Jonathan Good may be living a charmed life in professional wrestling nowadays, but life wasn’t always easy for the man better known as Dean Ambrose.
Good, who grew up in the area known as the East End in Cincinnati, is evasive when asked if he had a rough upbringing.
“Who doesn’t have their own story?” he asked. “I grew up in Cincinnati, the east side of Cincinnati. I don’t really have any kind of heartbreaking sob story, just a regular old lower class American upbringing.”
Turning the focus away from his formative years and onto the beginnings of what could some day be a hall of fame wrestling career, he described his beginnings.”I started wrestling when I was 16 and (I spent) a lot of years on the road and a lot of years wrestling in every bingo hall and armory and bar and night club imaginable to get here,” Good said, referring to his current wrestling home, World Wrestling Entertainment. “I’ve travelled the entire world, put my body through a lot of abuse, (gaining) a lot of experience in becoming the guy I am today.”
Then the focus turns back to his early life.
“Mine might be a little bit different than most people, but everybody’s got their own story and that’s what makes you the person that you are.”
One thing Good is comfortable talking about when it comes to his youth is his lifelong love for pro wrestling.
“For me, wrestling was like an escape,” he answered when asked about what his earliest memories of the business are.
“I used to just clean out all the video stores, back when they used to have video stores,” Good said. “I would just go in there and just rent or steal or shoplift — whatever, flea markets, video stores — until I amassed this giant collection of video tapes. I can’t really remember when I started watching wrestling. I just can’t remember a time when I didn’t.”
In fact, pro wrestling became much more than an escape for the youngster. It became his life, long before it would become his livelihood.
“I just became massively obsessed … I wanted to see everything. I wanted to watch all the WCW tapes, all the WWF tapes, all the ECW stuff,” he said, pausing as his mind drifted back to his youth. “When I discovered ECW on TV,” Good said, passion evident in this voice, “I became hugely hooked on that. I got into getting their newsletter, getting tapes from them … tape trading … finding international stuff. I just became obsessed with learning the entire business.”
He was hooked.
“I feel like just through my own studying of the business before I even started (wrestling), I had what would be like a Master’s degree in wrestling history … through my own studying of it, without the Internet,” he said.
“I couldn’t have given half of a crap about anything they tried to teach me in school because it wasn’t interesting, but I’ll sit there for hours and read about every story and old fact and the history of some old time wrestler from the ’70s, the history of the territories and stuff like that,” Good said. “That’s all very intriguing to me. I’m a big history buff.”
Pro wrestling wasn’t just Good’s passion; it was his calling.
“I always kind of knew in the back of my head (that) that (was) the only thing I (liked) and the only thing I (knew). I always felt like that was what I was going to do and what I would be good at,” Good said. “I just kind of always knew that was where I was headed. I didn’t know how.”
Sometimes, if you want something badly, fate has a way of taking over. Such was the case for Good.
“I saw a flyer on a telephone pole for an HWA (Heartland Wrestling Association) independent show at a flea market in Cincinnati,” he said. “I went to that show and (on) the event program, on the back, there was a little ad for Les Thatcher’s Main Event Pro Wrestling Camp, with the address and phone number. I instantly knew … that was where I was going. I went ‘that’s it.’ ”
Thatcher is a decorated pro wrestler, trainer and Cincinnati native.
Good no longer had to wonder how one would go about entering the pro wrestling business.
“I sent Les Thatcher a letter and he sent me (something) back,” Good said, adding that he eventually ended up at the school, where he would start his long journey up wrestling’s ladder to success. “I ended up selling popcorn, sweeping floors, setting up the ring and all of that. I trained for a year or so, dropped out of high school and before I knew it, I was in and I was a lifer.”
Before he would treat WWE fans to his Dean Ambrose character, Good became a hugely successful wrestler on the independent scene. As Jon Moxley, Good became legendary for his fearlessness, his sometimes brutal matches and his incredible promos.
While he by no means advocates the kind of extreme matches he has been involved in on his way to the top, Good has no regrets either.
“That was by total accident and kind of a slippery slope to get on,” Good said, when asked about some of the violent matches he has been involved in.
He is also quick to point out that he was an accomplished wrestler long before he delved into the extreme portion of his career — the dog collar and thumbtack matches, the broken glass, and one very careful use of a tricked-out skill saw in a match.
“By the time I started doing really extreme stuff and getting into Death Match tournaments and stuff like that, I was already a pretty polished, well-travelled professional wrestler,” Good said. “I was trained in a very old school, very good camp — one of the last ones — by Cody Hawk and Les Thatcher. I learned to work the right way and had a pretty good grasp of basic psychology and wrestling. So I was a pretty polished professional by the time I ever even started that.”
Good admits that even he had a tainted view of extreme wrestling before he became part of it.
“I (had) always looked at that the way a lot of fans do; ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of garbage, idiots hitting each other with stuff.’ ”
But Good quickly learned that that violence was disguising some very talented performers.
“I discovered there were a lot of good wrestlers in that genre too, I discovered it was kind of its own style, with its own psychology,” he said. “To me, death matches and regular professional wrestling matches are like different sports, they have different sets of rules. I kind of took as a new challenge, as a new thing.”
There was that, and there was another driving factor.
“I was kind of just bored,” Good said. “I always liked to push the boundaries of stuff, I like adrenaline and I like danger and excitement like that. I like to walk that edge.”
The trouble with that, Good admitted, is it becomes hazardous to one’s health.
“You dip your toe in a little bit with something that’s pretty dangerous (and) it’s a slippery slope because the next time you’re going to try a little more and a little more and you’re like, ‘OK, well I put my body through this and I didn’t get hurt, I wonder if I can do that and not get hurt.’ And then you find out you do get hurt, but how much can you take?”
Even now, working for WWE, every wrestler’s dream, Good has zero regrets about his extreme days.
“I kind of felt like I was carving out a niche for myself,” he said, no pun intended. “I found that style really fit me like a glove and even though that’s not part of my job description now, I don’t think I would’ve gotten here without the noise I was able to make as a character and just as a performer going that extra (mile).”
That said, Good added, it’s not a path he would ever suggest anyone take.
“I don’t recommend that to anybody, going that route, that just happened to be my route.”
As for a fallback plan had wrestling not panned out, Good admits failure was never an option.
“As much as (people will) tell you ‘Plan B, Plan B’ — you start to think about that stuff now, as I’m nearing 30 — to me, a Plan B was always just a plan to fail. To me, it was go, go, go and I just knew and trusted in my heart. I mean you never know, and again, I don’t recommend that anybody, but just being young and foolish, no, I didn’t have a Plan B.”
In 2011, Good won the wrestling lottery, having deservingly caught the eye of WWE, which signed him to a developmental deal. After spending time in the WWE’s developmental system, Good, now named Dean Ambrose, joined fellow future stars Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns and formed one of the greatest wrestling stables in recent memory, known simple as The Shield. The self-proclaimed hounds of justice were an instant hit with WWE fans and, during its nearly two-year run, The Shield dominated WWE as heels and babyfaces alike. All three members would find individual success within The Shield and the trio quickly became main-event superstars.
The formula for that success, Good says, was hard work.
“I think work ethic,” Good said, when asked what he credited for the group’s overwhelming success. “That was our thing from Day 1. One part of it was, ‘OK, we’re going to stick together.’ If one guy catches some flak for something, whatever it is, we go into every battle together, in the ring and in life. When we first started, we were traveling together, staying together, working out together … we were a team. It was all for one, one for all and we were going to push everybody out of the way,” Good said, adding that the trio also had friendly competition among themselves.
The Shield also modelled itself after one of the greatest wrestling stables in history.
“We started doing the three fists as a symbol of excellence,” Good explained. “That’s just something that I spat out one day while we were just doing some interview and compared it to the Four Horsemen thing. Then we were kind of like, ‘Yeah, that’s good, let’s keep that.’ ”
Good then paid homage to the Horsemen, his wrestling history Master’s degree shining through.
“Those guys, every single night, they were like, ‘We’re going to be the best, we’re going to bump our asses off, we’re going to work our asses off, every single night in every single town, we work hard, play hard and just do it nonstop every single night, there are no nights off.’ ”
It was with that Horsemen-like work ethic that The Shield set out to make an impact. And make an impact they did, often headlining the WWE’s flagship show, Monday Night Raw, and pay-per-views alike. As a member of The Shield, Ambrose won the United States championship, while Rollins and Reigns won the WWE tag-team titles. Reigns also had a memorable night at the Royal Rumble, breaking the record for most eliminations in a single Royal Rumble and coming within an eyelash of winning it. The group also cleaned up at the annual Slammy Awards.
“That becomes a mindset, that work ethic becomes part of your lifestyle,” Good said. He then explained that The Shield had to answer directly to one member of that fabled foursome. “We started talking about that because we have Arn Anderson, he’s on the road with us, and we’re like, ‘Oh god, I’m so beat up, I’m so sore, I’m so tired, I gotta go out and do this match, I gotta get loose, I can’t get loose,’ and then I’ve gotta look at Arn. I can’t look in Arn’s eyes and say, ‘I’m not going to give 110%.’ I want to come to the back and I want him to go, ‘Hell yeah,’ and say, ‘That’s how you do it every time.’ We took that Horsemen mentality and brought it to us. It was like, ‘We’re just going to outwork everybody on the roster.’ I think fans started to pick up on that after a while. That work ethic won people over.”
Like all the good things, The Shield has come to an end in recent weeks, with Rollins turning his back on his stable mates and aligning himself with Triple H and Stephanie McMahon’s Authority. Good’s alter ego, Ambrose, emerges when asked about his looming participation in WWE’s Money in the Bank pay-per-view, where he will share the ring with his former partner and friend Rollins.
It’s an opportunity, Ambrose says, for justice.
“I get a chance to get my hands on Seth Rollins on live pay-per-view,” Ambrose said. “There’s a lot at stake and there’s a lot of money at stake. There’s all these other elements at play — there’s Money in the Bank, the Authority and all that stuff — but the main thing that keeps running through my head is that this was my best friend. He really disappointed me with the decision that he made. He could’ve said, ‘Bro, I want to quit The Shield and move onto something else,’ but he didn’t. He went behind our backs and made kind of a bitch move. It’s disappointing and it broke my heart that he did what he did to us. It’s a very emotional thing, but once I switch into that mode, I’m seeing red. One of The Shield’s mottos (was) justice has gotta be served and Seth Rollins is going to get justice.”
The opportunity to close one chapter and begin another in WWE is one Good is looking forward to. A chance to embark on a solo career holds a lot of appeal, Good admits.
“There is a bit of a feeling of freedom,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about anybody else, you don’t have to worry about fitting into what The Shield is doing. Now I’m really just being left to my own devices and that’s actually a good feeling. With the way the situation has played out with the Authority, I’m backed into a corner and the only way I will survive is to fight my way out of that corner and I’ve been doing that my entire life and my entire career. To me, it’s just head down, full speed ahead, throwing punches and anything that gets in my way ain’t going to stay in my way. And if anybody knows anything about me or my career or who I am as a person, nothing is going to stop me from getting what I want and going where I want to go. It’s not always pretty, it’s not always a Cinderella storybook, rainbows … it’s frickin’ Dean Ambrose’s life. It’s not going to be the prettiest ride to where I want to go, but I’m going to get there.”
Ambrose is also going to get here, as in Kingston, on July 6 as part of the WWE’s SummerSlam Heatwave Tour, where he will again face his former partner Rollins.
The live experience is not to be missed, Ambrose says.
“Watching WWE is always good, but seeing it live is such a better experience. Being there live and feeling the energy is such a more intense, awesome way to see the product. A live event is not televised, it’s not for cameras and there are no commercial breaks or time constraints. It’s just a show for the people and it’s a more intimate experience. Fans give energy and you give energy back and it’s a cool give and take between the wrestlers and the audience. It’s just for you in the building. You never know what you’re going to see at a live event. Guys will let their hair down a little bit more. You might see the greatest match you’ve ever seen.”
Ambrose knows one thing, you will see him get his hands on Rollins.
“You’re going to see me and Seth Rollins in the ring together and we’re both going to be tooth-and-nail and not wanting to be one-upped by the other one. And when you get that kind of competition and that kind of spark lit, in front of a great wrestling crowd like you find in Ontario, some magical stuff can happen.”
Good knows a thing or two about magic. He’s been making it since he set foot inside a ring.
Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years. He recently launched Chinlock.com to archive his wrestling stories. You can follow Jan on Twitter at @Jan_Murphy.