Why Jon Moxley is pivotal to All Elite Wrestling's latest test

Anthony Sulla-Heffinger
Jon Moxley is seen during an episode of AEW "Dynamite" on TNT. (Photo courtesy of AEW)
Jon Moxley is seen during an episode of AEW "Dynamite" on TNT. (Photo courtesy of AEW)

A little over a month after its weekly television debut, All Elite Wrestling will hold “Full Gear,” its first pay-per-view event since diving head-first into competition in a suddenly robust professional wrestling landscape.

AEW has cleared every hurdle thus far by providing two-hours of engaging storytelling mixed with elite-level professional wrestling each week. Early ratings have seen AEW’s “Dynamite” show besting WWE’s NXT in their head-to-head battles on Wednesday night, but “Full Gear” is different.

“Full Gear” will not only serve as another test for the fledgling company in terms of pulling off a massive production, but it will also help determine if the appetite for the showcase shows remains despite airing weekly on cable television.

Luckily for AEW, it has one of the most hotly anticipated matches in recent memory to build the show’s foundation on.

After being initially scheduled for the company’s “All Out” show in August, the upcoming match between Jon Moxley and Kenny Omega is the kind of mammoth clash that seemed impossible as early as a year ago.

“I’d say this is definitely the money match right now,” Moxley told Yahoo Sports. “You can tell when there’s a spark between two guys in the ring and there’s this combustible energy, an electricity you can feel. Our lives intersecting at this exact moment, it’s hugely fortunate for all involved. It seems like fate.”

Omega, widely regarded as one of the best sports entertainers in the business, always seemed destined for AEW. After working primarily for New Japan Pro Wrestling in recent years, Omega was one of the most coveted free agents in the industry when is contract expired earlier this year. His ties to Nick and Matt Jackson as well as Cody Rhodes — the group known as “The Elite” — made it as close to a sure thing as there is in the wrestling business that he would sign with AEW.

Moxley, on the other hand, was under contract with WWE until May of this year. A former WWE champion and one of the pillars of the popular “Shield” faction, Moxley (known then as Dean Ambrose) had a falling out with Vince McMahon’s company and the two mutually agreed to part ways.

Less than a month later, Moxley was the big surprise at the end of “Double or Nothing,” AEW’s first official pay-per-view event as a company. In his debut, Moxley confronted Omega to close the show and set up a match at “All Out” in August.

In the months between, Moxley traveled the world, working for various promotions, including performing in NJPW’s famed G1 Climax tournament. Shortly before “All Out,” Moxley was scratched from the match after developing a severe case of MRSA in his elbow.

It was a case of Moxley’s self-described “nose-to-the-grindstone mentality” getting the best of him.

“I’ve really put my foot to the gas pedal since Double or Nothing and actually overextended myself a little bit,” Moxley said. “You have to look at the silver lining in stuff. It could be one of those things where it was a big match before on a big show and it sold a ton of tickets in just a few minutes. Now it seems like it’s even bigger and the show is even bigger.”

In the aftermath of Moxley’s announcement, Omega released a video where he cut a promo on Moxley, calling out the former WWE star for pulling out of the match. Omega specifically referenced Moxley’s “nightmare scenario” and openly mocked him for not being able to handle the same kind of demands Omega himself had previously conquered.

It was a moment that captured the wrestling audience and ensured fans would not soon forget this match was going to happen. It was also one of Moxley’s first tastes of how fundamentally different AEW was from his previous employer.

“It’s a great thing creatively for AEW,” Moxley said. “You take this scenario and you get thrown a curveball and you take it and make it real, take it in whatever direction you want it. I was like ‘hell yeah,’ because it’s not like you have to get cleared or ask anything with regard to promos like that. It was real. You don’t have to worry about going through red tape, using big words, reading a paragraph or something like that. If you have something to say in AEW, you just say it.

“Now we’ve got this legitimate thing that happened and it’s become part of the story now. It’s pretty cool. You can’t write it. We could have sat in a room and thought, man how do we make this match even bigger. We could have never figured out a way that was as good as almost killing me with a staph infection and taking the match away.”

In addition to spinning Moxley’s staph infection into a storyline element, the match’s delay allowed for AEW to truly build to it. Rather than having to rely on two events between “Double or Nothing” and “All Out,” AEW has been able to build the Omega-Moxley feud in a more traditional sense thanks to the debut of “Dynamite.”

“Now we have all of these new fans who may not have been familiar with Kenny or me and we have had time to bring them in with what we have been doing on TV,” Moxley said. “We can get them invested by doing promos, them seeing what we’ve been doing in the ring. I think even for the fans that were excited for it before, now they’ve gotten a taste of me and Kenny in the ring.”

Jon Moxley is seen in the ring with Kenny Omega during an episode of AEW "Dynamite." (Photo Courtesy of AEW)
Jon Moxley is seen in the ring with Kenny Omega during an episode of AEW "Dynamite." (Photo Courtesy of AEW)

Fans have also been able to see Omega and Moxley further develop their characters thanks to their regular TV appearances. While Omega has reintroduced his “Cleaner” persona — which he made famous during his time with NJPW — Moxley has established himself as a loose cannon of sorts.

It’s another creative change that has helped Moxley feel more at home in AEW.

“The great feeling about this is not having the worry that I’ll have to read some script that somebody else wrote that I think is dumb or makes me look stupid,” Moxley said. “I will never read another script on a professional wrestling show for the rest of my life. That’s a very good feeling. That was the biggest thing. I can’t describe how much that bothered me.”

The Omega match aside, Moxley admits the other freeing aspect of being a part of AEW’s roster is the far less rigorous travel demands.

AEW currently only has one show a week and does not put on “house shows” — non-televised events. This has allowed the industry veteran time to pick and choose his projects and better recover from injuries such as his infection.

“I’m still really, really busy, but it’s all fun things that I enjoy doing or an opportunity that I took and something I’m doing on purpose,” Moxley said. “I made this schedule so if it’s challenging, it’s my fault. It’s not like somebody slapped down a piece of paper and said make these 30 towns and beat yourself up every night.

“The last six weeks especially have been difficult getting back to 100 percent. The surgery, the medicine and the recovery really took it out of me. I wanted to hurry up and get through that and get back as quickly as possible and be 100 percent. I definitely think that 300-day road schedule has to become a thing of the past and it definitely has for me. More than taking crazy bumps or falling off ladders, the thing that really wore me down over the years was the travel. I did that schedule for a really long time with no breaks. I think that just wears your body down over time.”

Moxley’s past experience does play a pivotal role in how quickly he has been able to adapt to AEW. Moxley is one of a handful of stars on the AEW roster who has worked in live television before.

“So many people haven’t done live TV before in their lives, but AEW was smart enough to get really good people in all positions, from production to talent,” Moxley said. “It’s fun because it’s a new frontier and new thing. There are learning experiences every week, we’ve tried out new cameras. Things will go good, mistakes will happen, we have no idea what’s coming ahead.

“The guys in the trucks and the producers are the big heroes here. We had a big meeting about where the cameras are and what the countdown signals mean. It’s all stuff I’ve seen before but somebody who has never done live TV wouldn’t know what that means. Until you’ve done it, you can’t really articulate it.”

Moxley also credits AEW’s fanbase for helping to ignite this change in the wrestling industry.

“That’s been the biggest thing that’s powered this all along,” Moxley said. “The energy of the fans have powered the show with their enthusiasm. They love being at a big wrestling show that isn’t a big wrestling show. They love the talent that is choosing to not go the normal route.”

Beyond “Full Gear,” Moxley hasn’t hinted at any other notable feuds. AEW’s relative newness and current structure — only having four planned major pay-per-views per year — lends itself an air of unpredictability that isn’t always present in the wrestling industry. Much like the curveball he was delivered earlier this year.

“When you look at all of this talent on the roster, everyone can do amazing things,” Moxley said. “For me it’s about finding the right personality and creating that spark. Giving it a big fight feel. A lot of times you can’t really plan that out and for me, I wouldn’t reveal it until the time is right.

“Nobody has any idea what is going to happen. We’re flying down the river at 100 mph now. It’s one TV at a time. We’re still going to be finding our identity as a product over time. We have an idea of what we want to be like and look like, a more old-school wrestling and sports show feel, but it’s also showcasing the newest, hottest, freshest, youngest talent.”

If the build to “Full Gear” and his feud with Omega tells the wrestling world anything, it’s this: As AEW continues to establish its identity, it’s clear Moxley — with more freedom and comfort than ever before — will be a big part of the company’s future.

More from Yahoo Sports: