Final Battle is the promotion’s big year-end show where all of the major stories throughout the year come to a head. The 2300 Arena is home to a wealth of wrestling history and is in the city Ring of Honor was born.
For Ring of Honor wrestler Matt Taven, Final Battle and the 2300 Arena have a much more personal meaning.
Back on Dec. 8, 2015, Final Battle emanated from the 2300 Arena. The event featured a Ring of Honor World championship match between Jay Lethal and AJ Styles.
One of the marquee matches on the undercard was a Ring of Honor Tag Team title match, as Taven and his partner Mike Bennett, collectively known as The Kingdom, defended their titles against Hanson and Raymond Rowe, better known to wrestling fans as War Machine.
What should have been the culmination of a long rivalry and a successful year turned into the night Taven’s career could have came to an abrupt end, as he suffered a torn ligament in his knee.
As he enters the weekend, Taven can still vividly remember not only that night but the entire time surrounding it. As he remembers it, it was all a whirlwind.
“It’s kind of an incredible moment for me because it kind of feels like everything came full circle,” he said during an interview with philly.com.
“That whole time period was a whirlwind,” he added “Even when I look back on it and try to wrap my mind around it, I almost laugh because it’s such a ridiculous situation that all of this happened at once.”
Before Final Battle, Taven and Bennett were flying high after participating in New Japan Pro-Wrestling’s World Tag League. They were tag team champions with expiring Ring of Honor contracts.
Taven’s expired in March of 2016 while Bennett’s ran out some time before.
“We were at a point that we thought we knew what we wanted to do and how we wanted to stick together,” Taven said. “At the same time, we had every mindset to continue to kick ass in Ring of Honor and New Japan and kind of let things fall as they may.”
“We had such a good time doing what we were doing at that point that the contract thing almost worried us because it was like, ‘Oh, we have to stop this? We’re on a roll right now’” he added.”
Taven recalled being excited to face War Machine at Final Battle. He felt that the teams produced quality matches together on Ring of Honor’s untelevised live events and were prepared to up the ante for pay-per-view. Not to mention, add some raise their stock come negotiation time.
“We also looked at it as, ‘Hey, whatever happens coming up with our contracts, let’s kill it at Final Battle and let’s just murder these [television] tapings,’ and for us raise our stock going into our contract situation,” he said.
As if Taven didn’t have enough motivation to put on a memorable performance, he also felt the energy from the enthusiastic Philadelphia fans that had packed into the 2300 Arena. Their energy sent his adrenaline through the roof.
Taven and Bennett began the match with a lot of energy, which culminated in Taven diving from the inside of the ring to the floor. Taven ran so fast that he nearly missed War Machine’s Hanson.
He then attempted to deliver a pile driver on the floor. When he landed, he felt pain in his knee, but did not think it was anything serious.
“I just thought I just tweaked my knee,” he said. “I knew I landed funny. It felt like my knee shifted back and forth.”
Taven tried to fight through the pain and perform a spinning kick outside of the ring, but because he unknowingly tore ligaments in his knee, the bones in his knee ruptured his meniscus and shifted it to the back of his leg, which caused him to initially believe his leg was broken.
“I thought I had done a Joe Theisman or a Sid Justice,” he said. “[I thought] I’d look down and my leg would be pointing in the other direction. That’s kind of how it felt.”
Taven lied on 2300 Arena floor outside of the ring writhing in pain. One fan in attendance — not realizing Taven had just suffered a legitimate and serious injury — heckled him by yelling “Botchamania” in reference to the popular video series that showcases wrestling’s biggest bloopers and blunders.
In the fan’s mind, Taven would be the latest in a long line of wrestlers to be featured in one of the videos. Taven wishes that would have been the case. Instead, he was slammed by Rowe, which caused him to land on his knee yet again.
“At that point, I knew I couldn’t get up at all,” Taven said.
With Taven out of commission, Bennett, Rowe and Hanson had to adjust on the fly, call an audible and end the match much earlier than anyone had anticipated.
Taven and Bennett lost the tag titles, but that was the least of their worries, as Taven could not put any weight on his injured knee and was helped back to the dressing room.
While Taven slowly made his way back to the locker room, it became clear that he was seriously injured. The same fans that heckled Taven and his partner only minutes earlier gave him a standing ovation out of respect.
“I went from being so unbelievably scared and not sure what was going on to kind of enjoying that moment,” he said. “Hey, at least these people appreciate what you do.”
While that brief moment of adulation lifted Taven’s spirit, reality was about to set in once he got backstage. Fellow wrestlers and Ring of Honor officials wasted little time tending to him. They helped pack his gear and called his girlfriend to ease her concern.
Taven said the help he received on that night was one of the determining factors in him re-signing with Ring of Honor once his contract expired.
“I’m very loyal to people that are loyal to me, especially in times when I’m down and there’s no lower point in my wrestling career than not being sure I’ll ever wrestle again and Ring of Honor was right there for me.”
The doctor that initially saw Taven backstage said that the lack of swelling in his knee meant that he did not tear his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL). Taven said he later found out that the lack of swelling is actually common symptom of an ACL tear.
The ACL tear didn’t cause the swelling, but the meniscus tear did.
Taven left the arena that night knowing he had suffered a bad knee injury, but was still optimistic in thinking that it was not overly severe. He even appeared on Ring of Honor’s television tapings the next day with only a slight limp, which is not common in ligament tears.
“It gave me a false sense of security that I wasn’t in that bad of a shape,” he said.
Taven even got a workout in before he went in for his MRI. His optimism faded once he received the results. Taven was hoping for the diagnosis of only a sprained knee, which he would have received as good news.
Unfortunately, he received the worst news possible. He had suffered a torn ACL and a ruptured meniscus.
The first doctor he saw told him that it could have been two years before he could get back in the ring and that he didn’t know if Taven’s knee would ever be the same again due to needing multiple surgeries. He needed one to repair his ACL, but he also needed one to remove the meniscus from the back of his hamstring.
Taven wasn’t satisfied with that prognosis and sought other opinions. He eventually saw a doctor in Boston that had seen similar injuries in other athletes.
His prognosis of Taven’s knee was a lot more positive, as he said Taven could be back in the ring in nine months.
The next step for Taven was coming to terms with not being in the ring for that long. He had spent years traveling from one side of the planet to the other wrestling. Traveling and wrestling was Taven’s life, as it is for every other man or woman in the industry.
Suddenly, that was temporarily taken away from him. Suddenly, he had to sit at home in Boston and begin the healing process.
“It’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Taven said. “I tried to be tough for as long as I could about it.”
Taven’s thick skin eventually wore down, especially after he broke the news to his mother.
“You can tell she was heartbroken because I always like to keep her in touch with everything that we’re doing,” he said. “She knew I was having such a good time and things were going well. When I could hear the sadness in her voice it really kind of hit home and I was like, ‘Oh, man, this is going to be tough.’”
Taven had suffered injuries in professional wrestling before. He broke a pair of ribs and has suffered some muscle pulls, but nothing to this extent. He had only witnessed it through his colleagues. He remembers driving Tommaso Ciampa to his rehab sessions on multiple occasions when he tore his ACL in 2012.
Taven said that when the news of his own knee injury got to Ciampa, the current NXT Tag Team champion reached out to him to lend moral support.
Ciampa also reminded Taven that he would have to go through the same grueling rehab process he endured four years ago.
Ciampa’s words of encouragement helped Taven, but he still had to endure watching shows like New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom from his couch. Instead of performing in the Tokyo Dome in front of thousands of people in Japan, Taven was at home with a big ice pack on his knee.
“It crushes you,” he said. “I think you can go one of two ways with that. You can either let that really bury or you can motivate yourself to get back as soon as possible. I was pretty determined to get back as quick as I possibly could.”
Taven took advantage of the time at home to spend time with his family and childhood friends. It also helped that his wrestling brethren stopped by his house to check up on his progress.
For his rehab process, Taven went to Foxborough, Mass. near the New England Patriots facility. He went to rehab sessions between two and three times per week all the way up until his return in September.
“It takes a lot of time before you’re ready to go and even when the day came I still was unbelievably nervous to wrestle for the first time on my knee,” Taven said.
Although Taven steadily made progress, he injured his knee at a time when his contract was expiring with Ring of Honor, putting him in a seemingly precarious position.
Taven, however, said he was not worried about his contract situation with the promotion.
“I wasn’t worried that Ring of Honor would pass on me because I had proven myself there and they were always good to me and we kept in close contact the whole time,” he said.
“Obviously, you want to reach out and see what’s going and being hurt while you’re doing that is tough because people want a return on their investment instantly and people also don’t want to invest on the unknown,” he added.
“It wasn’t as scary for me because I had confidence in myself that I was going to be back and that I was going to be as good as I ever was. I felt like if people couldn’t see that confidence in me from meeting me or talking to me then maybe they weren’t the right people for me to deal with in the first place.”
Taven may have been assured in his own contract status, but was not when it came to his tag team partner and longtime friend, Bennett.
Bennett had offers on the table from other promotions such as Impact Wrestling. With Taven on the shelf for at least nine months, it made his decision easier to leave Ring of Honor for other opportunities.
Taven understood and supported Bennett’s decision to leave what they had as a team behind. The pair may not be together in the ring anymore, but Taven said that he still gets to see his friend on a regular basis, as they run a wrestling school together in West Warwick, R.I.
With that said, Bennett’s departure still left Taven on his own in Ring of Honor, which has only presented yet another challenge for the former ROH Tag Team and Television champion.
With the injury, Taven had plenty of time to think about how he was going to return. In fact, it took him nine months from the time he was injured to get back in the ring — just like his doctor said.
On Sept. 9, only days shy of exactly nine months, Taven returned to the ring for Mexican wrestling promotion Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre (CMLL) as part of a talent exchange with Ring of Honor.
Taven had originally set his sights on returning on Oct. 1, but the opportunity to wrestle for CMLL came up and it was an opportunity he could not turn down.
Once in Mexico, Taven had to deal with a language barrier, as he does not speak Spanish. He also had to find his way to the historic Arena Mexico, which he had never been in.
“I can’t even think about being nervous about this knee because I’m taking all of this in,” he said. “I’m sneaking my head through the curtains and I’m looking at Arena Mexico and this huge place.”
Once Taven was back in the ring, he was alive again. It was almost as if he had never left and the previous nine months was simply a long dream that he had just woken up from. All was right in his world again.
“I thought I jumped off a cliff at one point, but no, I’m in the water and I’m swimming and I’m absolutely fine,” he said.
In the midst of his jubilance, Taven’s knee swelled up, which required him to ice it down. That was expected, but it was also a reminder of all he had been through the past nine months — from the injury, to losing his tag team partner, to the rehab, Taven’s year has indeed been quite the whirlwind.
With Final Battle and 2300 Arena on the horizon again, Taven wants to walk out of both events on his own accord, unlike last year.
“I’m pretty happy right now,” he said. “I’m pretty happy to be back with my buddies and I’m pretty happy to have all my ducks in a row to reach all of my goals for the next year.”