Jon Moxley’s Creative Juices Flowing in AEW and Now in New Film ‘Cagefighter: Worlds Collide’

The Week in Wrestling: Jon Moxley on crafting stories in AEW, Daniel Cormier on WWE’s release of Cain Velasquez and more.
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Jon Moxley on his program with Chris Jericho: ‘That’s what pros do when pros are left to their own devices’

The centerpiece of AEW programming is Jon Moxley.

Moxley is AEW’s world champion, as well as its biggest free agent acquisition to date. He has the next two Wednesday nights on Dynamite to inject some magic into his new program with The Dark Order’s “Exalted One” Brodie Lee before they meet in the main event of the Double or Nothing pay-per-view on May 23.

“Well, obviously the card at Double or Nothing will look different than it would have originally,” said Moxley. “In this situation, it’s an opportunity a guy took on three weeks’ notice. We’ve got three weeks to build it, which is not ideal, but the cool thing is Brodie is a veteran who has been performing at the highest level in Japan, Ring of Honor, WWE and everyone knows how badass he is in the ring.”

Moxley has tremendous respect for Lee, who was overlooked on too many occasions in WWE (where he was known as Luke Harper). That gives additional meaning to their match at Double or Nothing, as Lee looks to prove he belongs in the main event.

“Brodie’s violent, he can wrestle, he can brawl, he can even fly,” said Moxley. “This has all the makings of a moment where Brodie could shock the world. And it makes you feel good that the guy who stepped up to take this opportunity is such a great human being. That being said, he f----- with the wrong guy.”

Wrestling is not the only item on the agenda. Moxley’s newest film, Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, premieres internationally this Saturday at 7 p.m. ET exclusively on FITE. (It is currently scheduled to be released in the U.S. in the fall.) The film is centered around a cross-promotional fight pitting MMA star Reiss Gibbons, who is played by MMA fighter Alex Montagnani, against pro wrestler Randy Stone (Moxley).

“This was an opportunity to play an antagonist,” said Moxley. “He pushes buttons. He’s someone you want to hit in the face, so it was really cool to play a guy like that.”

Cagefighter features a cast that includes UFC legend Chuck Liddell, actress Gina Gershon and Jay Reso, who is best known for his time in WWE as Christian. The project was fulfilling for Moxley, who was given the creative freedom to bring his character to life.

“Jay Reso, Christian, is also one of the executive producers, and he spoke up and said, ‘Mox is a pro wrestler playing a pro wrestler, so why don’t you let him ad-lib a lot of these promos?’” explained Moxley. “So they gave me free rein to say whatever I wanted. We had a scene where we had a press conference, with this big room full of reporters and photographers, and I was up on the stage talking so much trash. That’s some of the most fun I’ve ever had, saying every outrageous thing that came into mind.

“That is not who I am in real life, so this was a cool opportunity to be over-the-top. I channeled my inner Clubber Lang and Thunderlips on-screen.”

A devout fan for the past two-and-a-half decades, Moxley’s mind frequently operates as a pro wrestling encyclopedia. He was able to tap into the years spent watching to bring the character of Randy Stone to life.

“I was able to take a little bit from everybody I’ve ever watched and turn it into this outrageous ass---- that you want to see get beat up,” said Moxley. “And the timing was perfect. The day after my contract expired from WWE and I was free to do whatever I wanted, I got a call from Christian. They were looking for a pro wrestler to play this role, and it was just a serendipitous thing that was meant to be.”

The premiere of the film, which is being released on FITE, is being promoted like a live fight, which is why there are staggered start times around the world.

“It’s a cool way to promote a movie, especially in a time when you can’t go to the movie theater,” said Moxley. “So to have an event to kick us out of our routine is pretty cool. Maybe this can be a small distraction or inspiration over a couple hours. I hope people check it out.”

Moxley has accomplished an incredible amount since leaving WWE. He made his industry-shattering debut at last year’s Double or Nothing and had some memorable moments on the indies, particularly with Pentagon last summer. He even competed in New Japan’s vaunted G1 Climax, and still remains the IWGP United States Champion. But his program with Chris Jericho—who he had already worked with in WWE—felt fresh from the time it started in November until it climaxed with Moxley’s title win at Revolution in late February.

“I’m extremely proud of the entire Chris Jericho saga,” said Moxley. “We’d worked together many times before, but me and Chris are two different people now than we were four years ago. Chris has been the master of reinvention, going from ‘The List’ to ‘The Painmaker’ to ‘Le Champion.’ And Jon Moxley, not to speak in the third person and sound like a douche, is totally different than the person who last wrestled Chris Jericho as Dean Ambrose.

“We didn’t overcomplicate it with a team of 30 writers. We had eight weeks to get from Point A to Point B, and we needed to hit the payoff just right, which makes the audience feel rewarded for investing their time. From the peaks and valleys, starting off by me considering joining The Inner Circle, then doing some comedy with the car, then getting serious, we hit the finish at the exact right point. It’s an incredible feeling to have that expansive of a piece of work to hang in your collection, and it was incredibly rewarding to strike that power cord. That’s what pros do when pros are left to their own devices.”

The month of May always seems to be electric for Moxley. That’s when he made his debut for AEW last year, and also marked his most exciting moment in WWE when he won the world title in Las Vegas at Money in the Bank in 2016.

Since his departure from WWE, Moxley has been vocal about his need and desire for a change, but he is still able to look back on moments like that Money in the Bank ladder match and title win with pride.

“It’s through my own doing by being so vocal about the things I was frustrated about, but I hope I didn’t go so overboard that people forget all the good stuff,” said Moxley. “I had a pretty good friggin’ run there, and that Money in the Bank was incredible. More than anything, that was a sense of relief. I’d come so close so many times, rolling the boulder to the top of the hill only to have it roll all the way back down. I’d made so many promises to fans that I didn’t follow through on by failing to win the title. So when I was sitting in the ring as champ, a weight was finally lifted off my shoulders.

“It’s all about peaking stories at the same time. You don’t want to miss a moment because you waited too long. It was tough to call me winning that, and that’s the perfect scenario. It was just like with me and Jericho. You could smell a title change in the air, but you weren’t entirely sure. Hopefully we can continue to keep creating moments like that in AEW.”

Moxley is on the precipice of an extremely meaningful stretch. His next week-and-a-half includes two editions of Dynamite and the Double or Nothing pay-per-view, as well as the premiere of his new film. Disposable income is obviously at a premium during this stretch of time, but Moxley is confident Cagefighter will be worth people’s time and hard-earned money.

“This is a passionate, gritty story,” said Moxley. “And we really sacrificed our bodies. The fight scenes were three days of filming up in Canada in the winter. We were in this big warehouse, and we were our own stunt guys. Trying to keep your adrenaline going for 10–12 hours is really tough. And fake blood is sticky and they’re spraying you with cold water in between scenes, so you’re cold, sticky, and feel like a freezing cold Jolly Rancher. Then [co-star] Alex tore his groin badly on the second to last day. His whole leg was black and purple. I asked, ‘Are we done? Is the movie over?’

“We had to change the climax of the fight to what we could physically have him do on our final day of shooting. I had to pick him up and get to the other side of the cage because he couldn’t walk on his own. We really sacrificed our bodies and gave everything we had to this, and I hope it’s something people enjoy.”

Daniel Cormier on WWE’s release of Cain Velasquez

Daniel Cormier is next in line for a shot at UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic.

That title fight will likely happen this summer. The 41-year-old Cormier is approaching the end of his career in the Octagon, with only one or two more fights likely in his career. He is a former Heavyweight Champion and Light Heavyweight Champion, and is one of the greatest fighters in the history of MMA.

Once he finishes his career, he is looking to make a special appearance or two for WWE.

Cormier was asked for his perspective on WWE’s release of Cain Velasquez, who is also a former UFC Heavyweight Champion as well as a person for whom he holds enormous respect.

“It makes me sad for Cain,” said Cormier. “I know how much he enjoys wrestling. I know that he’s going to land on his feet. There is no person in the world I am more confident that will come out of whatever situation in a positive light than Cain Velasquez.”

The decision to release Velasquez has not changed Cormier’s desire to conduct future business with WWE, nor would he be less likely to sign a contract because of it if the deal was right.

“You have to take what’s happening right now with any moves companies or organizations make for what they are,” said Cormier. “We’re in a worldwide pandemic. It’s not normal, it’s not something any of us have ever seen before.

“So to say that it would make you only want to do a one-off as opposed to a contract? I think that’s a little much. Everybody’s doing exactly what they’re doing because of the pandemic.”

WWE and AEW continue to push forward in new era of pro wrestling

WWE and AEW are entering uncharted territory by continuing to perform in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Neither organization is doing their part to promote social distancing. The spread of the coronavirus is frighteningly real, and putting wrestlers together in the ring, regardless of the surrounding precautions, puts people at risk of a virus that can be carried without symptoms.

But the decision was made to continue to perform. AEW will hold Double or Nothing in less than two weeks and WWE aired Money in the Bank on Sunday.

WWE announced in a recent investor meeting that it is exceeding financial expectations, which makes its recent layoffs more infuriating. Creatively, this is a chance for the company to really impress its audience with some innovative content. The Money in the Bank ladder match was filmed weeks in advance, allowing WWE a chance to make another positive impression through a cinematic production, similar to what was on display at WrestleMania with the “Boneyard” match and the “Firefly Fun House.”

WWE also needs to offer more creativity on its weekly television programming. Adding some top-notch personality profiles, similar to the way HBO’s Hard Knocks introduces viewers to football players, could lead to some compelling content. Allowing wrestlers to go off-script in a controlled fashion has potential, especially for Raw, which can be laborious at three hours. Plus, more investment in the characters from the viewers’ perspective is always a positive.

For WWE, this is a chance to re-chart the course. Live wrestling with crowds may not occur again until 2021. That means the product needs to evolve, which includes the type of television that is being produced and the stories that are being told on-camera.

What will WWE and AEW do to attract viewers over, potentially, the next few months with no fans in the crowd? AEW has infused a lot of excitement into their weekly television show. It will be very interesting to see how they produce their first empty arena pay per view at Double or Nothing.

AEW is also audibling in this new era. The original plan for the world title picture at Double or Nothing was Jon Moxley defending against MJF, who was coming off the most significant win of his career against Cody Rhodes at the Revolution pay-per-view in February. But they pivoted and placed “The Exalted One” Brodie Lee into the match with Moxley instead of rushing the story with MJF, who will now face Jungle Boy at Double or Nothing.

From a storyline perspective, AEW is simply not able to tell the stories it was ready to deliver. A number of compelling endeavors were planned, including the WarGame-style “Blood & Guts” match. The debuts of Matt Hardy and Brodie Lee would have been even more special in front of a packed arena.

One certainty is that the wrestling will continue to impress. The wrestlers are still delivering, even in the odd setting of an empty arena, but the anticipation just is not present without the crowd. Besides asking whether there should be any wrestling at all, the most pressing question moving forward is how WWE and AEW will continue to adapt to this new environment.

The (Online) Week in Wrestling

  • WWE’s “Brand-to-Brand Invitation,” first reported by John Pollock of POST Wrestling, has a lot of potential, but kicking it off by bringing King Corbin to Raw is not the best start. The move makes sense because of limited talent available and decreasing ratings, but I would have opened with a bigger first bout, like McIntyre vs. Kofi Kingston or McIntyre vs. The Miz.
  • Becky Lynch made a massive announcement on Raw, sharing with the world that she is pregnant. All best wishes to Lynch, who also announced that Money in the Bank ladder match winner Asuka is now Raw Women’s Champion. I love the suspense of the Money in the Bank contract, so I would have had a women’s tournament for the belt. This would have been a perfect chance to put the belt on someone new and have Asuka keep the briefcase. 
  • Roman Reigns confirmed that he missed WrestleMania following the birth of his twins, staying home—and safe—with his family.
  • I really enjoyed the Randy Orton-Edge confrontation to close out Raw, with one glaring exception: the hyperbole from Charley Caruso at the end of the show, saying that, if the match does happen, “it may just be the greatest wrestling match ever.” I don’t blame Caruso for the scripted line, and maybe I shouldn’t be surprised, as it was another example of Vince McMahon’s love for hyperbole. 
  • Beginning this Friday, a tournament will take place to crown a new Intercontinental Champion. In case anyone is curious, the tourney will take place in Orlando at the Performance Center, not an undisclosed location in Rio de Janeiro
  • Dynamite has consistently provided the most exciting weekly wrestling program during the empty arena era, and last week’s main event with Kenny Omega, Matt Hardy, Sammy Guevara, and Chris Jericho was phenomenal. 
  • The Jake Roberts-Brandi Rhodes interaction from last Wednesday’s Dynamite missed its mark. Jake’s snake is a lot like the boogeyman; the fear is inherent that it could get you, not that it actually crawls all over you. I also thought Jake atop Brandi was a bad look, and this is coming from someone who enjoys both of their work. We’ll see how they continue to tell that story. 
  • Brodie Lee is a surprising challenger for Jon Moxley’s AEW world title, but they have chemistry from their time wrestling in WWE. I’m curious if any mention of the past will be made in their promos, as Mox was a member of The Shield and Lee was part of The Wyatt Family. 
  • Brodie Lee’s character in AEW is centered around Vince McMahon, which has incredible potential if done right. McMahon made an appearance this past Sunday at Money in the Bank, though he walked away unscathed from any nonsense and his office remained pristine—while Paul Heyman took a plate of food to the face from Otis. 
  • I joined Wrestling Inc.’s Raj Giri and Jesse Collins last week for a live watch-along of Saturday Night’s Main Event from January 1987. We’re doing it again this Thursday, looking at a SNME that aired in March of ’87 including “Macho Man” Randy Savage, the Hart Foundation, and a battle royal featuring Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan. 
  • On the subject of Vince McMahon, Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp wrote an interesting piece on McMahon’s willingness to show Rob Gronkowski that his dive spot at WrestleMania was safe–doing so by taking the dive himself first.
  • In a more uplifting piece of news, Kazuchika Okada is supporting the Nippon Foundation’s Coronavirus relief fund. 
  • Wrestling amidst a pandemic is certainly a time to be creative. We’ll see what the NWA has in store starting next week. 
  • Even without appearing on Dynamite, “Hangman” Adam Page continues to be a star on “Being The Elite.” 

Tweet of the Week

CM Punk is finally enjoying his WWE ice cream bars, and he playfully congratulated Becky Lynch with the ice cream/pickles combo.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.