I’d like to prerequisite this by saying that as of the time of this writing, a press release by wwe.com has confirmed Dean Ambrose’s departure in April 2019. If this is a work in any way, it is currently unknown to anyone outside of the industry.
Professional wrestling is changing. The landscape has been shifting for some time now, and the industry as a whole is thriving. Dean Ambrose’s career in the WWE has been, at best, excellent storytelling in places, and at its worst, an incoherent mess. In this article, I document the entirety of his character in the WWE, starting all the way back in April 2011.
The former Jon Moxley, made his debut in FCW, WWE’s developmental territory before the incarnation of NXT, and feuded with his now long-time friend and adversary Seth Rollins. His first real taste of mainstream wrestling attention came at Wrestlemania 28’s fan Axxess show, where he confronted hardcore legend Mick Foley which led into a verbal exchange on social media. He gained a lot of hype as a result of his in-ring ability and his creativity on the mic, and many thought he would be making his debut imminently.
But he didn’t make his debut for another seven months, finally debuting at the 2012 Survivor Series alongside Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns as part of a stable named The SHIELD. This would begin Ambrose’s most successful run within the WWE bubble.
During the groups initial year and a half run, Ambrose featured heavily in backstage promo’s, showing off his mic skills in the handheld selfie style vignettes that allowed Reigns and Rollins to get more comfortable talking on camera. As a fan, watching the group evolve, it seemed apparent to me that when these men were separated, that Ambrose would be the breakout star, having the real ‘it’ factor that made his character believable and unpredictable.
Ambrose’s first taste of singles gold in the WWE came at their Extreme Rules Pay Per View in May 2013, where he defeated Kofi Kingston to become the WWE United States Champion for the first time. Many saw this as a real step forward for the singles character of Dean Ambrose, effectively separating him from the SHIELD group and enhancing his character, whilst keeping him a part of the whole. This is when the first seeds of dissent and conflict within the group were written into the story, with a collection of mishaps including Reigns accidentally spearing Ambrose and eliminating him from the Royal Rumble.
Despite these seeds, the group continued on and eventually turned face in February, feuding with the Wyatt Family, as well as being involved in a throw away match at Wrestlemania XXX. As of April 28th 2014, Ambrose became the longest reigning US champion under the WWE banner at that time.
After ultimately losing the US title to Sheamus, on June 2nd 2014, the night after the Payback Pay Per View, probably the most significant shift in Dean Ambrose’s career took place. After months of wondering when, and if it would be Ambrose that turned on his SHEILD brothers, Seth Rollins was the man chosen to turn his back on the group, hitting both Ambrose and Reigns with a steel chair.
The booking of Ambrose’s character for the next 10 months then became a bone of contention among fans of his character. The company pushed the ‘Lunatic Fringe’ persona, a throwback to a revamped Bryan Pillman-esque character, but the restraints of how far this moniker could be taken to, coupled with his characters booking for the first year made it very difficult to believe in the character being ‘unstable and unpredictable’. He entered a ready made feud with Rollins after the group separated as well as a feud with Bray Wyatt, and amazingly, Ambrose would not win his first Pay Per View match until April 25th 2015, in a Chicago Street Fight against Luke Harper.
Ambrose’s first taste of singles gold as a singles wrestler came in December 2015 after defeating Kevin Owens for the Intercontinental Championship, but only held it until February 2016, losing it back to Owens in a fatal five way match. Then came Wrestlemania 32.
Widely regarded as possibly the lowest point of his singles career, he challenged Brock Lesnar to a no holds barred match at the biggest show of the year. Many were expectant that this would be the break out match that would legitimise Ambrose, and many hoped that even if he was booked to lose, that he would use the no DQ stipulation to create a memorable group of moments with Lesnar. This didn’t happen. The match lasted a very short time, and there were rumors that many of the ideas posed to Lesnar for the match were shot down.
After a feud with Chris Jericho, which ended in an ‘Asylum’ match (ugh), on June 19th, at the Money in the Bank Pay Per View, Ambrose won the namesake’s match, and cash in the briefcase on the same night to defeat long-time friend and rival Seth Rollins to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion for the first time. In my opinion, this is where the company should have built around the Ambrose character, and given him some level of creative input to really get the most of it. Instead, we got a few months of him getting wins over his former SHIELD brothers, and against Dolph Ziggler at Summerslam, before dropping the title to AJ Styles at Backlash 2016. Due to the brand splits, it was quite clear from the booking that followed that the WWE were short on main event talent on the blue brand, as Styles and Ambrose would feud over the title for the next few months, finally losing yet another rematch in a TLC war with Styles.
After another creatively stifled title reign, this time with the Intercontinental title, which included a pre-show match at Wrestlemania 33. On July 10th 2017, the reformation of the SHIELD was put into motion. After a few months of feuding with the Miz-Tourage, New Day and a Ziggler, Drew McIntyre and Braun Strowman three man team, the group was forced to disband due to the unfortunate and shocking real life Leukaemia diagnosis of Roman Reigns.
At the end of that very emotional show, the company decided that the time was right to turn Ambrose’s character heel, attacking Seth Rollins on what was a very emotional night. This should have been the catalyst for a new, edgier and more aggressive side to the character of Dean Ambrose, instead, his promo’s felt very ‘paint by numbers’, insulting the crowd with insults insinuating that they smelt bad, and whilst a small portion of his promos were sort of well done (burning of the SHIELD vest), others felt a little too far given the circumstances (insulting Reigns). I’m sure Roman was perfectly fine with Ambrose’s character using his circumstances to further his heat, but that hasn’t really happened.
Which leads us to today. The announcement of his WWE departure in April has resulted in elimination from the Royal Rumble by Aleister Black (unknown to the wider WWE fan base), having his character emasculated by Nia Jax the next night on RAW, and a subsequent loss the following week clean to a re-debuting EC3. Whether Dean Ambrose is going to be All Elite remains to be seen. His run in the WWE was by no means a failure, but as with a lot of talents within the overly micromanaged WWE system, they managed to turn a potentially top rate gimmick and character into a bland parody of a man who was supposed to be a ‘loose cannon’.
All photos courtesy of WWE.com