Mav: When Jon Moxley spectacularly debuted in AEW at the conclusion of an epic Jericho vs Omega rematch, and followed that up with a fascinating breakdown of his frustrations with WWE creative processes on Talk Is Jericho, I think it’s fair to say that interest in the former Dean Ambrose hit a fever pitch that it has not hit since January 2016 when, in a sliding doors moment, the company could have cemented the second coming of his popularity as a badass babyface by having him eliminate Triple H and win the Rumble, and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. That WWE never capitalised on the then-Ambrose’s potential to be a breakout superstar of Austin proportions is a damning indictment of the past five years post-Shield split, but to fans of the man’s work, that almost didn’t matter. Despite being hamstrung by poor writing and booking, goofy segments and a refusal to fully back him in the way the company did his Shield brethren, Dean Ambrose put together a highly impressive (and underrated) library of matches with the ‘E that deserve revisiting. As Ambrose/Moxley has been my favourite wrestler since 2013, I have long championed his Bret Hart-esque storytelling and the chemistry he had with the majority of his opponents. Of course, we now get to see him lock up with a cornucopia of new foes, which is deeply exciting, but in the mean time, myself and Sam decided that we would put our heads together and write about our favourite ten WWE Dean Ambrose matches.
Sam: It has been a crazy year to be a Dean Ambrose fan from the crushing news of him leaving the WWE in February, to the bittersweet farewell tour, to the incredible last month of seeing our favourite wrestler reborn as Jon Moxley. However just as we are all kicking our fan motors back into gear, Mav and I wanted to remember the reason we became a fan in the first place. So here were the criteria: Top 10 WWE singles matches, only main roster one-on-one and triple threats. Unfortunately that means we didn’t get to touch on the FCW hidden gems against Seth Rollins and William Regal before getting ot the main roster or any of the bonkers Shield six man tags however that does mean the focus will be squarely on the man himself on the biggest stage of his career up to that point. So without further ado lets get started with numbers 10-6.
10. Dean Ambrose v Roman Reigns v Seth Rollins (Battleground 2016)
Sam: I think it is somewhat fitting that we start with this particular match because if there are two performers Dean Ambrose career will always be inextricably linked with it is these two men. Even more than the other two I think The Shield defined Dean’s career, even as a singles wrestler so often he found himself in programs that centered around the ramifications of their rise and the fallout from their split.
This match came as the final chapter to his revenge arc where he was finally able to get the justice of a big title win over Seth Rollins, cashing in Money In the Bank to take the WWE Title from his brother just after Seth had won it from Roman.
The build up included one of the great promos of the era and the match itself was in many ways a quintessential Shield match, just between the three members of the unit instead of against someone else. Everything is done with a great sense of purpose and is driven by the character of the performers, from Reigns’ bubbling confidence and power, to Rollins’ intelligence and athleticism, to Dean’s scrappiness and heart.
There was a lot working against this match, from the minor stage it was put on to the absolutely idiotic decision to have the GMs of the new brand split at ringside. To their credit the three men wrestle like none of that mattered and as a result hold the crowd in the palm of their hands throughout. Even though we never got The Shield Triple Threat on the biggest stage of them all, this was still the three biggest stars of a generation and was a match truly worth the hype.
Mav: We agreed before proceeding with this piece that we would focus on singles matches, but we couldn’t leave this one out; it’s been shamefully neglected given its placing on an unheralded PPV brand (Battleground) and just before the roster split which took place immediately afterwards. To be fair, it is undoubtedly a pity that this could not have been the main event of Wrestlemania XXXII instead of Reigns vs Triple H, and it is also a crying shame that Ambrose’s run as champion came just as the Lesnar and Jericho feuds had cooled him off. Typical WWE in that sense, I suppose. Nevertheless, The Shield triple threat is a brilliant professional wrestling match, and the story of the three men intimately knowing each others’ signatures and finishers made for a wonderfully fluid game of cat and mouse that was enhanced tenfold by the clean finish; when it came to the crunch, Dean came out on top and carried his title off to Smackdown, leaving his brothers, and that was an awesome way to end the second act of The Shield’s Shakespearean yarn; the third would begin in earnest at Survivor Series that same year.
9. Dean Ambrose v Roman Reigns (Survivor Series 2015)
Mav: Speaking of criminally underlooked, this gem of a babyface match from Survivor Series 2015 saw two men who had spent the summer tagging together as a kind of neo “Two Dudes With Attitudes” reach the conclusion of a tournament that was held to award the title Seth Rollins had left vacant after suffering his serious knee injury on tour in Europe. Perhaps it’s the fact that Reigns was at his most unpopular and resented, perhaps it’s the lead balloon of Sheamus cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase at the end as a lame duck McMahon sponsored champion, but either way, the short, intense, and characterful match that came beforehand, hinted at previously that year in the fatal fourway with Rollins and Orton, was a joy to behold in my opinion, with the straight up story of “best man wins”. It’s a shame in a way that these two never got an extended programme with each other, but their one PPV outing is certainly something you should go back and rediscover, in my view.
Sam: I absolutely agree Mav, It is really sad we never got a proper Dean v Roman series of matches, the rivalry between Dean and Seth would very much dominate the early singles careers of the pair but this one short match shows a lot of untapped potential in a story between Dean and his other brother.
Right from the start this match captured my imagination as Dean came to the ring with his torn singlet around his waist, a nod to the fantastic match with Kevin Owens earlier in the night. Reigns and Ambrose continue that vibe on, wrestling like they knew their stamina was already waning from the tournament openers at the start of the PPV, making this truly a match with very little wasted breath. The sequence around the ending are particularly sweet as is the ending as the brothers celebrate together, a fulfilment of sorts of the original mission of The Shield, to together conquer the wrestling industry.
8. Dean Ambrose v Bray Wyatt (Survivor Series 2014)
Mav: A somewhat sad reminder of what Bray Wyatt once meant, and how far he has fallen since, this match is a gem which seems to have already been forgotten by the wrestling public at large; I urge you to rediscover it as soon as possible, because it has a wonderfully old school sensibility that I find utterly enthralling. Ambrose’s ring work in this period reminds me of a ‘95 Bret Hart crossed with a ‘96 Stone Cold, while Wyatt is running more of a Mankind playbook. As I recall, the creative behind the feud could have been better thought out, honestly, but that was more than made up for by the story they told within the match itself, with Dean giving into his demons, just as Wyatt had prophesied he would. In terms of psychology, this one is a corker, and the fact that it’s also hard hitting, well choreographed and brilliantly structured puts the cherry on top of the cake. They would go onto have a TLC match which was a bit of a mess, and WWE chose to try and raise Wyatt to a level where he could take on Cena by sacrificing Ambrose to him, but nevertheless, this original match from Survivor Series is well worth your time.
Sam: Speaking of Cena, I think the little swirl of cream, on top of the cherry on top of the cake that is this match is their perverted take on the Wyatt v Cena chair spot from Wrestlemania 30 earlier that year. While at Mania, Cena resists the urge to attack his defenceless foe with a chair and goes on to pick up the win, in this match Dean shows he is a very different kind of hero when he accepts Wyatt’s offer, sacrificing a disqualification for a chance to go after his tormentor.
It is a fittingly personal match for Dean whose quest for revenge turned to Bray after the Eater of Worlds stopped him getting justice over Seth Rollins the PPV beforehand. Even before the plunder gets bought in this is an incredibly physical match. Dean makes Bray look like the blunt physical force he should be but in a great nod to the story they were telling about Dean’s broken childhood, Dean gets to show off the resilience he built up through years of his own trauma. All in all, this match is a reminder of what a creative force Bray Wyatt was at his peak and how he could be used to develop the other characters around him.
7. Dean Ambrose v The Miz (Extreme Rules 2017)
Sam: This is one that I’m very glad we both included as it is a match that shows a completely different, but equally compelling side to a guy that most people got on board with for his violent style. I think I once heard you call it ‘Dean Ambrose doing his best Bret Hart impression Mav’.
Mav: Bret Hart was the master of making every match unique, whether there was a stipulation involved or not, and the magic that Ambrose and Miz worked with the “title can change hands on a DQ” rule was certainly influenced by Bret’s methodology in such circumstances. The contrast of characters is obviously the key to this one, with Miz’s arrogant “Hollywood” superstar contrasted against the blue collar Ambrose, who, far from giving into the temptation to get reckless, wrestled a composed, technical style, whilst working around Maryse’s interference. The irony at the end is beautiful, as he loses not through a disqualification, but through the distraction caused by the possibility of the referee disqualifying him. One of the best Intercontinental Title matches of the past decade, for me.
Sam: One thing that really works for this match is who Dean Ambrose is. As we saw against Bray Wyatt and was evidenced in his feud with The Miz leading up to the match, Dean is a guy who will not blink when it comes to dealing out justice even if it means breaking a rule or two. However Dean is also a blue collar worker, proud to be the bearer of the Intercontinental Title and the legacy that title carries. This match pitts those two contrasting sides of his character together, to win he must resist the urge to do what comes most naturally when against a foe like The Miz. Thismatch didn’t get the praise it deserved and for me is a high point in the resurgence to prominence of the Intercontinental Title at the hands of Dean and The Miz from 2015 when Dean won it from KO through to 2018 when Seth Rollins took up the mantle.
6. Dean Ambrose v Seth Rollins, Hell in a Cell (Hell in a Cell 2014)
Sam: Of all the years of Dean Ambrose v Seth Rollins matches and storylines I think it is easiest to romanticise their 2014 run. Their feud was intense and engaging, beyond the storyline it genuinely felt that we were witnessing the birth of two new singles stars as they tore up the midcard in the second half of the year. All of that culminated in this match which holds the distinction as being the first PPV main event featuring only performers who debuted this decade.
From the moment Dean strode down the ramp, set the tone by yelling, “we’re all gonna die tonight” and began to climb The Cell, the crowd watching knew they were in for something special. Indeed that very moment encapsulates so much of what makes this match special, breathtaking spectacle, exploding at every inch with the character and story of these two men who are so driven to brutalise one another. In the PG, annualised Hell in a Cell world, The Devil’s Playground has been stripped of so much of its awe and darkness but for this night at least Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose paid tribute to the great Cell matches of the past and also gave a formula to make Hell in a Cell matches mean something more.
Mav: The hope going in was that they would redefine the cell gimmick for a new era; they didn’t quite do that, but took an approach that was just as valid, riffing on the entire seventeen year history of the structure by taking ideas from all the best cell matches and putting a modern spin on them. The idea of a match not starting for its first ten minutes has appealed to me ever since the incredible intensity of the ill fated Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart match from Montreal, which people forget was an incredibly awesome brawl around the arena before the screwjob finish made the actual action moot. The same of course goes for the beginning of the Mankind vs. Undertaker bout, which the two former indy grapplers riffed on by fighting atop the cage, though their double table bump was more inspired by the angle of fall of Shawn Michaels in the very first version of the match type in 1997. The stretchers came out then, and well done to WWE for selling both men as being done for the evening for such an extended period- it really helped the suspension of disbelief. Back in the cell, it was all about the unique brand of deranged violence Ambrose brings to the table, and the vile chair shots he used were a nice nod to the original betrayal, and Seth’s constant attempts at escape being foiled reversed the polarity of the feud to that point, in the sense that this time he had nowhere to go and had to take his punishment like a man, but in a fitting motif to the rivalry, Rollins still managed to escape with a win due to Bray Wyatt’s interference. A match that has certainly aged well, and one of the few modern cells that brings much value to the table.
That wraps things up for us this week, make sure you come back next week for the top 5 Dean Ambrose WWE Matches. What did you think of our picks for 10-6 and what do you think should come in at number 1? Let us know in the comments below.
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