Jon Moxley could not have looked more motivated when standing across the ring from fellow All Elite Wrestling star Darby Allin at Northeast Wrestling's Brass City Brawl event in Waterbury, Connecticut, on Friday night.
After making a fitting entrance to AC/DC's "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," Moxley soaked in the adulation from the audience at the Waterbury Police Activity League building and blew an uncharacteristic kiss to the crowd.
He was happy to be back home on the indies.
It was a dream match many people didn't know they wanted until it happened, courtesy of NEW founder and owner Michael Lombardi, who worked diligently to secure Moxley for his string of summer shows.
The bout marked Moxley's return to the U.S. independent scene after over eight years. No other promoter in the country was able to land him coming off his hot debut at AEW Double or Nothing last month.
Anyone who has followed NEW for any stretch over the last 24 years should not have been surprised by this development. After all, they have welcomed everyone from Bret Hart and Kurt Angle to Chris Jericho and Kenny Omega in the past.
News broke that Moxley was headed to NEW less than 24 hours removed from Double or Nothing.
"We do a lot of work with Renee Young for autograph signings, and she works with us and not so much anyone else," Lombardi said of the WWE Raw commentator. "The Renee relationship came from working with and doing a lot of business with Corey Graves. I asked him about working with Renee also, and Corey and other people at WWE sing the praises of myself and Northeast Wrestling to Renee, and that helped in booking Jon Moxley."
Lombardi credits Dusty Rhodes, Jerry Lawler and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in helping him build relationships with so many established and esteemed athletes. He believes that if you do good things, draw big crowds and are a consummate professional, the right people will want to work with you.
"If you do things the right way and you build relationships, it'll pay off in the end," he said. "Not just for us but for all the wrestling fans, from being able to meet these Superstars and see all these unique matches."
Moxley is far from the only notable name Lombardi has landed since NEW's inception in 1995. The Hardy Boyz and Rey Mysterio wrestled at a number of their events from 2014 to 2018, to the point where they were considered regulars in the promotion.
Among the elite opponents Mysterio had in NEW was Flip Gordon, who has modeled much of his in-ring style after The Master of the 619. The Ring of Honor star originally honed his craft in NEW and is thankful to Lombardi for giving him the platform and the opportunity to showcase his skills to the world.
"That's one of the coolest matches you can have growing up being a Rey Mysterio fan," Gordon said. "They [NEW] give those matches time after time, and it's really cool because they motivate you, and they don't give them to the same person every time. They kind of share it."
Similar to Mysterio and Moxley, Cody Rhodes ensured that NEW was one of his first stops post-WWE and wrestled there for almost a year-and-a-half between 2016 and 2017. He also reigned as the NEW heavyweight champion for nine months.
With such an abundance of wrestling companies these days (especially in the Northeast), it begs the question of why so many ex-WWE stars have chosen to take their talents to NEW Lombardi thinks the freedom he gives the wrestlers to do their thing has a lot to do with the appeal of the promotion to performers.
"What we do is, we lay out the canvas, we lay out the paint. We may have some suggestions, but we let the artists paint their portrait," he said. "They're unable to do that in WWE and some other places because of the way the system is set up, but here, we go out of our way to make sure the fans get the best product they possibly can, and we only book those Superstars who want to do the same thing."
Whether it's an up-and-comer the masses have never heard of or a worldwide sensation such as Omega or Moxley, every wrestler wants to steal the show and produce the best bout possible without any limitations. Most importantly, they want to give the fans more than their money's worth, making NEW one of the hottest tickets in town for everything fans have come to expect from their shows.
Moxley spoke to Jericho in depth on Talk Is Jericho about how the lack of creativity he was given to be himself toward the tail end of his WWE tenure factored heavily into his decision to leave. Having recently returned to his Jon Moxley moniker, the wrestler known as Dean Ambrose in WWE feels his passion for pro wrestling is stronger than ever.
The IWGP U.S. heavyweight champion put a massive target on his back at Brass City Brawl when he had the spectacular showing that he did. One-time NEW heavyweight champion Brad Hollister has made it clear that he would love nothing more than to mix it up with Moxley at one of the NEW shows he is set to appear on this summer.
"I'm going to do whatever I have to do to get a match with Moxley at some point," he said. "This is a guy I watched as an adult and am a fan of. It's very hard to be a fan of someone as an adult. I want guys who are hungry, whether they're a name or not, and this dude is coming off hungry."
Hollister has become one of NEW's biggest homegrown stars since starting in 2016 and went to war with Joey Janela in a No Disqualification match at Brass City Brawl. With an amateur wrestling background and boatloads of charisma, Big Bacon is bound to be on an even bigger stage within the next few years.
His battles with (and victories over) Matt Riddle, PCO and Jack Swagger have shown how smart it is to have recognizable stars be paired with the talent of tomorrow. Everyone wins. He too is of the mindset that word of mouth, strong relationships and determination to have the most exciting product around have a lot to do with Lombardi's ability to bring in big star after big star.
"He's just very well respected," he said about Lombardi. "He takes care of everyone. He's been in the business for a long time now, and he's been around some of the biggest names in the industry, and they all trust him."
Along with the hotly contested clash between Hollister and Janela, Brass City Brawl also featured Gordon's return to NEW after over a year away.
Gordon is one of the many wrestlers from the NXT and Ring of Honor rosters to have spent time in NEW at one point or another. That includes Dominik Dijakovic, Keith Lee, Adam Cole, Bobby Fish, Bully Ray, Mandy Leon, Deonna Purrazzo, Bandido and even current ROH world champion Matt Taven.
It's an exciting time in the business. Promotions are signing promising prospects left and right, and NEW has been no exception. Gordon is an example of someone who used NEW's relationship with ROH to his advantage and now finds himself on the cusp of superstardom.
"I think Northeast Wrestling just has an eye for talent, and they pick up those guys before anyone else does," he said. "They're able to craft them and make them their own. And then when they motivate guys and put them against really good wrestlers, they get better quicker because they're in there with top-notch talent."
On the same show Lombardi treated fans to those Moxley vs. Allin and Janela vs. Hollister classics, he organized a segment when The Boogeyman, a former WWE Superstar, terrorized NEW stalwart King Brian Anthony before throwing worms (yes, actual worms) out into the audience.
Perhaps one of NEW's greatest strengths is how it appeals to everyone and how entertaining pro wrestling (as opposed to "sports entertainment") always comes first, regardless of how silly or outlandish it may be.
Lombardi aims for fans to enjoy themselves at his events and appreciate the art of wrestling for what it is. Moxley may bring them to the building, but he says NEW's consistency in quality will leave them wanting to come back for more.
"We don't want to insult the fans' intelligence when they come to a show," the NEW president said. "They want to see good matches, they want to see great athletes, they want to see good storylines—things that make sense—they want to see winners and losers, and that's what we give. The wrestlers and big-name stars work hard, and the fans always get more than their money's worth."
More than anything else, the dream matches NEW provides on a regular basis are what have led to a surge in popularity for the promotion. Moxley's matches with Allin at Brass City Brawl and Pentagon Jr. at Prison Break are bouts fans won't see anywhere else and are guaranteed barnburners.
Wrestlers go to NEW with the intention of bringing these dream matches to life. Before Moxley vs. Allin occurred, Omega vs. Rey Fenix at November's Redemption event was the last marquee matchup NEW held that exposed them to a bigger audience online than they've ever had.
"We had fans from all over the world that watched it both live and the replay," Lombardi said. "When you have someone as polarizing as Kenny Omega—one of the most popular and greatest wrestlers in the world—wrestling Rey Fenix in a dream match, everyone was on board with that."
NEW has reached a point now where it is starting to outdraw companies that have national television deals, having just sold out the Waterbury PAL building for Brass City Brawl and already having sold plenty of tickets for all of their 2019 summer shows.
But where do they go from here?
Lombardi has no one specific goal for his promotion except continuing to grow and packing as many arenas as possible. Although he teased potentially merging with another company down the road if the opportunity presented itself, currently he and the rest of NEW are mainly focused on their immediate future.
"There's so many things going on right now that we maybe can't even speak about," he said. "But right now we're just looking to put on the best shows that we can and having the biggest crowds that we can for the next three months and kick butt as we're going along, giving the fans the best that we can."
Between the electric atmosphere the shows have and the exceptional variety of talent, Moxley making NEW a top priority ahead of AEW's premiere on TNT this fall was fairly academic. It's a partnership that works and should make for many exciting matchups in the months to come.
More wrestlers could benefit from following in the footsteps of Moxley, Mysterio and Rhodes by exploring the independent scene, specifically a place like NEW that has become a hot spot for all who enjoy what makes the business so special.
Whether they want to prove that WWE missed the boat with what could have been or are missing out on what still could be, every athlete who steps between the ropes at NEW is bonded by their drive to make wrestling fun for everyone.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is an Endicott College alumnus and aspiring journalist. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.