Dean Ambrose's interview on the Stone Cold Podcast was often a teetering skiff, but Steve Austin managed to keep it from completely tipping over.
The WWE world champ revealed only strands of his compelling life story when speaking with Austin on the WWE Network on Monday night. Ambrose looked out of place—his "it" factor not apparent in this format.
The exchange offered fans insight to Ambrose's past and mindset, even if it was terribly awkward at times.
AJ Styles thrived opposite Austin, coming off looking like a star. Ambrose, on the other hand, struggled to connect in this spot.
Kyle Lewis of Three Man Booth joked about Vince McMahon not wanting Ambrose to be champion after the interview:
That's certainly an exaggeration, but one can't help but better understand why WWE has been so high on John Cena for so long. He makes himself and WWE look mighty good in any interview he's a part of.
When Austin did manage to get meaty answers out of Ambrose, the audience learned of the champion's past, early career and life philosophies. And The Lunatic Fringe took a hell of a shot at Brock Lesnar.
Discussing their WrestleMania match, Ambrose said "Brock didn't want to do anything" and blamed the powerhouse's laziness on the bout not being the crazy spectacle Ambrose hoped it would be. That fire Ambrose showed there was not always present during the interview.
The champ's energy transformed, though, when the interviewer became a motivational speaker by the end of the night.
Sharing a Layer of His Youth
Ambrose grew up in a rundown, crime-ridden area in Cincinnati. He clearly held back when reflecting on the darkness and danger that comprised his past, though.
The champ talked about how his mother worked overnight shifts, and his father lived out of state, leaving him and his sister to fend for themselves. He talked of this time being one that shaped his identity, but didn't dig into just how.
"I gained my wandering spirit," he said about this time period.
Ambrose mentioned his parents were divorced, and he "was a wreck in high school." He didn't go into detail. He only hinted at the worst trouble he got himself into.
Being able to make enough money to support his mother and allow her to quit her factory job has been his "greatest accomplishment in wrestling" in his mind.
He painted a picture of himself as a frustrated, restless high school student. Ambrose asked his teachers, "Why do I have to learn this?" It was a time of apathy.
"By the time I got to high school, I didn't care," Ambrose told Austin.
Surprisingly, Ambrose competed in both amateur wrestling and football in high school. His brawling style is far removed from that style of wrestling, and his size doesn't exactly scream football lineman.
But his team wasn't exactly a dynasty. "I don't think we ever won a game," he said.
It was clear that while he didn't care for academics, he was wholeheartedly studying wrestling. He shoplifted videos of matches, recorded any WWE programming on TV and ordered Japanese wrestling from catalogs.
"I don't remember a time when wrestling wasn't the thing that I liked," he recalled.
Early Chapters in the Ambrose Story
Fans who have looked up Ambrose's background online know Les Thatcher and Cody Hawk served as his primary teachers early on. It wasn't until Austin prodded the champ during Monday night's interview that many found out just how his relationship with those men began.
Ambrose went to a Heartland Pro Wrestling event as a teenager and read an ad for the promotion's school on the back of the show's program. Something clicked. This was his ticket.
He started out sweeping floors and selling popcorn at Thatcher's company.
The education process beyond that was rough. He described it as "two years of just getting my ass kicked."
Later on, he traveled to Puerto Rico where he said he learned how to be vicious. And during his travels along the independent circuit, he questioned if he would make it. He had no other plan. Wrestling was it.
But when he watched Raw on Monday, he thought he would fit right in; he thought he was just as good as the guys he saw on TV. Ambrose worked to be the best he could be no matter the brightness of the spotlight.
When WWE finally called him, he was living on a friend's floor in Philadelphia. He thought the invitation to the company's developmental system was a prank.
"They probably didn't have any idea what they were getting," Ambrose said of WWE signing him.
The Lunatic Fringe helped provide a look at what WWE developmental looked like at the time. He loved his time in Florida Championship Wrestling (the precursor to NXT), but talked of a chasm between the main roster and that feeder system.
"We felt like we were on an island. We felt like we were the bastard children," Ambrose told Austin.
It was on that island where Ambrose befriended the men he would form The Shield with—Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns.
The Rise and Fall of The Shield
Ambrose didn't lack confidence during his FCW days. It sounded like he had quite the chip on his shoulder. He had championship and stardom aspirations from the get-go.
Luckily, WWE paired him with two other driven men in Reigns and Rollins.
Ambrose had feuded with Rollins at FCW, creating a body of work he told Austin he was quite proud of. He knew Reigns well, too.
The formation of the trio that would launch Ambrose and his comrades' careers came about organically as Ambrose told it. They were friends. They were coming up through the developmental system at the same time. It just made sense to team up.
Ambrose talked about their intention of outworking their peers and how they wanted to take WWE by storm.
There were no battles for power among them. Each man provided something different; each was one of three alpha males. "There was really no stepping on each other's toes," Ambrose said.
And when WWE broke up the black-clad faction, he believed it was just the right time. He didn't think there was anything left for the group to accomplish.
"You want [to] hit to that high note and walk off stage," he said.
What It Means to be WWE Champion
The champ has enjoyed his babyface run. He has relished being a key WWE spokesperson.
He lit up talking up about fans who told him he has inspired them. He seemed genuinely proud of his work with Make-A-Wish.
"It's such an honor to be in that position," Ambrose told Austin, "I'm a role model to children. Can you believe that?"
He sees his current role as being the captain of SmackDown. It's something that is just a launch point for what's to come. "Now I feel like it's time to really get to work," he said.
In a startling move, Austin called out Ambrose during the interview. He accused him of resting on his laurels and challenged him to be more risky moving forward.
"Be edgier. Take more chances. Be more Dean Ambrose," Austin told him.
That brief pep talk looked to spark something in Ambrose. One imagines the Hall of Famer's words will echo in his head in the coming weeks.
The Lunatic Fringe has ascended the mountain. It's now time to stay there—time to tap into the hunger and passion that allowed him to get to that spot in the first place.
Should he take Stone Cold's advice to heart, Ambrose's appearance on Austin's podcast may end up being a catalyst for the evolution ahead for WWE's top titleholder.