Jon Moxley‘s career hasn’t slowed down since leaving WWE. The former Dean Ambrose is currently the AEW World Champion and New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s IWGP United States Champion. He’s also making career moves outside of the squared circle, starring in Cagefighter: Worlds Collide, a new movie that will premiere on Fite TV on May 16.
With Spandex talked to Moxley about Cagefighter, his work in AEW and NJPW, how he’s dealing with social distancing, and more. That conversation is below and has been edited for length and clarity.
With Spandex: How did you get involved with Cagefighter?
Jon Moxley: It actually was pretty fortunate for me. I got a call from Jay Reso, who wrestling fans know as Christian. He was working as an executive producer on the movie. It was very shortly after I had left the previous place, WWE, and was a free agent, and he said they were looking for somebody who was a recognizable pro wrestler who’s available and I had just happened to become available.
It seemed like such spooky timing that I almost immediately just said, “Yeah, I’m probably in. Just send me the script and let me take a look at it.” From being friends with Christian I knew that he wouldn’t be involved in some real crappy movie, so I just said, “Let’s go” and pretty much jumped in right away. It’s a movie about kind of all my interests, all kind of rolled into one, and a good story about overcoming adversity and so forth, and a chance to play a hate-able antagonist who gets defeated and it sounded like fun.
How similar is your character in the movie to what people see of you on AEW Dynamite right now?
It’s probably sort of similar except that in this movie I’m playing the antagonist, so to speak, the bad guy, so you want to be a little hate-able. You want to be a little full of yourself, pompous, whatever it is. Kind of bring a little bit of that quality that Chris Jericho has perfected over the years… He just says something that just makes you want to punch him right in the nose. That’s what I had to bring to this role.
A fun part about it was that Christian, before the movie even started, told them – because a lot of the lines in this movie obviously are me doing pro wrestling style interviews or, you know, trash-talking and hyping this fight at a press conference or whatever – he told them, “Maybe not so much script him. Maybe let him ad-lib a lot of that stuff because that’s kind of what he does for a living so he’s probably better at it than you’d be at writing it for him.”
We had a big press conference scene that was one of the funnest things I’ve ever done because it was just an hour of me sitting up on this podium and yelling and screaming profanities and calling this man every name in the world and just saying whatever came to my mind and just going off and ad-libbing. I got to ad-lib ninety-something percent of everything I say in this movie, and they gave me the freedom to do that. So hopefully the way I come across in this movie makes everybody wants to get up off the couch and come punch me in the face.
Did you do any special training to get ready for the MMA fight scenes?
Yeah, I planned on coming into this in the absolute best shape of my life, trying to look like Clubber Lang in Rocky III and Thunderlips in Rocky II or whatever it was. But I ended up having surgery and getting hurt, so I didn’t train like I wanted to, so I came in not in actual peak, peak shape for a role like this… I barely made the window for where I could do the movie. I thought I was going to have to pull out of it for a minute. So I’m hoping that somebody with Photoshop or some kind of special effects could make me look a little more jacked than I actually am in real life in the movie.
I did a lot of hard work with Alex [Montagnani] who plays Reiss in the movie. He was originally the fight coordinator. He put the original fights together, which is a whole other art in itself, fight coordinating. For me, it’s fun, it’s not even like work, really. That’s the funnest part of movies is putting together these fight scenes and doing them; it’s kind of like playing around when you’re a kid. You think what the character would do, like “How would this character throw a punch?”
For example, I had been working my ass off at – I’m not good at throwing kicks. That’s not really my thing. So I’d been working my ass off trying to perfect techniques for throwing legs kicks, body kicks and I think got pretty good at it, and then once we’re putting the fight together… it was like “Well, this guy wouldn’t throw kicks.” My character’s more of a rough-house brawler, not necessarily going to have perfect technique kind of guy, just swinging for the fences, which is going to heighten my lack of skill in that department. So I was like, “Damn, I worked on them kicks for nothing.” But maybe I’ll bust them out in pro wrestling. You always kind of learn something by picking it up along the way. That’s what’s cool about this movie is it just kind of blends all my interests together.
Kind of changing the subject, you mentioned you’re known for ad-libbing a lot of promos, and last year you had some promos that kind of blew up when you started wrestling in New Japan with Shota Umino. You cut this promo after a match with him and then you guys started teaming together and he’s wrestling in the UK and he has “Shooter” on his gear now. Were you planned to be more involved with him at the time of your match, or was that something that happened after that first promo got a lot of attention?
It was a small thing that grew into a funnier big thing. It’s kind of the brainchild of a guy named Gedo who’s New Japan’s booker. In New Japan, everybody’s involved in, like, a group. You’ve got Chaos and L.I.J. and the Bullet Club and you have some people who are just kind of rogue independents like me. So, on the off days in the G1 you have tag matches, but I wouldn’t have any tag partners. So basically, it was a way to get me a tag partner. I would beat him, respect his toughness, and then I decide to make him my, like, young boy tag partner thing. But he has such a funny – I don’t know what it is about him. There’s something funny about him.
I was coming to New Japan to finally be this serious, kickass competitor, but when I looked at him and the camera’s on I just couldn’t help – because I enjoy doing, like, improv comedy on the fly sometimes, I think have a bit of a knack for deadpan humor and stuff like that – so I just couldn’t help but make the situation kind of funny, because this was the opportunity for some comedy gold here with Shota. As soon as I called him Shooter I knew everyone was going to start calling him Shooter, which I thought was funny too.
And then when he was going to the UK, I gave him one of my jackets that I had worn to the ring for him to wear to the ring because I was like, “Okay, I guarantee when he goes to the UK everybody’s going to chant ‘Shooter’ at him” and people are going to pay more attention to him and he’s going to gain experience more quickly. So hopefully when he comes back and he’s a big star and the king of Japan and I’m all old and broken down and broke in America he throws me a bone.
I know you’re still a champion there, but looking back on your time in New Japan so far, is there any match or moment that really stands out to you?
Yeah, getting to work with Minoru Suzuki was a dream come true, just kind of a dream match that I was hoping for one day. I didn’t think our paths would ever cross, and it was like that would be a really cool, kind of bucket list opponent to check off. But you never know when you’re going to have your last match or you’re going to get hit by a bus or you’re going to break your neck or whatever. You never know when it’s your last day until your last day. So I thought before I retire, it would be really cool to get a chance to wrestle him once. And we did and it was an extremely physical and violent affair and it was exactly the kind of just in your face action we both like to bring and it was very cool.
And just the whole getting to work at the Tokyo Dome. I had missed the two previous WrestleManias and I got to do two nights straight in the Tokyo Dome, so that kind of made up for it in my mind. Getting to do a Texas Death Match in the Tokyo Dome was like, come on, that’s like Christmas for me. Are you kidding me? That was awesome.
And I’m kind of proud of my efforts throughout the whole G1, being able to go through the whole G1 at full octane every single night, and I was battling through a couple injuries too, like everybody was. The locker room during the G1 looks like a triage unit… It’s the toughest tournament in pro wrestling, so to be able to do that was kind of a badge of honor. Yeah, I love wrestling in Japan. I love the fans over there.
In AEW, do you have a moment that has really stood out to you or that you’re most proud of so far?
Yeah, there’s a bunch of them. This went from Tony and Cody sitting at my kitchen table one day telling me how “We’re going to do this thing and what we want to do” and it was all this top-secret TV deal stuff that nobody knew yet and it seemed so far from reality. I was like “Really?” It sounded too good to be true. And once it started, there were a few months and a couple shows before this TV deal started, and it was like alright, this is going good now but once we have weekly TV, it’s on. Can we really do this?
And when we had that very first show on October 2nd and I was standing back behind the entrance by the monitors and there was a little clock reading 9:58, 9:59. I was watching the Inner Circle do the angle and watching it close the show, and when it hit ten o’clock it was like, we did it. We did a live two-hour show and didn’t screw up. It happened. And it was like we scored a touchdown.
And it was funny because the crowd kind of realized it too. Right when it hit ten o’clock they were, like, booing the Inner Circle bad guys, and then everybody started applauding. It was like the fans went, “This is real! They did a live two-hour show.” It was like we were all on the same team. That was the first really cool moment of like, wow this is real, we’re doing this. We’re forging ahead, and we don’t know what’s coming. We’re like Lewis and Clark going west. We don’t know what’s coming, but we’re going. So it was pretty cool.
Lately, you guys have been doing shows without fans. Does that change anything about how you work or perform?
Oh, definitely. Having an audience is such a critical element of pro wrestling and if nobody’s in the building it just sucks so much of the energy out of everything and it’s really challenging. Everybody’s kind of finding different ways to work around that, whether that’s the way you shoot it on camera, or lot of people are doing different cinematic style matches and stuff. It’s definitely tough.
When a building is going crazy and it’s all loud it can almost be like a mask and stuff. It keeps the energy going more, and so [without fans] you’ve got to dial up the physicality, you’ve got to keep everything tighter. I was really proud of the match I had with Jake Hager the other week in front of no people because it was just like kind of a real physical, realistic and we beat the actual crap out of each other. It was kind of what we had to do.
It’s not ideal for anybody to wrestle in front of empty arenas, but as long as everybody’s safe and so forth… You know, the whole world right now is going through real hard times and struggling and there’s a lot going on out there, so the best we can do in pro wrestling is just provide a slight distraction for a minute.
So what people believe is that you guys taped a lot of shows and now have gone on hiatus from filming. And you guys changed filming locations a few different times. Was there ever a thought that because people are closing down more businesses and types of gathering, we should just take a break from filming now? Or was it always like the show must go on?
I don’t really know. We filmed in Jacksonville the last time I was there, and I haven’t left my house in almost four weeks. So that question’s kind of not in my wheelhouse. I wouldn’t really know the answer to that question. I heard a lot of different stuff, but that’s kind of above my pay grade, so to speak.
This might be a similar thing, but you guys have Double or Nothing coming up, and there are no plans and people don’t know where the venue is either. Do you know if there are plans to do the show with a different format, or if any kinds of changes are planned for Double or Nothing?
Dude, if I had any answers, I would give them to you. I got nothing.
Okay, I had to ask. Here’s another question: of all the more up and coming talent in AEW who maybe weren’t known a national level before, have you been especially impressed with anyone?
Everybody, man. I think everyone that’s been given the ball in AEW has really taken it. Joey Janela instantly became one of my favorite opponents and people that I didn’t know before AEW. He was my first match in AEW, and I didn’t realize that was kind of a dream match to a certain percentage of the audience because of both of our styles. We just instantly clicked in and out of the ring. The kid’s really taken the ball and ran with it and done the best with everything he’s been given.
Darby Allin’s one of the hottest rising stars in the business. Sammy Guevara really took that opportunity with the Inner Circle and just dug right in and took the ball and ran with it. Everybody in the women’s division who’s been given the ball has taken it and ran with it, and everybody’s really doing everything they can to maximize their minutes.
I think the key is that everybody’s gotten the chance to be themselves. Nobody’s been handed some script, and nobody’s been told what they’re going to be or who they’re going to be. Everybody’s just going out and being themselves and giving authentic performances and fans can tell the difference.
If you were going to give advice to less experienced wrestlers on how to perform authentically, what do you think is kind of the key to doing that?
It takes some time because when you first start out you don’t know what you’re doing, so it’s hard to have any confidence. So it’s about listening to smart veterans and people who have your best interests at heart and so forth at the beginning, but once you get some experience and start branching into what specifically you’re going to be, it’s about being unapologetic and just doing things the way that you feel is right to do them, and doing what feels right to you. I mean, like look at The Young Bucks, who are the best tag team in the world. They flouted every convention that’s been thrown at them over the years and so forth and now are just undeniably the best tag team in the world.
Like for me, once I kind of stopped caring and stopped doing the things that I think are going to get me somewhere or whatever by conventional means, then, all of a sudden, that’s when things start taking off for you. When you just say “screw it, let’s see what happens” and you just be you, then that’s when stuff really takes off for people. And I’m far from the only example of that… It’s almost like once you stop caring and you just do whatever gets over, you just kind of go with it and don’t care about any criticisms, that’s all of a sudden when you find your groove, if that makes any sense. Play the music you want to play the way that you want to play it, you know?
I have one last question for you: How are you dealing with the whole stay at home order situation?
Well, I got a pretty sweet deal, all things considered. I’m just kind of hanging out here in Vegas with my wife, who’s my favorite person to hang out with anyway, so I’m pretty lucky to be stuck in the house with her. She’s cooking me meals and we’re just hanging out watching movies and training in my garage and my back yard, hanging out with the dogs and staying safe.
I can’t complain about my situation. A lot of people out there have it a lot worse and my heart goes out to all those people. Hopefully we come into some good times pretty soon. You never think you’re going to live through something like this, and we’re living through it. I’m not going to complain about my situation whatsoever. I’ve been on the road for 300 days a year for so long, so I’m trying to enjoy the fact that I couldn’t go anywhere even if I wanted to.