I owe Jon Moxley/Dean Ambrose a massive apology. We had heard for years from writers who had left World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) how the backstage environment was toxic and that the creative department was a mess. The “smart fans” – ones who follow pro wrestling behind the scenes – have repeatedly been told that WWE creative was a horrific place to work. Stories came out time after time over the years. Wade Keller alone has interviewed literally dozens of ex-WWE writers over his decades at the Pro Wrestling Torch or on his Wade Keller Pro Wrestling Podcast. Until Ambrose stepped forward, never have we heard this message from a WWE wrestler that was pushed as hard as Dean Ambrose has been pushed. This past week, Ambrose shattered that deafening silence into a million pieces. Dean’s willingness to speak openly on podcasts to both Chris Jericho and Wade Keller may end up being a game changer for both Dean Ambrose (now known as Jon Moxley) and for his new wrestling organization All Elite Wrestling (AEW).
For those who'd like to listen to game changing interviews:
Chris Jericho’s Raw is Jericho:
And a two-part interview with Wade Keller on Wade Keller’s Pro Wrestling Podcast:
I have a newfound respect for Moxley based on how he reacted to the chaos that confronted him before every broadcast and pay per view shows. We all knew WWE wrestlers were faced the prospect of being handed scripts outlining juvenile or simply downright stupid plots. What we didn’t know was how a man like Ambrose reacted to a negative situation. Ironically there are life lessons to be learned, even when watching the slumping WWE.
Ambrose described the stress and frustration at anticipating he was going to be doing senseless things like carrying a potted plant to the ring, trying to intimidate Brock Lesnar by dragging a red wagon to the ring, being inoculated against fan germs by appearing to be receiving rabies and distemper shots, and wearing a gas mask to the ring to protect against smelly fans. For those keeping track, it’s true, poor Ambrose seemed to attract a whole lot of Vince’s stupid ideas, probably because he had good comedic timing.
What stood out about Ambrose was his response to such ridiculous scripts. Unlike many other wrestlers (or just employees in general), Ambrose wasn’t there to just pick up his check and do whatever he’s asked, no questions asked. Instead of silent resignation, Ambrose would go directly to Vince McMahon, CEO of the WWE, and the man who controls WWE Creative with an iron fist. Ambrose would meet face-to-face with McMahon and tell him that he didn’t like the ideas, then he would suggest his ideas for a better scenario for his character, better for the match he was involved in, and better for the enjoyment of fans. Most of the time, McMahon would say no. When Ambrose heard that his ideas were not going to fly with McMahon, what Ambrose did next would separate himself, yet again, from most individuals. He would state that if someone was going to make the ridiculous idea work, he was the best guy for the job – and he would go out and execute the horrific scripts to the best of his ability.
How many leaders out there would like to have an employee who was engaged enough to professionally meet with them to provide constructive feedback and alternate courses of action – not just complaints and emotional outbursts? Sadly, Vince didn’t even seem to pay attention. He just pushed stories that played well in his 73 (turning 74 in August of 2019) year old mind. Vince didn’t understand that he had a wrestler who was in touch with his own character, who wanted to cultivate ownership of his character and his character’s actions in order to build a long term journey for fans to embrace. Conversely, Vince’s approach was to force writers and wrestlers to write their scripts for his likings, not for the fans - and certainly his desires would not enable professionals to do what they do best.
Ambrose’s narratives almost identically line up with description of dozens of ex-WWE writers. The writers live in fear of being fired, because they don’t have fans in front of the camera like wrestlers do. This lack of loyal followers means that in Vince’s mind they are expendable. Thus, the writers weren’t writing for excellence. They weren’t writing for the fans. They weren’t writing for a logical and consistent continuity. They were writing for Vince McMahon’s enjoyment and approval. As a result, over the last three years, ratings have evaporated. Compared to the heyday of Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock in the late 90s, today’s ratings would be considered dismal. Vince hasn’t worried about dropping ratings, conveniently blaming it on “cable cutting” and wrestler injuries when he deals with Wall Street. He’s also the beneficiary of some excellent negotiating skills and some degree of good timing that has allowed the WWE to sign massive deals with USA Network and Fox for enormous revenue increases that allow him to effectively count his dollars while ignoring the threat of long term low ratings. Ambrose’s anecdotes indicate that the real issue is that Vince McMahon, the man who took over wrestling in the 1980s may have lost his touch with what fans want.
One may ask why Ambrose wouldn’t just go out there on a RAW or SmackDown and do what he wanted to do? Why not say what he knew would be much better than what he was given? He could prove to Vince he was correct and Vince was wrong. In his reasoning behind not doing so, Ambrose proves that he has more empathy than what we see in current day America. Ambrose was keenly aware that as a popular wrestler, it was highly unlikely that Vince would fire him. He was also aware that an anonymous writer would be expendable. If Ambrose deviated from the script, most likely Vince would have a meltdown and a writer would be fired. So Ambrose didn’t. He went out and made a fool of himself. He did it to the best of his ability. He didn’t risk the job of someone who didn’t make as much money as he. Dean didn’t risk the job of someone with a wife, possibly kids, and mortgage. He went out and played the clown.
This takes me back to why I need to apologize to Dean Ambrose, though one could argue that I should address him as Jon Moxley going forward.
When I was sitting in my common man cave with three buddies watching the monthly pay-per-views on the WWE Network, we’d get really frustrated with Dean. We’d wonder why a big-time star would get stuck with such crappy stories every pay-per-view. We’d wonder why a big-time star would continually be wrapped up in nonsensical stories week after week on either RAW or SmackDown. When it was time for Dean’s match on a pay-per-view, we’d just refill on snacks and grab a fresh drink. We thought Dean was the biggest waste of talent in the WWE.
We were wrong.
Dean Ambrose cared about the fan experience. Dean tried to change things. When he was stymied, he did what he was told to do because he understood Vince was the boss and the boss signed his checks. More importantly, he didn’t want someone who couldn’t afford it to get fired because Ambrose was unhappy playing the clown.
Dean Ambrose/Jon Moxley, I am sorry and I apologize. I didn’t understand all the facts and now I am left with a feeling that WWE fans missed a ton of great Ambrose matches. It is clear now that the last five years of the WWE would have been much better had Vince listened to you.
Jon Moxley, I am willing to watch AEW and look forward to seeing what you will do. I have high hopes, especially now that your passion has been reignited. As fans, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to finally see what Dean Ambrose was always meant to be…Jon Moxley.
Jon Moxley, thanks for pulling the curtains back on what goes on in WWE Creative. Good luck in AEW.