offensive tackle, he was a first team Associated Press Pennsylvania Class AAAA All-State selection in his junior and seniors seasons.
Matha’s next stop was the University of Pittsburgh, but things didn’t work out for him. Shoulder injuries claimed his first two seasons at Pitt. He was red-shirted as a true freshman in 2007, and never saw game action in 2008 or 2009. In 2010, he transferred to Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania. He got to play, and was named to the second team of the 2012 NCAA Division II All-America team.
After his final season at I.U.P. Matha measured 6’7″, 315 lbs., and he was good enough to get a tryout with the Cincinnati Bengals in May 2013. When nothing came of that, he looked north. In January 2014, Matha signed with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but he didn’t make it to the end of the season. The Alouettes cut Matha the following May. It was time for a fresh start.
“It was like…this chapter of your life is done.”
Matha told Super Human Radio he immediately set his sites on professional wrestling.
“I went back home, sat in my basement for a week. Studied, researched wrestling schools…and just kinda put together a game plan, how I’m gonna attack the next chapter in my life.”
Matha’s game plan directed him to OVW’s training school. He had his first match last February.
In less than a year, Daniel Matha jumped from Matt Cappotelli’s beginner’s class at OVW to a developmental contract with WWE. Not long after WWE officially announced his signing, OVW’s lead trainer Rip Rogers tweeted that Matha “came early (and) stayed late each class I had with him”.
I know stories like Matha’s can frustrate independent wrestlers who’ve put in years of work and are still fighting for their shot at WWE or another major promotion. I know there are guys who submitted videos for “Tough Enough”, only to face the disappointment of seeing relative novices chosen over them. Not even those who are chosen know exactly why. It’s that intangible “it” that makes one person stand out from the crowd.
What is it about Daniel Matha that caught the eye of WWE? Perhaps someday we’ll find out. Until then, let’s try not to label him as just “another ex-football player”. He’s a guy who reinvented himself, and he sounds determined to carry on Western Pennsylvania’s proud legacy in pro wrestling.
“In my mind, I’m taking this all the way.”