Often, in the wrestling world, discourse gets channeled into a binary. You can either like a wrestler or hate them.

With Jon Moxley, I neither hate nor love him. By all accounts, he seems like a nice enough guy, and is a decent wrestler with a fanbase, but on the other hand, I’ve never bought the idea that he is an elite-level worker, worthy of inclusion into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame among the best to ever do it. So, let’s explore why.

To start with, let’s look at the work case.

What is Jon Moxley, the worker, like? That he doesn’t wrestle in a highly athletic style is no mark against him. Many of the greatest were all about making the basics look good. And that’s kind of where his case first slips up. See, I know Moxley is a good wrestler, but there are certain repeating patterns: poorly laid-in strikes and sloppy offense that occurs far too regularly for the notion that he is an all-timer to really stick. His fans will tell you that ‘it’s all part of the charm,’ and I can buy that argument, some of the best wrestlers of all time were not polished performers. But given Moxley’s alleged premier style is brawling, you’d think he’d be a bit better at laying in the close-quarter strikes. Indeed, his run with the Blackpool Combat Club (BCC) has led to him attempting to emulate Bryan Danielson in certain respects, with less-than-pretty results.

Moxley also holds the distinction of being one-half of what I would call one of the worst match in AEW history, a majorly hyped exploding barbed wire match that ended in a literal dud. I know other people rated this highly—finishing 32nd in the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year countdown—but from my own rubric, when you take into account the hype, the hubris, the inspiration, the position on the card and the payoff, it was terrible. Though the sparkle debacle was not either wrestler’s fault, even before the countdown, I felt the match beforehand was a plodding affair that at one point featured Moxley DDTing himself into barbed wire. Maybe the idea was that it was to show sacrifice, but it came across as reckless and lacked understanding of the tension and artistry that made the original barbed wire matches so compelling

For the most part, however, there’s no denying that Moxley gets a crowd hot, and his matches are mainly good. His gimmick of bleeding in almost every match is cute, but again, in terms of artistic merit, it’s not exactly pushing any boundaries. I’m not arguing that he’s a bad wrestler. He’s obviously a really good one, but can anyone honestly say that in terms of performance, whether on promos, match quality, or just as a performer that Moxley has changed the game in terms of innovation or transcendent moments?

So, it’s certainly not work that is making the case for Moxley, so how about historical significance or draw? Since the launch of AEW, there’s been a whole raft of wrestlers that many are claiming have solidified their case due to the success of the company. AEW truly is a success story, though, with notable exceptions of The Elite and CM Punk, it’s difficult to argue that any one wrestler has been either essential to the brand or popped significant buyrates. Of course, now, Moxley is an established part of the roster and one of the top names. But there have been countless main eventers on televised wrestling in the past three decades. Some of them, for example, Randy Orton, Edge, and Roman Reigns are on the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot now; others dropped off (Samoa Joe comes to mind).

When we talk about historical significance, a good rule of thumb might be whether we see someone as contributing to the story of pro wrestling as an industry/art form. Wrestlers like Orton and Edge are famous, beloved characters within the WWE system, but I can’t really see them as being anything to the wider story of wrestling. Yes, they were given the helm at certain points in WWE’s history, but to me, a Hall of Famer is someone who makes the brand, not the other way around. Samoa Joe, on the other hand, is someone who generated an aura around himself in the 2000s, one that transcended whatever promotion he worked for. Does Moxley fall more towards the Joes or the Ortons of this world?

On the one hand, Moxley appears to be the guy that AEW has called upon as a reliable plan B when major line booking plans go awry. I’m not sure why this is often framed as a case for his Hall of Fame candidacy, as substitutes, even great ones, are not the stuff of Hall of Fame runs. This argument often takes on absurd levels where the claim is something along the lines of “Moxley was called on to save the company,” a line of argument that implies that AEW was somehow in danger of failing until Moxley had a title reign. Arguments like this want to have their cake and eat it: Moxley should get in because AEW is a roaring success, and he’s one of the top guys, but also, the company was very close to failing, and he stepped in to save it. Well, which is it? Is the company a success, or did he save a fragile entity?

I’m going to pose a question here: What has Moxley achieved that Christian Cage hasn’t?

Cage has never been on the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame ballot, but he has a storied career in wrestling: part of a legendary, genre-breaking, series of ladder matches, and a world title winner in multiple promotions. In a move very similar to Moxley, Cage jumped from WWE to bet on himself in the premier secondary promotion of the era. It’s perhaps another article as to why wrestlers associated with that promotion are routinely snubbed from Hall of Fame ballots, but if your argument is that AEW is conveniently in the Goldilocks zone of being clearly smaller than WWE but bigger than TNA ever was, and that’s why Moxley deserves to be in the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, then you are no longer arguing for a wrestler, but for a promotion and the wrestler who has become a proxy for them rather than an artist in their own right.

Take that other ‘Wild Thing,’ Atsushi Onita, anyone who has seen his barbed wire matches will recognize they are watching a Hall of Fame act. There is no need to start combing through drawing records or talking about whether FMW was a big enough promotion relative to others. So if your argument is that Moxley is a Hall of Fame wrestler because AEW is a success, then I’m afraid that’s not sufficient unless you can explicitly draw lines of evidence. Once we start getting into the idea that everyone who had title reign in specific promotions is worthy of the Hall of Fame, then voting itself will become soulless and perfunctory.

I haven’t really mentioned much of Moxley’s WWE career. As Dean Ambrose, Moxley had a strong WWE career as part of the Shield and even won the WWE title, but no one ever said that he was Hall of Fame material coming out of it. Indeed, while the Shield run was undoubtedly great, his solo run there, through no real fault of his own, was characterized by ‘wacky’ feuds and appearing weak compared to the S-Class of WWE’s roster, i.e. the people we would have no argument in adding to a wrestling Hall of Fame.

The main argument we’ve seen for Moxley seems to be that he has won the Lou Thesz/Ric Flair Wrestler of the Year Award twice. This is not a sufficient argument. That a number of fans voted for him as their wrestler of the year tells us very little about what makes him a Hall of Famer. In terms of building an evidence base, the results of fan-voted awards are secondary resources; they are the fingers that point us toward the primary evidence but cannot stand for primary evidence in and of themselves, especially in the era where we have more than enough tape to work with.

There are certainly points where you can argue for Moxley’s case. Arguably, given his strong showings in Japan and the US indies, he has a claim to be a brand of his own and not just an AEW figure. On leaving WWE, he demonstrated excellent public relations management in setting himself up as an outlaw-type figure, complete with artfully taken black and white photos of him smoking a cigarette and drinking backstage. As such, he became a successful avatar for all the lapsed WWE fans. Again, in a similar way to Christian, as a character, he is beloved as he stands for the alternative.

So I’m not rigidly against the idea of Moxley as a hall of famer, as there are certainly points in his favor, but perhaps we need to hold the horses until we get a proper career retrospective. The real danger of opening up the Hall of Fame to people at 35, is that we get people mistaking their current fandom for objectivity. There have been wrestlers in the past who were quickly bundled over the line at the height of their careers that, in retrospect, appeared premature. The addition of wrestlers like Moxley, especially at this unfinished stage of his career, would set a precedent where the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame simply becomes a popularity contest for current wrestlers, which would be a disservice to guidelines that were set up to patrol it.

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