Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
Invictus – William Ernest Henley
As a Jon Moxley fan, the last month has been one of the most exciting I’ve had as a pro wrestling fan. Looking back, I think I would have to go back to when the then Dean Ambrose won the WWE Championship in 2016 to remember a time that felt as truly electric. I might even go as far to say this is the most excited I’ve been since the Yes Movement dragged me back to wrestling back in February 2014.
My favorite wrestler of all time is a man reborn.
You could see it written on his face when he strode down the stairs at Double or Nothing, you could hear it ringing in his voice as he spoke on Talk is Jericho and you could see it burning in his eyes when he took the ring again for the first time at the Best of the Super Juniors Final in New Japan.
He is a man whose passion and drive were beaten down and sterilized while working for a company that forced him to perform below the level he knew he could. It’s not that his work wasn’t good, he had been one of the most consistently great performers in that company for years on end, but that success came in spite of everything the company forced on him, not because of it.
If there is one thing that was made clear from the two hours of podcasts with Chris Jericho and three hours with Wade Keller it is that Jon Moxley is a man who wants to exercise his own sense of creativity. He wants to sculpt the character he portrays, he wants to shape the stories he tells and he wants to unleash the years of experience he has built up in the pro wrestling industry. He wants to forge his own destiny.
There is something immediately endearing and energizing about someone who wants to back themselves like that. In my professional life outside my pro wrestling fandom I work with small business owners, particularly new small business owners and one of the things that never ceases to excite me is their passion for what they are doing. It is that passion that sustains these people when they have long hours and the massive highs and lows that come with owning a business and it is endearing and it is easy to get swept up in.
Jon Moxley is far from the first wrestler of this generation to ‘back himself’ outside the WWE however he is the most high profile by a decent stretch and has had the quickest time between leaving and regaining the spotlight on a large stage. There are risks to it, for every Cody Rhodes there is a scrap heap of Rybacks, Wade Barretts and Damien Sandows who never quite found the drive, ability or desire to make it in the independent scene as some of their fans had hoped they would. Jon Moxley could have fallen completely flat on his re-entry to the wrestling world but instead he has lit the world of wrestling alight.
The highlight so far was his barn burner with Juice Robinson at the New Japan Best of the Super Juniors finals. As the pair brawled around the arena it became immediately obvious that all the talk on the Jericho podcast was not hot air, this was a man bursting at the seams to put all his passion and energy into his performance but was locked into a structure that wouldn’t allow him to unleash the full force of his own creativity. In New Japan he didn’t wade in with an easy starting match to get used to the New Japan style, he didn’t ask for a tune up, he went all in on this new opportunity and put on an invigorating performance.
It was very familiar to those who watched and loved his WWE performances but was done with a renewed intensity and vigor, an energy that had only sporadically been glimpsed in Dean’s final two years in the WWE. It was like Dean Ambrose turned up to 11. That is not to tear down his work in the WWE, I became a fan of his through his time there, I rank some of his work is amongst my favourite ever and him as my favourite wrestler of all time. However it was exhilarating to see him with a fresh new coat of paint going after one of New Japan’s favourite sons with such intensity.
Who Jon Moxley represents was perfectly summed up in the finish of the Juice Robinson match when his former WWE finisher, the Double-Arm DDT Dirty Deeds wasn’t enough to finish the match, only scoring a two count but Moxley had another move up his sleeve, spiking Juice with an elevated Double-Arm DDT and new modified finisher, The Death Rider. It was both familiar and fresh and said as much about who Jon Moxley is as a hundred promos ever could.
A few days later Moxley would go on to beat New Japan Young Lion Shota Umino at Dominion but in the post match hauled Umino out on his shoulders, taking the New Japan Dojo’s star pupil under his wing. Moxley may be a violent man, but he remains a man who respects fight and effort and still understands the bonds they can bring.
This slow reveal of his new character through action as much as verbiage is making every time he steps in the ring must watch for fans like myself. I even watched his match against the former Big Cass now CazXL at Northeast Wrestling just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Now a hardcore match with the similarly wild spirit Joey Janella, the New Japan G1 and mouthwatering matches with the likes of the heavy hitting Tomohiro Ishii, the cocky super star Tetsuya Naito and even the comedic coward Toru Yano await and of course a date with Kenny Omega at All Out in August. In the Talk Is Jericho interview Moxley stated he wanted to challenge himself to step out of his comfort zone and boy will this run of matches up against brand new opponents squarely in the brightest of spotlights be a baptism by fire to the international pro wrestling scene.
Creative freedom is an underrated beast, we used to all snigger a bit when Tito repeatedly wrote about how he was here on LOP for free but as with most of his columns he has a very good point. I have had a writing job with strings controlling what I could and couldn’t say and those strings slowly strangled me, the small amounts of money I was paid were absolutely not worth losing the fire I had in my belly. You can see how that freedom has taken Cody Rhodes to another level in his career, how it has taken years off Chris Jericho’s in ring work and how it seems to be fuelling Moxley at the moment. As a performer he has always been at his best when he has been telling long term stories that he can shape and get invested in, be is his 2015-16 series with Kevin Owens, the first six months of Smackdown opposite AJ Styles and of course the epic multi-year story opposite Seth Rollins. Hopefully as he wrestles his way through NJPW and into the co-main event of AEW he is able to plot similarly multi-layered stories and character development. The good news is that so far all signs point to yes he can.
And so standing on the ropes at Double or Nothing Jon Moxley breathed in a deep breath of free air. I couldn’t help but think of the poem Invictus, a poem all about seizing control of your circumstances and plotting a better path for yourself through chaos. Now Jon Moxley is doing just that, he is the captain of his own ship to sink or sail but at least he will sink or sail on his own merit and I cannot wait to see what craziness he can come up with.
That’s all from me this week, let me know what your first impressions have been of Jon Moxley since he appeared at Double or Nothing in the comments below. You can also reach me on Twitter @Sir_Samuel or go more in depth on the Jon Moxley thread on the LOP forums here.
Also in case you missed it last week me and Maverick started our Top 10 Dean Ambrose WWE Matches countdown with places 10-6. We are planning on having the top 5 up next week so keep an eye out for that.
Lastly we are currently looking for participants in the LOP Columns Forum Young Lions Cup. Every writer on Lords of Pain started in the Columns Forum, it is a great place to discuss wrestling and try your hand at writing. The Young Lions Cup will even feature a mentoring system where you will get put under the wing of some of LOPs finest. If you are interested you can find out all the details and sign up by following the link here.