Jon Moxley | The Liberation of Dean Ambrose – Why He Left WWE

Jon Moxley was a guest on this week’s Talk is Jericho. In his first interview since leaving WWE, the superstar formerly known as Dean Ambrose gives all the heartfelt details on what lead to him leaving WWE and why he’s at the apex of his life right now.

Jon Moxley makes a surprise appearance at AEW's Double or Nothing pay-per-view facing off with Chris Jericho
Jon Moxley shocks the wrestling world by showing up at AEW’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view where he faced off with Chris Jericho before closing out the show.

“It is time to talk, finally.”

It’s been a bizarre few months for Jon Moxley. Rumors of him leaving WWE began circulating in January which put the wrestling world into a pandemonium. Everybody had an opinion, rumors were spreading around, announcers were talking about it while the former Dean Ambrose was in the ring and all the while Jon Moxley never once said a word.

“I didn’t ask [WWE] to put out a weird press release or bring it up on commentary or none of that. I haven’t said a word. The only thing that was close to a word that I said was we had the little interview with Michael Cole and that was out of self-preservation because I had a feeling I was being set up so I was ready and I beat him to the punch. Even then, I didn’t even really give any information out. I just gave him the line, ‘I walked into this casino eight years ago and now I’m cashing in my chips.’ That didn’t give out any information. That was only said out of self-preservation because I kind of felt there was some sort of set up with it like, ‘Breaking News! Dean Ambrose can’t hack it in WWE so he’s going to go for a career in the minor leagues!’ or something like that, you know? So I was ready for that.”

Chris Jericho, sitting at the home of Jon Moxley a few days before his memorable debut at AEW’s Double or Nothing pay-per-view, where the two men with a past in WWE but now liberated by their stranglehold talk openly about where they were and where they are now going.

“We’re sitting here at my kitchen table in my beautiful home and I’ve never been happier,” Jon Moxley admits with a hint of relief in his voice.

“I am at the absolute apex of life right now. I feel so good- I feel like the weight of the world has been lifted off of my shoulders.”

Jon Moxley has some positive words to share about his former employer, WWE

Before diving headfirst into the nitty gritty on why he left WWE, the former Dean Ambrose has some positive words to share about his former employer.

“I have nothing but gratitude for the WWE. Nothing but positivity over here, nothing but gratitude. I’m so grateful for my run there. That place changed my life.

“When I walked in there, I was a kid and now I’m an adult. I grew up there in a lot of ways and now I’m a different person than when I started there. In a lot of ways, I learned a lot of life skills and have grown as a person in my time there. It was almost eight years exactly in May of 2011. I got in my little beater car and I drove twenty-four hours straight non-stop from Philly to Tampa with nothing but my gym bag full of wrestling gear and whatever cash I had in my pocket. It’s all I had to my name.

“Now, eight years later, I got to live out my dream. I got to do so many amazing things in the ring in WWE. I got the opportunity and it was a real blessing to be a part of the Make-a-Wish program and to connect with so many fans from all over the world. It’s something I took seriously over my whole time there, no matter what I was mad about it, whether it be creative or whatever, I always tried to remember — until you are one of these guys and you get to meet these people with Make-a-Wish and people from all over the world and they tell you these stories of how you helped them persevere through whatever, I always took that responsibility very seriously so I was always very grateful for that.

“If nothing else, after these past eight years, I met my wife [Renee Young] in WWE who is my best friend and my soul mate. If we got nothing else out of this run, I got her. I always tell her, ‘If things ever get too weird, we’ll just sell all this stuff and we’ll just hop into an RV and hit the road, babe, because all we need is each other.’

“So, needless to say, the last eight years couldn’t have been any more successful and I am full of gratitude for that, but now that I got that out of the way, let’s just bury the company for the next two hours!”

“Now that I got that out of the way, let’s just bury the company!”

For the next ninety minutes of the interview, Jon Moxley spoke candidly and in great detail about the issues that ended in him riding out his contract and leaving the WWE.

The first moment he knew he’d leave the company was in July of 2018, nine months before his actual departure.

“I knew pretty much that I was gone in July of 2018. At that point, I was out with an injury. It was a very miserable time in my life, very challenging.”

Before diving into the good stuff, Moxley told a few stories from an objective third person standpoint that gave a bit of background on why he began thinking WWE wasn’t the place for him.

“I’m going to shine a light on the creative process that goes on in the WWE, to give the fans the opportunity to see what it was like in the day of the life of Dean Ambrose.

“The first story was the day I first started looking at the calendar and counting down the days. The other one will be the day that I absolutely knew 100%, no turning back, that I was gone. It was the day I almost walked out.

“Even though I knew in July, I knew I wasn’t going to quit. I wasn’t going to ask for my release. I wasn’t going to get fired or anything like that. I was just going to ride it out until the very end for a couple of reasons. One, I rather not do business like that if I don’t have to. And two, my wife works there. It would be unfair to put her in any position of awkwardness. Once we got to April 30th and the clock struck midnight, I’m just free and I get all my royalties. So, if they’re going to sell a Shield DVD in Cambodia two years from now, I’m getting my 2.7 cents. You better believe that!”

Jon Moxley discusses issues he had with the scripted promos in WWE.
Jon Moxley discusses issues he had with the scripted promos in WWE.

Back before his injury when he was one of the top babyfaces in the company, Jon Moxley had many back and forth issues with WWE’s writing team over the scripting of his promos.

“One day, I had a backstage promo that was handed to me from a writer. ‘Writer’ is going to be a keyword in this podcast you will find. And the word ‘script’.

“It was a backstage promo and it was me describing the things I did on the way to the arena that day. I don’t remember the details of what was on the script because it was so ridiculous, but this wasn’t an isolated incident. There are hundreds of these promos that happened over the years that they all get lost in the shuffle. On this particular promo, there were three or four things that a cool, relatable person never does — that a guy you want to have a beer with does. Not even a guy you would root for does. These are things that an idiot would do.”

In the promo handed to Moxley, it mentioned laughable things like driving backward on the street on a unicycle on the way to the arena and sharing a pizza with a homeless person on the street.

“I said, ‘I’m not saying any of that! Change all that and re-write it to just something normal.'”

Later on, a writer came back to him. Vince had re-written the promo but kept all of the stuff that upset Moxley in the first place in there which led to him now having to seek out Vince to talk to him about it.

“I walked into Vince’s office and said, ‘I can’t say any of this. This is ridiculous,’ and he goes, ‘Oh, it’s such good shit! Oh, this stuff! This is the reason people like and connect with you because you’re different! This is you!’

“I had a million conversations with him that are almost the exact same conversation about promos or other things.”

“So I said to Vince, ‘So, I’m an idiot?’ And he goes (laughing), ‘No, it’s YOU! You’re different!'”

Vince McMahon pegged Dean Ambrose as a goofy person who does the unexpected. This was part of the problem.

“That sort of sums up the battle I’ve been battling for the past six years.”

The day Jon Moxley started looking at the calendar and counting down the days until his WWE contract expired

The day Jon Moxley started counting down the days to the end of his contract was a particular day that started out in the WWE writer’s room. Moxley had his phone out, looking at his calendar and was counting down the days until his contract expired.

“I saw that I had twelve or fourteen Raws left and thought, ‘Okay, I can get through twelve more Raws.'”

At this point, Jon Moxley was playing a heel. They were in Los Angeles for a Raw taping on November 18th, 2018, and the writers were scripting about six promos for Moxley to say throughout the night.

“They handed me these scripts and it was a typical WWE script. There’s a bunch of big words, a bunch of goofy words. None of it makes any sense to me. We’re not telling any kind of tangible story. We’re not doing anything to get any of the characters over. Nothing at all makes sense to me. Typical.”

The promo that most concerned him the most on this occasion was the in-ring promo at the end of the night.

“In my eye, in my opinion, and I’m not trying to pass judgment, but this promo was absolute hot garbage awful crap. You can’t make any sense of it, I don’t know what we were even saying, but the main gist of it was that the people are smelly, disgusting people and that they are foul. You can kind of just see Vince saying these words. ‘Ooooh, Liverpool sounds like a skin disease!’ You can just kind of picture the Vince face. If it was you [who wrote this promo], be ashamed of yourself.

“The thing that catches my eye the most [in the promo] is a joke about a ‘pooper scooper’. I’m going to let that one hang in the air for a moment.

“The line was something along the lines of, ‘I wouldn’t come out here without a pooper scooper!’ I said, ‘I’m not saying that. Let’s change it. Did Vince write this?’ ‘Oh, we don’t know who wrote it…’

“Here’s how the creative process works in WWE. It doesn’t make any sense. I still don’t know how it works. So now it’s like Vince is in a meeting and we have to go and try to re-write it, send it in, copy it, have it re-printed and put it in front of Vince without the pooper scooper line because if he sees it, he’s going to fall in love with it. And then he’s going to go, ‘Ohhh, you gotta say the pooper scooper line! It’s such good shit!'”

The writers ended up re-wording the promo to something along the lines of, “LA, shallow trash. I wouldn’t even come out here without a gas mask.”

This type of running around backstage to change the wording of promos is a common pattern in the WWE, according to Moxley.

“We’re all just in self-preservation mode trying to not look like idiots instead of creating good things.”

“I told a writer after this, ‘You know if we didn’t have to spend so much time running around trying not to make ourselves look like idiots trying to get rid of ‘pooper scooper’ lines and stuff like that, we can actually sit down and tell a story. We’re all just in self-preservation mode trying to not look like idiots instead of creating good things.'”

While sitting in the writer’s room waiting for an update on the ‘pooper scooper’ promo, a note came back that said “Notes from VKM: Dean needs to understand why he needs to insult the audience. Dean needs to read his promos verbatim and try not to re-write them.”

“It was like the feeling of being punched in the gut,” Moxley admits while letting out a big sigh.

“I yelled at the writer, it wasn’t his fault, but I let him get the brunt of it. ‘Why do I work here? I’m a professional wrestler who can tell stories and can come up with promos. I believe I have the ability to talk people into the buildings. This is something I learned years ago, yet I’m just somebody who you want me to read these stupid lines. If you want me to read your stupid lines, hire an actor because they’ll probably do a better job than me. I’m not interested in doing it.”

In this very same show, Moxley talked to Vince earlier in the day as he was unhappy about a very distasteful line that he had to say about his friend Roman Reigns who at this point was just recovering from his battle with Leukemia.

“When I saw it, I thought, ‘What? Are you kidding me? I’m going right up to Vince for this one. There must clearly be a mistake.’

“Vince was in a production meeting at the time and I said, ‘Hey, real quick. Surely you don’t want me to say this?’ and he’s like, ‘Oh, no, but Roman is part of the story! We have to make sure he’s still included. You turn on him hence…’ and Vince kind of explained what he wanted me to say in an innocuous way where the writing staff and I looked at each other and said, ‘Oh, okay.’ Basically, he gave me the Vince Jedi Mind Trick which I was pretty immune to up until this point but every once in a while I still get had. It’s my fault, I got Jedi’ed.

“So once I did the promo, and we were live, I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe those words just went out of my mouth.’ It was something along the lines of, ‘He’s got cancer, sucks to be him.’ Something like that. Not cool.

“In the middle of all this trying to get the ‘pooper scooper’ line out of the script, I didn’t even realize this horrible thing that I should have been saying.”

In what was already turning out to be an exhausting day, Jon Moxley went back into the writer’s room where he was met with some success as he and the writers were able to get their version of the promo in before the ‘pooper scooper’ line was included.

“Remember,” Moxley forewarns, “keep in the back of your minds as you’re hearing all this that this is a billion dollar company that is run by a man who is allegedly a genius. And keep in mind we’re all adults and we’re talking about stuff like this.”

The small success felt after having the ‘pooper scooper’ line removed was quickly diminished when Moxley was met with a script, specifically written by Vince, which had the then-Dean Ambrose going out in front of the audience with a surgical mask on. The following week, this was going to turn into wearing a gas mask, and a week later, upgraded to a full Hazmat suit to protect him from the “disgusting fans”. Now he had to go in to see Vince again.

Jon Moxley on his dealings with Vince and the creative process in WWE: “I remember feeling actual exhaustion. Just like emotional, physical, mental exhaustion.”

“I remember I walked up to him in his office, where he was at this point, and I needed about thirty seconds before entering. I remember physically leaning up against a road case and just feeling like actual exhaustion. Just like emotional, physical, mental exhaustion. Not so much from just that day but from six years of this. Six years of having to go into this man’s office, this old man, and try to explain to him why wearing a surgical mask is a stupid idea. Why carrying a little red wagon to the ring is a stupid idea. Why maiming a mannequin in the ring is a stupid idea. I was done.

“So I go in and I’m like, ‘I don’t think people are going to truly understand me if they can’t see my mouth moving,’ and he’s like, ‘Oh, but it’s such…’ and we came to some kind of compromise where I had like a handkerchief of some sorts, which is a little bit less embarrassing. And he’s like, ‘It’s just so you! You don’t want to lose that thing that makes it you because you have so much creative license. You can do anything! You can check with props and see if maybe you can put a nose pin on your nose, I don’t know, something like that!’

“All the while I’m thinking, ‘What creative license? WHAT CREATIVE LICENSE DO I HAVE? I DO EXACTLY WHAT YOU TELL ME AND IT’S TERRIBLE CRAP!’ That’s not creative license!”

That night, Jon Moxley did the promo he was asked to do and ran out of the building as soon as his work was done. While everybody was in the back feeling super happy, high-fiving and patting each other on the backs like it was a great success after the show, Moxley was feeling hot and fired up over the events of the day.

“I got in my truck, went to the hotel around the corner, and as soon as I got into the room I was like, ‘I need a drink RIGHT NOW.’ Second of all, I was like what a waste of time. We didn’t accomplish anything. I did six promos and I can’t tell you what I said, I can’t tell you what the story was. Our angle now was going to be dead if it wasn’t dead already, you know? I don’t even have words…”

Watch the promo Jon Moxley described where he used a handkerchief to put down the LA crowd on Monday Night Raw, November 19, 2018:

 

Mental exhaustion like this is not uncommon in the WWE. The process of having to wait in front of Vince’s office for up to an hour, go in there, try to put on a show for the boss to convince him why your ideas are the right way to go — it burns out talent. It’s the same reason why Chris Jericho left in 2017 after a red-hot angle with Kevin Owens and purportedly why Sasha Banks has requested time away from the company. Wrestling is the easy part. Dealing with the nonsense that goes on backstage is not.

“There’s a notion out there from older Attitude Era wrestlers that pro wrestlers nowadays are afraid to approach the boss, scared of taking risks, scared of going off-script, scared of getting fired, but I’ve never been afraid of getting fired,” Moxley reveals. “I’m not saying that like oh, I’m so good or anything, I’m just saying I never felt like me speaking up is going to lead to me being fired. I never had that fear. I always went in and gave my opinion.

“My opinion of it is I’m going to try to convince you that my idea is better but if I can’t convince you of that by showtime, you’re the guy who writes my checks and I’m not just going to be a complainer. I’m going to try to make the best out of this.”

The story of the day Jon Moxley knew 100% that he was gone from WWE. This was the day he almost walked out of the company.

Dean Ambrose gets injected with rabies and flu shots live on Monday Night Raw in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 26, 2018. This was the day he knew he knew 100% that he'd be leaving WWE.
Dean Ambrose gets injected with rabies and flu shots live on Monday Night Raw in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 26, 2018. This was the day he knew he knew 100% that he’d be leaving WWE. [Photo: WWE]

Despite the exhausting rollercoaster backstage process that Jon Moxley went through week-to-week, it was a particular instance that occurred on November 26, 2018, where he knew 100% that he was leaving WWE.

“I almost walked out. I’m glad I didn’t because I could have ended up in some sort of legal stuff.

“I knew I was done by July 2018 but I thought to myself why rush it? There are only eight more months from September to April. What’re eight months? And who knows, maybe everything will change. Who knows. But on this day, Monday Night Raw took place in Milwaukee.

“I woke up in the morning and I got a text from a writer, Icepick, my man, good guy, and he’s explaining to me what I’m going to do that day and it says, ‘You have a backstage segment where you will be with your own personal doctor who will be injecting you with rabies shots and all kinds of inoculations to inoculate yourself against the disgusting fans.’ I replied, ‘I fucking hate that!’ And he replied, ‘Yeah… I know.'”

By the time Jon Moxley arrived at the arena, word had already begun circulating around that he might not be very excited about today’s idea.

“Michael Hayes came up to me, ‘Hey, how’ya doing, Dean? Heard uh you weren’t real excited about your promo.’ I was like, ‘No. I’ve been talking about this for months. Why am I always doing this goofy crap?’

“This has been me and Vince butting heads over things like this since like February.

“So they handed me this sheet and it was as bad as you would imagine. Then I got herded into some sexual harassment meeting that we all had to go to so I was just sitting in this meeting while they were talking and I was just staring at this promo and I was just seething. I was like as soon as this meeting is over, I’m going to bolt right into Vince’s office.

“As soon as I got out of the door of the meeting, writers were right there in front of me and he was like, ‘Hey! Vince wants to talk to you about his promo. He wants to make sure you know it’s not comedy.’

“Vince had anticipated that I was going to come storming in there and go, ‘Why am I doing all this prop comedy all the time?’ because I had been having the same argument with him for like a year now.

“So I go into Vince’s office and he’s like (laughing), ‘Hey, pal! Anyway, so this promo. I want you to know this is not comedy!’ He’s got the promo in his hand and he’s pointing at it and he’s like, ‘This is such good stuff! It’s so well written! It’s going to get you a ton of heat!’ That’s exactly what he said.

“I remember saying, ‘It’s just more of this Carrot Top prop comedy,’ and he was like, ‘There are no props!’ and I’m like, ‘Then what is this actor we hired to play the doctor with the giant syringe? Is that not a prop?’

“I had a feeling that this was going to be the last time that I was going to say this to him because I had said it to him so many times. I went, ‘If this is what you want on your show, I am the best man for the job. I’ll just do as I always do when you throw me these crazy curveballs. I’ll pull this stuff off if I can. I’m going to do what I always do and I’m going to give this my absolute best effort to make this good. If anybody can, it’s me.’

“I had a feeling that this was the very last time that I was going to have to say this to him and he was like, ‘I know you will! Now get outta here, you scamp! Get to work!’

“So we go do the thing, it was awful, I can’t save it, but we were able to pre-tape that before the show. It got greenlit by Vince and everybody was high-fiving going, ‘Vince loved it!’ and I’m like, ‘Great…’

“I had been thinking, ‘I gotta walk out.’ I was just so depressed.”

“I got a Southwest flight and I was able to get out that night. I couldn’t have gotten out of that building any faster. Earlier in the day, I had been thinking, ‘I gotta walk out.’ I remember having a feeling of dizziness, like a weird pit in my stomach feeling dizziness and talking to some of my friends going, ‘I can’t…I can’t work here anymore. What is this? What are we doing? This is so embarrassing!’ You know, actual dizziness. I couldn’t believe what was happening, you know? So I bolted out of there, go to the airport, and I sat down at the bar at the airport and was just so depressed.”

The angle with the doctor and the syringe was one he truly felt he could never recover from.

Drawing the line with Vince when it came to cutting a promo on Roman Reigns who was going through Leukemia at the time

“This very same night, Vince tried to talk me into saying a line about my friend Roman Reigns who was going through actual Leukemia at the time. This is where I drew the line and said, ‘Absolutely not!’ Vince tried to talk me into it a little bit but I was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ Vince was like, ‘Well, if you feel uncomfortable, that’s fine.’ That’s where I was like no and had to actually put my foot down.

“It was the worst line. I’m not actually going to say it on air because that’s how bad it was. It would have been a thing where somebody would have probably had to have been fired. Maybe even me! [WWE] would have lost sponsors, Susan G. Komman, all of that. I don’t know who wrote it. I don’t know if it was Vince himself or if it was a writer and if you are listening right now, you should feel ashamed of yourself. You just wouldn’t believe it. But had I just said it, had I just been like, ‘Okay!’ and just read the script, I can’t imagine… I don’t know. But it would have been on me, not on Vince, you know? So that’s that day.”

Those are just two examples of the day in the life of Jon Moxley in WWE.

Since the CM Punk/Colt Cobana podcast a few years ago, a lot has changed for the better in regards to looking after the health of the workers in WWE, but interviews like this one show that not much has changed in regards to how things are run behind the scenes.

“They take wrestling away from you. Wrestling is my first love, aside from my wife, that I’m most damn passionate about. I love it. I feel now like I’ve got it back, finally.”

Reflecting on his time before leaving WWE, Jon Moxley shared how he used to dream of becoming a wrestler where he would talk in the mirror and wake up in the middle of the night to come up with lines that would help build a story into a match.

“Promos used to be my favorite part of wrestling. I loved it. It ended up becoming my least favorite part — the part I dreaded the most.

“[In WWE], it wasn’t me coming up with ideas and coming up with a way to hook you into our story, it was me trying not to look like an idiot. It was me trying to appease all these different people. You know, sitting down with a writer while he’s writing, that is not how it’s supposed to be.”

Related: The Shield – Original Plans Did Not Include Roman Reigns

“They had no idea I was going to get over.”

Before turning on his Shield brothers and turning heel in 2018, Ambrose was one of the most over faces in the company. Despite that, he admits that WWE had no plans for him as a face.

“They never had any plans for me when they had me as a babyface. When The Shield broke up, they were going to have a little feud between me and Seth and had I just petered out and went away, they would have been fine with that. They had no idea I was going to get over. And I got over on my own.

“I had no idea I was going to be a babyface, I had no idea. My idea for the character was like 90% John McClane from Die Hard and then 10% Dusty Rhodes, and other people I’m inspired by, I don’t know, Bret Hart, big Japan deathmatch guys, do you know what I mean? But someone who gets his ass kicked all the time, perseveres, and walks through glass with bare feet, maybe throws a one-liner out there which I’m capable of. Which may have been one of my biggest mistakes because once I showed them that I had even a shred of comedic timing, it was over. Now they’re writing jokes for me. But I got over on my own.

“I felt like I was fighting for my life those first few months as a babyface like everybody else was going to be pyro and crazy entrances and I was just going to walk to the ring, no entrance, no gimmicks, none of that. Just fighting. I think that’s why the people connected with me there.

At this point, Moxley surprised many people in the back and Dean Ambrose merchandise was flying off the shelves.

“For whatever reason, we are Mentos in Diet Coke, me and Vince.”

“That was when they had to get their hands on it and try to turn you into what they think you should be. And for whatever reason it is, with my type of charisma, Vince just couldn’t let me be. He’s gotta like put a hat on me or put me in a goofy vehicle or something. For whatever reason, we are Mentos in Diet Coke, me and Vince. Me and Vince together created this explosion of goofy nonsense that I detest. But I tried my hardest. I tried to stay positive and be grateful for this opportunity that I have. I felt like I had a responsibility for these fans which may sound corny or stupid, but it’s real.

“Also, the ultimate goal was to save money- to be where we’re at now.”

At this point in the interview, Jon Moxley takes a moment to go back and give a linear breakdown from Christmas 2017 to the present day, describing how his mindset changed over time.

Before his surgery was performed in December of that year, he was working matches hurt and in constant pain. After the surgery took place, he just went home and took it as an opportunity to blank everything out as he was so burnt out. His mindset was to heal the injury and come back better than ever.

In January 2018, Moxley moved to Birmingham where his focus was on rehabbing twice a day and keeping up with his cardio and weights. By July 2018, his arms were still in pain, so he was working the bikes as hard as he could. He wanted to come back jacked up so he was cranking out his workouts full steam ahead. He had a positive mindset about what was to come with his return but it was while watching live concerts during his time away from the ring that made him feel a bit sad. Seeing how the audience interacted with the bands, the energy that was there, he realized this was missing for quite some time for him.

“That is where the seed [to leave] was planted as I just felt shackled in WWE.”

Right when he was about to return, he started watching the product and began getting obsessed with wrestling all over again. He hadn’t watched WWE programming for months and by watching again, he was getting himself mentally ready for his impending arrival by watching the current product, the old, and stuff from Japan. He was watching Impact, Ring of Honor, the indies, basically everything to mentally pump himself up and put himself in the mindset of where he wanted to be when he returns.

This was also a time where new ideas were forming in his mind for his character and all the different great possible ways he could return. But every time a cool idea popped into his head, he realized WWE would never go for that. All of this sheer excitement that was building up in his head about returning started to diminish after the realization set in that none of the things he was excited about would ever come to fruition in the WWE.

When he did return and it was realized that all of the negative thoughts he envisioned did, in fact, come true, he knew he had to leave.

“I was excited to come back to wrestling but I was not excited to come back to WWE. I was picturing myself in other places. I was picturing myself coming back to places like CZW. I was picturing myself in Japan. Anywhere but WWE. But no matter the case, I was going to ride this thing out. ”

Before returning, he met with Vince to give him some ideas for what he wanted to happen when he returned. He explained that he wanted to return as a heel and that he hated his old character.

“I even hated looking in the mirror. This was an opportunity to evolve and grow and be something different. Re-emerge as a new character.”

After the advice of Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley booked himself a plane ticket to New York to meet with Vince face-to-face to discuss the direction of his character when he returns. He had visions of feuding with AJ Styles or Daniel Bryan on SmackDown, anything but what he had been up to for the past few years. But what he didn’t realize was that WWE had this whole Shield reunion show booked for Australia in October 2018 and there was no way he would be able to turn heel before then. This was when he learned that he would be basically coming back to be Seth’s partner, which he loved to do, but it was doing more of the same.

“Their idea of me coming back was what everybody expected. No shock. Nothing different. Just good old Lunatic Fringe again.

“I remember leaving [New York after meeting Vince feeling] real deflated. I wasn’t even back yet and I was already pissed off.”

Dean Ambrose returns before SummerSlam on Raw, August 13, 2018:

“I am gone.” Jon Moxley on Leaving WWE

All of these instances of being stifled creatively led to Jon Moxley leaving WWE. And while many speculated that AEW’s emergence was a deciding factor in him handing in his notice, Moxley claims this wasn’t the case. It was more so the case of a happy coincidence. A serendipitous moment.

“If there was no other promotions to work for in the world, I still would have left WWE. If there were no other wrestlers, I would have started my own other promotion, started my own training school, and trained my own opponents. I would have reseeded the wrestling business from scratch if I had to.

“It was good to know that the wrestling business was doing so well outside of WWE, but even if it wasn’t, I still would have left.”

By the time Royal Rumble season approached in 2019, the conversation of a new contract began being brought up.

“[Mark Carrano, WWE Senior Director of Talent Relations] approached me and said Hunter wants to deliver [a new contract] to you personally, but I just couldn’t hold it in anymore. I was like, ‘Dude, look in 114 days…’ and he was like, ‘No, no, no! Before you say any more…’ I was like, ‘I am gone.’

“This is what I told Carrano, Vince, and Hunter, ‘This is not a decision I came to fast or lightly. This has been a long time coming. I’m not going to change my mind. This is not about one particular thing. This is not an emotional decision. This is happening. I’m leaving and it’s okay.’

“I didn’t tell anybody. I didn’t want to tell Seth because I knew he was going over at the Rumble and I didn’t want to put any weird mojo on him, you know?”

Jon Moxley did what he felt was best for himself and the company while leaving WWE enough time in advance to not put out any advertisements including him for upcoming tours or involve him in any storylines after his contract expired in April 2019.

“I was trying not to make any trouble.”

Dean Ambrose was forced to take a bump for Nia Jax on the Monday Night Raw following letting the company know he would be leaving. Coincidence? Hmm...
Dean Ambrose was forced to take a bump for Nia Jax on the Monday Night Raw following letting the company know he would be leaving. Coincidence? Hmm… [Photo: @WWE on Instagram]

At the following Monday Night Raw in Phoenix, Arizona, a few days after word got to Vince and Hunter about him wanting to leave, Jon Moxley assumed he would be taking a Curb-Stomp from Rollins and that he would slowly be written off the show. Instead, he was met by a producer with a re-write one hour before they went live saying that he would be taking a bump for Nia Jax.

“Now I’m getting hot. It’s not because I was taking a bump for Nia, I’m totally cool with that. I did it. It’s 2019. She’s a very powerful woman. She did great in the Royal Rumble the night before. If this existed outside of me leaving, that’s a totally different conversation. But the fact that this was a re-write done with an hour before the show began, it felt like a middle finger. My skin was hot and I was like, ‘Let’s go talk with Vince!’

“So I go storming towards the production meeting, [Johnny Ace] was following me behind with papers flailing everywhere, and I went storming right up to the middle of the production meeting room and [Vince] immediately grabbed his stuff, stands up and goes, ‘My office, my office!’ I was like, ‘Yes, let’s go to your office!’

With a sigh, Vince told Moxley, “I understand you’ve given your notice. Thank you so much for everything…”

By this point, Vince started to try piecing together reasons why Jon Moxley would be leaving, thinking possibly that it was the rabies shot angle that did it for him.

“Vince goes, ‘I wish you should have talked to me. I didn’t know you had all these problems!’ and I go, ‘Why the fuck was I in your office then? I went storming in there and said what the hell is this? like I do all the time. How the hell do you not know?’ He’s gotta make everything okay in his mind.

“‘I didn’t know, I had no idea!’ ‘Yeah, you knew. You’ve known for a long time.’

“I was still trying to babyface him, be as nice as possible to him, show him my gratitude, you know what I mean?” Moxley admits. “It got a little emotional on both sides but I took the opportunity to say everything that I wanted to say because I had been having this conversation in my head for months so I was getting everything off my chest.

“I told [Vince], ‘Every Monday, I get a physical sickness in my stomach. It happens every Monday on the dot. A writer will come up to me, ‘Hey Dean…’ and he’s got a script in his hand and I don’t know what kind of goofy nonsense, what kind of embarrassing stuff is on that script and what kind of challenges will lay ahead to try to just not look like an idiot today. And I get a physical sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.’

“And Vince goes (mumbling), ‘I, uh, I wish I had known!’

“And I was like, ‘I can’t live like that. I can’t live in a world where I’m in Paducah, Kentucky on a Friday working a house show and there are some writers I don’t even know writing words for me in some office. I can’t do it anymore.’

“I was just like, ‘I just need to get away for a while…’ because I was hoping that he would just write me off TV that night. But then he goes, ‘We’ll just finish you up at ‘Mania! We’re not going to bury you on the way out or anything like that!’

“That’s when I went, ‘Actually, it’s funny you mention that because that’s the reason I stormed in here because that looks to me exactly what the fuck you’re doing!’ And he goes, ‘Oh, no, no, no!’ and he proceeds to tell me this whole idea he’s got for me and Nia and all I hear is, ‘We’re burying the fuck out of you. Blah, blah, blah.’

(In Vince’s voice) “‘It’s an attraction!’ and I was like, ‘Okay. Alright. Let’s do it.’ And we actually had a good time at rehearsal. [Nia and I] were just trying not to laugh. I was saying funny things to her, you know? And when it was over [on air], the fans were going, ‘Let them fight!’ It was cool, whatever.”

While rumors were going around at the time that a match was going to take place between Nia and Moxley, he admits he had no idea about any of that.

Earlier in the night, there was a moment where Moxley, Rollins, and Triple H were sharing the ring and he had a stirring suspicion that shots might be fired on-air. At this point, only Vince, Hunter, Carrano, and Moxley knew that he was leaving, but as Vince and Hunter are ruthless businessmen, he thought he better make sure he has a few bullets lined up in the chamber as it was going to be a live mic. Luckily though, nothing bad happened on-air and everything went to the script, but Jon was certainly prepared just in case any funny business did go down.

Within the next 48-hours, rumors started trickling out about him leaving. Then, on January 29th, 2019, WWE put out a press release:

“Dean Ambrose (Jonathan Good) will not be renewing his contract with WWE when it expires in April.

We are grateful and appreciative of all that Dean has given to WWE and our fans. We wish him well and hope that one day Dean will return to WWE.”

Moxley wasn’t aware that this would be happening and it caught him off guard but he wasn’t upset.

“That was awesome! All that has ever been done before was, ‘We wish you well on your future endeavors.’ It was unprecedented. It was like a glowing review!

“It was like, alright, cool. I wasn’t saying anything but what I think happened was they were getting backlash or whatever–actually, I really don’t know what the motivation was behind that press release. People thought it was a work.”

Many assumed this was WWE’s way of getting a jump on the news as they knew this was something this would get around.

“[Vince] has got the Million Dollar Man complex. This is why he is able to pay Brock millions of dollars because he wants to own Brock.”

“They like to control the narrative. The only thing about this whole situation and why it was so bizarre with so many ups and downs was because he has no control. I told him, ‘I don’t care how many zeros you want to put on a piece of paper, I am gone.’ He’s got the Million Dollar Man complex. He has to be able to buy- this is why he is able to pay Brock millions of dollars to be able to come in his company because he wants to own Brock. He wants to be like, ‘Ahhh, Brock is my attraction!’ you know?

“With a guy he has no power over, me, he didn’t know how to handle it, so it went in a bunch of weird crazy directions for five months.”

Despite wanting to be written off television, Jon Moxley (as Dean Ambrose) was on WWE television all the way up until the very end. He also admits that a new contract was physically handed to him, but he never looked at it. It was just something he didn’t want to see. It wasn’t about the money, it was about Vince killing his love for the business. And according to Chris Jericho, this is what happened to him, too. This is also something that happened with Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and so many others over the years and likely what is happening to for many talent under contract as we speak.

“I remember thinking at one point earlier on in the decision-making process, ‘What if they offer me ten million dollars?’ Like a Brock contract. What am I going to do with ten million dollars? My truck is paid off, my house is paid off, my mother’s house is paid off. I have everything I need! What am I going to do with ten million dollars? Am I going to go out and buy a Maserati? I don’t live like that. There’s literally no number they can put on a piece of paper that can get me to stay.

“It’s almost like over the years a physical depression sets in because they take away the thing that you love. Like I was saying before about behind obsessed with wrestling 24/7, it’s like they take that away from you. ‘Oh, don’t worry about coming up with your own promos because we have our own writer. Don’t worry about coming up with your own cool things to do in your matches because we have producers who will tell you exactly what to do in your matches. Don’t worry about any of your storylines because we have already written them for you.'”

In other words, don’t be an artist. Just show up.

“There were days where I would be in bed and I would wake up and just stare at the ceiling and I couldn’t get out of bed. A depression set in.”

“So what do you do doing your off time? How do you fill it? That’s a recipe for a very unhappy kind of existence and I think a depression set in at some point. This isn’t to minimize anyone who goes through this. I remember actually WebMDing it. There were days, like TV days, where I would like be in bed and I would wake up and just like stare at the ceiling and I couldn’t get out of bed. Like no motivation to go out and work out, no motivation to do anything. Just dreading having this moment with the writer that I am going to have that I described to Vince. It’s crazy.

“The fog lifted slowly after it kind of became real to now, I am literally an entirely different person.”

Chris Jericho likened it to Stockholm Syndrome where you start to like and find empathy for your captors. Jericho also made a point in saying that many wrestlers within the WWE system don’t know that there is a whole life out there where it’s easy to navigate outside of the WWE system.

With a deep breath, Jon Moxley recollects, “Looking back, I can’t believe I hung in there that long.”

Jon Moxley is set to make a positive difference in AEW and beyond.
Jon Moxley is set to make a positive difference in AEW and beyond. [Photo: AEW]

Jon Moxley – “The ultimate reward I got from WWE was my freedom. I get to start over. It’s like I’m eighteen again.”

With leaving WWE, Jon Moxley has no regrets and while he feels there were things he wishes would have happened differently and things WWE missed out with him, he doesn’t care.

“It’s over. I don’t think it was meant to happen. I think I was meant to be sitting here today talking about my experiences because the ultimate reward I got from WWE was that now I’m sitting here with all of my freedom. I got to do that. This is the ultimate gift because now I get to start over. It’s like I’m eighteen again. I can be anything I want to be as a wrestler, as a performer, as an artist — I can do anything. And now I have the experience where it’s like I’m starting ahead of the game.”

Jon Moxley is in a situation now where he can make a real difference. Not only that, he can teach upcoming wrestlers the life skills he picked up on along the way. He has a chance to actually be a real gamechanger. And that’s beautiful.

“It’s very exciting. To be able to be a difference maker is such a… I’ve never had that.”

The WWE’s creative process sucks. It does not work. It’s absolutely terrible. It’s killing the company and I think Vince is the problem.”

“If there’s one thing I want to prove it is that your creative process, the WWE’s creative process sucks. It does not work. It’s absolutely terrible. I’ve said that to Vince. I’ve said that to Hunter. I’ve said that to Michael Hayes. I can’t even tell you how their system works. It’s some kind of system of meetings that take place in Stamford, there’s some kind of home team with writers and producers, production meetings. It’s a bunch of bureaucratic red tape that you have to jump through to get to anything approved. It’s crazy. It doesn’t work. It’s killing the company and I think Vince is the problem.”

Moxley stops for a moment and corrects himself. “Well, not so much Vince, but Vince and whatever the structure he built around himself probably starting around I’d imagine in 2002 after the sale of WCW and he started building this infrastructure around himself with a team of writers, producers, and however else he does it. This is how WWE is and this is what the product is. The product sucks. Great talent. Amazing talent. None of this is their fault, you know?

“I’m sort of hoping if I had a goal with AEW it’s that we can prove that Vince’s way sucks. This isn’t what I’m going to be focusing on because it’s not about competing with WWE. I don’t think this has any involvement in any of our missions. We’re just going to be over here doing our best and putting on our best product. And if a byproduct of that is that it pushes WWE to reevaluate their creative process and it makes Vince — and we all know he’s not going to step aside, he’s going to die in a chair — but maybe he’ll listen to somebody else’s ideas. Maybe he’ll be open to doing it in a different way. Maybe he won’t micro-manage so much.”

After WWE put out their press release about Moxley leaving, he was put out there to lose to EC3 in two minutes which killed any momentum EC3 had as now the then-Dean Ambrose became the underdog. House show crowds began booing EC3 and cheering on Ambrose, despite him doing his best to get heel heat. So then EC3 was set to beat him again in two minutes on TV but by this point, Vince had heard how the crowds were reacting at the house shows. All this was backfiring as it was making Ambrose the babyface and Vince was pissed.

“God forbid the fans that I have busted my ass off for years might be upset by the fact that you want to bury me on my way out. Sorry that I’ve given my body up for you and that [the crowd] has a shred of respect for me that you apparently don’t have!”

“They tried to kill me figuratively twice and it backfired so now they’re just trying to kill me literally.”

At this point, Ambrose was turned babyface and this was right around the time The Shield began reuniting for one last time.

“Every week, and this is where I feel they began finally writing me off TV, they began putting me through tables, guard rails, I smashed my head and was getting my head kicked off each week [by Drew McIntyre]. It was a different gimmick match each week. They tried to kill me figuratively twice and it backfired so now they’re just trying to kill me literally.”

But despite thinking this was leading to him being written off TV, he was headlining the main event of Raw just weeks before WrestleMania.

With Jon Moxley leaving the WWE, this meant not only was WWE losing Dean Ambrose but they were losing The Shield for good as well.

“You want to know how much I got paid for that last show I did? This was a house show that they literally turned into a special. They flew in writers, cameramen, and everything and put it on the Network basically for me. $500. I got paid five hundred bucks for that sucker. I can just imagine Carrano and Vince going over who would get paid what for this event and Vince going, ‘Five hundred bucks! Screw him!’ That’s literally the minimum you get for just showing up. If you show up to TV but aren’t used, you get five hundred bucks. It’s the same money extras get. The absolute minimum. Five hundred bucks for a Network special! I thought about calling him up for a second but then I was like, naw, it’s funny. I’ll just leave it.”

That was the final F-U to Jon Moxley from WWE. “Here are your last five hundred bucks, see you later!”

“I actually like it. I should frame that check!”

Jon Moxley on what he looks forward to the most with AEW

With Jon Moxley now gone from WWE, for him, it’s not only about moving onto the next chapter.

“It’s about being the best version of myself, finally, and having the creative freedom of coming up with an idea and just being able to do it. We’re going to have that here in AEW.

“From the first time I talked to [Cody, The Young Bucks, and Kenny Omega], they were just- I’ve always been friends with Cody. I’ve always vibed with him. Cody’s kind of like me like, first and foremost, we’re wrestling fans. Like when he was Stardust and stuff and he’d be painting up, he’d be in the locker room and he’d have his little iPad and he’d put on the WWE Network and just put on old WCW or whatever, you know? We always, me and him, would just sit there and watch all this wrestling and talk about it because we love wrestling. We think of wrestling in a very similar way. Everything he said from the get-go was like, ‘Yo, play your music your way.’

“He went through a lot of the same stuff during his exit from WWE. When I was telling him what I went through he was like, ‘I went through the same thing.’ The kind of depression you go through where you’re just trapped in something you don’t want to be. We share that experience and I feel he and I are two sides of the same coin in a lot of ways. We’ve been through a lot of the same experiences but we went through them at different times in different order.

“I like that wrestling can be anything and Cody says, ‘Wrestling can be anything. You can have the Lucha guys, you can have the hardcore match, you can be old school…’ and for so long I’ve been told, ‘Wrestling is this. This is all wrestling is.’

“I can’t wait to just open up my mind and, as I said, my goal is to not look at it like I’ve got something to prove to Vince or WWE or anything like that because I don’t give a shit about Vince or WWE. They’re in the past. I want them to be good. Like I said, if a byproduct of us being good is that they get better, that’s good. I want my friends there to be happy. My wife is there, I want her to be happy. I want the business to be better. I want the fans to be happier with their products. But, I don’t care about [WWE]. They’re in the past. They’re in the backburner. I want to be the best version of myself.

“There’s a whole bunch of bucket list items that I want to accomplish before the end of the year and it’s exciting. I’m going to keep challenging myself in uncomfortable and unfamiliar places and try to just rise to the occasion. There are new styles to learn. There are new opponents to work with. I can’t wait!”

The whole world is Jon Moxley’s oyster. He can do anything and be anyone he wants to be now, without restriction, and the wrestling world will surely benefit as a result.

JP Zarka
JP Zarka is a teacher, musician, producer, former co-host of The Genius Cast with Lanny Poffo podcast, and editor-in-chief of ProWrestlingStories.com. Originally from Chicago, he has called London home for the past ten years. He can be reached on Twitter @jpzarka or @pws_official.