Normally wrestling articles with the title ‘In Defence of…’ refer to a wrestler who is often derided by vocal sections of the internet wrestling community for a supposed low standard of in-ring work. These are usually ‘big men’ such as Braun Strowman, Baron Corbin, or even Roman Reigns, who don’t receive many plaudits; yet seem to have a redeeming factor that convinces someone to write a piece such as this. However, Dean Ambrose isn’t the sort of wrestler you’d think would need defending. Though not an ‘indie darling’ with a reputation akin to Daniel Bryan or his Shield cohort Seth Rollins, the former Jon Moxley is someone who honed his craft on the independent level in promotions such as CZW, and WWE’s former developmental system; FCW, before bursting onto the main roster as part of the faction The Shield. Since then, in both The Shield and as a singles star, Ambrose has put on numerous exciting matches whilst working a style of technical wrestling mixed with hard-hitting high spots that hardcore wrestling fans tend to enjoy.
Yet, one thing I’ve noticed this past year is that Ambrose hasn’t received as much attention from fans online as superstars such as AJ Styles, Kevin Owens, or Chris Jericho have. This has been emphasised by the fact that several publications have excluded Ambrose from their ‘wrestlers of the year’ lists. I’m not exactly arguing that Ambrose has been the undisputed wrestler of the year, since AJ Styles has done his best to be the MVP for 2016. However, I don’t believe that Ambrose’s contributions to WWE in 2016 should be dismissed because of a handful of uninspiring moments (which I’ll get to), as the rest of the year was littered with moments that showcased the man as major player, as well as what he can bring to WWE in general.
Starting in January at the Royal Rumble, Ambrose had a stellar last man standing match against Kevin Owens which exhibited Dean’s tremendous selling. Later that night, Ambrose was in the final two of the Rumble match with eventual winner HHH, in a scene which had the Orlando crowd in a frenzy. Ambrose’s continued feud with HHH over the WWE title further established him as a viable main-eventer, with their match at Roadblock being top-draw, and far superior to HHH’s Wrestlemania main event match against Roman Reigns. At this point, Ambrose was receiving strong ovations, and generating buzz as an alternative to the aforementioned Reigns. This momentum was then stunted by Ambrose’s Wrestlemania match against Brock Lesnar. This was a match that many were looking forward to, but didn’t live up to expectations. Ambrose stated on Steve Austin’s podcast that Lesnar nixed many ideas for the match, resulting in an unimpressive fare. The rest of the spring period didn’t get better for Ambrose in his program with Chris Jericho, in which saw both men tried their best to convincingly feud over a jacket and potted plant. And then there was the now infamous Ambrose Asylum match, which was a plodding affair; only highlighted WWE’s first use of thumbtacks in many years, and was arguable one of the worst matches of the year.
Luckily, things picked up for the Lunatic Fringe, as he went on to rebound by winning the Money in the Bank ladder match, and cash it in to win his first world title that same night. Ambrose held the title for 3 months, and though fans would argue that the brevity of the reign made it a dud, holding the top prize in the company is still an impressive feat for someone who seemed to be confined to the role of transitional opponent. And Ambrose didn’t seem out of place in his role; delivering great promos to build up the prestige of the title, and defending his title against Reigns and Rollins at Battleground in a great match that cemented his place. The brand split saw the new champ positioned as the top face of Smackdown (with John Cena coming and going). But another stumble came in the form of Ambrose’s SummerSlam match against Dolph Ziggler; a man booked as a perennial stepping stone. Ambrose played his part in the build up, cutting semi-heel promos to build Dolph up as the underdog. But the match itself wasn’t of the calibre many expected and fell flat.
Ambrose dropped the title the next month to AJ Styles, in a move that was widely embraced by fans due to Styles’ impressive showing throughout the year. The match they had was a strong match of the year contender, and the two continued to feud throughout the winter. Though Styles was the more lauded during their feud, Ambrose further showcased his capability as the top face of the show. The matches were captivating and intense. And even the inclusion of comic relief James Ellsworth didn’t hurt Ambrose, as it allowed him to show off another positive of his. He’s one of the few stars in WWE who can cut a ‘funny’ promo and actually be funny and endearing. This is an area where the likes of Roman ‘Sufferin Succotash’ Reigns and Seth ‘Sparkle Crotch’ Rollins have failed miserably.
A controversial view I hold is that Dean Ambrose is everything you want in a top babyface. He puts on high quality matches, with at least 3 of his matches worthy of being in a best of 2016 list. By no means massive in size when compared to the likes of Reigns or Cena, Ambrose is still a big dude at around 6’3, and has an impressive physique that has improved over the years; so image isn’t a problem for him. His ‘Lunatic Fringe’ character is an entertaining throwback to ‘Wildman’ gimmicks such as Randy Savage and Brian Pillman, and is refreshing when compared to ‘Superman’ babyfaces such as Cena or Reigns. And his promos help to gleefully exhibit this character, whilst masterfully building excitement for any match he’s in (listen to the promo he cuts on Austin in their podcast interview). Unlike Lex Luger, Dean Ambrose is a total package, and the past year has proven in. Hopefully in 2017, Ambrose will continue to showcase his tremendous overall talent, without any stumbles, and will garner the recognition he deserves.