The movie that Dean Ambrose announced he’d be featuring in when he left WWE, before becoming Jon Moxley again and appearing in AEW, dropped this weekend for a one night only Fite TV PPV. He’s billed here by his real name – Jonathan Good – and plays Randy Stone, a pro-wrestler turned MMA fighter. Was the one night gamble, Mox-risk worth it?
Fair play to director/writer Jesse Quinones for allowing Moxley to ad-lib and breathe authenticity into the role. And fair play to Moxley and Jay “Christian” Reso (who appears as an MMA podcast presenter) for facing the digs at pro-wrestling head-on.
The premise is five-time MMA light-heavyweight champion, Reiss Gibbons, is offered a big-money crossover bout. A Clive Balls Top Tip here, when appealing to a mainstream audience, saying the guy is “Five Time Champion” does not mean five successful title defences. It does here.
Head of MMA organisation Legends, Max Black – played by Gina Gershon whom men from a certain age will recall with misty, faraway eyes from Bound – sells the idea to Gibbons’ best friend and agent, the charismatic Reggie, played by Elijah Baker.
Baker may be too endearing for his own good, he comes across as more real and engaging than Alexander Tanikie-Montagnani who plays Reiss. That isn’t to say the lead is weak – he’s not – he just lacks some of the Rocky-esque humour needed to offset the troubles.
For those who need a crash course on the formula here, familiarise yourself with Rocky III. It does depart from that style but you’ll appreciate the general gist. Continuing the nod to Rocky, Georgia Bradner plays the Adrian character, known as Ellie. She’s a tad different, she wants her man back in the ring so she can get the horse she always wanted. She’s cute, but I wouldn’t want to annoy her. There’s enough council crey-crey lurking in her expressions to make me rather face a pissed Randy Stone in a cage than tell her no.
A special shout out should go to Chuck Liddell. He’s a pure MMA fighter, dipping his toe into the acting waters, and he came across as one of the most natural on screen.
The downsides of the movie would be some of the production values. It’s clear there is a staged audience during ring-walks and no stadium during the fights. But these are cancelled out by the intensity of the fight scenes. It’d be easy to be dismissive before the film of how the combat scenes will play out but each bout is gripping and hard-hitting.
It could have benefitted from more character work, something a sequel could explore and there’s no doubt the many AEW fans who flocked to see the PPV would have enjoyed more Moxley time. He proves that whether playing heel or face, he’s unmissable entertainment. His angst at not being taken seriously in the early movie is top drawer, reaching a climax when he draws on peak Mr T.
Overall, a good film, well worth checking out when it gets a wider release.