Dean Ambrose was one of the reasons I got into wrestling. I don’t even remember how I found him specifically, because I know it wasn’t in a match, but I have a very distinct memory of watching him cut a promo back in 2016 with greasy bangs and a leather jacket and thinking “Yeah. I can get with this. I like what this weirdo’s pitching.”
Unfortunately, that was probably the last time I thought that about Ambrose in WWE.
It’s hard to do a ‘mentally unstable’ character, but it’s extra hard for WWE, a company run by people who were absent the day the universe handed out tact and sensitivity. Dean Ambrose may have debuted as part of the most memorable stable of the past decade, but he quickly faded into the background behind Rollins and Reigns, caught somewhere between “joke” and “PG hardcore wrestler.” WWE attempted to satiate an audience who remembered the Attitude Era’s blood with “asylum” matches, where the most badass thing in the cage was a sentient house plant. Ambrose was a grand slam champion during his time in WWE, but somehow none of his title reigns seemed to hold much weight. The most memorable part of his final year in WWE was when he got a flu shot in his ass on live television and blamed Roman Reigns’ “sins” as the reason the Big Dog got leukemia. Really rough stuff.
More 2019 in Wrestling:
- 2019 in Wrestling: Invisible Man vs Invisible Stan at Joey Janela’s Spring Break 3
- 2019 In Wrestling: Orange Cassidy is Wrestler of the Year
- 2019 in Wrestling: Nick Gage is the Best Professional Wrestler in the World
But all that is blissfully behind us now. In April of this year, Ambrose’s contact expired with WWE. The widely-held belief at the time was that he was done with wrestling, and was going to spend the rest of his time in a cabin in the woods making occasional Total Divas appearances with Renee Young. After all, the man nearly died with an infection in his elbow in that calendar year, no one could blame him from stepping away from wrestling.
But just a few days after he was officially gone from WWE, Ambrose’s little used Twitter account posted a hype video announcing the miraculous rebirth of Jon Moxley, the former CZW legend, the crazy asshole who would put himself through barbed wire, glass and anything else he could get his hands on. The guy who (reportedly) once cut a promo while having sex with somebody in a bear costume. The video showed Moxley breaking out of a jail cell, escaping the hounds pursuing him, and fleeing from the law. It wasn’t necessarily subtle, but it was damn effective. Everybody lost their collective minds minds; not only was he staying in wrestling, but for the first time in a very long time, the spark of creativity and excitement for wrestling itself were present.
Moxley’s first post WWE appearance was at the end of AEW’s inaugural PPV, Double or Nothing, where he came through the crowd and attacked Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega after the main event. The whole building popped louder than they had all night; Mox’s appearance in AEW seemed somehow both a given and impossible. The PPV closed out with a rejuvenated man delighting in his chaos, the carnage he was allowed to create.
Shortly after the surprise AEW appearance, Moxley revealed he was also the “Death Rider” behind a series of mysterious vignettes targeting then IWGP United States champion Juice Robinson. In June, he won the championship from Robinson in his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut match. His NJPW appearances since have featured him forming a popular mentorship with Young Lion Shota Umino, competing in the G1 Climax, and falling victim to the genius of Toru Yano. While he was unfortunately stripped of the US Championship after being unable to defend it, he recently challenged current champion and memento mori enthusiast Lance Archer to a Texas Death match at Wrestle Kingdom, something I am very much looking forward to waking up at 2 am to watch.
His AEW career so far has included a brief feud with Joey Janela and a rivalry with Kenny Omega culminating in a bloody Lights Out match that sparked a wild discussion about exactly how much barbed wire is too much barbed wire. That match, in particular, seemed to be right in Moxley’s wheelhouse. He looked like he felt at home throwing a man into mouse traps and narrowly avoiding an ice pick. This was a match type we’d certainly never seen him do in WWE, but it also had an energy that he’d clearly lacked in WWE. As a fan, it was great to see not only a fresh new character but a man who was having fun in the ring. You could tell this is what he was meant to be doing, and he was loving every second of it.
Mox’s 2019 was a year of reinvention. You could feel how much he’d missed caring about wrestling. Everything he did, every match he had, felt so much more than anything he’d done in years. His interview on Chris Jericho’s podcast revealed just how true that was; he spoke candidly about his unhappiness in WWE, how going out on his own reminded him of the way wrestling used to make him feel. It was inspiring to see a man rediscover his passion like this. It was a relief that he was able to do so while he still had prime wrestling years left. And it was real fun to see him come out in those tiny black shorts.