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On Monday, an unexpected news report came out from Wade Keller and Pro Wrestling Torch; Dean Ambrose would not be renewing his contract with WWE and would be a free agent this April. The next day WWE reached out to the wrestling media and confirmed that Ambrose was leaving the promotion when his contract expired.
The fact that WWE confirmed Keller's story was very surprising, normally WWE wouldn't confirm such a report, mainly because they wouldn't want their fanbase to think that everything Ambrose is involved in between now and April is meaningless since Ambrose is leaving the company. Additionally, the confirmation seems to indicate that WWE has given up trying to re-sign Ambrose, which is crazy since WWE is very protective of all their talent with All Elite Wrestling signing free agents left and right.
The obvious explanation is that this is all a work; Ambrose has already re-signed with WWE and this is part of a storyline. Ambrose's awkward performance on RAW Monday may indicate that WWE is going in an unforeseen direction with his character. I obviously cannot confirm that it is or is not a work; but I do trust Keller, who has a long track record of accurate reporting. It's possible that WWE confirmed the report because they figured wrestling fans would already know about the Ambrose rumors and it's not worth it to hide it from them.
Assuming it's true; it's an incredibly bold move by Ambrose. A lot of the names rumored to be looking to leave WWE, such as The Revival, Mike and Maria Kanellis, Hideo Itami (who is actually leaving the company), were obvious candidates since they have not been utilized in a serious capacity. Ambrose is legitimately a big star in WWE, a former world champion and featured on RAW every week. I'd argue that he is one of the five most recognizable full-time WWE talents.
Up until Monday, nobody talked about Ambrose as someone that was going to leave WWE. It was reasonable to expect a team like The Revival to leave since it was clear they wanted to be taken more seriously and that wasn't happening in WWE. Nobody expected a guy like Ambrose to be headed for the exit; he may not have been the biggest star in WWE, but he was consistently pushed and on TV for the biggest promotion in the world. It's hard to argue the grass would be greener somewhere else.
Ambrose not signing a new WWE contract shows that he isn't motivated by money. A report Tuesday stated that Ambrose was fed up with the creative use of his character; that he lives a simple lifestyle and already has made a lot of money in WWE, and he hates scripted promos.
WWE has more money than ever before with their new TV contracts starting this fall and has been willing to spend more than ever on talent. WWE definitely was willing to offer Ambrose more money than anyone else, but Ambrose said no thanks, apparently so emphatically that WWE doesn't plan on making him another offer. That feels unheard of, and I have to think that Vince McMahon still believes he can re-sign Ambrose. Announcing that he will be leaving the company in April sounds like they have given up, though. Perhpas Ambrose will reconsider and he won't go anywhere, but for now it looks like he is on the way out.
So if Ambrose is leaving WWE, where is he going? The obvious answer is AEW; if Ambrose is really interested in creating for himself and becoming a big star, linking up with Cody Rhodes' promotion that's by-wrestlers-for-wrestlers is the logical choice. Ambrose would be a huge get for AEW; he's a recognizable WWE star that is in the prime of his career and has some cache with hardcore fans. AEW has reportedly stayed away from ex-WWE stars; probably in an attempt to avoid being labeled as a knock-off of WWE, but Ambrose is the kind of talent that you make an exception for.
If Ambrose is being driven by his own creative passion and not by money, he could do great things. Rhodes left WWE under similar circumstances and look at what he has been able to do; and Ambrose is arguably more talented than Rhodes. A veteran of the independent scene before signing with WWE; Ambrose understands how to get over outside the cocoon of WWE, and if he has been shafted by creative for years, it's possible he has tons of creative ideas for himself that he has been unable to do in WWE.
Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling would also have to be considered as potential destinations. Both companies have the resources to make reasonable offers and Ambrose may favor one of those companies over AEW; it will be up to him to decide the best place for himself to go.
Ambrose in AEW does feel like the natural fit though. Ambrose coming into the company as a heel from WWE does have a bit of an Outsider vibe; and Ambrose was a very good heel when he was an independent wrestler.
The other major thing to watch is that if Ambrose does go to AEW, and he makes good money and has a lot of success; perhaps more established WWE stars will find themselves willing to jump over. It's entirely possible that Ambrose is the first major star not to re-sign with WWE as his contract expires, and that more talent may be on the way out.
I think in WWE, once he came back from his injury, the company never saw him as a top talent and he needed to be booked that way. He was never presented as an equal to Seth Rollins but he was never given that opportunity, and the scripted promos and Bane cosplay didn't help. He only had one PPV match against Rollins after he turned on him, and limiting what should have been one of the top feuds of the year to a couple of RAW matches wasn't going to get it done.
Lastly, I think back to a promo Ambrose cut back in 2009 at a Dragon Gate USA show. He was Jon Moxley at the time and yet to go to WWE; but his words seem eerily predicative of his situation today. Perhaps deep down Ambrose still feels this way; and he isn't going to be satisfied in WWE:
"I don't sing, I don't dance, I don't do tricks. I'm not computer-programmed. Nobody pulls me by puppet strings. That's not the way I like it. So, they will all tell you that I'm no good, that I'm trouble... a waste of talent, worthless indy-trash, right? Aha, why? Why? 'Cause I like to think? 'Cause I like to make my own decisions? 'Cause I'm not some famous' guys kid? Life isn't fair. In this world there are haves and have-nots — I don't have-nots but in the wrestling world what I do have: A talent, abilities, gifts that others can only dream of. When you're this good you don't have to listen to anybody, until you want to.
Don't worry I haven't lost my way. I'm one of the few people in this business. I know exactly who I am. I know exactly where I am. Wrestlers like me, they're distinct. I'm a living breathing ghost but you all don't have to be afraid. I don't want to hurt anybody. I just WANT — I just want whats mine!
Royal Rumble Match Ratings
Brock Lesnar vs Finn Balor: **1/2
AJ Styles vs Daniel Bryan: **3/4
Ronda Rousey vs Sasha Banks: **3/4
Becky Lynch vs Asuka: ***3/4
Men's Royal Rumble: ***1/2
Women's Royal Rumble: **1/4
Shane McMahon and The Miz vs The Bar: **
NXT TakeOver Phoenix Match Ratings
Tomasso Ciampa vs Aleister Black: ***1/2
Johnny Gargano vs Ricochet: ****3/4
Shayna Baszler vs Bianca Belair: **3/4
Roderick Strong and Kyle O'Reilly vs War Raiders: ****
Kassius Ohno vs Matt Riddle: ***