#OneYearDON is a look back at All Elite Wrestling’s debut event with retrospectives on how talent has fared in the year since the event as well as other profiles looking at how some performers have progressed from one Double Or Nothing to the next. This one looks at Jon Moxley, who went from debuting for AEW at the PPV to entering 2020’s edition defending the world championship. Moxley promised a paradigm shift that day. Has he delivered?
It was a debut that many expected but few anticipated. A pile of casino chips stacked high with a single figure standing atop, hands outstretched. Like a god among men he had arrived to usher in a new era of professional wrestling. Jon Moxley was ALL ELITE and the game was about to be changed as a result.
On May 25th, 2019, All Elite Wrestling held its first PPV event, one that aired without the benefit of TV to build to. Still, the company managed to put on a showcard worthy of the stature AEW had almost inherently received ever since day one. Matches were exciting, engaging, and compelling. Unsurprisingly, the show received the Wrestling Observer Award for Best Major Wrestling Show of the Year with the Cody and Dustin Rhodes match-winning Pro Wrestling Illustrated’s Match of the Year. But for as good as the in-ring quality of Double or Nothing was-and it was good-that event will always be remembered for one thing above all else. The arrival of Jon Moxley.
Citing unhappiness with his character direction and lack of creative control (somewhat of a pattern among the AEW WWE signees), Jon Moxley turned down a very lucrative deal from WWE to become a free agent for the first time since 2011. And while the term “biggest free agent in wrestling,” has somewhat gotten bandied around of late and used way too liberally, at the time, Moxley was indeed that. He had interest from every company as fans themselves tried to predict what would be next for the former Dean Ambrose. In April, Moxley’s 90-day non-compete was up and it didn’t take long for him to find work. Following the main event between Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega at the first-ever Double or Nothing, Jon Moxley came through the crowd, shocking the AEW universe as he laid out both men and in an image all too similar to that of when he won his first WWE world title and stood atop the ladder, he ascended a pile of casino chips, basking in the glow of the fans. It was the closing shot as AEW’s first-ever PPV went off the air. Following the event, Jon Moxley cut a promo that became a rallying cry for AEW almost, stating he was here to start a war, that they (AEW) weren’t there to read history books but rather write them. He also uttered what has since become his most famous line, “this is what you call a paradigm shift.”
But has Jon Moxley truly shifted the wrestling paradigm?
A paradigm shift is described as “a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions.” In that regard, AEW has in many ways, been just like other wrestling companies. They’ve relied on, perhaps over-relied on at times, the elements of the industry that remain tried-and-true. They’ve utilized classic gimmicks and have signed popular wrestlers whose name value was achieved elsewhere. AEW hasn’t been as unique as one may have expected from the onset, but what they have done, has been ambitious. Not everything AEW has done has worked but they haven’t been afraid to fail which has led to positive results more often than not.
They’ve embraced non-traditional platforms and continue to find success with Being the Elite as a tertiary medium to advance their stories. Slowly but surely AEW has been finding its footing and they continue to demonstrate an ability to grow and evolve to meet the fans where they are. AEW isn’t perfect and they haven’t entirely shifted the paradigm, but they have certainly carved out their space in the wrestling community, which is evident by their ratings successes over NXT most times during this fan-driven Wednesday Night War. AEW’s creativity with empty arena shows has also been front-and-center as it’s been evident that WWE has borrowed some best practices from them in order to improve the quality of their programming. It’s been this success that led AEW to a ratings victory over Monday Night Raw a few weeks ago as well.
Now, onto Jon Moxley. Is one man truly responsible for all of the good AEW has achieved in its first year or so of existence? Of course not. But the role that Moxley has played cannot be understated. When Jon Moxley arrived, AEW was just starting to establish itself. Key players and storylines had yet to unfold. The Inner Circle was just a thought on a piece of paper and Cody’s role as the babyface ace of AEW hadn’t quite materialized. AEW was a blank canvas for the most part and Jon Moxley was free to play with the paint to create a masterpiece. And he did just that, with a huge dose of unscripted Mox violence, and a fire-spitting live mic, directed at anyone and everyone who stood in his way.
Debuting at Fyter Fest, Moxley’s first AEW match came against known daredevil Joey Janela where the two wrestled in a lights out match, the first of its kind in AEW. Moxley followed that up just a few months later with another lights out, unsanctioned match, this time a weapon-laded bloody affair against Kenny Omega, the same guy just months prior he had thrown off the stack of casino chips, through a glass sheet, barbed wire table and so much more.
Upon leaving WWE, Jon Moxley reactivated his Twitter, which had been dormant for so long, to release a video of him breaking out of prison. In both of those lights out matches, Moxley showed the world a character that hadn’t been seen in eight years, as he returned to his violent roots. But Moxley didn’t just leave WWE so that he could return to the hardcore style he was known for during his early indie career. He left to be able to enjoy wrestling again, to reignite the long-dead creative flame that lingered inside, to start a paradigm shift. And he wasn’t going to do that merely wrestling violent, bloody brawls. Jon Moxley was going to do it with the mic, where he has yet to have a misstep in his AEW career, and his actions. After all, they do speak louder than words even for a guy like Moxley, whose words have conveyed a man on a mission ever since day one.
After several one-off matches against Darby Allin, Michael Nakazawa, Janela again, and Trent, Jon Moxley began to get embroiled with the Inner Circle and Le Champion, Chris Jericho, who tried to recruit his former WWE co-worker into AEW’s most dominant faction. In an elaborate ruse complete with donning the t-shirt and celebrating with the boys, Moxley teased joining before ultimately telling Jericho he was just kidding and would never join his stupid group. The only thing Jericho had that Moxley wanted was the AEW world championship. And over the next several weeks, Moxley would take down each of the Inner Circle members one-by-one and defeat PAC to win the #1 contendership setting up a clash between the former and once-again rivals.
In some ways, this is really where the paradigm shift has been most evident. Because it was four years prior that Moxley and Jericho feuded over a potted plant, the destruction of a several thousand dollar jacket, a talk show, and a steel cage fitted with weapons. That match was known as the Ambrose Asylum match and while it started with so much promise given the way both men built to their feud, things fell flat when many of the weapons hyped up prior to the match were merely tied to a cage unable to be used. The only strong moment to come from the match was the finish, which saw Jericho take 69 thumbtacks in what was his first and likely only ever tack bump. As Jericho told it, Moxley had to beg to get that spot after his other ideas for the match were shut down.
With apprehensive fans suggesting it may be too early to have two of the top AEW stars lock up for a championship match, both Jon Moxley and Chris Jericho found themselves having to defend their Revolution match this past February. And both found themselves asked about that very asylum match.
“It won’t be the same,” Jericho told Sports Illustrated back in December 2019. “Moxley was never this confident or this good in WWE. As Moxley said in our ‘Talk is Jericho’ podcast interview, he didn’t know who he was in WWE. He was constantly at odds with the creative and at odds with himself. This is a completely new guy. Dean Ambrose was only a portion of his career. To me, Moxley is the real guy. And there is a new-look Chris Jericho with all this creative freedom in AEW, so it’s going to be very intense and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Moxley didn’t mince words either stating in an interview with TV Insider in February 2020, “It’s what it’s supposed to be. That’s pro wrestling. That’s the kind of wrestling I enjoyed as a kid. That’s the thing…I think some of that has been missing over the last few years when you have to rush through stories and car crash stuff and give away so much on TV. The gratifying part for me is that it’s so much easier. You don’t have to overcomplicate things. The story is simple. You have professionals who know what they are doing, veteran guys. Sometimes you can take risks and try something out. Maybe it works or doesn’t. It’s always great to be willing to do that.”
With the creative control firmly in the hands of Moxley and Jericho, the two enjoyed a two-month program that was infinitesimally better than what they did in WWE. Gone were much the gags and comedic moments as Moxley was presented as a more serious wrestler, a title contender who had yet to lose a singles match in his eight or so months with the company. Jericho too was presented as less of a stooge and more of a cold, calculated champion who was the mastermind of his minions. So much so, the feud included Moxley taking a metal spike to the eye courtesy of Proud’N’Powerful. It was everything fans lacked from their first feud in WWE, signs that maybe just maybe, that paradigm shift was well on its way to becoming a reality.
Jon Moxley running down the rest of the Inner Circle en route to Jericho, even though he had already become #1 contender, was an important storytelling device. In WWE, he may have run through the faction in order to goad the champion into a title match but in AEW, he got there after beating PAC, on the merit of his win-loss record. Going through Guevara, Santana, and Ortiz was just icing on the cake. Having taken out the Inner Circle, Moxley headed into Revolution largely carrying the upper hand and after a 20+ minute battle, was able to best his old rival yet again, this time to become the second-ever AEW champion.
Just about two weeks later, COVID-19 made its fast and furious debut within the wrestling industry causing Moxley’s world title reign to hit a standstill prior to it really beginning. So while Moxley has held the belt for just under three months, its too early given the circumstances to really gauge how effective his reign has been and how much of a paradigm shift it has carried. That said, Moxley, who made his debut at Double or Nothing 2019, now enters that same PPV a year later, holding the company’s top title and defending it against Brodie Lee having yet to lose a singles match in the company. He may not have yet achieved the paradigm shift he was hoping for but that’s certainly one successful year nonetheless.
Stay tuned to 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. You can catch AEW Dynamite Wednesday nights at 8pm ET on TNT and AEW DARK Tuesday nights at 6pm on their YouTube Channel. AEW Double or Nothing is on Saturday, May 23, at 8pm EST on FITE.tv.