Fan Favorite Jon Moxley Adapts to Being AEW’s Pandemic-Era Champion as ‘Dynamite’ Celebrates First Anniversary

The Week in Wrestling: Jon Moxley reflects on AEW’s one-year television anniversary, the WWE draft’s biggest head-scratchers and more.
Author:
Updated:
Original:

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Jon Moxley: ‘With an opponent like Lance Archer, you can imagine the lengths I’m going to take to make this a memorable night’

All Elite Wrestling will celebrate the one-year anniversary of Dynamite on Wednesday night with four title matches, including AEW champion Jon Moxley’s defending against Lance Archer.

Moxley, who is only days removed from a stellar performance against Chris Dickinson at the Bloodsport show on Sunday, is ready to continue a story with Archer that dates back to their time together in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Unlike WWE, which has a long history of focusing solely on its own product, the Moxley-Archer program has incorporated their history from Japan.

“We had a kickass match at the Tokyo Dome [at Wrestle Kingdom 14 in January], and it ties in perfectly to what we’re doing here,” Moxley says. “That was a Texas Death Match, last-man-standing rules, which is pretty unique for Japan. That allowed us to be something really different on the show.”

Archer lost their match at Wrestle Kingdom, but he is quick to point out that Moxley, despite all his success around the globe, has never pinned or submitted him. That adds to the build of Wednesday’s match on Dynamite. And although a title change is unlikely, Moxley has the innate ability to make viewers believe in the aura of his opponents.

“I was able to survive that match in the Tokyo Dome by getting to my feet and escaping before the count of 10,” Moxley says. “I barely got out of there with my head on my shoulders. Now he wants to finish the job, so to speak. Maybe he’s my kryptonite. The only guy I haven’t been able to pin or submit this year is Lance.”

As evident in his promo on last week’s show, Moxley brings a welcomed blend of intensity and levity to Dynamite. He has been tasked with representing the still nascent company amid a pandemic, which was especially difficult while running shows out of an empty arena. Moxley is a fan favorite, and taking the crowd away from him does not do him any favors, yet he continues to find ways to elevate the AEW product.

“I’m the guy carrying the torch during a pandemic,” says Moxley, who is 34-year-old Jon Good. “It’s a weird time, and COVID is f------ up the bookings every week, but I want to carry the torch through tough times. Even though I didn’t originally picture myself in a good-guy, protagonist role when I first came here, it’s the way it happened. I can send a message of perseverance and picking yourself up after you fall down. People have lost their jobs, lost their business, and I can project strength, with no fear in the face of adversity, for those watching our show.

“I want to give stability in an unstable time. I need to give AEW some stability as we build a secure future for this brand, because it’s vital for this industry that AEW is a success.”

Moxley has laid a solid foundation for the company by providing a working-class world champ who takes on all challengers. And the AEW roster has helped him showcase his own versatility. In addition to working with top stars like Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega, he has also been able to show his wide array of talents as a pro wrestler—brawling, wrestling on the mat and narratives of pure physicality—with a different crop of recent opponents that includes MJF, the Butcher, Darby Allin and Eddie Kingston.

“The most satisfying part of this run has been telling stories unencumbered,” Moxley says. “We still have a collaborative, creative process, but I don’t have to listen to writers tell me my story. Tony Khan and other people have ideas, and when those ideas are better than mine, I use theirs. I could see the entire MJF match in my head long before it happened. That’s the artistic part of wrestling for me. I’m not blessed with the ability to do springboards or 450s or moonsaults, but I can tell a story as well as anyone in the industry.

“And at the beginning of this, we had a core group with name value. Now we’re building new stars. We need more and more stars for the future, people like Will Hobbs. When I go into a title match, I have a story I want to tell. I know who I am in the ring, I know my character, but just as importantly, I need to make my opponent look like a star. Eddie Kingston and the Butcher are two examples. People already know me, so my goal was to show the people of the world what they are about.”

Moxley will forever be remembered for his work alongside Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins in the Shield. He was asked whether he ever compares his work to Reigns, who is WWE’s universal champion and the face of SmackDown on Fox.

“I don’t pay much attention or compare myself to anybody else,” Moxley says. “For me, it’s all about visualizing what I want in my head and then actualizing it in the ring. I just want to create my own vision, so I’m not comparing that with anyone else.”

As champion, there are plenty of areas for Moxley to focus on, especially in the COVID-19 era, when plans constantly need to be updated at the very last moment.

“I’ve already had two title matches get pulled off TV for COVID reasons, and there could be more,” Moxley says. “I think people are used to it now. We all have to accept that, in 2020, whatever plans we make, they might have to change. It’s important to pivot quickly. We had the six-man tag planned with Will Hobbs and Darby Allin, which I was really looking forward to, and then there were COVID issues the night before. That was a big opportunity and was going to be a kickass match. There is a need to pivot, whether it’s AEW, WWE, NXT or the Tokyo Dome main event.”

Despite a number of unforeseen difficulties, AEW has quickly built itself into a hot commodity in the unforgiving world of pro wrestling. A critical factor in that success has been having Moxley as a premiere star, and there is no better talent to represent the company right now than Moxley.

“One year of Dynamite, this is a landmark moment,” Moxley says. “At first, it all sounded too good to be true. But I think back on that first night, doing a live show on TNT. It actually happened, we did it. Then we built momentum, which was shut down like everyone else’s during COVID, but we’re surviving and thriving despite all that’s been put in front of us.

“That’s a credit to our talent and crew, suffering through horrible Jacksonville humidity all summer, so it’s going to be a celebration this Wednesday. And the lights are going to be bright this week. With an opponent like Lance Archer, you can imagine the lengths I’m going to take to make this a memorable night.”

Booker T weighs in on presidential debates

The first presidential debate between WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was a contentious, insult-filled affair, and Booker Huffman (aka two-time WWE Hall of Fame inductee Booker T) is hoping for a different outcome on Oct. 22.

After more than two decades of cutting promos in the ring, Huffman will be watching the second debate closely.

“I am looking forward to the next one,” Huffman says. “I want to see more structure this time.”

Booker T in the ring at his Reality of Wrestling school

Huffman’s Reality of Wrestling partnered with BeWoke.Vote on Saturday in Texas for the “Swing Vote” event, which featured pro wrestling and a focus on voter engagement. The show will air Sunday on the Reality of Wrestling YouTube channel. Huffman is watching this presidential election closely, and he is hoping to see a more diplomatic debate the next time the two candidates square off.

“I had been looking forward to the [now-canceled] town hall debate,” Huffman says. “To control a debate like the first one we saw with Biden and Trump, you need someone with some authority that is going to control and put their foot down when things go awry, and I hope we see that happen this time.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • The biggest disappointments of the WWE draft are splitting up the New Day and Heavy Machinery. The New Day has proved their strengths over and over and over again. Why not keep the successful trio of Kofi Kingston, Big E and Xavier Woods together? And what becomes of Otis, who is now without Tucker and Mandy Rose? While we’re nitpicking, how did the New Day and Street Profits just swap tag titles? 
  • I liked the curve at the end of Raw with Lana winning the battle royal, but I would have preferred that the show ended with her having a moment with Asuka instead of being overshadowed by the Randy Orton–Drew McIntyre brawl. 
  • One of the highlights to Raw was the pairing of Bray Wyatt and Alexa Bliss, which is a combination with incredible potential. 
  • The Chris Jericho celebrations were a nice touch last week on Dynamite, as was the promo time with MJF. Another highlight was the Saturday Night Live–style credits to close out the show. 
  • Cody Rhodes regained the TNT championship last week on Dynamite, and he is set to defend it this week against Orange Cassidy. I thought these two tweets perfectly captured the essence of both Rhodes and Cassidy:
  • Are we headed to an all–Bullet Club final in this year’s G1 Climax between Jay White and Evil? 
  • It was only fitting that Paul Heyman’s NFL pick involved Philadelphia, and he chose correctly in taking the Steelers. After all, it was a spoiler, not a prediction, right? 
  • There was so much high-quality wrestling on display this weekend, and the highlight was the Bloodsport marquee of Chris Dickinson against Jon Moxley. 
  • The Masked Wrestler makes its debut on Wednesday night, which should be a fantastic viewing experience for wrestling fans. 
  • The 30th anniversary of Bret Hart’s first WWF title win, which happened on Oct. 12, 1992, is fast approaching. 

Conrad Thompson previews this week’s edition of Something to Wrestle With Bruce Prichard

A new episode of Something to Wrestle With Bruce Prichard is set for this Friday, as Prichard and cohost Conrad Thompson discuss the Saturday Night’s Main Event from Oct. 13, 1990.

The show captures an interesting time in WWE history, one on the precipice of transition. The Ultimate Warrior was in the midst of his only reign as world champ, but his run was only a few months away from its end, and the belt would ultimately circulate back to Hulk Hogan.

“The company is on the heels of a disappointing WrestleMania VI, which was such a letdown after WrestleMania V set all kinds of pay-per-view records,” Thompson says. “By this point, it just feels like the Warrior experiment isn’t working. They’re going to pivot and take the belt off by the Royal Rumble, but they’re definitely trying new things.”

Kerry Von Erich, who by this point was known exclusively as the Texas Tornado, also had a successful defense of his intercontinental title against Haku. There was a must-see tag match pitting the Ultimate Warrior and the Legion of Doom against all three members of Demolition, though that LOD-Demolition program never came close to reaching its peak, and the “Macho Man” Randy Savage closed out his feud with Dusty Rhodes by winning their match via count-out. Savage then moved onto a program with the Warrior that built to WrestleMania VII, while Dustin Rhodes made his WWE debut to help Dusty against “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and Virgil.

“The LOD push is starting. Demolition is fading,” Thompson says. “This is also the beginning of the end of the Dusty Rhodes experiment, who got himself over but just didn’t have the look for Vince. Even Randy Savage, it looks like it’s been decided that he’s no longer the top guy, but rather someone who just helps make the top guy. And the plan is to reinvest in Hulk Hogan.”

The other two matches on the show had potential WrestleMania VII ties. Hogan and Tugboat teamed up to defeat the Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine, and the heel Sgt. Slaughter decimated Koko B. Ware in the last match of the night. The WrestleMania VII marquee turned out to be Hogan-Slaughter, but Thompson wants to hear from Prichard how close Tugboat came to playing a role in the main event.

“Was the plan to plant the seeds of a Tugboat turn here?” Thompson says. “Was that a consideration for WrestleMania VII? Or is the plan to already go with Slaughter? That’s a focal point for Bruce to cover.

“I’m just such a big fan of this era. I’m probably at my peak fandom here. There are so many distinct characters on this card. It’s interesting to look back 30 years ago and see how much the business has changed, but also explore if it has changed that much in the way Vince McMahon approaches it. That’s what makes picking Bruce’s brain so much fun.”

Tweet of the Week

WWE is in need of a breakout star—someone dripping with charisma, a smooth in-ring ability and hungry to push the product to a new level. Why not Mustafa Ali?

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