When Dean Ambrose saunters down the stands of U.S. Bank Arena on Tuesday evening for a taping of WWE SmackDown — WWE’s weekly program that airs Fridays on Syfy — he will do so under profoundly different circumstances from a decade back. As a trio of riot-gear-clad wrestling mercenaries collectively known as The Shield, the six-foot-four-inch, 225-pound Ambrose and partners Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns are three of the most promising young names in wrestling today.
The Cincinnati-bred Ambrose (whose real name is Jonathan Good) began his trip to the WWE roster through profoundly unglamorous circumstances: Finding out about a wrestling show at the now-defunct Red Barn Flea Market in Batavia. The show was put on by the Heartland Wrestling Association (HWA), a small, now 15-year-old Cincinnati-rooted independent wrestling company then overseen by ex-wrestler and industry vet Les Thatcher.
“I sat really close to the ring,” Good, 27, says. “Any time I have been to shows at the Gardens or U.S. Bank Arena or anything like that, you’re in the nosebleed seats [which feels like] watching it on TV. Being two feet from the ring and hearing the physicality, seeing the guys up close, feeling so close you can almost be in the ring — that was a very eye-opening experience. I just wanted to hop the rail and jump in.” Thanks to an ad on the show’s program for Main Event Pro Wrestling Camp — a wrestling school run by Thatcher and later wrestler/Thatcher protégé Cody Hawk — an underage Good found his career calling once he wormed his way into the camp.
Good has called wrestling “an escape” from a troubled home life growing up near Cherry Grove. Good calls himself “a Cincinnati guy to the bone,” though he lives in Las Vegas now. “Since I was 18, I’ve been moving around, training and wrestling, so I’ve been to so many different places,” he says. “For me, wherever my bag is is where home is, but still, Cincinnati is a little bit more home than most places.
I’m very much born and raised by listening to WEBN.”
Starting in 2004, Good plied his trade all over the independent circuit as Jon Moxley, building a rep for violent, bloody wrestling and incredible skill on the mic. The unkempt but generally plain-looking Moxley was a self-avowed “sick guy,” speaking in a guttural, shaky tone with a simmering intensity that often boiled over. He was an introverted sociopath who had been marginalized by society; Heath Ledger’s Joker has become a recurring point of comparison for the character.
After receiving scattered tryouts over the years, Good signed to WWE in 2011 and began working for its developmental promotion Florida Championship Wrestling under the alias of Dean Ambrose. Good (as Ambrose) and The Shield debuted on the primary WWE roster in November 2012 when the trio attacked hero and would-be WWE Champion Ryback during the main event of WWE Survivor Series. With the faction first appearing during the climax of the biggest match on a prominent WWE pay-per-view, omens were working in The Shield’s favor. (Speaking of which, Ambrose is also the current WWE United States Champion — an excellent sign for someone who has been on the roster less than a year.)
Nowadays, the group is a villainous one but immensely likeable. The trio sees themselves as bringers of justice (vague as that term is), often surrounding the ring and working together to jump victims. They enter the ring by walking down through the crowd (the gesture represents their role as mercenaries and the sense of division from the rest of the locker room). Their theme song and gear are great, and they regularly put on top-shelf matches.
As Moxley, Good was a bomb waiting to go off. As Ambrose, he is a sneering, shrewd, pseudo-rebellious renegade who is the Shield’s de facto mouthpiece.
Good emphasizes that his wrestling persona has always been “autobiographical” and is a skewed mirror image of who he was or is. When asked about his future career prospects, he does solidify one thing. “To me, anything less than being the top guy in the industry, the top villain in the industry, the WWE Champion, is a failure,” he says. “That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself, but whenever I look at it realistically, that’s just how it is.”
Catch DEAN AMBROSE and the Shield at WWE SmackDown Tuesday at U.S. Bank Area. Tickets: ticketmaster.com.