“One day they will all come to my funeral to make sure I’m dead, but today is not that day. I am alive! My heart is still beating and I am breathing fresh air for the first time in a long time.”
Jon Moxley said these words on the night of 2019’s Double or Nothing, AEW’s inaugural event.
They say a man enters the waters of baptism and a different man leaves. Dean Ambrose was washed away in the sea of fans at 2019’s Double or Nothing and Jon Moxley emerged out of the waters as Jim Ross’s southern growl declared that the roof had come off the building.
There’s something about a wrestler making their entrance through the crowd rather than through the designated entrance ramp: Scott Hall on Monday Nitro when he declared war, Edge, the brooding youth who hadn’t found his way yet, and Moxley’s own family in The Shield would take this route.
It’s a statement to be made. A middle finger to the theatrics that come with the bombast and spectacle of posing and strutting, the theme song serving as a soundtrack on the way to the ring. But Moxley, he’s a different type of cat.
On the surface he looks gritty and tough, someone you’d rather not get on the bad side of if you’d appreciate your intestinal tract to stay in your body. However, underneath that gruff exterior, beats the heart of a man. That’s the first thing you think of when you see the paradigm shift that is Jon Moxley. He marches to the beat of his own drum, for its freedom and creativity is the only one he knows – trust him, he’s tried the other way.
Moxley, then Dean Ambrose, had been introduced to me on casual glances to WWE’s product, when Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins served alongside him as hounds of justice wreaking havoc. To me, Reigns and Rollins looked like every damn wrestler I was used to seeing, but Ambrose was something different. He looked like someone who’d had his ass kicked and learned to toughen up and kick just as much ass. A wet, stray dog who was ready to scrap. That’s when I took to him. That’s when I became a window-watcher of his, regardless of my lack of consistent watching. He was my new and only favorite wrestler. Something about him really stuck to me.
When I became a wrestling fan full-time in 2018, The Shield got back together, then Roman Reigns unfortunately had cancer re-emerge while the build-up to Ambrose’s heel turn reached its boiling point. We all know the story following this – becoming a top talent in AEW and one of its best champs. In GCW, Moxley became that indie wrestler he had always been inside, along with Bloodsport classics and becoming the GCW champion. The brutal one would take his talents to Japan, to become a western brawler akin to the likes of Stan Hansen, Vader and Bruiser Brody, all while implementing his own brand of unscripted violence, a surprisingly apt fit. Jon Moxley is just that versatile a performer, with such a hidden genius to his craft.
There’s a testament to how beloved a champion, wrestler and man Jon Moxley is. His coronation after winning AEW’s big prize draped him with pride and he wore that through the times of the empty Daily’s Place arena. He would carry NJPW’s IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Championship despite not being able to defend it in its home promotion for quite a while, and fans would tune in as he helped to elevate any promotion he was on the card for, regardless if fan attendance was forbidden or limited; we watched from beyond our screens as the brawler became so invincible, yet so human.
Beyond the character, Moxley was carrying his own battles, as beyond the external scars the internal still bled. Poorly handled conditions from his time in WWE lead MRSA to cause a staph infection on his elbow, disappointing him and the fans in what was out of everyone’s control. As a champ, his mutual love and respect for the fans betrayed his antihero ways. Though he was not above playing unfair, he was something to still believe in. He wears his heart on his sleeve, as he did when he fought for his friend in Eddie Kingston in the leadup to Full Gear 2020.
Aside from showing up from the biggest of places to the smallest of places, Moxley lives not only for putting on a show, but ensuring it will go on, long after the curtains close on his career. He knows that, and his fellow Blackpool Combat Club founders in William Regal and Bryan Danielson knew that. Why else would he agree to help mold anyone who steps through the doors of his club at the price of blood? Because life is full of choices, and this was one of them.
And in his toughest moment he made the brave choice to acknowledge and fight a battle that someone like him was always guaranteed to win: rehab.
“These are the scars that make us the people we are.”
Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston are among the few that feel real, so when they talk about their problems, we want to see them win the way we want to see ourselves and our loved ones win. As adoring fans we’re already waving the flag high for him, they flew even more so on that night in January 2022, as Moxley spoke of his scars and his demons and how he will always fight. Even Chris Jericho has quietly challenged it, as what once was an out of shape man became fit and looking healthy and happy.
They’re not the only ones to challenge the bygone conceptions of what it means to be a man. There are the gamers and nerdy wrestlers that men of previous eras look down on, there are men speaking on illnesses of the physical, mental, and emotional variety that plague them. And some are just discovering aspects to their identity, in a society that finally feels safe to. As the world is starting to become a dangerous place for bad men, it’s becoming safer for good men.
I bet you’re sick of people attaching how they relate to Jon Moxley, huh? That it all seems so parasocial. That’s fair in some respects, for some simply just like to see a fight, to see asses kicked. But for others, it means so much more when we see someone go through what we’ve been through, what we go through.
Whether it’s men learning how to better fight their battles, opening up to others or discovering themselves, the tenacity of men like Moxley are there. Battling addictions, coping with life or realizing they’re on a different end of a gender binary, we are watching Moxley be a man in his own way, and that’s special. That’s a connection made by someone special. In the midst of toxic masculinity and how men have been expected to act, he goes a different way, and so will I.
We all have our problems. Men are notorious for having emotional walls, for being emotionally unavailable. Sometimes it’s from society telling us we have to be strong, silent and stoic and only act in rage when it’s time to beat some ass. Sometimes it’s because we don’t know how to process our emotions. Sometimes life just beats it out in a way that it becomes its own unique experience for you.
My own personal scars are ones I hide under multiple shirts. My writing, my love for gaming, my love for wrestling and my humor all layer what few ever see, and some never. It’s an ongoing process that is so hard to speak about because how do you explain it? How are people going to take it? What if they tell you someone else has been through worse? That your pain isn’t valid?
It was so hard to finally face my own emotions that I would hide from, to where I mostly felt nothing, rarely expressing anger and sadness. Having that torn down, you don’t know what all these things mean. Atlas you are not, for the world can crush you if you carry the burden alone.
If I let it, the creeping fangs of that depressing feeling of not belonging would gnaw on me. I still remember staring at the ceiling of my room in my pre-teen and teen years, wondering what was wrong with me. Why I wasn’t like everyone else. Why I operated differently in a way I still don’t know or understand yet.
There are times people have tried to be there for me, knowing something was up, that I was shutting down and self-isolating. As they’d reach out, they would not be able to pierce that bubble.
I had a friend once who would always try to be there. He was a gentle giant, as he and his twin brother would threaten to be my bodyguard. He tried hard to help me, yet I was unyielding and it still haunts me. He died the year after high school graduation. That’s when I knew this shit had to change, but I didn’t know how. But I was too young to let whatever had its hold on me maintain its grasp. That noon of his passing, life became more vital. I had to become alive.
Eventually, due to friends and family in more understanding times and in understanding ages, my wall has been chipped away at over time. There are people I will cherish for the end of time as I’ve discovered myself, that I’m more than the scars I carry.
I don’t suffer from the self-destructive, self-sabotaging ways Eddie Kingston still battles, and I don’t suffer addiction like Moxley has. I battle my own things, and as a man, as a person, I have to fight them. I’ll be as frustrated as anyone else at my limits and my struggles, no matter how hard it is. I won’t be alone, either. I’ll keep it quiet here and there for stubborn reasons, be it not wanting to feel weak, or feeling others may be worse off. But I’m not alone. Never alone. There are people who would fight for me, as I would for them.
Like fighting through shards of broken glass, shattered light bulbs, and the piercing barbed-wire, there was pain to fight through, to use its adrenaline to propel me to new heights. Hold it down on the mat – one, two, three.
With the polarizing and divisive build to his match with icon CM Punk on the horizon, he holds the torch and the hearts of many with him. That’s him at his heart, someone who is forever a wrestler, no matter if the ropes are red, blue, black, white, or barb-wire, the moment he steps in the ring, there is no respect – only wrestling.
Fighting through darkness and coming out, I’m glad to say this: I am alive. My heart is beating and I’ve been breathing fresh air for the first time after so long.
To my friends and family, thank you. I love you. To Jon Moxley, thank you, and keep fighting.