The Wrasslin’ Essay: Dean Ambrose’s Downfall

The Ambrose Asylum is on the verge of closing its doors.

One of the consistent issues with Vince McMahon’s booking during his long tenure atop the wrestling business has been his inability to make a star without breaking another. At times, McMahon has directly fed one top wrestler to the next, destroying any value remaining in the first, as was the case with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Other times, he’s become so distracted by pushing a new wrestler that his established star simply falls into a rut of performing watered-down versions of what they did when they were his favored act, such as Randy Orton. Still other times, McMahon seems so focused on the next big thing that he forgets what it was that made his previous top act a star worth pushing, like Alberto Del Rio.

The latest victim in this cycle of potentially huge stars laying broken by the wayside is Dean Ambrose. From WrestleMania 31 to 32, Ambrose was a key television character who had the seemingly at-odds jobs of trying to get Roman Reigns over with the fans who refused to accept him while also trying to provide them with an alternative to cheer. Like Magnum T.A. and the Road Warriors to Dusty Rhodes, the Lunatic Fringe stood half-dutifully and half-hopefully next to Reigns to try and make people wonder, “If he’s not cool, how could he have such cool friends?”

Ambrose pulled off those roles better than anybody in history and, frankly, better than he had any right to. He successfully orbited closer than any other body to the star that is Roman Reigns without being burned. He carved out a niche as a top babyface that fans actually loved and embraced in an era where at least partial rejection had become the default. He cut promos that, while surely as scripted as his much-maligned best buddy’s, felt real and impassioned. When Reigns was out with his hernia and facial surgeries, Ambrose kept the seat so warm for him that it seemed as though, with a few breaks here or there, the Lunatic Fringe could actually become the WWE’s top star.



Now, in the face of WWE’s New Era (which officially feels like a proper noun), Dean Ambrose has become the forgotten star languishing in multi-man matches and backstage segments on Raw. It seems that those on top misremember what made him such a vital, popular act. They mistakenly think that it was the weapons and the wild brawling that made him popular rather than the weaponized personality and wild brawler attitude. When it’s time to book him in what should be an important pay-per-view match, the powers that be say, “20 minute cage full of weapons,” as though what the fans really connected with was weaponry. This attitude led to a situation at Extreme Rules of total fan indifference to a man who had been an MVP candidate the season before, and that’s an indictment of the booking.

To see the cause of Ambrose’s fall from grace, fans need look no further than the emergence of “The Phenomenal” AJ Styles. In Styles, Vince McMahon found the tools to do what he’d wanted to do all along: get Roman Reigns over as a top main event star without having to push his second-tier buddy Dean Ambrose earnestly. Having Styles (and ultimately a healthy Seth Rollins) as an opponent for Reigns means that the champion’s shortcomings in the ring can be masked or minimized through the finely-honed, high-intensity work or his opponent. Because of AJ Styles, Roman Reigns was in main events that fans universally loved, which, from McMahon’s perspective, no amount of palling around with Dean Ambrose had ever accomplished.

What’s sad is that WWE should be able to have a wholly over AJ Styles and a wholly over Dean Ambrose at the same time, even without splitting the brands. However, a pattern that can be traced back as far as Rock n’ Wrestling demonstrates that a Vince McMahon-led company can’t manage the complexity of enhancing one act without impairing another.

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David Gibb

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One Comment
  • Rogue
    3 June 2016 at 8:21 AM
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    Not really. From the Royal Rumble up to and including Roadblock, Dean was *on fire*. WWE has shown they know how to book him right, they just won’t do it. Things have gotten bad from WrestleMania till now, which is a damn shame.

    I’m starting to get the feeling Vince is trying to ruin him. Funny thing is, they claim they thought his match against Lesnar would “get him over”. Uh, news flash Vince, Dean *is* over. And he got over by himself without help from the brass. If his match was supposed to help him, then he should have won. It would have been *huge*. But creative failed him. Again.

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