The Return of MJF Brings Electricity to AEW

“I’m back and I’m here to save the day”

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MJF: “I’m back and I’m here to save the day”

MJF is back.

That was unmistakable the moment his video began to play two weeks ago at the Double or Nothing pay-per-view. After dropping the world title on December 30 at Worlds End and taking the next five months to properly rehab mounting injuries, AEW’s ace–or more appropriately, its devil–stormed out to the ring, completely overshadowed rival Adam Cole, and cut a promo that reminded anyone listening why Maxwell Jacob Friedman is invaluable for AEW.

“Daddy’s back,” said Friedman. “Daddy’s going to make a change, and Daddy’s going to help the health of the company.”

A living, breathing embodiment of controversy, Friedman stirred up considerable intrigue at Double or Nothing simply through his choice of clothing. The denim/leather combo and ripped physique was certainly reminiscent of another fiery return promo, a defining moment of Triple H’s career that took place at Madison Square Garden in 2002.

“The jean jacket was over what I feel is my leather jacket, but that jean jacket was certainly an homage to a return that meant something to me when I was a kid in Madison Square Garden,” said Friedman. “I’m sure people can connect the dots. Outside of that, the video of me walking through one of my palatial estates in the most magical place on earth–Long Island, New York–looking at that trophy room, it allows people to remember all the moments I created in a very short period of time. The dog collar match. The epic promos with CM Punk. The Iron Man match with Bryan Danielson. The promo with William Regal. The Dynamite Diamond Ring and all the wins that came with that. Dinner Debonair. My pipe bomb in LA. Lashing and whipping Cody. Kicking Cody in the dick after I threw in the towel and ruined an opportunity for him to become world champion in my promotion. Me putting Wardlow through the paces.

“This is just a fact–I’ve created some of the greatest moments in the history of the business, and I’ve only been on national television for an extraordinarily short period of time. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again because it’s true–I’m 28 years old and I’ve already had a Hall of Fame career. There’s nobody you can compare or contrast me to, there’s never been anyone like me before.”

When MJF marched into the ring, he faced off against Adam Cole, the man who masterminded the demise of his world title run. A former Triple H-protégé, Cole is a star in his own right, and he has created lasting moments in AEW, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, NXT, and WWE. Yet the only comparison here is that one looked like prime rib while the other was lunch meat–MJF overshadowed the brilliance of Cole, and now the onus is on Cole to reassert himself.

“In 2019, I can safely say Adam Cole was the best of the best,” said Friedman. “Point blank, he was the guy, numero uno, with any and all promotions. I can also say, at the end of 2023, he was part of the top quarter-hour of every weekly television until he broke his ankle in two places. That’s it. You’ve got to give him his due. I refuse to say, ‘Give the devil his due.’ I’m the devil. He’s a cheap knockoff carbon copy and he’s also a p----, please put that in writing.

“I said it in my interview when I grabbed the stick–it’s not my fault everybody in comparison sucks a big ol’ bag of donkey d----. No one is on my level. No one has ever been on my level. Sometimes I feel like I’m jaywalking because I’m moving so much faster while everyone else adheres to the stop signs and the yields. There is no stopping with me, and that’s why I’m lapping everyone in the professional wrestling landscape.”

MJF at Double or Nothing
MJF at Double or Nothing / AEW

MJF recently signed a lucrative, long-term extension with AEW. He weighed out the option of working for WWE, which he shared was a very real possibility.

“Of course there was,” said Friedman. “Am I going to get into the weeds? No. At this point in time, this move made the most sense for me.

“I’m making a ton of f------ money. As far as when the contract ends, that’s nobody’s business but my own.”

MJF’s popularity has soared to the point where his name is even chanted at WWE shows–and those chants were especially notable during an appearance by Triple H on The Pat McAfee Show, which took place during the ascent of Cody Rhodes to the main event at WrestleMania 40.

“Cody Rhodes is a mentor of mine,” said Friedman. “I f------ love the guy. I love the Rhodes-a-coaster. But when Triple H is doing an interview on one of the biggest sports shows, whose name were they cheering in the background? My name. I’m not just the biggest star in AEW. I’m one of the biggest stars in the history of the f------ business.”

A point of emphasis during the return promo at Double or Nothing was highlighting how MJF is not a New Japan or WWE/Vince McMahon-made creation. That leaves him in very rare space in professional wrestling.

“The reason that promo resonated with people is because everything that came out of my mouth was fact,” said Friedman. “It wasn’t feelings. It was facts. Can you remember the last time someone became a household name and arenas in WWE were chanting their name when they zero exposure elsewhere? We’re talking the Crockett era, aren’t we? I take pride in that. AEW is my territory. But I’m a name in every territory because I made professional wrestling my b----. MJF made MJF.

“And you know what’s crazy? I’m still evolving. Nobody really knows me 100 percent ever, and nobody ever will. To coin a line from one of the greats, if there’s one thing for sure about MJF, nothing’s for sure. I almost look at my wrestling matches as a discography of sorts. Somebody might say to you that the match between me and Jungle Boy at Double or Nothing in 2020 is one of the greatest matches they’ve ever seen. Somebody might say the greatest match they ever saw was MJF versus Darby Allin at Full Gear, or that MJF versus Adam Cole at Wembley Stadium was the greatest spectacle they’ve ever seen, or MJF in the Iron Man against Bryan Danielson, or MJF in the Four Pillars match, or MJF versus CM in the Dog Collar match, or MJF versus Cody Rhodes. The list goes on and on. What’s so interesting about me to toot my own horn–toot toot–is because I’m so good at talking, people genuinely forget how great I am in the ring. Then they see me wrestle and say, ‘Holy sh--, MJF is the best wrestler in the world.’ And I don’t wrestle too often. That’s why, when I wrestle, it’s can’t-miss.”

An exciting prospect for MJF fans is that his matches should now reach a new standard. As he neared the end of his title run, particularly in December, he was compromised due to injury but refused to miss any obligations.

“As far as that Samoa Joe match goes, full transparency, my shoulder was so messed up I couldn’t even do cardio,” said Friedman. “When I ran, my arms would swing slightly–and the pain that would cause was unbearable. But I got in the ring that night to do my job. Frankly, I find that interesting. A lot of people in my generation are p------. Please print that. They’re too afraid to get in there when they have a boo-boo. That’s not how I operate. I take my job very seriously. If you put MJF on the top of the billing, I’m showing up.

“And one more thing about that match. Joe’s a tubby little b----, and if we ever wrestle again, I’m going to bite his face off. I will give him credit. That night, he was the better man. He outsmarted me. He didn’t out-wrestle me, he outsmarted me. And that’s never happened in the history of my career, so kudos to him–he earned that world title.”

An interesting debate following MJF’s return at Double or Nothing was whether the pay-per-view was the right forum for it, or if it should have been saved as a surprise moment on Dynamite. But it followed the pay-per-view culture of AEW CEO Tony Khan, which is to give paying customers more than their money’s worth.

“Based on the last-minute pay-per-view buys when people heard ‘MJF is coming back,’ that gave people no choice but to buy the pay-per-view–so it was the right choice,” said Friedman. “And if you really want to see me on Dynamite, the good news is I’m going to talk tonight–and I have a lot to get off my chest. There was a lot of sh-- I watched on my TV while I was out for all those months that really pissed me off, and I’ll be talking about it on Dynamite. I didn’t even scratch the surface at that pay-per-view.”

AEW is far more complete with MJF. An original since the beginning of the company, he adds an entirely different dynamic to professional wrestling. To paraphrase Voltaire, if Phil Jackson didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him.

“Frankly, everybody should be getting in line to kiss my ass,” said Friedman. “I’m back, so people have a reason to tune in. They’ve done a hell of a job carrying the load while I was gone, but everything’s going to be fine now. I’m back and I’m here to save the day.”


The (Online) Week in Wrestling

  • Paul Heyman has been integral in the development of The Bloodline story. His mic work last week with Kevin Owens was exceptional.
  • On the subject of last week, we saw a faux retirement–Mark Henry style–from AJ Styles.
  • Liv Morgan has helped carry Raw for the past three weeks. Her program with Dom Mysterio is compelling and will eventually lead to a big bout against Rhea Ripley, but it will be fun to see her make a very organic rise to the top of the card.
  • Adam Copeland gave an update on his health.
  • Paul Walter Hauser made more than a cameo in MLW’s Battle Riot, extending his feud with Sami Callihan.
  • Bron Breakker’s Frankensteiner was a thing of beauty–but let’s not dismiss the role of Ricochet, who was the reason the move looked so spectacular.
  • Who knew Chad Gable could be such an effective villain?
  • Jon Moxley defends the IWGP world heavyweight championship against EVIL in a lumberjack match at Dominion on June 9. Before then, the BCC reunites on Dynamite.

TNA Knockouts Champion Jordynne Grace wrestles in NXT

Jordynne Grace made her in-ring debut for NXT last night, defeating Stevie Turner.

It was a perfect enhancement match to showcase the superbly talented Grace to the NXT audience, especially as she will challenge NXT women’s champion Roxanne Perez this Sunday at NXT Battleground.

Grace, of course, is TNA Knockouts Champion. That makes her arrival in NXT even more noteworthy. And just like she starred this past January during her appearance in the Royal Rumble match, there is ample reason to believe Grace will deliver a career-defining moment on Sunday.

If you are looking to nitpick, the backstage segment was a bit contrived. That falls in line with the NXT style, but to its credit, it did set up future matches.

There is no doubt Grace will deliver on Sunday. The unknown to see where the WWE/TNA relationship goes from here and what TNA gets out of the relationship.


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Justin Barrasso

JUSTIN BARRASSO

Justin Barrasso has been writing for Sports Illustrated since 2014. While his primary focus is pro wrestling and MMA, he has also covered MLB, NBA, and the NFL. He can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.