Vengeance has always been a prominent motivation in sports entertainment. Hulk Hogan spent his career battling turncoats like Paul Orndorff, Andre the Giant, and “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The Undertaker squared off against his evil half-brother Kane on several occasions. And, Shawn Michaels went toe-to-toe with his former Dudes with Attitude partner Kevin Nash.
So, when Seth Rollins betrayed his Shield brothers, it was only natural for Dean Ambrose to want to get back at him.
The main difference? While Hogan, Taker, and Michaels used legdrops, chokeslams, and superkicks to gain a measure of revenge on their rivals, Ambrose has employed ketchup, mustard, and green slime.
To each his own.
I spoke with WWE’s “Lunatic Fringe” in the days before his Hell in a Cell brawl with Seth Rollins and had a chance to ask him about living up to the Cell’s legacy, his path to WWE stardom, and what it’s like to be cheered after growing up a bad guy.
Gordon Holmes: This Sunday you’re entering Hell in a Cell with Seth Rollins. This match has a legacy of amazing, brutal bouts. How are you going to stand out?
Dean Ambrose: Going into anything like this, you want to put your own stamp on it. You want to do something that’s never been done before. I hate a formula. I hate stepping in the footsteps of those that came before me. And Seth has the same mindset. Even though we’re enemies and opponents, and are going to be trying to rip each other’s heads off in the Cell.
Holmes: You’ve got a straight-up comparison that night as John Cena and Randy Orton are going to be having their own Hell in a Cell match.
Ambrose: The kind of guys that we are and you go back to the competitive chips we have on our shoulder. You go back to the attitude that we came into this company with? We’re going to blow anything they put up out of the water. You know what I mean?
Holmes: I do, looking forward to it.
Ambrose: (Laughs) If you know anything about me, you know that I don’t have any trepidation. I’m not going to walk into there shaking in my boots. It’ll be my first time and Seth Rollins’ first time. I’m not afraid to take a risk. And Seth Rollins isn’t afraid to take a risk. I don’t see anything that Seth Rollins can do to me, or the Authority, or the Cell is anything worse than anything I’ve been through. I’m looking to raise the bar a little bit. And it’s hard because the Cell is a lot higher than it used to be.
Holmes: Yes, this isn’t the Cell Mick Foley was tossed off of.
Ambrose: I don’t think people realize. It’s like 20-foot higher! Well, I don’t know the exact height. It’s significantly higher than the one (Mick) Foley fell off of. I think that was done to prevent anybody from trying to jump off of it again. Now, it’s quite literally impossible to jump off of. It’s hard to do anything new inside that thing now. But fortunately I’ve got a big toolbox of ideas, man. This ain’t my first time at the rodeo even though it’s my first time in the Cell. I’ve got a nice cache of little ditties that I can bust out. I’m determined to do something that nobody has ever seen before in the Hell in a Cell.
Holmes: I was watching this Steve Austin special on the “Monday Night Wars” and I’m seeing some parallels between his rise to the top and your rise. He didn’t seem like the fan favorite type, but people started taking to him. An opportunity was opened for him when Triple H was punished for the Curtain Call and an opportunity has opened for you with Roman Reigns’ injury.
Ambrose: There’s no confusing me and Steve Austin. (Laughs) There will never be another Steve Austin. As far as taking an opportunity like that… the thing I like about Steve Austin is his tenacity, his work ethic, and his… ”Screw you, you’re not taking food off of my plate” thing. I’ve starved and lived on the road. And I’m not letting anyone walk all over me. That intensity… a lot of people they get so caught up in the grind here, so it’s hard to bring that 100% intensity every night. Steve Austin, you watch his old stuff, he never took a breath. Working Steve Austin must’ve been exhausting.
Holmes: I believe the saying was, “You have to bring a lunch.”
Ambrose: I love that. We’re a little thin right now and somebody has to step up to the plate. I’ve never tried to be anybody’s hero or favorite. I don’t see myself as that kind of guy. I’m not trying to step into anyone else’s spot. I’m trying to create my own and be irreplaceable. But, that opportunity that launched Steve’s career, it took a while for everything to come together. That’s that work ethic, taking advantage of a tiny opportunity. They want to put me in two matches a night? Three matches a night? A triple-threat tag? Another promo? Another thing? Another backstage? And now a dark match? Now a street fight? I’m going to keep going as fast as I can. That’s what a guy like that would do. I’m never going to have anything handed to me, and if I stop for two seconds, it will go away quickly. And I’m sure there are a lot of people who would like to see it all go away quickly. And honestly, I haven’t done anything yet. I’ve just made a lot of posturing and pretended like I was going to do something. Let’s be real here.
Holmes: But Sunday’s your chance to do something. Do you guys know if you’re the main event?
Ambrose: If we’re not the main event, then somebody’s making a mistake. They’re going to regret it.
Holmes: Hell in a Cell tends to be a feud ender. What’s next for you after you finally put Rollins down?
Ambrose: I came to a realization not long ago; I’m very passionate about what I do. This is all I want to do. I obsess over little things and I look ten steps ahead. And if it was up to me things would be planned out long in advance. I’m constantly plotting ahead like that. The reality is the WWE is this crazy world that’s constantly changing. You can’t prepare for tomorrow. The Pay Per View match already changed on us. You’re wrestling John Cena at the Pay Per View. Then I walk in Monday and we’re wrestling tonight. Things change like the wind. You’ve just got to take it one day at a time. And I could get hit by a bus tomorrow.
Holmes: You mentioned that you’re not anybody’s favorite. But if you listen to the audience, it sounds like you’re becoming a lot of people’s favorite. Are you ready for Dean Ambrose: Mr. Popular?
Ambrose: If that happened? Cool, man. It’s cool when people dig what you’re doing. I’m the kind of guy that thrives on negativity. That’s the kind of thing that has fueled me for my entire career. From the basement, to the gutter, to where I am today it’s been like that. The hatred of everyone and everything just spewing out. I’m older now though, I’m a little bit of a grown up. In any case, I never had a vision of being liked by so many people in the WWE Universe… oh… I can’t believe I just said that.
Ambrose: (Laughs) It’s so big and it reaches so many people. You’re meeting people and they bought all your shirts and they say you’ve really made a positive change in their life. And I’m like, “What? I’m just wrestling, man.” But people use you for inspiration to get through sickness or to do whatever. To me, it’s really cool. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished a lot more, which is a new thing for me to accept any kind of praise. It’s not bad to be so popular. It could go away at any moment.
Holmes: You could get hit by a bus tomorrow.
Holmes: For the first time in a long time, there isn’t a defending WWE Champion who’s appearing at all of the major events. Does Brock Lesnar having the title upset people?
Ambrose: Every show, and we run a lot of them, doesn’t have to have a world championship match on it. Every “Monday Night Raw” shouldn’t have a world championship match. But, the champion not appearing at all? To me, it’s not nearly as big of a thing… I equate it back to the traveling world champions of the 70s or previous eras. You’re not going to see a world title match every week. I honestly think we give away too much stuff. We give away a lot of wrestling on TV and there’s so much time to fill. In a three-hour show, Brock Lesnar could really be used. I’m making up my answers as I go along here.
Holmes: As you’re supposed to.
Ambrose: You’re not going to see him much. He took the belt back to his castle and he locked it up in the attic. You’ve got to go a long way to get a championship match with him.
Holmes: We’re seeing a lot of new faces with the integration of the developmental program NXT. What’s the process like where you go from being a guy signed into company to making the big show as a WWE Superstar?
Ambrose: For me, it was much different than the guys today. I’m not familiar with the NXT process now. I was never on NXT television. I was an FCW guy. A Doctor Tom (Pritchard) era guy. It’s great now, they’ve got the Full Sail TV. NXT is like the most amazing opportunity. We were in this warehouse in Florida. We were locked away like the ugly stepchildren of WWE. It really pissed us off. It gave us this chip on our shoulders. We were like alright, “We can put on a better product than the main roster can. Screw them all.” We were putting on matches in developmental that were on par with anything that was on WWE television. For us, we were down there just sitting, chilling, training, making towns, learning. We were waiting. It can be a frustrating process. Just the wait. But, if you’re smart you take that time to learn, to ask questions. Nobody is perfect and you can always learn something.
Holmes: Who were you learning from?
Ambrose: Joey Mercury is like Yoda to me. He’s a guy who can really pick something apart and give you five ways to make it better in two seconds. He’ll always have good ideas. I always have crazy ideas. I’ll bounce them by Joey first and he’ll instantly call me out on something stupid. He’ll rein me in a little bit.
Holmes: What’s this I’m hearing about Dean Ambrose: Movie Star?
Ambrose: Yeah, they came to me and were like, “WWE Studios, we’ve got an opportunity for you.” And I said, “You want me to be in a movie? Get outta here! Yeah, I’ll do that!” I thought I’d just be a background bit player. I’d get to rest my body and be an extra in a movie. Then I found out I was the lead character. And my exact words to the studio guy was, “You realize I’m completely unqualified for this, right? I don’t know if somebody lied to you or what, but I’ve never acted before. I don’t know how a movie set works. I’ve never been on the set for a freaking Dunkin’ Donuts commercial.” It’s called “Lockdown” and it was a cool learning experience.
Holmes: So, say someone’s on the fence about ordering Hell in a Cell. Talk them into it.
Ambrose: You’re going to see one of the most outrageous spectacles of hatred and intensity when Dean Ambrose and Seth Ambrose finally get at each other. I promise you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before.