Jon Moxley is happy.
Some have the perception that the man we saw wearing an eyepatch on a chilly Cleveland afternoon is perpetually angry. Even disgusted or frustrated. It seems as if that was a byproduct of a former place that sent paychecks to him.
Even being in the natural enemy territory of his hometown Cincinnati doesn't get Moxley down. He's seeing the positive in (Fun times in) Cleveland (again, Still Cleveland), even though plenty of people mistake it as his backyard just because he's in Ohio.
"Four-and-a-half hour difference," Moxley noted. "Cleveland’s right around the top, Cincinnati’s on the bottom. But, the Buckeye state—you see the Ohio license plate when you land in town, it gives you a certain home feeling. So, it’s like I got a home town advantage. It’s pretty cool."
Speaking about 30 hours before I'd run into him again at AEW's Dynamite show, it was close enough for his mother to attend. He'd introduce her, humble as could be, to talent backstage in between photo shoots, pre tapes, and the like.
She was even mentioned on the broadcast, adding a little fuel to Jon's feud with Champion Chris Jericho.
The former Dean Ambrose feels creative and satisfied again. On the heels of a few interviews that saw him air his grievances with WWE in 2019, we were in store for something else. That's the direction I personally hoped it would take, but he doubled down when I asked him what "home runs" he thought AEW hit thus far.
"So many great matches. So many great, authentic performances from pro wrestlers in general. To get into this crazy profession you gotta be kind of renegade, kind of a gypsy, kind of a rebel type wandering spirit soul," Moxley explained. "The people that come to AEW and the people that gravitated toward being part of this roster are the most renegades, the most rebellious, the guys the most free spirits and being totally unencumbered by anything. It’s inspiring just to watch guys, whether they got a mic in their hand, whether they’re having a tag team match or whatever it is. Just to see all these different performers. It’s one home run right after another."
The biggest thing really driving the whole thing forward is the fans. The fans have been amazing in every single city we’ve gone to. We’re pulling out all the stops because every time we go anywhere right now it’s a new market. So, we come into Cleveland this week, we’re in Miami last week, pulling out all the stops because we want to make sure that when people leave [they] can’t wait until AEW comes back. This ain’t Barnum & Bailey Circus comes through a few times a year and maybe you go, maybe you don’t. Like, 'If AEW’s in town, we gotta go.' Just the foot on the gas pedal is just really awesome. But, like I said, it’s really the fans that brought out the energy. It makes you want to perform at a higher level for them. Even we’re on a friggin’ boat for four days with these fans, but the AEW fans have been the greatest fans in the world."
Ah, the boat.
Prior to their heated feud, Moxley had committed to several days aboard Chris Jericho's themed cruise, the Rock N' Wrestling Rager at Sea. It was Moxley's first time wrestling on a boat.
"Yeah. But, I’ve wrestled in stranger places," he quipped.
I'm sure you can find the irony of him working on a boat with an eye patch. You've already heard the jokes.
Coming from a guy that was very outspoken about his frustrations about the creative mannerisms of WWE, things have turned around for him. He's went from novelty-sized needles to eye patches, but at least the latter serves a purpose. One would expect the fact that he's abandoned the grueling WWE schedule to be a positive, too, but Moxley really hasn't had much free time.
"It’s day to day," Moxley explained. "For me, the schedule really hasn’t backed off much at all. I had about a month off when I first left WWE and then kinda put my foot to the gas pedal and been going pretty hard ever since with wresting, with movie stuff, and injuries. Which, a couple different injuries, put a damper on a lot of things, [having to get healthy.] It’s kind of day to day. Sometimes you feel really good, sometimes you need to take a little more time to rest or recover or whatever. You don’t want to over schedule yourself or make it too demanding, but on the other hand it’s kinda in my nature to do. I’ll go right from Ohio to Japan and then back to Alabama, and then back to Japan again. So, you just take as it comes. That’s the thing, too. It doesn’t feel like I’m clocking in for work, or being told like, 'Here’s what you gotta do, go do this.' If I come do a media day like today, it feels like something I want to do, something I’m like 'Yeah, for sure, I’ll come in a day early and promote the product because I’m passionate about the product.' Doesn’t feel like a job. It’s that energy from the fans that keeps you going on a friggin’ boat for four days. I had so much fun. I couldn’t wait to wrestle every night ‘cause I love that feeling. I just love wrestling, I love the process of getting warmed up, thinking of ideas to do, feeling the freedom of 'you can go out there and do whatever you want.' I feel like I’m 18 right now."
Moxley has missed some time in recent years. Specifically, he's battled a couple of rough staph infections that could have cost him his arm. It hasn't changed Moxley's outlook, in fact, it seems like he might be more grateful having overcome some of those obstacles.
"Every chance to get out there in front of these AEW crowds, as soon as you go back through the curtain it’s not like “Oh, my God, I need an ice pack I want to get in the car, get me to the next town.” It’s like, “I can’t wait to get out there again.” It’s an addictive feeling we got going on right now with this, the beginnings of this new thing called AEW. Even going to Japan, I love the fans. It’s a totally different styles, that atmosphere and everything over there. It’s the fans that keep you coming back," Moxley said in his usual, subdued interview voice.
Japan, specifically New Japan Pro Wrestling, has been a huge beneficiary of Moxley's chains being freed. He's one of the few wrestlers sliding back and forth between All Elite Wrestling and NJPW, even though several of the former's top stars were mainstays there. However, some hurt feelings and ignored proposals have led to variying degrees of commitment from both sides about potentially doing business there.
Mox doesn't seem too concerned about that, because it doesn't look like it would affect him whether or not an agreement comes to pass.
"New Japan is in Japan and AEW is in America. That’s where the business is two different business models. The home base for both places. So, I don’t think that they necessarily [need] to completely marry the brands or anything like that, but I don’t know whether the door’s open, closed, shut, whatever. If there’s a screen door, I don’t know. I think I just found my own door. I go through whatever fucking door I want, so it’s all good," he says.
The emergence of Moxley hasn't just helped out himself and NJPW, but also Shota Umino. The hand-selected Young Lion saw his profile raise considerably. He took many beatings along the way, but also was featured in the company's most popular digital skit.
Since then, he's headed over to the United Kingdom on excursion. Moxley exlained how the partnership developed and what their future may hold.
"Basically I needed a partner for tag matches every single night and I’m not a part of any of the factions or groups over there. So, that just worked out perfectly for me. I know he’s in the UK and having a good time from what I hear. So, hopefully he comes back in as a big star one of these days. So, when I’m all old and broken down and in need a pay day, maybe he’ll do me a favor," said the former WWE Champion.
Even without Shota by his side, Moxley has continued to be a breakout star for New Japan. Wrestle Kingdom saw him take home back-to-back United States Title victories, but almost saw him not survive the first one against Lance Archer.
"I never want to get smothered with a plastic bag again," Moxley said, after nearly being suffocated by a shopping bag. "That sucks. That’s some horror movie shit. But, very cool. Very violent setting, very cool. That was brutal. Very murdery."
New Japan isn't the only company that struck gold with Moxley outside of AEW. Future Stars of Wrestling promoted a Bloodsport-style event last July, and Moxley shockingly appeared unadvertised and took on Killer Kross, just a few months before Kross would be locked in to a WWE deal.
"They had a show in Vegas and I was at home," Moxley said of how the deal came about. "So, I just basically showed up, for lack of a better… That’s basically all there was to it. I’d known [Killer Kross] put out a pretty cool video trying to call me out. Clearly he was trying to make something happen. I was like “Oh, that’s cool, but I don’t even know if we’ll ever be in the same company at the same time, be it IMPACT! or whatever.” Then it just so happened, he was working on the show in Vegas while I was in Vegas, so I was like, “Oh, okay.” It just seemed to work out perfectly. I just showed up. That’s the cool thing about now, like I said, I feel like I’m 18 again. I just love wrestling. I love being in the ring. I love different styles of matches. I just love being in front of passionate wrestling fans and there’s so many of them out there right now."
Spontaneity, and even the opportunity to be spontaneous is an attractive quality for a guy who was restricted for the nine years prior.
Jon Moxley wants you to go to your local indie wrestling show on any given weekend and wonder if he'll show up. Because he can, and he has.
"I might just wanna show up at an indie show ‘cause it’s a Saturday night and I feel like it, if there’s an opponent I think I want to wrestle," Moxley said, reiterating the fact that he walks through any door he wants. "Some new move I want to try out, I might just show up and I might be on card unadvertised, you don’t know. Things like Bloodsport and independent wrestling, I want to be able to do some more of that in 2020 as the time and schedule allows, and different places. I want to get back to UK and Europe. Again, great fans over there. I haven’t had a chance to go over there since leaving WWE. There’s all these different places and things I want to do that I’m trying to looking at. Basically the world is my oyster right now. I don’t know that you want to call it a boom period or not, renaissance or whatever. But, it’s kind of cool to be a wrestling fan in 2020. There’s so many different styles and ideas and I kinda want to dabble in as much stuff as possible."
Today, you'll definitely see Jon Moxley at All Elite Wrestling. You'll see him pretty often in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Here and there, you'll see him at an independent wrestling event.
He wasn't sure he'd be anywhere. Fortunately for him, the AEW vision not only aligned with what he wanted to do, but allowed for more than he could have imagined.
"Definitely, yeah. 100%. I didn’t have a real clear vision of where my career was gonna go when I was leaving," Moxley admitted. "I kinda thought I would take myself off Broadway, so to speak for a while. I was like, “I don’t really know what I am or what I want to do any more.” I didn’t even have a clear vision for myself. I figured I’d disappear and go off the grid, and wrestle in Japan or somewhere else. Or put a mask on and do indies. I have no idea. I had no idea. I didn’t have a set plan. I kinda wanted to go wherever the wind took me and the timing of AEW popping up at the exact same time. The first time I sat down to talk with them, it was like, “Okay, this is what I want to do. Does that match up with your goals and what you’re gonna do?” and it does. So, we’re off to the races"
Negotiating with a new company is a sometimes scary situation. He's a top name in All Elite Wrestling now, but upon leaving WWE, Jon didn't really know what he was getting in to. Familiarity with Cody Rhodes, and even Chris Jericho -- who later took his eye out -- would help sway Moxley.
"Cody Rhodes, who I’ve known for a long time," Moxley said of who recruited him. "For years we worked together in WWE and obviously I’ve been friends with—was friends with Jericho before he stabbed me in the eye. Things took a turn for the worse real quick there. Even back then I knew that Jericho ain’t stupid. He’s always got his finger on the pulse. He’s one of the smarter guys and if he was gonna take a chance that this is for real, and risk his reputation and his time and he believed in it, it seemed like that was a sign that this could be for real. Because there’s so many things over the years that have popped up like, “This is gonna be the new thing!” and it lasts for a couple of years. “Money Marks” or whatever would start a promotion and it’s around for a little while and then goes in the tubes. You hear a lot of promises. So, even the first time to AEW and the top secret TV deal nobody knows if we’re gonna get yet, I’m like, “Is that for real?” So, I was like, “Okay, if this is all for real and this is how I see my career going and things I want to do, then I’m on board.” All that’s been working out swimmingly so far. Just to be on the forefront of the cusp of something new is really cool. Like I said, the fans can feel the energy, they feel that they’re apart of something new. There’s so much positive energy, the other day on the boat, all the fans were like hugging and high fiving each other. It’s kind of like ECW, but the opposite. There’s not like fueled by vitriol or hatred at all. It’s just positivity. It’s almost like people are starting to realize, “Oh, you like wrestling, too? So, do I!” The world is so much more in communication with each other now today with social media and so forth. So, now everybody, whether they’re coming out to an AEW show or on the Jericho cruise or whatever, they can be part of a community and it’s cool."
He could have very well continued the same character, style, moves, and look that he's had for years as Dean Ambrose, but "the same," sure seems what led him to being on the open market to begin with.
Moxley wanted change. Change in look, change in gear, even a change in his finishing move. Dirty Deeds, Death Rider, Paradigm shift?
"To me, it’s a fucking DDT," Moxley said, freely chucking the occasional f-bomb after finding out we weren't beholden to censors.
Another adjustment for Moxley came by the way of his finishing move. He formerly used a headlock driver that many now know as the One Percenter. He then utilized a double-arm DDT, before going for more of a traditional DDT.
When speaking to the home of the Making a Finisher feature, Moxley explained how the signature hold developed.
"It happened naturally. I started doing that super DDT, the Death Rider or whatever you want to call it…Depending on who wants to copyright what in what company or whatever, it can’t ever be Dirty Deeds anymore, obviously. To me the big one is the special one. Juice Robinson invented that in a match with him. It’s all natural ‘cause my mind is so like free flowing and there’s no kind of limits on me right now. So, if I can do it off the top rope, I’m likely to just do it off the top rope or through two tables in the Tokyo Dome or whatever or through a glass table. All these things just come naturally, you know? I can do different stuff for a finish. I can work more submissions. I can just let my mind go and do whatever it wants to do, and just see what happens," Moxley said.
The aforementioned Headlock Driver was the original version of "Dirty Deeds," and if you're looking for someone to blame for why you don't really see the move finishing matches anymore, you can point the finger at Randy Orton for being so tall.
"The Headlock Driver’s awesome if you’ve got the right guy doing it to the right guy. It can be like the nastiest, coolest piledriver looking thing in the world or if the guy’s taller than you, which so many of the guys in the WWE were taller than me, it can be just really awkward and stupid looking. I think I gave it to Randy Orton one time, who is someone with a significant height advantage on me, it just was awkward. I was like, “That’s it, I’m switching this up.” It was [Joey Mercury’s idea, actually,] to switch to the double arm DDT and I’d never really done that before. I really kind of perfected the timing and the snap and now I can do it in my sleep. One of the better looking ones I think you’ll see," he said.
It all came full circle for the guy you see beating all comers on AEW Dynamite. He's excited for work, to wrestle, to meet fans and to create his art.
Jon Moxley. Happy. Let's say it again. In case all of the Twitter troll tweets you saw after some of his past interviews tried to convince you that's something he wasn't capable of.
"I couldn’t be more thrilled," said Moxley, happy. "Like I said, I didn’t know if I’d just disappear for a year or two years, I don’t know what I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to have fun wrestling again. It all came back so quickly it was almost like waking up out of a long nap or something. I keep going back to it, I feel like I’m 18 again. I can’t wait to keep getting back into the ring and trying new stuff. I pop up awake in the middle of the night going “Oooh!” with ideas and stuff, and I like to just go to the ring sometimes with no ideas and just see what happens on the fly. ‘Cause now I feel like all my synapses are firing. I didn’t really know how coming into AEW when I showed up on the first night, I didn’t know if they’d boo or if they’d cheer or make no noise or what. I had no idea, really."
He has a lot going on. Opponents everywhere. Programs in every promotion. His dance card filling up. He's also still plugged in to what's going on in the wrestling world and aware of the landscape, even in WWE.
"That’s what’s so great about wrestling fans, they’re always so appreciative of when you put your body on the line for them and when they know you have the same passion for this that they do. Wrestling fans are the greatest fans in the world. You just saw Edge, who hasn’t wrestled in nine years, come back to like he never left, to a hero’s welcome," Moxley said, speaking of the 2020 Royal Rumble match, which took place shortly before our interview. "I think that’s how wrestling fans are a special kind of fans. They can push you along to where you need to go. I can’t be more grateful to everybody who has pushed me along on this ride so far. We’re only a matter of months into it and we got years and years to go, hopefully, many, many years. I just can’t wait to see what’s on the horizon, ‘cause there could be anything. I got a lot of big fish to fry right now. I got Chris Jericho in my one eyed line of vision, I got Minoru Suzuki in my sights, I got Josh Barnett in my sights. I got stuff in the back of my mind that people don’t even know yet. It’s an exciting time. I’m trying to be grateful and living in the moment. Just being in the ring, just being the process of “Oh, I get to wrestle today.”
He gets to wrestle a lot, too. Now, it reminds him of why he started doing it in the first place. He has motivation from the audience that he plays to.
Fresh off of the Jericho Cruise that he just spoke of, he closed our discussion by talking about the joys he experienced, the firsts, the milestones, and the experience that he enjoyed.
Every day is a vacation for Jon Moxley. A fucking vacation.
"Being stuck on this boat for four days, I’m like “Alright, I gotta be stuck on a boat with a bunch of people I don’t know for four days.” I’m not necessarily claustrophobic, but I’m not so sure I want to be stuck in some tiny little cabin or how big is this boat? Lke, my social anxieties and all my neuroses are gonna come to the forefront when I’m stuck on this boat with all these people. It was fun to just wrestle for three days in a row with great fans. I got to wrestle Christopher Daniels for the first time. It’s been over fifteen years since I had my first match, I never happened to cross paths with. He’s a guy I watched when I was a teenager on VHS tapes. Legends. To be able to get in the ring with, cross another guy off the list. He’s one of those guys you just want to work [with], too. My point, bringing up the boat, was all these people are on their vacation or whatever, but for me every day is a fucking vacation. I get to wrestle for a living. So, I don’t need to go to the Bahamas to have a vacation. I’m in Cleveland, I’m on vacation. Next week in Huntsville, I’ll be on vacation. Tokyo, I’ll be on vacation. It’s a great life," he closed.
A great life, not that far removed from "such great shit, pal!"
Jon Moxley is happy.
You can see Jon Moxley every Wednesday on AEW Dynamite, at 8 PM EST. He's scheduled to challenge AEW World Champion Chris Jericho for the title on February 29 at the Wintrust Arena in Chicago for AEW Revolution. Moxley is also scheduled to face Josh Barnett at Bloodsport 3 on April 2, and is embroiled in a feud with New Japan Pro Wrestling's Minoru Suzuki.