Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Jon Moxley: More Than The Greatest Transitional Champion of Modern Wrestling

A photo of AEW wrestler Jon Moxley.

“Even if I win, it’s not going to matter. I’ll be the most overlooked, disrespected, forgotten about, and taken-for-granted wrestler in the history of this business. It’s not gonna matter. But it means something to me.” Jon Moxley, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Youtube channel.

Truth follows when Jon Moxley speaks. His words, personal and yet worldly, show awareness of the way others perceive and feel about him. Mox’s pre-Windy City Riot promo connects to his history as the alternate champion of pro wrestling. One where tribalism, biases and dramatic sweeps of recent history have overshadowed his achievements.

Despite being one of the most prominent, accomplished, and successful wrestlers of the modern era, being the bleeding heart and soul of AEW has a price. Some fans feel the former Dean Ambrose is overrated, overexposed, over bleeds. Insert other AEW criticism.

Right now, AEW is likewise overshadowed. The statement of success that was Wrestlemania XXL and the fallout of CM Punk’s explosive interview have stolen the spotlight. So maybe right now Moxley’s legacy is overlooked, disrespected, and depending on how history plays out, may be diminished further.

Everything Mox says could be true. For some, being the only man to win the world championships in AEW, NJPW and WWE means nothing if it doesn’t happen in the fed. However, Moxley, this well-deserved triple crown winner, has spent his life as a symbol of an alternative in wrestling. Even when he was in WWE.

And even greater of an achievement, Jon Moxley’s legacy is more likely to be overlooked. Moxley is perhaps the greatest modern transitional champion. A man capable of guiding companies through storms and blizzards. Through deserts to water. Through difficult transitions to a better place.

Transitional In the Grand Sense of the World 

When I say transitional, I don’t mean as a stop-gap champion. I mean as a champion and personality able to bridge the gaps between eras and generations. A man who in a crisis leads a company to stability. Someone who can transcend being a wrestler and can embody a company. Can represent something more to fans than being the next champion.

When Moxley talks, even if you get tired of his emotive, personal, and violent-soaked promos, everything he says sounds real to him. In turn, it becomes real for so many fans. When Mox discusses holding a world championship, Moxley becomes the championship. Mox embodies its meaning, its spirit and gives it prestige.

They say the man makes the belt and not the other way around. Moxley personifies this when you study how, almost like a cult leader, he makes the championship so precious in his willingness to fight the entire world, and its dog, to defend it. Even if you don’t drink what he’s offering you, you know Mox isn’t joking. The championship, the company, and its fans are represented by Jon Moxley. He will shed sweat and blood for both.

Moxley is a person promoters want metaphorically and literally fighting their fight. Even as the wheels come off the track. Whether a Pandemic, creative chaos, or the need for something new, Moxley is like a physical PR man who’s going to find a way to take the spotlight and re-direct it onto what makes the company unique.

Right now, that’s exactly what New Japan need.

New Japan Decline 

At New Japan’s Windy City Riot, Moxley defeated Tetsuya Naito. The value of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship has been diminished over time in the minds of some Western fans.

Since NJPW’s peak in the 2010s, a decline seemed inevitable if not addressed. Slowly, New Japan has been losing top stars to US promotions. First with WWE with the likes of AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura. Neither man put over another New Japan star on the way out of a match. Although AJ did get deposed by the new Bullet Club leader, Kenny Omega.

A reliance on Bullet Club and The Elite to engage Western audiences led to diminishing returns over time. Then the latter left to start their own promotion, taking some Western attention with them. Bullet Club’s antics of cheating to win, its size and splinter factions and changing of leadership have saturated the group’s appeal.

The ascension of Jay White as the leader and eventual heavyweight champion had a mixed response. Capable of delivering New Japan’s long epic-style matches, yet the comparison to Triple H was not always meant positively. The implied Marmite attitude towards the character and personality led to debate then (and now in AEW) of whether White was capable as a main event character.

Then came the Pandemic. The crowning of EVIL as the IWGP Heavyweight champion knocked the belt’s prestige significantly. More top wrestlers have left without replacements being fully formed to take their place like Kota IbushiJay White, Kazuchika Okada and Will Ospreay.

Future stars are being built, like Zack Sabre Jr. The next crop of main eventers has been signposted like Ren NaritaShota Umino and Yota Tsuji (The Reiwa Three Musketeers). The issue is that building requires more time.

“It Means Something to Me” 

I called Moxley a physical PR man with good reason. Some fans will be frustrated with NJPW’s creative re-direction. Beyond Moxley’s title win, various other title changes could suggest to fans a lack of faith in NJPW’s new intended direction.

In that promo referenced earlier, let’s see how Mox may have attempted to reframe the conversation before these events.

“Even if I win, it’s not going to matter.” 

Mox’s verbiage is always filled with storytelling and nuances. His pre-match promo is the same. Almost underdog-like (despite being a four-time world champion elsewhere), Mox showed awareness that right now, outside of the rising tide of WWE, NJPW and AEW as the alternatives are viewed dismissively.

There is reality, but the reality of those companies becomes personal:

“I’ll be the most overlooked, disrespected, forgotten about, and taken-for-granted wrestler in the history of this business.” 

As I’ve discussed in articles elsewhere on history (Taker vs. Sting and Wrestler’s Pay), the winners of wars get to tell the story their way. In the wider fan perception, one side seems to actively be looking for signs that the end is nigh for AEW.

Additionally, growing discontent at Dave Meltzer’s five-star rating system and his perceived preferences for New Japan has also brought tribalistic disdain for NJPW. The Bruce Prichard idiom, “five stars in the Tokyo Dome” has seeped more and more mockingly into wrestling discord with some fans annoyed that NJPW gets more critical acclaim than the commercially more successful WWE.

Mox again seems to get that the tide of public opinion is against the alternatives. Yet he makes himself one with this criticism. The one people with the pitchforks should come for. Moxley wants to be the company’s shield.

“It’s not gonna matter. But it means something to me.”

Overlooked in WWE

Jon Moxley, even before his big debut in 2012 as part of The Shield in WWE, many fans saw unbridled potential. When YouTube was still in its infancy, I remember watching Moxley promos from CZW and the Indies. Even then, Moxley spoke on a different level. An almost lost, old-school, barbaric, and mentally unstable “wrestling is real” energy emitted from his body language alone.

When Moxley made it to WWE’s developmental, FCW, his promos aimed at William Regal, his later mentor for the Blackpool Combat Club, cut against the grain. It engaged with a reality that the company had avoided for years. It all proved the renamed Dean Ambrose could be a success if allowed.

Of the three members of The Shield, Ambrose was different and most popular. His energy could be humorous (think the classic “Nope” Dean Ambrose meme?) and dangerous. Fans wanted more from a minimized US Championship run where Ambrose barely defended the championship. Fans invested in The Shield during a time when the company’s defence to growing fan dissatisfaction was to ignore it.

Then when The Shield split, WWE’s attempts to make “Roman [Reigns] look strong” came across as time-worn, generic, and obvious, the hardcore fans pushed back. These fans loved Dean Ambrose because, like CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, he represented an alternative. Yet unlike Danielson, Moxley was not able or happy to find a place for himself within the restrictions of WWE.

Ambrose became secondary. A utility player and prop-comedy guy, to the increasing detriment of the real-life Jonathan Good’s enjoyment of wrestling and mental health. When Moxley decided to not re-sign with WWE 2019 and debuted in AEW, a lot of those hardcore fans had already moved to AEW also as the alternative. There are still WWE fans who prefer Ambrose to Moxley.

Then, Now, and Forever?

In the modern wrestling war, Moxley has made his stand with AEW. Despite stating that he could have returned to WWE at SummerSlam 2022 with the AEW World Championship as he did not have a contract, Mox didn’t. Management might have changed, but Moxley’s principles did not and have not.

Renee Paquette on her Oral Sessions podcast reported how Triple H’s relationship with Mox was strong when he left, with Triple H offering to give Moxley help. Moxley himself has said WWE is better under Triple H than Vince McMahon at the helm. But still, Moxley remains with AEW and has not been shy about stating why he believes AEW is the place to be.

The fact that Moxley has continued to embody the alternative means there is likely truth in what he has stated about being overlooked and disrespected. Long-term Mox may be left in WWE’s version of history as the third most important member of The Shield. The one who went elsewhere unable to do “the grind”. Although Moxley, like many fans, seems aware that WWE is not the entire history of pro wrestling.

Even if fans who predict the end of AEW are proven right in the long run, the likelihood is that Moxley’s full contribution to AEW and history beyond the fed. Much like the history of the Monday Night Wars, AEW and Mox would be tainted and diminished through the lens of victory. As that is the nature of things.

The entire reason I reference Moxley’s WWE run and these perceptions is because tribalism is so engrained into the present wrestling landscape, that we sometimes forget how the past influenced our present and how we got here.

“We Brought Pro Wrestling Back”

At the end of February 2020, Jon Moxley won his first world championship at Revolution. Although Moxley might have come from WWE, his Talk is Jericho interview, his brutal war with Kenny Omega and his first stop in New Japan before AEW made it clear this was not the same animal.

In beating Chris Jericho, a man who presented himself as being above the company, deserving both the championship and fan’s respect because of what he had done for wrestling elsewhere. For being the man responsible for AEW’s existence. Moxley was a strong choice while The Elite feuded with The Inner Circle and struggled amongst themselves.

In his victory speech on the March 4th Dynamite, Moxley’s sentiments were as much as being AEW as it was himself. Moxley cemented himself as the alternative:

“You see this belt right here? It’s the AEW World Championship. It represents professional wrestling. The sport that I love! The sport that I have dedicated my life to. This belt never belonged to Chris Jericho. Hell—this belt doesn’t belong to me. This belt belongs to you. Each and every one of you in this building tonight, and not just that—every AEW fan watching around the world that helped will this company into existence. Every AEW fan out there that said ‘We want something different. We want something better.’ We brought pro wrestling back!” 

Jon Moxley, Dynamite 4th March 2020

This rah-rah, flag-waving speech with grit has become a Moxley trademark. Perhaps to the point of parody for some detractors. It stood then (unintentionally) oppositional to the type of rah-rah speech that Seth Rollins, Mox’s Shield brethren, was reported to have given backstage in 2019.

The Pandemic World Champion 

Two weeks later, after Mox’s victory speech, a beat-down angle by The Inner Circle to set up Jake Hager as Mox’s first championship defence, the Pandemic struck. This dark period of recent history is one many people want (and some have) forgotten. For wrestling especially, its empty arenas made its “show must go on” attitude both jarring and unnecessary at times.

However, creatively, AEW Dynamite generated more than sparks. In one promo from April 30th, Jon Moxley’s “What’s on his mind” promo was almost like a Wartime leader or Queen’s/President’s speech.

Mox addressed the reality of the world and yet blended this perfectly with the tongue and cheek of wrestling. In talking about being thankful for family and steel chairs, telling fans to buy take-out and call their grandma, it was a different kind of moving for Mox who was a voice of reassurance.

Moxley during this period was a folk hero. As a champion, he gave fans huge wrestling moments against Brodie Lee and Eddie Kingston. Few men could have convincingly shrugged off the dud fireworks of Barbed Wire Massacre like Jon Moxley.

Forgotten by History, But Still Proud

At no point did Moxley as a wrestler or man let the harshness of the world stop him, as he reflected on Talk is Jericho:

“It sucked but I just ate it. There are so much actual bad things going on in the world that I’m not going to feel sorry for myself for one second. ‘Oh, we don’t have fans.’ Big deal. It was actually kind of fitting for me. I felt like I was the perfect guy to carry the torch and take on that responsibility for that period of time. In WWE, I always felt like I was the unheralded workhorse and kept the lights on…. I feel I never maybe got the credit for working as hard as I did. I didn’t care, I clocked in, put my hard hat on and went to work…. If you’re paying me, I’m going to do what you need me to do. AEW, winning the championship, everything is going good and the stories we can tell and boom, the world shuts down. Who is going to be shouldering this responsibility? Of course, it’s me. I took it on. I just owned it. I’m the pandemic champion. Nobody will remember this time period, nobody will look back on it fondly because the world sucks so bad and everyone’s lives were miserable. Everyone wants to forget 2020. Nobody wants to look back on the glory days of my run on top. I’m proud that I was able to do that… I feel I did a really good job and I’m proud of what I did during a very dark period.” 

Jon Moxley, Talk is Jericho. Text from

The Man’s Endurance Is Unforgettable 

What’s interesting in Moxley’s previous words is knowing and accepting his achievement may be overlooked. Beyond perhaps how this connects back to Mox’s pre-IWGP World Heavyweight championship promo. It reflects something intangible about the human being inside the character.

The actual man to be comfortable and secure enough to accept his greatest achievement will retrospectively forget and not be bitter about this because he retains personal pride. A man who can be open and accept that things beyond his control will affect his legacy is something many humans struggle with.

For a man who also has come through addiction and has likewise been open and honest about the continual struggles, it reflects a modern sense of masculinity that is prominent in AEW that I have written about here. It’s again, where that sense of reality, realness has made Moxley some beloved.

Beyond Interim: Wonderful Chaos

When CM Punk was injured and had to take time off to heal, Moxley became the interim world Champion over Hiroshi Tanahashi at Forbidden Door. During a short reign, Moxley refused to be labelled “interim”.

At Fight to the Fallen, he told Chris Jericho that he could shove the word up his backside. Mox proclaimed he was a two-time world champion. He told Jericho that this was the championship he made and the championship he would keep.

Three title defences against Brody King, Rush and then “Lionheart” Chris Jericho were diverse displays that proved good temporary distractions from CM Punk being absent and healing from his foot injury. After the latter, at Quake by The Lake, Punk returned.

With hindsight, it’s hard to tell how/where the line was at times between the fiction and the friction between CM Punk and AEW, as represented on screen by Moxley. And yet, it doesn’t take away from the joyful chaos of it all. It made their build to All Out the more exciting and unusual. Even with the Rocky-inspired squash match that seemed all fun and games. Until someone at a press conference asked about Colt Cabana.

AEW’s Heart and Soul

In the wake of Brawl OutTony Khan reverted to putting the world championship on Jon Moxley again. A man the owner of AEW called “one of the greatest wrestlers in the world”. Something which for some AEW opponents has likely affected their perception of Mox.

Winning a tournament that ended at Grand Slam, Moxley bested Bryan Danielson and became the bridging point between the chaos left by Brawl Out and the ascension of MJF. Although Friedman’s ascension was imminent, it did not stop Moxley’s weekly contests and eliminator matches against young up-and-comers and opponents of different styles trying to convince fans that the title loss would be a formality.

The concept of “iron sharpens iron” felt like Jon Moxley in part compensating for what would be a short championship reign. Yet it indulged in AEW’s strength of providing diverse and interesting combinations of wrestling matches at a time when stability was needed.

It was again, an opportunity that Jon Moxley took to do what few wrestlers might have been capable of doing. Salvaging some dignity into a championship that has had a turbulent summer. In the short term, it was successful.

The rematch between Moxley and MJF from All Out 2020, a time forgotten and when MJF, who used political campaigning gimmicks in the build-up, was different. MJF was ready as a character. “The bidding war of 2024” (storyline rather than the one that played on in January this year with three other high-profile signings) loomed.

In the wake of Punk and The Elite’s suspension, pitting a now galvanised, workhorse champion Moxley against the minimal schedule, and loather of poors, MJF became a welcome distraction to end a challenging year.

Winning, Pretty Platinum set up MJF and AEW it seemed for a meta-layered “Reign of Terror”.

Infinite Respect 

The reality of MJF’s championship reign was mired by creative chaos, injuries and CM Punk again. Yet the twenty-eight-year-old MJF handled things well. My analysis of MJF’s reign can be found here.

I don’t think it would be unfair to say MJF learned Moxley’s example. Especially given the glowing praise MJF throws on Mox in his Players’ Tribunal piece:

“The thing you have to understand with Mox is that he chose AEW. Maybe that sounds obvious, but it’s not. It’s hard to explain. It’s like people have these weird emotional scars about wrestling, from so many years of there being only one game in town. Where it’s like.… Ok. You wrestled classics in Ring of Honor? You were a top guy on the indies? You sold out arenas in Mexico? You were (literally) “big in Japan”? Cool…… have you ever said “Welcome to Monday Night Raw,” though?? I just think there’s a segment of fans who would always assume, no matter what, that WWE was Plan A. But Jon took a f*cking sledgehammer to that assumption. He was part of WWE’s Plan A. He headlined there for half a decade. Was their world champ, was in their biggest stable, drew money, drew ratings, moved assloads of merch. And in the absolute prime of his career, he said, Thanks for the memories, thanks for the gigantic offer. But I’mma try this other thing over here. That’s the sh*t a lot of guys will TALK about doing. Jon is the one guy who actually went out and did it. Dude has my infinite respect.” 

MJF, The Players’ Tribunal

However, many fans, including myself have felt Moxley has been overused and sometimes overexposed in AEW.

Worn Out and Bloodied Workhorse 

Like in WWE, Moxley has remained a workhorse in AEW and did not (like he is again doing now with New Japan) take deserved time off when he was supposed to. That vacation he was supposed to take post-Barbed Wire Deathmatch was both an incredibly long time ago. Despite my praise, I myself have been near burnt out on Moxley and yet I cannot not respect the man’s drive and ability.

Perhaps differently to WWE where Jon Moxley was WWE’s ironman competing in 1,054 matches in five years, he was more appreciated because he was always an entertaining and welcome presence during monotonous time in WWE.

Contrastingly in AEW, his consistent performances, routines and bleeding lead to a familiarity breeding complacency and some contempt. In a promotion where being a workhorse is almost standardised, Moxley’s ability and patterns in matches and promos have become exposed. A bit like the NJPW epic main event sagas, too much of a good thing is a bad thing long-term.

Criticism also for bleeding and hardcore antics have led both to desensitisation and scorn by even the most respected wrestling legends. Bret “The Hitman” Hart, took time to state Moxley’s violent behaviour this was not wrestling. This feeling that the gore was gratuitous has been stated widely.

But Moxley’s “whole dissertation on blood” is valid when he points out the realities of combat sports and scar tissue. It’s not a gimmick when it reflects real brutal fights. Blood inevitably busts when you punch a man hard enough in the face. It reflects AEW’s desire to do things differently and authentic.

At times it can be too much “foot to the peddle”. The balance has in recent months been better. The problem is reality like everything, even when serious and life-threatening, becomes memeified.

Irony of that Underappreciated Promo

For Moxley, taking time away from AEW to work in Japan would give AEW fans time to miss him. At least until perhaps Forbidden Door? It also gives Japanese fans a taste of death jitsu Mox’s has been serving stateside.

More importantly, for the locker room and potential opponents, a chance to sharpen iron against iron and build some resolve for what a time of rebuilding will be. Mox to help NJPW transition towards a new era of stability.

It’s the irony of that pre-Windy City Riot promo. NJPW and other wrestlers don’t overlook, disrespect, forget or take for granted Moxley. Nor for many fans who will remember his reigns during those darker times in AEW.

Even now, when I am bored by the Blackpool Combat Club, Jon Moxley has always found a way to grab me him a chokehold and make me feel. All In last year, I popped, laughed and winced, all at once, when Moxley had kebab skewers Mohawked into his skull in my second favourite match on the card. For a while, that shot of his face was my phone’s screen saver!

Regardless of what happens with AEW and WWE, Mox is more than a figure of transition. Moxley perhaps better than CM Punk and Bryan Danielson, guys who in the past and now can find ways to work in the machine of WWE, has not been willing to be satisfied by that system. Mox is wrestling’s alternative personified.

More From LWOS Pro Wrestling

Header photo – AEW – Stay tuned to the Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world.


More Posts

A WWE Raw graphic featuring Sheamus.

Sheamus Returns To WWE Raw Tonight

Former WWE Champion and World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus returns to WWE Raw tonight in Montreal, Canada.  It’s been eight months since Sheamus was last on WWE TV. A lot

Send Us A Message