In 2019 I hope you're ready. The first month of the year has come to a close and you're going to see a lot of shuffling in the wrestling world like we haven't seen in a generation. The big subject of news this week is Dean Ambrose. Ambrose, much like myself, woke up and said he's f***ing done. Only in his case he's just done with WWE -- not life.
Welcome to Planet Kayfabe. Today I'm going to give my thoughts on the obvious -- Dean Ambrose's status with WWE. Some think its a work due to the odd nature of WWE confirming his departure in an official statement (complete with his real name) and of course many just say they think its a work just to cover their ass in case it ends up being a work they don't look like a mark. Then when it turns out that its a shoot they can hide. I don't know why its so hard to believe that people could actually be unhappy in WWE. I'd rather shit in a bag in eat it than have to watch any of the promo segments from Dean's turn last fall again. I can only imagine how he felt about it.
Ambrose came to WWE as a touted indy talent, like many others, with a ton of buzz. There was the rumored feud with a returning Mick Foley fresh off his TNA run that would never be. Instead we got the 2012 edition of Survivor Series where Dean Ambrose debuted as the de facto leader of The Shield. That's right, the leader. Any fan who was watching WWE to see this group's run will tell you Dean was the leader despite how WWE has retroactively tried to portray Roman Reigns as the leader or that they were always 3 equals. It was after the group broke up that we started to see some separation. Roman Reigns was groomed to be the next top babyface. Seth Rollins was the top heel for a while aligned with The Authority. What was Dean Ambrose doing post-Shield? Not much of note outside of a few Shield reunions where he (and Seth to a degree as well) were just relegated to being Roman's brothers there to back him up and sell new shirts.
Now with the news him not resigning a lot of the WWE solo run lowlights have been shined on to figure out where it all went wrong. He started out as a bit of a wandering mid-card babyface with no real wrestling gear. The post-Shield presentation of the individuals was not great from a ring attire standpoint in my opinion, although Seth is fine now. It may not sound like a big deal, but trotting Dean out there like Jimmy Wang Yang was not a good look. It was not a main event look. It was not a look that said "take me serious as a top wrestler". If that didn't do it, the hokey material sure did. "Hokey" is a word I used many times in past columns to describe some bad Dean Ambrose segments and a word he reportedly used himself saying he hates the "hokey shit" he's been told to do on television. I recognize its not all WWE's fault. Sure, he was asked to make chicken salad out of chicken shit on more than one occasion. However, when fans say he has looked like he was just going through the motions out there they aren't wrong. At Wrestlemania 32 Dean Ambrose was built up as a real challenger to Brock Lesnar however the match was a shitty glorified squash. A couple months later he had the first ever "Asylum Match" with Chris Jericho and it was one of the worst and most boring Jericho matches I've ever seen. Certainly on pay-per-view. On June 19, 2016 Dean Ambrose would win the Money in the Bank ladder match and later that same night would defeat Seth Rollins (who defeated Roman Reigns) to win the WWE Championship. This would make all the Shield members world champions and after a couple of years of floating around at the midcard babyface level Dean was finally seen as a top guy. After winning the title he was then drafted to Smackdown after the renewed brand split as the brand's first pick. This could very well be the peak of Dean Ambrose's singles career in WWE and I hope you enjoyed it because it was over faster than you could make a bowl of Mac & Cheese and rob a Blockbuster Video.
The icing on the cake or perhaps the final nail in the Ambrose Asylum was his August 8, 2016 appearance on Steve Austin's "Stone Cold Podcast" on the WWE Network. A little background, Steve Austin has a popular podcast where he obviously interviews wrestlers and wrestling personalities much of the time. This podcast was brought to the WWE Network and was left pretty much the way it was on Podcast One. A total shoot interview with no topic off limits only with less swearing. To give an idea how big a deal this show was, it was (and might still be) the most watched WWE Network original series and his interview with Vince McMahon was the reason Randy Savage was inducted into the Hall of Fame when he was. Steve had Vince by the balls when he asked about Macho Man's HoF status and when Vince tried slithering out of the topic, Austin stayed on him. That was the first episode in December of 2014. The next Wrestlemania, Randy Savage was finally a WWE Hall of Famer.
The list of stars that Steve interviewed on this show were the likes of Vince McMahon, to Triple H, to Paul Heyman, to Brock Lesnar to Ric Flair so, it was treated as a big deal to do these shoots with Steve. Dean Ambrose was actually the WWE Champion at the time and one of only 3 full-time current Superstars (the others being Paige and AJ Styles) to be interviews and it did not go well. To this day it is the last 'Stone Cold Podcast' on the WWE Network even though they promoted future interviews with guys like The Undertaker and Sting which we never got.
On the show Dean's demeanor was almost like someone who acted like he just wanted to go to his hotel and call it a night. Not stick around the arena for another hour to film an interview (yes, Steve was brought in live and on location to film). From the beginning the discussion was awkward. Yes, Steve at times came off a little out of touch with how things are run in WWE today. Like in giving these brass ring speeches and Steve talking about how if he only had 30 seconds of TV time to speak he made the best of it. Now they tell you exactly what to say in that 30 seconds and if it sucks the heat is on you for not getting it over. However, during the rest of this interview Ambrose came off a little too exposed and awkward. This is when many started dubbing him the "Lunatic Cringe". The best way to understand is to watch it yourself. He just didn't come off as someone capable of having a conversation. Early on Dean seems somewhat sensitive to what he things are assumptions. Like when Steve says he was surprised Dean liked country music, he replied "yeah, why's that?" Then after Dean shares a story about his rough childhood and how him and his sister had to fend for themselves much of the time Steve asks 'would you say you had a happy childhood?' Dean simply replies "yeah, I would" and does not elaborate which leads to an awkward silence to which then Dean, the interviewee asks Steve "what? You wouldn't expect that?" This is 5 minutes into the interview and the cringe was already piling on. As WWE Champion, with the belt right there on camera, he talked causing trouble as a kid and admitting to shoplifting "stacks of tapes" from video stores, naming Blockbuster who "can't come after him anyway". A somewhat funny story but probably not the kind of the thing the PG, image conscious WWE of today wants their babyface champion throwing out there. I've seen people blame Steve Austin here because he was asking Dean about his childhood, which Dean clearly didn't want to get into much detail about, but much of Steve questions were followups to things Dean brought up himself, then when Steve asked Dean to elaborate he would refuse to which only added to the awkwardness of this interview.
Dean sometimes came off as living his gimmick but it was again awkward in a way since this was episode 12 and has been firmly established that these were shoot interviews. Austin tried to steer the interview to paint the story of someone from humble beginnings who would become WWE Champion. Dean says he was happy as a child and didn't give a shit when it came to high school. Alright. He said he prided himself on having a strong work ethic but dropped out of school just because he didn't want a "crappy job" like his teacher (again, I can imagine kids having this conversation with their parents, Steve's wife taught special ed kids, by the way so I'm sure he appreciated Dean burial...) and he got "into some stuff" as a teen. Steve asked what kind of stuff since Dean brought it up himself but then he said he shouldn't get into it. Between stuff he didn't want to get into and trying to crack some of his answers that were somewhat in riddles between a barrage of "umm's", "uhh's" and long awkward pauses this interview got worse by the second and did not make Ambrose look good at all.
In probably the most memorable point in the interview Dean was asked about his Wrestlemania 32 match with Brock, which was not great, but Steve asked what it was like for him working that stage. Dean would openly bury Brock, who is their highest paid talent and largest investment, as being "lazy" and not wanting to do any of Dean's suggestions. He didn't just say Brock was lazy but pretty much said WWE was as well. I wish he elaborated more and I'd also like to hear Brock's side of this as well. Like I said, the match was like a 13 minute squash. We know Brock isn't against selling for other guys, so I'm curious if someone high in WWE, maybe Vince himself, changed the match shortly before the event and just told Brock he'd be going over and doing 85% of the offense. Earlier he buried the creative process using scripted promos and then cut a promo on Austin off the top of his head that came off awkward and hardly anything worth bragging about after going off about how a script was beneath you. Throughout the interview the two could never get on the same page. Steve would try and get visually frustrated at times and Dean seemed like he personally had no interest in doing this interview. After claims of dropping out because he figured school was a waste of time and saying he wasn't the excited when he got the call from WWE things reached the boiling point of awkwardness when Austin pretty much straight up questioned Dean's work ethic and asked if he's resting on his laurels in some way to fire up Ambrose. I think Austin was looking for Dean to cut a promo on him for questioning his passion and Ambrose just said he was offended by the thought that he could be complacent. Some fans may think that was a dick move on Steve's part but listen to the interview. He drops out of school because he didn't care. He didn't think it was a big deal when WWE called him. He was asked where "Lunatic Fringe" came from and he says "I dunno it's just some tagline they gave me". Steve may have been a little out of line to call out the then WWE Champion like that, but he wasn't exactly wrong in doing so based on Dean's own responses. Austin uses a phrase a lot on his show when talking about talent exposing themselves, "give a guy enough rope and he'll hang himself". Here, Austin saw the interview was the drizzling shits and Dean proceeded to hang himself.
Ever since then there's been no more Stone Cold Podcast (on the WWE Network anyway) and Dean Ambrose was never portrayed as that big of a deal anymore. He would lose the WWE Championship a month later to AJ Styles at Backlash. There's a chance that the WWE was unhappy with both. Steve for pressing their champion and Dean for exposing himself as someone who could never really be a company guy. Which is fine if you don't want to be a company guy, but you can't refuse to play ball and then bitch about your spot on the card later on. Steve Austin himself was reportedly hard to deal with at times with creative during his prime run, but when it came to public appearances he never made the promotion look bad. He could sit and laugh with Regis Philbin and come off like a real person and a likable guy you could relate to. Here, Dean came off as bored, aloof and showed zero charisma what-so-ever and... I'M A FAN OF HIS! I get he's human and you can see a great comedian on a bad day so-to-speak, but Dean had to nail this and instead he nailed himself to a f***ing cross. If said comedian had a terrible segment on the Tonight Show it could be the last time he's ever given such an opportunity. You may read this and think I'm burying the guy, but its a fact that Dean in a shoot setting did not come off good here at all at a time where he and his career needed him to nail this interview and its no surprise that the stain of this interview would follow him for the rest of his WWE run. If he couldn't handle Steve Austin on WWE's on network there's no way they were going to feature him as one of the faces of the company to represent them on the Today Show and Jimmy Fallon. This was two and a half years ago and Dean Ambrose is right to be unhappy with his spot. Before Ambrose got injured in December of 2017 he had actually worked the most matches in WWE that year. The company certainly relied on him as a body to have matches, but its clear that's about it. Good for Ambrose if he think he will be happier elsewhere and maybe even a bigger success. Its not entirely unheard of especially with the industry changing. Its nothing new as well. Back in the mid-90's there were guys who would leave a good paying job at WCW to make a name for themselves in the WWF for less money or significantly less money in ECW. At 33 Ambrose has much to give wrestling and after this latest flopped heel run against Seth Rollins its clear there's nothing left to give WWE right now other than time and bumps.
As far as Dean Ambrose's departure goes, it may be good for him. I do not think it's a work. If it is, I think now would be a bad time to work such an angle with a list of employees like Hideo Itami, The Revival, Andrade 'Cien' Almas and Mike and Maria Bennett asking for their release recently and Neville walking out on the company a year ago and with guys like Chris Jericho and the Young Bucks turning down offers from WWE. The public perception is that many are unhappy within WWE today and other semi-recent escapees like CM Punk and Cody Rhodes have talked about how they know while many there are just happy to be there, there are many others who are miserable. With talent asking for their release being such a big story right now, I don't think it would be the best idea for WWE to shoot an angle where Dean Ambrose is unhappy with his spot and threatens to leave the company.
I hope all goes well for Dean. He apparently turned down a 5 year/1-million downside contract. If he lands somewhere where he is given freedom to do much of what he wants and none of the "hokey shit" he doesn't want to do it could revitalize his career. If you're one of the huge Dean Ambrose fans reading this, the news of his not re-signing shouldn't upset you too much. You know exactly what would happen if he re-signed. It would be just more of the same old forgettable midcard nonsense. A change of scenery could do him good and good for wherever he ends up. Whether its AEW, ROH, NJPW or just wandering the indies making a name for himself again we'll see. As a fan I hope for the best because its clear that WWE has given up on him being any sort of a big deal. His whole return from injury has not been handled well. He changed his look, worked out a little more and the company just had him come back as another guy. Then he turned when Roman announced he was leaving to battle cancer and it was more of the hokey nonsense only now as a heel and the turn got over like a wet fart. Many fans asked the question "what is even left for Dean" after his feud with Rollins ended. Apparently that's a question he asked himself, too.
Thanks for reading, everyone. Again, I didn't intend for this to come off as a burial. I am just trying to be objective and see where both WWE and Dean Ambrose failed here. It's easy to rip on certain wrestlers, but you have to be able to admit when your favorites drop the ball too. This departure could be very good for Dean. That contract for 5 years and the $1mil. downside doesn't mean they have big plans for him. It just means they don't want him going somewhere else in what has become a quickly changing business in 2019. Dolph Ziggler has gotten the same raises too and he's been the same guy in the same spot for almost a decade now. If its true and he's walking away from a 7 figure deal approaching his mid-30's then maybe Dean has proven that he's not complacent at all and just reached the end of the line with WWE.
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