by Daniel Johnson
Interviewer’s Note: Mat Russo is an Indiana based independent wrestler with a background in catch wrestling. He transitioned into being a professional wrestler with help from Billy Roc and went onto train at the School of Roc. Perhaps, the most notable promotion Russo has wrestled in to date is Wrestling is Heart (WIH). In the future he would like to work in Japan, CHIKARA and someday WWE. Outside of professional wrestling he has competed professionally in MMA with Cage Rage and the Lafayette Fight League (LFL) among other companies. Perhaps the most unique bit about Russo is that he dropped more than 200 lbs going from 375 lbs to a lean 170 lbs. He can be followed on Twitter @thematrusso. This interview was completed on August 13, 2013. In this interview Russo and I focus on the topic of transforming from 375 lbs into an in-shape athlete.
Daniel Johnson: My first question is for those unfamiliar with you how would you describe yourself as a performer in a nutshell?
Mat Russo: I’m the fat nerd that grew up and said, “Enough is enough.” Aggressive, methodical, technical.
Daniel Johnson: I was also curious about your background. How old are you and how long have you been wrestling?
Mat Russo: I’m 24. I’ve been wrestling for three years, but have been an active Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ), catch wrestling, and mixed martial arts competitor for about eight.
Daniel Johnson: How did you first get involved in , BJJ, catch wrestling and MMA? Also, did your background in these make the transition to wrestling easier? If so how?
Mat Russo: I kind of stumbled into it. I was always the biggest professional wrestling fan, so when guys from my wrestling team in high school started messing around with MMA, I was drawn. Oddly, I just had a knack for twisting people up haha. I would say it made the transition much smoother for wrestling. things felt very natural to me in the ring. When I first started learning the craft of wrestling, I found that my movements I had learned to be second nature in submission wrestling echoed a lot of things I was being shown in the ring. there are so many similarities, but at the same time I have an advantage because I have an outside skill set I’m able to apply to opponents.
Daniel Johnson: You mentioned being a wrestling fan at an early age. What wrestlers first interested you in the industry?
Mat Russo: Oh goodness haha. I grew up watching wrestling with my older brother. At a young age I was a huge Sting fan. When I got older, I re-found wrestling in the whole tag team era when The Hardys, Dudleys, Edge and Christian had all their classic battles. I have always been a massive fan of tag team wrestling. such an art.
Daniel Johnson: When did you make the decision to actually become a wrestler? What made you go from just being a fan to being an in-ring performer?
Mat Russo: Well, I always dreamed of being one from a young age. but I was always really fat. So I never thought it was possible. after I lost the first 90 lbs I met a promoter of a small local fed that ran in the area. I heard about a class that was starting so I decided to see if I could do it. I had to take a hiatus from wrestling for a bit due to injury, then I met Billy Roc. Billy showed me what wrestling should really be. I trained with him at the School of Roc and he showed me what being a real performer is.
Daniel Johnson: On your Twitter you describe yourself as a “former fat man.” For readers unfamiliar with you, could you describe your past experience with weight issues?
Mat Russo: I grew up a fat kid. I struggled with depression, health issues, bullying, all because I was very large. At my heaviest I was 375lbs. Life was hard. Waking up not liking who you are, and believing what the bullies say about you, it’s not any way to live, but there’s obviously an upswing to my story.
Daniel Johnson: Was there anything that slowed down or made you want to slow down when you were getting to your heaviest of 375 lbs? Do you think you could have weighed even more than the most you did?
Mat Russo: Initially catch wrestling helped me lose a little weight, but when I went to school for emergency medicine I was unable to train and ballooned up. After massive periods of binging and over restriction, I just realized I didn’t like how I felt, how I looked. I went to the doctor and I was told if i didn’t change I was about to become diabetic. With the support of my family I began to lose weight. What really set me hardcore into it and helped me lose the other 120 lbs was after I began training with the School of Roc. Billy really helped me see more in myself. It gave me a reason to believe that I could do more, be more. So I dedicated everything I had. I think it’s very possible I could have kept gaining weight. The fact of the matter is, I love food haha. Even to this day, I am an avid cook and have an ice cream addiction. So much so I have an ice cream tattoo haha. But, I obviously train very hard and maintain a balanced diet to achieve my goals.
Daniel Johnson: At what rate were you able to lose weight once you started to take pounds off?
Mat Russo: I lost the initial 80 lbs or 90 lbs over the span of nine months. Then struggled with some issues for a while. I rededicated myself with Billy and lost the other 120 lbs over about 12 to 14 months I’d guess.
Daniel Johnson: Once you lost the bulk of your weight were there any challenges in keeping it off? If so what were they and how have you overcome them?
Mat Russo: I guess it would depend on how honest you’re wanting me to be here. I’m willing to share the info, I just don’t know if it’s something you want for this interview.
Daniel Johnson: Sure, I guess be as honest as you would feel comfortable being.
Mat Russo: Well, I had a period after I lost the weight where I was struggling with binge eating. I used to think the only way to live or lose weight/maintain weight was to eat nothing but “clean foods” all the time. So I would over restrict and then end up breaking and eating all the sweets and junk I could get. Fortunately, I met some people who are amateur bodybuilders that basically made me realize that I can eat things I enjoy in moderation. It changed my whole outlook and I haven’t had the issues since.
Daniel Johnson: I had just a couple of more weight questions before getting into some more general wrestling questions. Do you think you could ever get as heavy as you were again? Are there any steps you have taken to make sure this does not happen? Would you say moderation is really the key?
Mat Russo: Moderation absolutely is key. Fitting in treats on a daily basis keeps me from wanting to overindulge. you have to realize overall that we only have so much time on this planet. Looking good is nice, but you need to enjoy your time here as well. In answer to if I could ever be that big again, no haha.
Daniel Johnson: Awesome, what advice would you give to people who are as heavy as you were and are trying to lose weight?
Mat Russo: My first thing I would say, if I could look those people in the eye right now is that you are more than what they say you are. Don’t let anyone hold you down, tell you that you will never be more than a “fatty.” Confide in family, friends, whoever you need to. Set a goal, make it known and believe you can achieve it. If I can do it, anyone can.
Daniel Johnson: Nowadays what does an average day in the gym look like? Also, since you are now I believe 170 lbs how has this changed what you can do in the ring?
Mat Russo: I lift four mornings a week. My average day depends. I usually focus on high intensity, endurance based weight training. But I also do periods of purely power lifting based routines occasionally. It’s changed everything I can do. I’m faster, more flexible, more agile. I don’t get tired. I like to compare myself to a shark. I can drag you onto the mat, where only I can swim and breathe and you’ll drown. On top of my weight lifting, I still spend four to six evenings a week on the mat working on my submission wrestling and striking.
Daniel Johnson: I also, had some more general questions about your wrestling career. Do you remember your first match at all? If so what are your memories from it and do you have any advice to prospective wrestlers about having a first match?
Mat Russo: My first match I try not to think about. To be perfectly honest, I was thrown into a ring before I was ready haha. I ended up fracturing my ankle actually. Not the best first step into wrestling haha. But, I learned from it. Learned that I needed to know more and that’s why I went to Billy at the School of Roc. My advice to wrestlers having their first match: First, make sure you’re with a good trainer who will make sure you’re ready haha. Two, remember why you’re there. We all have our reasons for wanting to be wrestlers. For most of us it’s because we love being in front of the crowd and competing. so enjoy it!
Daniel Johnson: How would you say you have grown as a performer since first starting three years ago?
Mat Russo: I’ve definitely learned a lot. I’ve become a much better athlete, learned to take my time more, learned that in the grand scheme of things, I dont know anything haha. I’m ready to keep learning until I have to stop competing one day.
Daniel Johnson: What promotions have you wrestled for that you most enjoyed? Also, for readers who have yet to check them out what would you tell them that might get them interested in the promotions?
Mat Russo: If you haven’t checked out any of the Wrestling is network, you are missing out on a lot. I love being in those locker rooms. The guys competing at those shows are some of tomorrow’s stars. Mark my words. Obviously, as it’s kind of my home, Wrestling is Heart I’ve enjoyed the most. I truly believe we have an amazing thing going. From the wrestlers to the crowd, we all have what we’re named for: Heart.
Daniel Johnson: What about promotions you have yet to work for? Are there any that you would like to wrestle for in the near future?
Mat Russo: I want to go everywhere. The biggest dreams for me are Japan and CHIKARA. Besides that I would obviously love to be in the WWE one day. But, the style in Japan is so beautiful. Those guys can go! So aggressive, so technical. CHIKARA, geez, that place is a comic book come to life. I love it.
Daniel Johnson: Any wrestlers in Japan or Chikara in particular you would like to work with?
Mat Russo: Well, unfortunately I don’t think I’ll ever get my match with [Kenta] Kobashi but I’d love to take on KENTA. In CHIKARA, I’d love to lock up with Mike Quackenbush. I’d really be interested to see how his style would match up versus mine. He’s very technical.
Daniel Johnson: Yeah, for sure. You mentioned earlier that you view tag team wrestling as an art. Do you consider yourself a tag team specialist or more of a singles performer?
Mat Russo: I love tag team wrestling. I’ve mostly been a singles guy. My style leads very well to it. That being said, I would absolutely love to find that right partner and hone that craft some.
Daniel Johnson: Who are some of the wrestlers you have tagged with to date and what wrestlers do you believe complimented your style of wrestling the most?
Mat Russo: I’ve tagged with all sorts of different people with varying styles. I was very fortunate to team with my mentor, Billy Roc last October and I thought we worked very well together. I would be honored to team with him anytime.
Daniel Johnson: What do you consider your greatest match to be to date?
Mat Russo: I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t think I’m at the stage in my career for me to be bragging about any of them haha. My favorites were teaming with Billy and when I teamed with Green Ant against Joe Pittman and Mr. Touchdown.
Daniel Johnson: Cool, do you have any short-term goals for 2013? Is there anything you would like to accomplish before the end of the year?
Mat Russo: Well, I currently have my eyes set on the La Copa Idolo trophy at Wrestling is Heart. The tournament starts this weekend. I would love to bring that bad boy home. Outside of that, really hoping to get out to the east coast before the end of the year.
Daniel Johnson: On the other side of the coin what are your more long-term goals? Basically, where do you see yourself in five years?
Mat Russo: In five years I’d like to be either touring with WWE or japan, have wrestled in Canada and Mexico, and have locked up with every guy who looks tough on the indies today haha.
Daniel Johnson: Awesome, you mentioned having MMA training from a young age earlier. Have you ever considered going into MMA professionally? Why or why not?
Mat Russo: I actually am a licensed professional MMA fighter. I have my next scheduled bout September 28 actually. I just take a bout when I feel like it. It’s not a career so much as a hobby for me. I could push it further, but I’m happy with where I’m at.
Daniel Johnson: Wow, that’s awesome. How many fights have you had to date? What is your current record?
Mat Russo: I’ve had 13 fights. I’m at 11-2. The only losses were by close decision when I was 300 lbs against guys massively bigger than me, technique over strength all day long. In BJJ, catch wrestling, MMA, anything.
Daniel Johnson: What MMA companies have you worked for? Also, I was curious are any of your fights online?
Mat Russo: Cage Rage, Lafayette Fight League, a few others I don’t recall the names. Yeah,a few from when i was very fat haha. They’re on Youtube I think. I don’t recall what channel or what to search, though. It has been a while since I was shown them
Daniel Johnson: I also had five brief non-wrestling related questions I like to ask everyone to make interviews a little more fun. What television shows do you enjoy watching today?
Mat Russo: I am addicted to the Food Network! I love Iron Chef, Chopped, a few others. Also, I love Bizarre Foods and Man vs. Food on the Travel Channel. besides that, I got to be honest, I watch a lot of cartoons haha.
Daniel Johnson: What was your favorite movie that came out this year?
Mat Russo: That came out this year? World War Z. It is tough because I go to the movies a lot, but that movie was amazing.
Daniel Johnson: Cool, what food did you try for the first time this year that you most enjoyed?
Mat Russo: I’m probably going to butcher the name, but geoduck. It is similar to an oyster kind of. It was delicious.
Daniel Johnson: What was your favorite song to come out this year?
Mat Russo: “Rock and Roll” by The Street Dogs.
Daniel Johnson: What was the last book you read and would you recommend it?
Mat Russo: Well, I just reread the Harry Potter series for probably the millionth time haha. I always recommend those!
Daniel Johnson: I had just a few more brief wrestling questions. What is the weirdest part of being a pro wrestler?
Mat Russo: I grapple with large grown men donned in tights. I think that’s the guaranteed answer haha.
Daniel Johnson: Haha, who is one wrestler 25 or younger that you think readers should know about?
Mat Russo: Tripp Cassidy. The kid is dedicated.
Daniel Johnson: Is there anything you would like to add?
Mat Russo: Um, Ben and Jerry’s, Harry Potter, tattoos, and comic books make me happy. Haha.
Catch Mat Russo in action! Russo personally suggests seeing some of his more recent work in Mat Russo’s Technique of the Week, which can be viewed here, here, here and here. An older match from the New Age of Wrestling (NAW) against Mojo McQueen can be viewed here:
Categories: Wrestling Interviews