Painting Pictures on a Canvas: Jon Moxley Is Thriving with AEWs Creative Freedom

The Doctor Chris Mueller@@BR_DoctorFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2020

Credit: All Elite Wrestling

When Jon Moxley chose not to re-sign with WWE in 2019, he instantly became the hottest free agent in professional wrestling. In addition to working with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Moxley has called All Elite Wrestling his home since he debuted at Double or Nothing 2019.

He quickly rose through the ranks to become one of AEW's most popular stars before winning the World Heavyweight Championship at AEW Revolution on February 29. Moxley spoke with Bleacher Report about his career, goals and what it's like working with All Elite Wrestling. 

                           

As a young boy growing up in Cincinnati, Moxley always had his eye set on a career in the ring. Like many fans, his first taste of pro wrestling was from the then-WWF, but if you have seen him wrestle, it's clear he was also heavily influenced by the Superstars of Extreme Championship Wrestling. 

"When I was young, the kids in the apartment below me had action figures and wrestling pay-per-views. I can't remember a time when wrestling wasn't the thing I liked. It was simple superhero-come-to-life stuff on TV. Bret Hart was my guy when I was a kid. In the '90s, he was the guy on top. I fell in love with ECW when I was a teenager. It was always kind of the thing that dominated my interest. I took a test one time in junior high where you find out what your career aptitude is, and it said I should be a forest firefighter. By the time I was 16 or 17, I was already selling popcorn, sweeping floors and setting up the ring. I had my first match when I was 18."

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Back before the internet was as much a part of our lives as it is today, learning how to be a pro wrestler was something of a mystery to young fans. We now know there are wrestling schools all over the country, but Moxley found out completely by happenstance. 

"I didn't know how to go about it. It was like a mystery back then of 'How do I become a pro wrestler?' It's kind of like how do you become a sword swallower? I found out about a wrestling school by dumb luck. It happened over in Cincinnati. I saw a flyer for a show at a flea market and on the back was an ad for Les Thatcher's pro wrestling school, and I was like, 'Ding ding ding! That's how you become a pro wrestler, you go to wrestling school.' There was no turning back for me once I saw a pathway."

While pro wrestling has always been his main focus, Moxley also has a few movie credits to his name. His first acting gig outside the ring in the WWE Studios film, 12 Rounds 3: Lockdown. More recently, Moxley filmed a movie called Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, but don't expect to see him pursuing roles on a regular basis.

"We only get one life, and if you get the chance to experience something, you should do it. Just recently I did a movie called Cagefighter that had a limited release and is coming out in the U.S. in October. I like wrestling the most. I don't have any aspirations to take over Hollywood or be the next Rock or John Cena. That being said, if Marvel called and said 'Do you want to be in the next Avengers or be Batman' I would be like 'Hell yeah, sign me up.' It's fun, it's a challenge and it's a different craft. Unless it was some huge once–in–a–lifetime opportunity, if you offer me a role that requires me to take nine months off where I can't wrestle, I am not going to do it."

A veteran of over 16 years, Moxley still sees himself competing for quite some time before he decides to hang up his boots."I'd like to wrestle until I am in my 50s, but it can end at any time. I don't want to spend nine months filming a movie when I could have been having matches. I want to do as much wrestling as I can while I have that window of time. Acting could be a thing for later."

Mox will turn 35 in December, so he is hoping to have at least another 15-20 years in this business. We have seen some wrestlers continue into their 60s, so if he keeps himself healthy, it's likely he will be a big part of the business for a long time. 

After spending some time on the indie scene, Moxley spent eight years working for WWE and its developmental territories, so he spent a long time doing things the WWE way. Now that he is with AEW, the world champion finds himself with more creative freedom to tell stories the way he wants to tell them.

"I'll talk on the phone with Tony Khan and we'll throw some ideas out. I'll talk to whoever I'm working with and we'll throw some ideas out. We'll get on a three-way call and just loosely talk out the next six weeks of a story, and when I show up, we do it. It doesn't get changed on the day of and nobody messes with it, not that I am above taking creative direction. Even the misses are fun when you're in control because it's part of a journey. When you try again, it's even more satisfying when you get it right. I want to keep pushing myself to be the best I can be every single time."

Like all wrestlers in AEW, Mox had to get used to fighting in front of zero fans for several months. AEW has since begun allowing in a limited number of fans in the upper area of the arena. For Mox, this is what he was trained for. 

"I was trained in the Thatcher way. It was old school. You over exaggerate and play to the last fan in the cheap seats. Now, everybody is in the cheap seats, so that training paid off. I am more worried about the people in the cheap seats than I am about the camera because they bought tickets and came with their family. It's important to me that they have a good show."

He has had a chance to wrestle a lot of new and familiar faces in AEW. He spent time in WWE with guys like Chris Jericho and Miro, but he is also getting the opportunity to work with young stars who are just starting to be successful in this business.

"I love getting to work with the young dudes who are in their 20s who are getting their first chance to be on national television. They're unencumbered and not being repackaged or told who they are, so they are just going to keep getting better. Some of these guys are nuts and they have these crazy ideas and they push me to think of things in new ways. I don't go in there and go 'Let me tell you what we are going to do because I am more experienced.' I go 'What do you want to do? I'm old and slow so tell me your cool idea.' I am all about learning from the young guys because they have a different perspective than me."

"And then we have this incredible group of veterans like SCU. We have a legend in Chris Jericho, who I always learn from. And then, we have this group of guys who are in the prime of their career. We have people at every level, and it's a smorgasbord of guys to work with. It's endless opportunities of stories to tell. There is an endless sea of narrative possibilities, which is good because we have a lot of time to fill."

A lot of wrestlers are asked about their favorite match, but that is not such an easy decision for Mox after several years of having great performances. 

"Trying to pick your favorite matches is like trying to pick your favorite kid. You can't love one more than the other, and you love them for different reasons. The bit I got to do with Darby Allin was great because I had this picture painted in my head. I had that story in my head for months and it basically came off exactly how I had pictured it in my mind. To be able to create that moment exactly how I had envisioned it was the most satisfying feeling in the world."

While he doesn't have one match that stands out above the rest, Moxley did mention a few specific people he has enjoyed working with in AEW.

"The match with MJF also went exactly how I had pictured it. I have loved working with Brian Cage. I loved the whole thing with Jericho. I don't look at that as a match. I look at it as a whole eight-week story."

"I looked at myself as a bad guy in AEW. For those first few months, I acted like a bad guy. I didn't expect to be a good guy again. I was being ambiguous and just taking out everybody until I went after Chris. Then I was firmly planted on the good guy side. And then it turned into maybe I was going to join the Inner Circle, then I stole his car, he stabbed my eye out, so I had to stab his friend's eye out. And then we get to the PPV and I get my match with him. I look at all of that as one piece of work, the Jericho story. That was awesome. Each story is kind of like a painting I am hanging on my wall. I don't know how much longer I get to paint before the wheels fall off of this thing. The more paintings I can paint, the better."

Being a pro wrestler means different things to different people. Some view it as a stepping stone toward Hollywood or as a way to make money, but Moxley is all about the rush of adrenaline that comes with performing in front of thousands of fans and the satisfaction of telling a unique story.

"I love that feeling after a match of being totally drained and exhausted and being fulfilled creatively. That's why I do this at this point. I'm blessed to be able to make a living, but I don't do this for money. My goal is not to get more famous. I've had a taste of fame and I could take it or leave it. I do this for that feeling at the end of the night when I am all bloody and sweaty thinking, 'That was awesome.' That adrenaline rush of being on live TV, telling a story and feeling the fans going on a ride with you is why I do it."

A lot of athletes spend their downtime resting. Many pro athletes have started their own Twitch and YouTube channels based around video games. Moxley prefers to spend his time training and doing things that take him outside of the house.

"My biggest problem is that I don't like video games. That's what I should do, but my problem is all of my hobbies are physical things. I like mountain biking, hiking, jiu-jitsu. I like all of these things that beat your body up. That's how I relax. I like getting outdoors."

A lot of pro wrestlers have used social media with great results. Stars like Matt Cardona and Matt Hardy are especially proficient at using things like Twitter and YouTube for their benefit, but the AEW champ is not the biggest fan of social media.

"I don't have Twitter downloaded on my phone. I was coming out of a hotel the other day and I had my phone in my back pocket and I sent out a tweet. I butt-dialed a tweet. It was something innocuous like an MMA article but it could have been anything. I could have ended my career with a butt dial. So I uninstalled it. People get addicted to their phones and the virtual world. I highly recommend people go for a walk in a park or the woods. It clears your head and it's a good way to spend an afternoon. You would be surprised how quickly problems resolve themselves in your head when you're out in nature."

If you ask a lot of young wrestlers what their ultimate goal is, they will tell you it is to win a world title. Moxley has been there and done that, so for him, belts are storytelling devices that allow him to create the best possible journey for the fans. 

"This isn't like a regular sport where I would say, 'OK, my goal is to win the Olympic gold medal.' Whereas with us, [titles] are storytelling devices. You can't have goals like winning The Royal Rumble because you don't decide that. Somebody with a pencil decides that. For me, it's about telling the best stories that I can because it's the most satisfying feeling in the world when you nail a promo. AEW is the perfect place for me because I get to do what I want to do."

Other Superstars like Matt Hardy have also lauded AEW for giving them the opportunity to be the character they envisioned for themselves. When a wrestler gets to have fun and be who they want to be, it leads to the crowd being able to connect with them on a deeper level than if they were playing a gimmick like The Undertaker or Doink the Clown, not that those characters weren't great. 

While he has an eye on the future, Moxley is still living in the now. He has considered options for what he can do after his career in the ring is over, but for the time being, he is going to continue doing what he does best for as long as his body will allow.

"I want to ride this for as long as I can even if it comes down to having to take longer periods of time off. If it gets down to where I can only wrestle one match a year like The Undertaker, then so be it. I could totally see myself being in a producer or coach role. I could see myself being a trainer or booker. I probably won't know until that day comes, but there is also a good chance that one day I am just going to be gone and you will never see me again. But wherever I'm at, I'll be all good, so don't worry about it."

"I'm the luckiest guy in the world because I get to do the thing that I like as a living and got to turn it into a career. It's really cool."