MJF’s Unmatched Bravado Propels Him to the Top of the AEW Card

The Week in Wrestling: MJF’s rapid rise to the top of the wrestling world, Goldberg’s showdown with Bray Wyatt and more.
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MJF and Cody Rhodes meet Saturday at Revolution

MJF is an outlier in All Elite Wrestling.

In the nine months since Double or Nothing, the top of the AEW card has largely been filled with performers who have already established themselves as pro wrestling stars.

Cody Rhodes left WWE believing he was capable of being a headline act, but that does not detract from all he accomplished in his time with the company. Kenny Omega had a run as IWGP heavyweight champion and broadened the horizons of North American fans with his matches in New Japan with Kazuchika Okada. Chris Jericho is a wrestling legend. Jon Moxley was a WWE staple as Dean Ambrose. The Young Bucks became a household name among wrestling fans with their iconic Ladder Wars in Ring of Honor. Even Hangman Page had a superb opportunity as a part of New Japan’s G1 Climax tournament in the summer of 2018.

Maxwell Friedman, 23, offers a much different pedigree. The budding star known as MJF broke into the business exactly five years ago in February 2015. He trained under Pat Buck and Curt Hawkins at the New York–based Create a Pro Wrestling Academy and created his own success throughout the independents. MJF also benefited from the exposure of working with Major League Wrestling, but he has yet to receive an opportunity atop a card on a major pay-per-view.

That all changes this Saturday when he faces off against Cody Rhodes at AEW’s Revolution.

AEW wrestler Maxwell J. Friedman (MJF) smiles wryly while sitting on the ring apron.

Hyperbole aside, the odds for success were stacked against MJF. He does not possess the pure athleticism of Sammy Guevara, nor the fearlessness to risk his body like Darby Allin. He has no generational legacy, and lacks the size to make viewers automatically envision him in the main event.

MJF is wrestling’s self-created star. His sharp wit and enterprising nature have done more than merely allow him a place in AEW—it has transformed him into one of the signature stars of the new company, a rare villain you love to hate.

“A lot of our top guys got a rub from Vinnie Mac, or a rub from a giant promotion, but I didn’t,” said MJF, who always remains in character, an amplified version of his already articulate, garrulous self. “I came into this promotion as a new, fresh face. I’m the only person who can legitimately look into any hard camera and say, ‘AEW was my first big break, and I’m the one who’s doing the most with it.’ That’s why I am the face of this company.”

A largely unknown entity a year ago, MJF has flourished on weekly live television. And though his work ethic is diminished, by design, through nonstop boasts and demeaning behavior, MJF has quietly bulked up his frame and worked tirelessly in the ring. While those are not ideal selling points for someone playing the role of a villain, MJF has stood out in AEW through a blend of charisma, in-ring ability, and an outrageous, unrelenting passion to succeed.

Revolution marks MJF’s first-ever singles match on AEW pay-per-view. He has been featured on other pay per views in multi-man matches, and he did have a program with Hangman Page that was featured at Double or Nothing, but even the most ardent MJF supporters have to be surprised by his relatively quick rise to fame.

Naturally, MJF shared that he never had any doubt as to whether he could claim a top spot in the company—though he occasionally divulged some revealing insight highlighting his personality and drive in between all of the bravado.

“There was never any doubt,” said MJF. “The funny thing about the independents is you got bookings based off of GIFs, the GIFs you see on Twitter. Someone doing a 759-30-splat-yada-yada, Darby’s coffin drops with the f---ing skateboard attached to his back, Orange Cassidy kicking people in the shins real slow, Jungle Boy doing flippity do-dahs and flippity-ays, the list goes on and on. I had a chuckle after my match with Jungle Boy when I saw everybody saying, ‘I had no idea MJF was such a great wrestler!’ Well, I knew. But why on earth would I put myself in a situation where I have to take these stupid moves? I’ll watch other matches and see moves and ask myself, ‘Why?’

“I’m as old-school as it gets in this modern era. I’m the last of a dying breed. I didn’t care about GIFs. I didn’t care about making people go home happy. I didn’t care about people going, ‘Oh, my god, his work rate is absolutely fantastic. I can’t wait to see his next five-star match.’ What I care about is making sure that when the people watching me put their head to their pillow, I’m the last thing they think about. Not because I hit the coolest moves, not because I’m putting my body on the line for their entertainment, but because I’m captivating. I do things my way. I don’t do things to make people happy or appease them. That’s what makes me different.”

The program between MJF and Rhodes built smoothly to Revolution. MJF was loyal to Rhodes over the past year, serving in his corner in a feud against Shawn Spears, creating a spectacle defending him at the New York Comic Con, and continually having his back in the build toward the Rhodes-Jericho world title match at Full Gear in November.

But as Rhodes’s cornerman against Jericho, MJF threw in the towel, costing Rhodes his shot at the title and then delivering a low blow to properly punctuate the moment. The ensuing story line has been one of the most compelling in wrestling, with Rhodes anxiously and desperately seeking redemption against MJF.

“Cody saw me at an independent wrestling show, and he thought to himself, ‘I can use this kid,’” said MJF. “He thought, ‘I can suck the money out of him that he’s going to make for my company.’ He’s right that I am a talented freak. I’m the best on the microphone, I’m the best bell-to-bell, nobody can touch me. And he would have been perfectly content with me being the Robin to his Batman for the rest of my life.

“He called himself my mentor, but to me, it was the equivalent to the Wizard of Oz hiding behind a curtain and pulling all the levers. You think it’s this big, giant man, but in reality, it’s this small, weak, feeble human being. He knows I’m going to be the bigger draw so deep down, with that stupid smile on his face, he wanted me to be under his thumb forever. So if people want to continue to boo me, that’s on them. It doesn’t change the fact that he was wrong, it doesn’t affect my paycheck, and it doesn’t affect the fact that, when I’m on TV, I continue to hit a home run.”

Few are witness to the work that MJF has poured into his character and presentation, endlessly studying pro wrestling’s modern history as he seeks any and every edge possible.

“I listen to every veteran,” said MJF. “I’ll listen to those old guys talk until they’re blue in the f---ing face. There is a reason they made money.”

Perpetually in character, MJF is producing an endless stream of must-see content for wrestling fans as he develops into one of wrestling’s top heels. And he is finding ways to capitalize on his success, feeding his ego and enhancing his promos with every compliment directed his way.

“There is nobody I can’t hang with in our company or in all of professional wrestling,” said MJF. “No one can do what I do, and no one has my personality. If you took my personality away from me, I’m nobody. I’m Joey Janela, I’m Jungle Boy, I’m Luchasaurus. But I’m not reading off a script. This is me.”

A victory for MJF on Saturday would elevate him to the top of the card, possibly even launching him into the world title picture. His pay-per-view encounter with Rhodes is critical to his future success in AEW—if MJF shines in this performance, then uses the momentum for a run with the world title, a rematch down the line against Rhodes, with the world title on the line, would be main-event worthy.

MJF is aware of what is at stake on Saturday, and he cannot wait for the opportunity.

“I’m not saying it will be easy, but I’m going to win this match,” said MJF. “Cody is the top protagonist in the eyes of the viewers. He’s willing to do insane things to prove his loyalty to his fan base and the revolution that is All Elite Wrestling.

“I’ve manifested my own reality, my own success, and my own destiny to get to this point, and I am going to be victorious. I’m going to beat the s--- out of Cody, and I’m going to enjoy every second.”

Could Goldberg be booked to upset the Fiend at Super ShowDown?

WWE’s return to Saudi Arabia this Thursday features “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt defending the Universal Championship against Bill Goldberg.

The possibility exists that a new champion will be crowned, but a title change here would make no sense. Goldberg is already a bona fide attraction with or without the title, and WWE has done such a tremendous job building Wyatt’s Fiend character since the summer. Since his destruction of Finn Bálor at SummerSlam, Wyatt has been the most captivating on-screen persona in all of WWE.

So why risk all of Wyatt’s brilliance as “The Fiend” with a loss to Goldberg in Saudi Arabia?

Nevertheless, Vince McMahon has certainly set the stage for a Goldberg win. He has had the upper hand over Wyatt since the start of the program, seemingly impenetrable for Wyatt’s signature tricks and head games. And there is a reason for this: Goldberg is protective enough of his character that he has a say in the direction of the story.

Fortunately, this all leads to a perfect solution. With Goldberg presenting a new set of problems, Wyatt should be forced to enter new territory to win. Whether that is using a chair to gain an advantage, or brainwashing someone else to attack Goldberg, the match needs to end with a Mandible Claw and Wyatt’s hand raised.

If it is in WWE’s best interest leading into WrestleMania to keep Goldberg looking strong, then he should be protected. But Wyatt does not need a DQ win heading into the biggest show of the year, and he certainly should not lose the title here—though that should be teased, and with Paul Heyman so involved in the direction of all of Goldberg’s story lines, it likely will. Goldberg can look strong, but Wyatt, one of the company’s top stars, also deserves that same protection.

A win against Goldberg this Thursday is a necessary building block for the Fiend. It would be wildly foolish to stray from the goal of enhancing the current stars. Wyatt resides in WWE’s elite tier, a place he should remain, and a victory here will continue to build his aura.

The (online) week in wrestling

  • WWE brought back the crooked referee story line this past Monday on Raw, as well-respected indie ref Jake Clemons revealed he is a disciple of the “Monday Night Messiah” Seth Rollins and delivered a fast count in the main event that would make Nick Patrick blush. 
  • On the subject of referees, WWE’s Tom Castor has been cleared to resume in-ring duties after suffering a horrific leg injury during an NXT match last April. 
  • I have long believed that Drew McIntyre is David in Goliath’s body, and his sit-down interview from Raw served as a perfect opportunity to show that, despite his massive frame, he is more of an underdog in the world of pro wrestling. 
  • WWE announced that, effective Monday, Samoa Joe has been suspended 30 days due to a violation of the company’s Talent Wellness Policy. 
  • Kenny Omega—who has a must-see Iron Man match against PAC Wednesday night on Dynamite—is returning to Japan for DDT Pro Wrestling’s signature Wrestle Peter Pan show on June 7. 
  • The opening round of the New Japan Cup was set to feature three stellar matchups (Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Kazuchika Okada vs. “Switchblade” Jay White and Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay in a rematch of their June 2019 thriller) but the tournament was thrown uncertainty when NJPW announced that it was canceling all events from March 1–15 due to the coronavirus outbreak. 
  • A late-announced—but very important—match just added to the card for AEW’s Revolution pay-per-view is Nyla Rose defending the women’s championship against Kris Statlander. Rose needs time to establish herself as champion, so it is too early for a title change, but this match is integral to Rose's starting off her reign as a force as well as meaningful for Statlander, who needs to continue to show the AEW audience that she is the future of the division. 
  • Questionable that it will ever happen, but an Eric Bischoff call to the WWE Hall of Fame would certainly lead to an unforgettable induction speech. 
  • Out of all of WWE’s talent, I still see Matt Riddle as the next major breakout, main-event star.

Tweet of the Week

The wrestling world knows the brilliance of Charlotte Flair. After her match tonight on NXT against Flair, hopefully the same will be said for Bianca Belair.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.