Amazura Concert Hall in Jamaica, Queens, was packed last December for a lavish, year-end pro wrestling match. The show was built around a main event featuring the most tried and true storyline tropes in the pseudo-sport. Former friends “Murder By Kicks” Matt Travis and “Cash Flow” Ken Broadway had split up as a team, leading to a feud that would culminate in a steel cage match just steps from the Jamaica LIRR hub.
In a modern wrestling landscape that can often rely too much on athleticism without injecting emotion, this match had everything. Travis walked on top of the cage wall like a tightrope to get a running start for a flying hurricanrana (or head scissor take over) all the way to the mat below. Broadway won a few minutes later by finishing him off with a head kick, but not before Travis, the villain, got the opportunity to flip him off and spit in his face.
It was beautifully executed professional wrestling, and I talked up the match on Twitter. Travis made a point of DMing me his appreciation.
“Thank you so much for even writing about it,” Travis wrote. “Good or bad, I just want people to respect me and my work. Thank you so much.”
In my experience, wrestlers don’t really do that, even wrestlers I have become friends with. We talked a bit the next time I saw him at a show in Williamsburg. This was a guy who truly cared that someone got what he was trying to do.
Matt Travis, full name Matthew Travis Palacios, was killed while riding his bike in Harlem during the early hours of November 9th, struck by a dump truck driver making an illegal left turn trying to get onto the Willis Avenue Bridge. He was 25 years old, and the 28th cyclist to die riding his bike in New York City this year, almost triple last year’s total of 10. Police have not yet located the driver of the truck.
“Matty was a driven kid. If he wanted something, he worked and bought [it] himself,” recalled his mother, Yolanda Nieves. “Either with his uncle at the auto repair shop he owned. Or by dancing on the train.”
That drive clearly fueled him in wrestling, which was much more to him than a weekend hobby or even a potential career. “Wrestling is my lifeline,” he told VICE in an interview for an article published in January. “Every night I come home and hear how someone got shot...like, what if I’m next? But with wrestling I feel like, finally, I have a shot.”
Bronx-bred tag team wrestlers Mike “Santana” Sanchez and Angel Ortiz, collectively known as Proud ‘n’ Powerful in the new startup wrestling company All Elite Wrestling, helped give him his shot. They connected him with House of Glory, an independent promotions that also has a wrestling school in a storefront on Woodward Avenue in Ridgewood. He graduated in 2016 and began wrestling for both House of Glory's own promotion and others in the tristate area.
New Jersey-based wrestling announcer Emil Jay remembered Travis as a standout at the Dojo Wars showcase of rising young wrestlers, which he used to produce. “In the ring, I could tell he was super hungry and passionate about the sport and wanting to improve,” he said. “He was a bit raw but had loads of visible potential and a really unique physical charisma about himself.”
While Travis worked for various indie wrestling promotions in the tri-state area, he was most closely associated with HOG. At wrestling school, he was taught by Jonathan “The Amazing Red” Figueroa and Brian “Brian XL” Baez, area mainstays who had been key players in the initial boom of independent wrestling as an artistic medium in the early 2000s. Before, indie shows were not really something you sought out for especially skilled, athletic, or particularly exciting pro wrestling, but the late ‘90s wrestling boom inspired numerous fans to go to wrestling school. The talent level has shot up consistently ever since, with Figueroa as part of the first generation and Travis as part of the current one. In HOG, Travis was arguably the brightest prospect of their current crop of home-grown wrestlers, a flashy high flyer who had the charisma of a future superstar.
Isaac Rodriguez, a wrestling video producer and one of Travis’s friends, called him “a complete role model.”
“Matty was one of the real ones we all needed in our lives to remember where we were, and how to act to one another,” Rodriguez said. “He was the most humble guy you could meet, but that didn’t stop him from being himself in or out the ring.”
With House of Glory getting more national attention thanks to rapper/mogul Percy “Master P” Miller buying the company, not to mention HOG graduates Private Party being a featured act on AEW's weekly Dynamite program on TNT, Matt Travis was poised to be one of the beneficiaries and become an in-demand wrestler.
But according to Rodriguez, Travis’s first priority was taking care of his mother, who is debilitated by back and knee problems. While he had already received contract offers from mid-level televised promotions, he turned them down because they added restrictions to his career without the security of a full time income.
“His main goal wasn’t to have a contract, he just wanted to buy his mom a crib somewhere safe,” Rodriguez said.
According to an NYPD statement, the crash that killed Travis occurred around 2:30 a.m.
The dump truck driver was traveling south on First Avenue then made an illegal left U-turn onto East 125th Street, before getting on the Willis Avenue Bridge. Travis was just coming off the bike path on the bridge when he was fatally struck.
Travis died less than 72 hours after the 27th cyclist to die on city streets this year, Yevgeny Meskin, was killed in Midwood.
Travis’s mother spoke of a police response that feels disturbingly in line with the seeming disregard shown for cyclists by the NYPD as the deaths have mounted.
“After the first day, things changed,” Nieves said. “They no longer want to give me information or updates.”
Asked if they had any further updates, and why they had not responded to calls left by the victim’s mother, the NYPD replied with their blanket statements about the crash.
“Since waking up, all I could think about was getting back home and going to talk to you,” Sanchez wrote in a public Facebook post the day after his friend was killed. “As much as I tried holding it together, I couldn’t...I’m crushed that the world won’t get to see the STAR you would’ve been.”
The following Saturday after Travis was killed, House of Glory converted their scheduled show into a memorial event. It was the most emotional experience I’ve ever witnessed live at a wrestling show. There were multiple good emotional releases, most notably Ken Broadway’s ring entrance for his match with fellow HOG-trained product Evander James, where the crowd exploded and then rapped along to the custom entrance music for Travis’s tag team partner. The locker room emptied at the end of the show as well, inviting friends and family members in for a group photo as Sanchez held up a portrait of their fallen peer.
But the rawest moment of the night came at the beginning, when Figueroa took the microphone in front of an unnervingly quiet room, the hood on his sweatshirt pulled up tightly and hiding the emotions on his face while his body language told the whole story.
“I wasn’t supposed to be here today,” he told the assembled fans, friends, and family. “I’ll just tell you guys real quick how close Matty was with me. I saw Matty pretty much every day. Matty was always around. Training when I went to go open up House of Glory, he was always there.”
Figueroa continued, “He was like a son of mine, pretty much one of my biggest, best friends.”
After pausing for 20 seconds to regain his composure, he explained how Travis made a point of returning to the school to help out the newer students and check up on them.
“Nobody that I know—nobody that I know—loved HOG more than Matty.” After addressing a rough patch he went through with Travis, and imploring everyone that life is too short to not “hash that shit out” during a schism with a friend or family member, he addressed his protege directly.
“Matty, I want you to know that I love you. We all love you. [In] the back, everybody loves you. You helped us out—you helped us out so much.”