For anyone who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, stepping into Matt Cardona’s toy room is the closest thing to time traveling. But for newcomers, it is first a lesson in caution.
Once you’re inside, it’s best to remain very, very still. Because each step causes the floor-to-ceiling glass cabinets to shake and shudder, reminding you that if one thing falls, everything falls.
Stacked and packed into that room are thousands of action figures and toys of characters from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars and Ghostbusters to name a few. But featured predominantly in his collection are wrestling figures. And that makes sense since Cardona is better known by his WWE stage name, Zack Ryder.
“I always wanted to be a wrestler,” Cardona tells Yahoo Lifestyle. And from the time he could walk to when he graduated high school, it was his only goal.
“I made a little deal with my parents that if they pay for my wrestling school, I’ll go to Nassau Community College and take some BS classes for a while,” Cardona says.
That deal paid off when Cardona was signed to WWE at just 20 years old. He was pumping gas when he got the call. “I ran right home, told my dad, and then I went back to the gym,” he says. Ryder has long been a fan favorite, especially online (he awarded himself the Internet Champion wrestling belt), and in 2016 he won the Intercontinental Championship at WrestleMania 32.
But he was obsessed with wrestling outside the ring, too. Specifically, collecting wrestling figures. As he got older, his collection got bigger. And even after we became a WWE superstar, his passion for “figure hunting” stayed with him. Although now he had some especially important figures to collect.
“Emotionally, I’m so attached to my Zack Ryder figures,” he says. “If I see my figure on the shelves, I buy it.”
That kind of mentality can lead to space issues. Cardona has never counted how many wrestling figures he has but it’s definitely in the thousands. Maybe even ten thousand, he thinks.
Even more mind-boggling is the estimated cost of his collection. “Over a million [dollars] for sure,” he says, making sure to specify that he spent the amount over the 34 years of his life. Obviously, with that kind of investment, he’s taken some precautions. “I have insurance just for the collectibles,” he says, adding that “the door’s locked, there’s security cameras, motion sensors, glass break alarm.”
But Cardona’s spacious Orlando, Florida, home isn’t just for him and his toys. His fiancée, fellow wrestler Chelsea Green, also lives there.
“When I met her, I just moved into this house so I didn’t have the toy room,” Cardona says. “If she would have just opened one door ... she probably would have ran out.”
Green though says it wouldn’t necessarily have been a dealbreaker. “I still would have given him the chance to go on a second date,” she says. But she adds, “I draw the line at him taking up closet space. I need it for my shoes.”
Even their engagement had a connection to his wrestling figures obsession. “I hid the engagement ring inside a toy Undertaker coffin,” Cardona says, referencing the popular WWE wrestler. “Because I knew that if Chelsea saw that coffin in my bag, she wouldn’t think anything of it.”
Cardona has recently parlayed his obsession into something of a side hustle. He and fellow wrestling figure collector Brian Myers, aka WWE wrestler Curt Hawkins, host the popular Major Wrestling Figure Podcast, which delves deep into the world of figure hunting. In a meta move, they even have figures of themselves.
But before you criticize his hobby as a waste of time or money, Cardona has a ready response. “I’m collecting action figures, but I’m sitting in front of a case of my own action figures,” he says. “So I can collect whatever the f*** I want!”
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