By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
It’s easy to categorize professional wrestling as something that’s little more than a platform for men and women to be as macho as they can be. I’ve heard it a million times and I’ll probably hear it a million more. “How can you believe this stuff?” “He/She’s trying too hard to look tough.” “You know it’s not real, right?”
And to be fair, it’s easy to make those observations because there’s a little bit of truth to it. For as long as professional wrestling has been around, there are some performers who take the toughness game a little too far. It’s so over the top, you don’t believe them. It’s not even entertaining. It’s just a person yelling things that you can tell they don’t even believe in, a moment of bad theater in a business driven by the challenge of proving it’s anything but theater.
The catch, of course, is that if you want to label this stuff as performance art, you can and you wouldn’t be wrong. It comes in a zillion different forms, shapes, sizes, what have you. From promos to in-ring work to entrances and everything else in between, pro wrestling has always been designed to entertain us. Maybe your flavor of choice is good grappling and technical prowess. Maybe your flavor of choice is cringe-worthy violence where serious injury teeters on a razor’s edge. Whatever your preference is, you go to it to be entertained.
How we digest that entertainment through the decades has changed, though. The business went from presenting itself as real life competition to its leading company’s boss openly decrying “pro wrestling” and instead claiming all he does is “make movies.” Fandom is different, too. It’s not a secret if everyone’s in on it, so once everyone’s in on it, the thirst for more secrets, more information becomes insatiable. I maintain that the best pro wrestling fans are all under the age of 12, if only because they are the ones who don’t feel the need to refresh Wrestling Twitter every three minutes to see if real life news broke about a business that is at its best when it blurs the lines of reality.
Speaking of which, they say that the best wrestlers live their gimmick — they take who they are, they turn the switch to 11, and off they go. Maybe they don’t start that way; maybe they do. Maybe these people have ideas for their characters when they start out on their road toward living a wrestling life, and then maybe after a while, they start believing their own bullshit a little too much and the tricky adage of life imitating art and art imitating life becomes a little too complicated.
I don’t know Jonathan Good from Cincinnati, Ohio. I know of a man who has been called Dean Ambrose. I know of a man who in certain aspects of life these days goes by the name of Jon Moxley. But even those guys, Ambrose and Moxley, I can’t claim to truly know. For years, they’ve been on television screens, brooding, stomping, throwing water bottles, chewing gum. But I don’t know who they are. They are characters in a play that might sometimes be real, but more often than not isn’t.
It was only a minute or two past 8 p.m. in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday when Moxley’s music hit to open AEW’s latest edition of Dynamite. Moxley had been gone for a few months because Jonathan Good made the decision to step away from the professional wrestling business for a little while to address some issues he needed to address. That, outside of a Tony Khan tweet that said Moxley was entering an inpatient alcoholic treatment program, is all we really know for sure. We don’t know what happened to make that decision a reality. We don’t know exactly what the process was. This is not a man that appears to have any interest in going on the “Today” show to explain in detail the who, what, when, where and why. Until he wants to tell his story — if he wants to tell his story — we’ll never know for sure.
For now, though, the most we’ll get is what he decided to share in the middle of a wrestling ring last Wednesday. And what he shared, I still can’t get out of my mind.
I was in the upper-deck as he appeared from a crowd entrance below me. Even as far away as I was, I was instantly struck by how thin he looked. The last time we saw Jon Moxley scowl his way through a crowd, he had to have been at least 30 pounds heavier. To say he looked svelte is probably an understatement. From the second he got into the ring, he looked like he felt alive. He looked younger. He looked inspired. He looked healthy. He looked like a guy who hit the end of a road and instead of lying down in the middle of it to die, he decided to pull himself up and somehow find another route.
The crowd went nuts. Chants of “Moxley” and “Welcome back” echoed throughout this new arena in the nation’s capital. The guy prowled around the ring and at one point leaned over the top rope and put his head down onto his arms. Maybe he wanted to soak it in. Maybe every single emotion from the last three months rushed through him. Maybe he wasn’t sure if he could do it. Maybe it was the feeling of liberation that Jonathan Good taught Jon Moxley along the way.
And then he talked. And almost immediately, I wanted to break down.
“A little while ago, I fell asleep on a plane. We landed and I didn’t even know what city I was in. We hit the ground and I woke up out of a dream. It was a bad dream. I don’t remember everything about it, but I remember I was on the side of the road and I was on my hands and knees in the dirt. My face was bruised and cut up. There was a black cloud hanging over it. It was a demon. The kind of demon that follows you around your whole life. The kind of demon that follows you around for years.
“These demons come in all shapes and sizes for everybody. This cloud is laughing at me, and says, ‘Everything that you are, everything that you’ve become, everything you have in your life that’s good — none of that was supposed to happen. None of that belongs to you. Where do you get off thinking you were gonna make out with all that?’ And this cloud, this demon asks me, he says, ‘Did you really think you were going to make it out? The nerve of you. Did you really think you were going to make it out?’ I woke up before I had the chance to answer him.”
Then he paused. There were thousands of people in that room. You could hear a pin drop.
“Nobody gets through life unscathed. We all carry scars. I have more scars on my body than the average person, but those aren’t important. The important ones are the scars that we carry inside. They’re harder to see. Sometimes we try to cover up these scars. Sometimes, we try to pretend these scars aren’t there. But those are the scars that we should be proud of. Those are the scars that tell our story. Those are the scars that give us strength. Those are the scars that make us the people we are. Nobody’s perfect, all right. If everybody was perfect, the world would be a very boring place. So, nobody, nobody, no matter who you are, should be afraid to stand up in front of the whole world and bare everything that makes you the person you are, scars and all, and say, ‘Hey, this is me.’”
From there, Jon Moxley appeared to replace Jonathan Good and the intensity picked up, the traditional wrestling promo tropes kicked in, and he finished a comeback speech that should go down in history as one of the business’s best.
It was perfect. It was perfect because it was succinct. It was perfect because it was vulnerable. It was perfect because it carried an enormous amount of weight. It was perfect because it reminded those who needed to hear it that things can change, there is hope, and you can be who you are and be damn proud of it. Those four to five minutes were like a sermon and everybody in the congregation would burst if they weren’t afforded the ability to scream “Amen!” It took all I had to hold my emotions in — you’re at a wrestling show; the last thing you want to do is show the guy next to you your best ugly-cry face, even if you are wearing a mask.
I could have left at that moment. Everything else from that point on was moot to me. The matches didn’t matter. Sitting through Cody Rhodes’ hour-long promo put an exclamation point on the opening act’s words that much more — whereas the American Nightmare wanted to be the orator du jour of the evening, confusing the use of inside terminology for actual human connection, his ramblings drifted from inspired to pretentious to desperate. Maybe that was the point. I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that Jonathan Good, before morphing into Jon Moxley, knew how to command a crowd by merely being honest.
When I got home, I looked up the video of the speech. I had to. It was beautiful. The silence in the room radiated from the arena through the cameras and from my computer into my consciousness. There was this amazing camera shot that stretched the length of the crowd from the hard cam side. Its line was slightly below the ring, making things look like you were watching that moment when a standup comedian steps away from the jokes for five minutes to explain something tender.
I cried. Finally. At first, I blamed it on those emotions being pent up for four hours before actually being able to let those emotions overcome me. But then I took a few minutes and watched the video again. And I cried again. And all told, I’ve probably pulled the video up 12 to 15 times since then, and each time I do, I cry. I stop when he gets into that weird strut I’ve never quite liked about the Moxley character. And screaming that you’re thirsty for blood doesn’t do much for me.
But for those first few minutes after 8 p.m. on a Wednesday night in Washington D.C., I saw something I’ve never seen before. I saw a man talk and his words moved me in extreme ways that I can’t quite articulate. I hope I wasn’t the only one. I hope someone was watching at home, or in the arena, and I hope they thought about their scars, and I hope they thought about their demons, and I hope they thought about not being perfect, and I hope they said this is the exact thing I need to hear at this exact moment and I will not forget this. I hope they found hope.
So, yeah. Pro wrestling might be macho. And sure, Jon Moxley might continue to make odd faces and obnoxiously swing his shoulders as he struts to the ring. But Jonathan Good’s words on Wednesday night redefined what macho is and what macho should be not just in the world of professional wrestling, but more importantly, in the world that defines a life.
And as it turns out, it has nothing to do with throwing a punch.