AEW should be stoking the flames from the hottest promo in wrestling and not let it flame out
Now let me be clear, I’m well aware that it is incredibly early to say AEW is dropping the ball with this, but in my opinion, there have already been missed opportunities and mistakes that could have helped make this angle better. I will lay out below, what mistakes I think they have made and things that I would strongly suggest that they do that could add to this angle
Over the past few weeks, I have written multiple pieces on MJF, and the reason for that is really simple he is one of the hottest acts in wrestling today along with Cody/Seth. As I covered in my MJF probably jumping to WWE in 2024, there is real heat between MJF and Tony Khan over money and creative and as I stated there is plenty of time between now and January 1, 2024, for both sides to come to an agreement, but unless something significantly changes my opinion is he is probably going to WWE.
Of course, since that article dropped MJF delivered his pipebomb promo, which as I wrote about was one of if not the best shoot style promo I have ever seen. I know there are some fans that believe this has all been some long dragged-out work from the first promo of him mentioning his contract status and him repeatedly being open to jumping to WWE. I’m sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but in my opinion that is highly unlikely.
My personal opinion is both sides realize that they are stuck together until at least January 1, 2024, so let’s make some money together by turning the real-life issues into an angle. It is certainly not the first-time professional wrestling has blurred the lines by taking a real situation and making an angle out of it. To me, the hottest and best angles in wrestling are those that blur the lines between real and work.
History Of Blurring the Lines:
Over the past twenty plus years, we have seen the real-life dislike or hatred between competitors who cannot stand each other being willing to put that aside in order to do business together. The best examples of this have been Shawn Michaels/Bret Hart, Matt Hardy/Edge and most recently Becky Lynch/Charlotte Flair. When that line is blurred it raises the temperature of any feud and grabs the fans attention as it is compelling to watch.
As I previously wrote, I think one of the best things wrestling started to do was re-embracing is elements of realism in various storylines. In the era, where fans myself included think we know exactly where an angle is going, we love for twists that keep us on our toes. When the question arises what is scripted and what is a shoot, that keeps our attention.
You can look back in wrestling history and the feuds and moments that were shoots or had elements or realism that blurred the lines are some of the most talked about legendary years later. These performers involved cemented legendary status in this business.
In 1995, Brian Pillman created the “Loose Cannon” character. A character that gave the appearance of a performer going off script and one of most important elements of making it work was that very few people were in on the fact it was a work and Pillman was fully committed to making everyone including his peers backstage that he really was crazy.
In 1996, Scott Hall made his return WCW coming through the crowd unannounced and cut a promo implying that he was sent from the WWF to take over WCW. Soon Kevin Nash would join him as the latest WWF invader. It blurred the lines in its presentation that fans were left going wait was that supposed to happen. It even caused WCW being sued by the WWF because of the presentation that it was WWF’s Razor Ramon and Diesel characters invading WCW.
In 1998, the WWF shot one of their most iconic moments if not the most iconic moment in Raw history. Having the “Baddest Man on the Planet” being confronted by “Toughest SOB in the WWF”, in a moment that had “Iron” Mike Tyson and Stone Cold Steve Austin get into a shoving match. With security pulling both men apart, this chaotic scene did exactly what the WWF wanted it created a buzz not only amongst wrestling fans, but got WWF huge mainstream press hyping WrestleMania 14.
The reason for the little look into past moments in wrestling history was to remind longtime fans and even those new to wrestling fandom, that realism or the perception of it, has created some of the most iconic moments in this business. MJF is a once in a generation performer that has always understand the big picture that you have a limited window to not only build a legacy, but to make money. MJF is looking for a substantial payday whether that money is coming out of the bank account of AEW or the WWE doesn’t matter to him. MJF wants to be where he can build a legacy in front of the most fans and make the most money as possible.
MJF is a student of the game and unlike many of his peers of his generation, he knows his promo ability and in ring style will likely allow him to have a longer career than his peers who are only concerned with risky dives and match star ratings. MJF is a student of arguably the greatest mic man ever, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, many tried to imitate Piper’s style and impact on the mic, but NO ONE in my opinion have ever come close to it except for MJF.
In AEW’s short history, in my opinion MJF has consistently been the most compelling talent in whatever angle he was involved in. His short rivalry with Darby Allin, that embraced realism with MJF bringing up Darby being in the car when his drunk uncle was driving that resulted in a crash that took his life and telling Darby the wrong man died that day. His very heated feud with CM Punk that has not only been the feud of the year in AEW but is in the running for feud of the year in the industry as a whole. This feud’s two biggest highlights for me are MJF’s childhood promo and the fantastic dog collar match. Both the Darby and Punk rivalries fully embraced elements of realism and they were so compelling, and those elements contributed to it being so compelling.
After The Pipebomb:
As I have already said the pipebomb was absolutely fantastic and MJF completely showed yet again in my opinion that MJF is the most important talent on the roster and is leaps and bounds better than anyone else on that roster as a STAR. MJF has consistently shown he is the most compelling talent and really should be one of if not the highest paid talent on that roster. There is no hotter heel or better man on the mic in the entire industry.
After he dropped the pipebomb that cut his mic, which was the right move, but then they removed him from the roster on their site and removed his merchandise. This was done in an attempt to make this angle to appear to be real and not a work. To me removing the merchandise, was actually really dumb because after that hot promo fans will want to buy his stuff, so they are missing out on all those sales that they will likely never get back. Then on AEW TV a week after the pipebomb they ignored it like it never happened. Ignoring what happened and just keeping him off TV and not mentioning him is not helping build the angle as real in my opinion.
What AEW Should Have Done & Should Do:
AEW should have made an announcement that MJF was “indefinitely suspended and fined” for his “unprofessional actions” on AEW Dynamite. They should have issued an “apology” to the fans, their sponsors and TBS. On the next week’s Dynamite, I would have the announcers read the announcement “apologizing” to the fans and use MJF’s real name “Maxwell T. Friedman”. Maybe even post something like get your discounted MJF merchandise, even discounted merch is more profitable than not selling any. Like the company is considering releasing him so they discounted his merch. This would be added layers of realism and blurring the lines a little between work and shoot.
I agree you should keep MJF off of AEW TV in order for the appearance that this is all real, but he should not be kept out of the public spotlight. As I controversially wrote about before, AEW needs to start seeing the big picture and this is the perfect angle to use to get mainstream attention to attract casual fans. That mainstream attention that this angle can help generate can help bring in casual fans interest that can bring more eyeballs to your product. The reason the nWo and Austin/McMahon feuds worked so well is because they were able to connect to the audience using elements of realism and focused on getting mainstream attention and became part of pop culture.
In the age of podcasts and social media, even though MJF is off AEW TV he should not be out of fans minds. MJF should be live tweeting during WWE programming and praising the product and saying he cannot wait to be there in 2024 and he should be live tweeting during AEW programming burying the product saying he cannot wait to be gone and demanding his release. He should be giving interviews not only within the wrestling bubble but have him be interviewed by mainstream outlets like TMZ and Sports Illustrated venting his frustration with Tony Khan and AEW. Have “MJF” take a full-page ad in let’s say the USA Today or some other major publication(s) demanding his release.
Again, this blurs the line that will make the fans question whether or not it is real or just some storyline. Even the tiniest seed of doubt is better than the entire audience going this is just a work. This can also get the attention of casual, former and non-fans alike who will wonder what this is all about and could be interested enough to look into who MJF is and possibly checkout the AEW product to see what is going on.
To me the perfect option that AEW has to further blur the line that they should be taking advantage of is the promotions that they have a partnership, by having MJF making surprise appearances for shock value. Their partner promotions will likely be happy to be involved because having the hottest act in the business today appear on their show gives them added publicity as well. The first one of these, I would have done was they should have reached out to Billy Corgan the moment the NWA World Champion, Matt Cardona, went down with an injury.
With Cardona injured the NWA was in a bind because they had a PPV scheduled, and Tony could have reached out to Corgan with the idea that MJF being a surprise for the PPV. Not just an appearance though, MJF arrives demanding in the Fatal 4-Way that took place to crown the new NWA World Champion. MJF could have easily taken Sam Shaw’s place in this match and instead of Trevor Murdoch regaining the 10-pounds of gold, it could have sent shock waves if it went around the waist of the salt of the earth.
MJF then could cut a promo that disparages CM Punk the reigning AEW World Champion and say something like unlike AEW, when the NWA World Champ gets injured, they do the right thing and have them relinquish not book some convoluted series of matches to name an interim champion. This dig takes a shot at Punk (possibly setting up a future match up), it should “piss” Tony Khan off and the AEW fans as well. MJF praises the NWA and the legacy of the championship, while taking digs at AEW’s World title lacking the prestige and history of the NWA World title.
Tony then issues a statement “berating” Billy Corgan and the NWA for not notifying him that MJF was appearing there and threatens legal action against MJF for appearing for another promotion without permission.
Then a week later at the 20th anniversary celebration of TNA/Impact Wrestling at Slammiversary, MJF once again shows up unexpectedly and again makes his presence felt like only MJF can by cutting a scathing promo. MJF cuts Scott D’Amore off as he is talking about the 20-year history of the promotion. Scott says, “hey Tony Khan has told all his partners that we are not allowed to have you on our shows”. MJF says, “he is such a f*cking mark and an amateur. See I had my best friend’s dad, who’s a lawyer (a little easter egg to his old partner in MLW’s Dynasty, Richard Holliday) draft my AEW contract.
Apparently, Tony doesn’t read the contracts he has talent sign, just ask all those ex-WWE rejects he keeps signing for a lot more money than he is paying me. My contract says I’m free to appear for any promotion not named WWE as long as it doesn’t conflict with an AEW booking and since that idiot suspended me, I have no conflicts Scott”. Scott looks at the contract and goes well it looks like you are right Max. Max then proceeds to cut yet another pipebomb promo burying AEW and Tony Khan.
MJF continues to make appearances in various promotions essentially doing the same type of stuff for months and possibly winning some more gold along the way.
Tony Khan then issues a statement he is suing MJF for slander. Again, this is all being done to believability that the lines are being blurred on what is real and what is a work and creates unpredictability with the fans as they will have no idea where MJF could show up next. The only certainty is he won’t appear on WWE TV at least until January 2024.
The Return To AEW:
I know Tony Khan has said he doesn’t want to be an on-air character like Eric Bischoff and Vince McMahon have been, but I think for this angle he absolutely needs to be. Since AEW has no other authority figure, it has to be Tony Khan for this angle to work. In order for this to have a maximum impact, I’d have Tony Khan do one of his “Big Announcements” in the mid-August that it has been long enough, he is inviting MJF to the following week’s Dynamite for a summit just the two of them in this very ring to work out their issues.
The summit takes place with MJF cutting Tony to shreds as he is trying to be diplomatic and make peace with MJF. Tony starts to lose his cool and gets nasty and snarky with MJF telling him that AEW doesn’t need him and never did. It turns into a shouting match between the two until MJF does the unthinkable and attacks Tony Khan. The show ends with CM Punk running down for the save along with other talent as MJF escapes through the crowd yelling “fire me b*tch!”
This is all done to setup MJF vs CM Punk for the AEW World Championship at All Out 2022. CM Punk showing loyalty to Tony Khan as his champion is taking up Tony’s honor. CM Punk issues the challenge to MJF, but MJF tells Punk he doesn’t just want his title he wants more. I used to look up to you Punk, but now I just want to end your career. Punk and MJF what they do best and deliver heated shoot style promos taking shots at one another leading to All Out. The match can be a winner takes all with the AEW and NWA World Championships being on the line, as both men are big on the history of the business and Punk saying he will take the 10-pounds of gold from him.
At All Out, MJF surprises everyone by defeating CM Punk and finally winning the AEW World Championship. This can then setup MJF as the renegade champion that Tony Khan “doesn’t want” representing AEW as they can have their own version of Austin vs McMahon.
This angle can drag out for the rest of 2022 and throughout 2023, with MJF feuding with a variety of pillars or representatives of Tony Khan/AEW. If done right this can become the hottest angle in AEW history and drive interest to the product from mainstream fans raising the company’s profile.
Whether this ends with MJF re-signing with AEW or ultimately ends in a loser leaves AEW match at possibly All Out 2023, with MJF losing the AEW World Championship to let’s say Darby Allin or CM Punk or Wardlow for example. This angle has money written all over it, but AEW needs to handle this correctly and embrace the fact they need to maintain the realistic feel and bring in mainstream/casual fans for maximum payoff. This angle can pay dividends for AEW if done right regardless of whether or not MJF stays, but as I have said before AEW losing MJF will be a significant loss to the company that they will struggle to recover from as he is a once in a generation talent.
What I’m ultimately driving at here is this angle could be an absolute game changer for them in attracting fans outside the wrestling bubble. AEW needs to take full advantage of the shoot style of this angle and Tony Khan needs to use whatever resources or contacts he has to get MJF and this angle out there in the mainstream and throughout the industry as well like I suggested above.
If the plan is just to ignore MJF exists for 3-months and just have him return out of nowhere you may get the momentary ratings pop, but not the maximum long lasting potential if you play this angle out attracting mainstream and casual fans as well giving the product way more exposure than they ever had before. The company needs more than just the same 900K to a million fans a week in order for long term growth and to turn a profit and to get that big TV deal they want. This MJF angle is certainly a catalyst to get all that if they maximize this angle like I have suggested and play this out correctly.
Photo Credits – AEW, WWE, NWA & Impact Wrestling