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Just over a year ago now, the wrestling world was stunned to learn of Dean Ambrose’s decision not to renew his WWE contract upon its expiry in April. The way in which the news was delivered was almost unprecedented. Some fans, myself included, considered it a “work”. From a storyline perspective, Ambrose’s nihilistic presentation at the time seemed to coincide well with what WWE itself had reported; a man fed up with his lot and looking ahead to pastures new. To the hopeful or maybe even desperate among us, it hinted at a possible redemption angle. It was a suspect time in the wrestling calendar for such a character evolution to manifest.
As time rolled on, however, it became apparent that Ambrose leaving WWE was indeed legitimate. Any whispers of a 2011 CM Punk style return were emphatically hushed. For the second time in a matter of months, Jon Moxley shocked the world by way of a huge reveal at the end of AEW’s first official PPV, Double or Nothing.
As a loyal Dean Ambrose fan – a point I urge you to remember as you read on – I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I was frustrated to learn, without any doubt, that Dean Ambrose was no more. I could have followed his career following his WWE departure if I really wanted to. Yet, I fall into the rare camp of wrestling fan who isn’t so disenchanted with WWE to the point that I feel the need to plant my flag elsewhere. I had no plans to become a full time AEW supporter and, with that, a Moxley proponent.
Fast forward six months, then, and Wrestle Kingdom 14 marked a milestone for me. It would be my first exposure to the rechristened Jon Moxley in the form of an actual full length match. It was time to make up my own mind on the man without relying on GIFs, interview snippets, and the thoughts of other content creators, regardless of which biases they held. With spare time on my hands during the Christmas and New Year season, and an interest in NJPW’s Double Gold Dash angle, Moxley’s involvement on the show was a happy accident. Admittedly, his attitude towards his former employer never really sat well with me, reasons for which I will touch on soon. In the interests of fairness, though, I went into his double bill against Lance Archer and then Juice Robinson with an open mind. I was willing to see for myself the rejuvenated man that Moxley repeatedly proclaimed himself to be.
Sadly, what I witnessed on those two nights strengthened in me an opinion I harboured for several months. Unfairly or not, it brought back a resentment I initially felt upon Ambrose’s exit from WWE. What I saw had me question whether or not Jon Moxley was really any different from Dean Ambrose, other than a different name, a propensity for bad language, and a pair of middle fingers.
Moxley’s infamous reveal-all interview on Chris Jericho’s podcast, immediately following his Double or Nothing appearance, reinforced a narrative that has existed for many years regarding the inner workings of the WWE writing team. Above all others, Vince McMahon was the subject of complaint, as Moxley laid waste to his own experience of the creative process during his time with the company.
He told a frankly fascinating story of how frustrated he was with said process. One which fans, who for several years have held the same contempt, greedily digested. The claims were accepted and poured over without much question over the strength of their gripe. Among the angles Ambrose and Jericho ridiculed, however, was a program between the two men in question that both seemed to have no issue with, that being the rivalry surrounding the desecrations of “Mitch the Plant” and Jericho’s trademark light-up jacket. In fact, they were quite proud of it. They then quickly brushed aside before jumping straight back on the hate wagon. With alarm bells ringing in my ears, the stability of Moxley’s argument began to crumble around me.
Personally, I didn’t see anything wrong with this particular angle. In fact, from reading and listening to other fans then and since, I may be the only person alive who enjoyed the admittedly left field “Asylum” match and what led up to it. Nevertheless, it was unquestionably a period of downtime in an otherwise red hot 2016 for Ambrose. It was a year that included memorable bouts with Kevin Owens, Triple H, Brock Lesnar, his Shield brothers, and AJ Styles. Add to that the heartbreak of his “what if” moment in the Royal Rumble, and Ambrose was a firm fan favourite for the vast majority of that year. The feud with Chris Jericho, however? I distinctly remember the groans and apathy with which that program was met. Especially regarding its culmination in a hyper gimmicked cage match.
This is why I bring his claims into disrepute. If Moxley himself was content with this “good shit, pal” spell in his career, surely objectivity goes out the window, based on the above evidence? Who is he to say that one angle is bad, yet another is fine? Is it that his opinion should be respected purely because it paints WWE in a bad light? The two possibilities I took from this morsel were these. The first being that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, and WWE should be judged upon subjectively, rather than by lazily borrowing soundbites from other echo chambers. Or, alternatively, Moxley was simply placating his present company, his newly aligned fanbase, and therefore saying whatever would fit his anti-WWE narrative.
The problem with writing a piece such as this shouldn’t be hard to figure out. This is no doubt a controversial topic. A topic some may even consider to be biased in itself, and rejected the premise outright. Either through blind AEW prejudice, or that I took on this task with little context to work with. To tackle that point head on: yes, I admit to not having the full experience of Moxley’s post-WWE career. I could very well be missing out on a special performer. Look at it from my vantage point, however. I wrote earlier of choosing not to follow AEW’s product. Personally, there is enough wrestling to satisfy me as things stand. With WWE’s fringe brands and more local independent companies filling my plate, I have no desire to look elsewhere. What if I was actually looking for something else to pique my interest, though? What if I was looking for an alternative?
In today’s age, fans on the fence of a product are garnered through welcoming online presence and content. If I was to use the internet as a tool to help determine whether or not I should dabble in AEW, what would I find online in relation to Moxley? An unhinged lone wolf stalking his prey from within the crowd. Seemingly revolutionary promos, whose “Us vs Them” message could easily be tweaked with a different word here and there to fit that of The Shield. An abundance of matches filled with cartoon violence. A type of match occasionally allowed in WWE should the occasion call for it, rather than just for the sake of it. Matches, too, that give me cause for concern, considering his recurring MRSA troubles. Finally, I would see reposts of disdain for his WWE heel turn in which a gas mask was donned, only to be coupled with appreciation for his commitment to character in the form of an eye patch on a cruise ship. Combine these examples with the bitterness Moxley holds for his former character, a character who brought me joy time and time again in various forms, and you can see why I’m skeptical to welcome Moxley into my fandom.
To put it simply, Moxley has repeatedly thrown his middle fingers up at a character I hold dear, only to rehash similar traits somehow superior because….why? They’re not peppered with child friendly quirks? They’re of Moxley’s own making rather than that of the machine? Or, most probably, that they’re not performed under the big bad WWE banner?
Taking the above into account, I feel conflicted. Another prominent emotion in Moxley’s interviews since leaving is one of freedom. If Moxley is finally at peace with himself, I should be happy for him in kind. In a way, I am. If he was so ill with anguish at turning up for work every week, then kudos to him for sticking to his guns and following his heart out the door. Especially with how he went about it. Too many wrestlers take to social media today to announce their request for a release. I roll my eyes every time it happens. I wonder why a public plea to the masses, one that essentially tarnishes WWE in some form, would be looked upon favourably by those in charge. For Moxley to remain steadfast in refusing a new contract in silence adds power to his volition. I do genuinely hold a lot of respect for the way in which he handled himself up till his exit. Afterwards, though? Well, I hope you see now how someone who doesn’t hold a grudge with WWE would react to such behaviour.
On the surface, I appear to be throwing Moxley under the bus. That is not my intention. Remember, Dean Ambrose’s hijinks entertained me far more often than not. If he were to parade around on WWE television sporting costume props for laughs, I would join in on the fun. Rather, it is to bring to light that WWE’s omnipresent creative process might not be as damaging as some would have you believe. That, although the micromanagement approach might be stifling, the end product should be taken at face value. Not simply due to which company’s logo occupies the corner of a screen.
Don’t let a still raw and embittered soul influence you into taking what you liked previously and instantly denouncing it, purely because a wrestler freed from WWE’s shackles intimates that you do so. Furthermore, don’t jump to conclusions set by others that everything is greener on the other side of WWE’s walls. For every disillusioned wrestler within the company, you’ll likely find one or more who are content with their place. If more people paid close attention to both sides of the argument, perhaps the criticisms regularly aimed at WWE would be equally asked of other companies’ intellectual property. More importantly, perhaps the praise heaped upon those others would fall into WWE’s lap also.
Let me know your thoughts on the above column in the comments below, or @RickyandClive on Twitter.
Read my previous Brand Extension columns here.
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