By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – May 31, 2019)
“If this is really what you want…I’m the best man for the job.” – Jon Moxley AKA Dean Ambrose to Vince McMahon
If there were ever a podcast every professional wrestling fan should listen to, it’s this week’s tell-all Talk is Jericho interview with Jon Moxley, the former Dean Ambrose of World Wrestling Entertainment. The reasons why are varied, but perhaps the most striking thing about it is how believable it all is, and how understated Moxley is as he lays it out.
It’s fitting as you listen to Moxley put forward his stories and his rationale that both the man and the character he wished to play were both so relatable and subtle. This is a guy who, despite competing in death matches and working for years inside a CZW ring, treasured realism and legitimate art and passion in his craft. As he discusses with Jericho how much he enjoys watching concert videos, both with his wife, WWE personality Renee Young, or solo while working out, you get a glimpse into a guy who appreciates performances in entertainment.
He speaks of loving to watch someone that’s at the top of his or her game wow the masses, and as we stop and ponder what he clearly wanted from his pro wrestling career, we can understand exactly why leaving millions of dollars on the table in order to be happy was the easiest decision he could have made. The misnomer is that WWE is the answer for every worker in the business, because it’s simply not true. If it were, everyone would sell their soul to get there, and while some do, many choose to stay in less lucrative spots where their creative and intellectual freedoms still belong to them.
And here is where Moxley lost his smile, to borrow a Shawn Michaels gimmick from the mid-90s. As much fun as he had working with Seth Rollins and his great friend Roman Reigns, it’s beyond dispute that he hadn’t felt professionally satisfied or fulfilled in the company for quite some time, usually due to the power structure in the writers room. He makes mention of hoping his story, how he left, how he did business the right way until the end, will illuminate the glaring and tragic flaws of Vince McMahon’s creative process, how things are decided, what’s green lighted, and even the scripting of promos.
“Why do I work here?” It’s what he asked one of the writers after receiving a script to go be a trained monkey rather than someone who has spent years perfecting his own persona, knowing how to reach an audience, and performing at a high, independent, wide open level. This has long been a complaint of mine, dating even further back than when it manifested itself in my presence. Roman Reigns came to our studios in 2014 and Brandon Haghany and I interviewed him for nearly a half hour. Reigns was personable, funny, real, and exactly the kind of guy you’d want to hang out with or grab a beer with. He cut an impromptu promo for us on an iPhone and it was the best we’d ever heard him do. It was natural. He was great.
The guy on television has been the opposite, and much of the vitriol outside the “we’re shoving this dude down your throat because we want him to be the top star in the business” concept comes from the fact that the scripts he reads are TERRIBLE and make Reigns out to be someone that feels entirely artificial. Moxley talks about how he was once handed a script with a list of things on it that his character had done on the way to the building that night. He was incensed, because none of them were things he would do and more damningly none of them were things ANY NORMAL, COOL, HUMAN person would do or say. It’s a way to take a potential super babyface and turn that possible cash cow into a nothing sandwich.
Pro wrestling isn’t supposed to all be on sheets of paper. Much of it comes from the talent of the wrestlers, who know how to speak to an audience and manipulate or
WWE is so tightly controlled that, as Moxley describes just how unhappy he became, you begin to feel almost stifled or claustrophobic just listening to it. He doesn’t say anything “mean” about his former employer, instead he thanks Vince for the opportunities and says that if nothing else, after a great run (for a while), he met his wife, who is his best friend and soulmate. So, he won. And now he’s a full-time member of the All Elite Wrestling (AEW) roster, appearing as a surprise at the tail end of the Double or Nothing Pay Per View event from Las Vegas six nights ago.
This wasn’t a shock to me or likely to you, but after listening to Talk is Jericho, you can tell that as he made that entrance through the crowd, all that emotion you saw pouring out of him and all the energy and enthusiasm he showed was genuine. This is someone released from a creative prison, which would explain the references in the teaser video he dropped on social media a few weeks before the event. Moxley is somebody it’s now even more difficult to root against, because his words ring true, and the question I’m left with is how many current WWE superstars, male and female, felt some level of catharsis and “preach brother” from his interview.
My guess is at least 50 percent of the wrestlers themselves under McMahon’s employ agreed with 90 percent of what Jon Moxley said. None of it felt outlandish or cheap. This is someone who wanted his story out there and who, unlike Sasha Banks, The Revival, Luke Harper, and even Neville, lived up to the contract he agreed to, did so to the best of his ability, and left WWE under about as good of terms as anyone in recent memory. That’s the lesson for everyone else, and it really extends past pro wrestling. Whatever it is you do, you fulfill what you’ve promised, and when you’ve completed the term or the task, you simply don’t promise anything further. If they throw money at you, you have to make a choice. What’s most important to you? If it’s the cash, you take it. If it’s your mental well-being, walk.
There is now somewhere else to walk to for pro wrestlers. AEW has given a lot of hope to those within the industry and to fans outside of it. While I found last week’s event to be a bit overhyped, most of it delivered. We have yet to see this group attempt weekly television, and I’ll be writing plenty about Cody, the Young Bucks, Kenny Omega, and Tony Khan as we get deeper into the summer and closer to the television debut on TNT. This is the best chance at real competition for WWE since World Championship Wrestling’s high point in 1998. Since McMahon bought WCW in 2001, we’ve seen nothing even close. It’s all been second tier.
AEW feels like first tier, and Moxley in particular stands out as the big WWE name from the PRESENT that can usher in an audience that’s starved for good wrestling. I’ve been a fan for over 30 years, worked in the industry for nine, and have written about it for over 20. I’m almost ready to say I’m about done with it. AEW has my interest. If they falter, there’s a good chance I’m moving on. WWE isn’t going to change, not as long as Vince is in charge, and he won’t hand over the keys unless he’s physically unable to do the job anymore.
Credit to Chris Jericho for saying very little, just asking a few questions and occasionally chiming in with his own experiences in WWE and WCW to give further credence to Moxley’s words. This was Jon Moxley talking, not being interrupted or sidetracked, and allowed to tell us what it was like for Dean Ambrose in WWE over the past few years. It was far more effective because of the subdued nature of it all.
If only WWE would learn THAT from the podcast… just let people talk, let them do it as themselves or as they feel comfortable, and boy can it ever be compelling.