It was in Philadelphia, logging matches at Combat Zone Wrestling and Dragon Gate USA, that Ambrose (then known as Jon Moxley) got his crazy-man rep. It's also where he got the call to the WWE big leagues.
Tomorrow, Ambrose competes in the WWE Royal Rumble, taking place at the Wells Fargo Center and airing on pay-per-view, where he will be pit against 29 other wrestlers in a winner-take-all battle.
Ambrose shared some fond Philly memories when he spoke recently with Molly Eichel. He also had some fighting words for his opponents. "I'm going to win the god-d--- Royal Rumble in Philadelphia and probably go celebrate at the same dive bar I used to go celebrate at before and be the same son of a bitch I was then as I am now," Ambrose said. "It was also a strip club."
Q What does Philadephia mean to you in terms of your development?
I got a lot of hometowns. Philly is one of those hometowns for me.
That's the scene where I first really made name and built my reputation as a kind of guy who was willing to go to great lengths to win and perform and to have fun. Anytime I come to Philadelphia, it's cool for me.
I used to go to Flyers games and I would think, "This is a big-ass building." I would sit in the stands and imagine what it would be like to wrestle there, and to actually do it is pretty cool.
If I am going to win the Royal Rumble I wouldn't want it to be anywhere else.
Q Any particularly fond memories?
I was living in Philadelphia when I got signed by WWE. I was sitting there one afternoon, I just woke with a headache or something. I got a call from WWE that I thought was a prank, so I blew it off.
Later in the day, I got more phone calls and I realized they were trying to hire me. It was completely out of the blue. I had figured if it was my career destiny to be an indie cult hero, then so be it.
Q How did working the indie circuit in Philly inform the wrestler you are today?
I was working at CZW, and they were infamous for death matches - violent matches that pushed the boundaries for what is safe or smart or in good taste or whether this is good entertainment - and they just took it as far as possible. It was the perfect place I needed at the perfect time.
I was really starting to understand myself as a personality, characterwise, and learning how to be myself. I was really creatively clicking.
I got to the WWE because my reputation for being the craziest son of a bitch walking the planet.
Q Do you have any strategy for the Royal Rumble?
My plan is to wrap myself in barbed wire, like a mummy, because then no one will want to grab me because they'll risk a serious laceration. If you're going to engage in any kind of an altercation with me, I might get hurt but you're not going to walk away unscarred. There are 29 other guys that are going to get stung.
It's foolproof, right? Or I'll handcuff myself to the post. I plan on being there for a long time.
Q How do you train for a Royal Rumble match? They tend to last a long time. You have to have stamina.
I'll take long, long runs and long bike rides. I'm always training for stamina, anyway, because I'm never going to be the biggest guy or the strongest guy.
I train for endurance and agility. I'm not going to throw 27 people over the rope at one time, but I am prepared to be pounded on for 60 minutes or so.
Q Every time I watch you wrestle, I can't help but think that wrestling in jeans must be pretty uncomfortable.
I found a pretty good brand of jeans, called Joe's Jeans, that are light and stretchy. I wear to the building the same thing I wrestle in, and then change later into the exact same outfit.
It dawned on me that wrestling trunks are outdated. Like, Pat O'Connor had to the wear them in the '40s, but now we're running around the building, we're going through tables, we're getting hit by tables. Anything can happen in a WWE match today. People are coming in from the back and attacking someone in their underwear.
Imagine you are in a bar and you get into an altercation and you are like, "OK, let's take this outside. Take off your pants. Let's go."