I was actually wearing my Dean Ambrose shirt when I read the news that Dean had given the WWE notice he would not be renewing his contract when it finishes in April. His departure will bring to the close a chapter in the career of one of the undisputed top guys of his generation but is also a story that could have been, and should have been so much more.
I have long said that when I started watching WWE again in 2014, I came back to see Daniel Bryan but stayed to watch The Shield. It was during that magical six man tag match against The Wyatts at Elimination Chamber that I was abruptly awoken to the fact there was some amazing stuff happening outside of Bryan’s main event run.
At the center of that chaotic tornado was a slimy looking character that immediately caught my eye; a scrappy brawler that seemed to combine the wild and unpredictable elements of Mic Foley and Terry Funk, two of my all time favourites. That guy, Dean Ambrose, would go on to become a lynch pin in my fandom and possibly my favourite wrestler of all time.
After the incredible feud against Evolution, truly solidified me as a fan, I marvelled at how Ambrose and Seth Rollins blazed a trail through the midcard in the second half of 2014. They anchored an excellent MITB match, turned a normally eye rolling gimmick into the best lumberjack match ever wrestled, then at Hell in a Cell the pair performed a love letter to the iconic Hell in a Cell’s past and all of it in the first WWE PPV main event solely composed of talent that debuted this decade.
While he made his initial impression as a wild man, what I found as I watched more and more of Dean Ambrose is that he is truly a technician in the ring, a wrestler dedicated to his character and telling relatable stories through pro wrestling. He sells as well as anyone since Bret Hart, bringing the crowd into his matches with his unique facial expressions and mastery over his body language.
With a microphone in hand there are few in the WWE who can match his ability to believably go from light hearted to serious in a second. Just watch his promos the night after The Shield split, before his 2015 ladder match with Rollins or in the build up to the 2016 Shield Triple Threat. (They are all links BTW, you should definitely watch them all.)
While he gives off a vibe of not caring what anyone thinks, Dean Ambrose is a master craftsman, a wrestler who makes sure every facial expression, every word, every movement matters, in the ring and on the mic.
And yet since 2015 his story in the WWE has sadly become a complete summation of everything that has been wrong with the company, be it stop start booking, the inability or unwillingness to seize on an act that has got hot, a preoccupation with part timers or a seeming blindness to those who put in the most effort, it is all there in this unfortunate tale.
Just when the WWE had pushed him to the pinnacle of the company, they wouldn’t let him soar.
I could write thousands upon thousands of words about how he was mistreated in the years that came after 2015 but the one series of events that always stands out to me is how the company failed to pull the trigger on him in early 2016. Having chased Rollins again through 2015 and flirted with the World Title scene after Rollins injury, Ambrose had made himself the most popular face in the WWE by some stretch. Coming into 2016 Dean was running red hot and on the run into Wrestlemania the WWE had two clear opportunities to truly pull the trigger and cement him as a top guy for the rest of his career either by having him win the Royal Rumble or by taking the WWE title from Triple H at Roadblock and facing him in the main event of Wrestlemania.
Every time I rewatch those matches I can’t help but wonder what could have been as the crowd explodes at each false finish. The WWE universe was ready to anoint a new hero, ready to have Dean as the top guy but the WWE refused to roll with what was so clearly in front of their face. It was Braun Strowman before Braun Strowman was even close to being someone that got cheered.
Yet despite even making him do the heavy lifting and set up Roman Reigns’ main event match with Triple H (because Roman wasn’t up to it) they still could have salvaged the situation by letting him cement his name with a win over Brock Lesnar. But no. To his credit Dean made the most of a bad situation against an unmotivated opponent who was training for a UFC fight and even though he got to put a little fear in The Beast’s eyes, Brock was also being reserved for Roman……. Oh and Goldberg but the less said about that the better.
The WWE constantly bangs on about how their talent have to ‘grab the brass ring’ and ‘show they want it badly enough’, yet when presented with the clearest opportunity since Daniel Bryan in 2014 to crown a fan favourite they refused. This was despite Dean wrestling the most matches out of anyone in the company for two years running, receiving red hot ovations from every crowd he went in front of and even topping the merch sales lists at different points through 2015.
As a coda for that tale of missed opportunity, after Dean was able to work himself back into the main event scene (as he always managed to do) and was finally awarded the WWE Championship, he was promptly hung out to dry yet again. Put on the Steve Austin podcast, Austin pushed an obviously uncomfortable guest to speak about his broken childhood and taking drugs while on the indy wrestling scene, before dressing him down and for all the world to see telling Dean he didn’t have the fire to be a WWE Champion. It was later revealed that Austin had been fed lines by production hoping to push Ambrose buttons. The unprofessional nature of that boggles the mind and still frustrates me to this day but the character assassination was done, words like ‘lazy’ began to infiltrate the lexicon of the IWC.
The story goes on of course to include losing his first feud as the face of the post brand split Smackdown, getting saddled with a Baron Corbin feud for Mania 33 and when he managed to make it hot, getting left of TV for two weeks and then bumped to the pre-show in place of a ‘signature’ Smackdown Women’s Six Pack Challenge.
The missed opportunities stack up miles high, yet throughout it all Dean was still regularly spinning out fantastic work on the mic or in the ring. As a fan I was still hanging on,knowing it would only be a matter of time before he was back on top because he always found a way to bring it around.
That most likely won’t happen now.
For all he has done for the company Dean Ambrose deserves a proper farewell from the WWE. Even in resigning he has proved himself a true company guy, not dragging it out publicly and giving them plenty of notice so they can build their stories around him correctly heading into the most important time of the year. However given the current landscape of pro wrestling and the history of mismanagement of his character I cannot shake the feeling the WWE will go full scorched earth and do everything they can to damage his brand before he leaves. We’ve already seen him backed up by Nia Jax, if that is the beginning then I shudder at what could come next.
So I will say farewell Dean Ambrose and I will chose to remember the amazing things you did to make me a fan: the iconic feud of the generation against Seth Rollins, how you helped kick start the rehabilitation of the Intercontinental Title, your Last Man Standing Match with Kevin Owens, how in just a minute on Talking Smack you eviscerated both John Cena and AJ Styles, how you main evented my first ever live WWE show in a Steel Cage match with Seth Rollins and how you cashed in Money in the Bank to win the WWE Championship to became the first member of The Shield to achieve the Triple Crown.
I say farewell hoping that one day you will come back because so many things in the WWE will not be the same without you.
But I say farewell with a bittersweet smile on my face because to put it bluntly the WWE no longer deserves to have you. May greener pastures await wherever you go.
And hey, maybe this is all just a rumor and I’ll regret this in the morning. A fan can only dream.