MJF Establishing Himself as Industry’s Top Act by Leading New AEW Faction

The Week in Wrestling: MJF on his new faction, Adam Cole looks back on his NXT debut and more.
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MJF on the decision to have five members in the Pinnacle: “I wanted to take something that was old and put a modern-day spin on it”

Led by MJF, the Pinnacle made its official introduction last week in AEW.

The moment served as a reminder that, on the microphone, Maxwell J. Friedman has no peer. He is already flexing that muscle on a weekly basis, dazzling in the ring while slicing opponents apart on the mic. And now he has been handed a unique opportunity, given the chance to lead a new faction featuring some of wrestling’s top performers.

Friedman is leading the Pinnacle, which includes the elite tag team FTR, an emerging star in Wardlow and Shawn Spears, who still has a lot to prove in AEW following a disappointing main roster run in WWE as Tye Dillinger. With Tully Blanchard in their corner, the group has every element needed to establish itself as the premier faction in AEW, especially with the charismatic—and infuriating—MJF at the center of attention.

“I am the biggest homegrown talent in AEW, bar none,” says Friedman. “It’s not even close, it’s a ridiculously uneven race. I was in the first match at All In against Matt Cross. Without All In, there wouldn’t be an AEW. Then I was in the first match in the history of All Elite Wrestling at Double or Nothing. I’m one of the guys that people are constantly talking about, and that’s something I am very, very proud of. I plan to be the face of AEW for a long time.”

Since he plays the role of a villain so convincingly, there is rarely a moment to detach and admire what Friedman has built in such an extraordinarily short amount of time.

“Nobody wants to talk about how the not incredibly tall, white Jewish kid from Plainview, Long Island, New York, was able to transcend into a giant in professional wrestling,” says Friedman. “People have all kinds of issues with me, and it bothers a lot of people that I’m not a character. I’m MJF 24/7. I’m blunt and I’m honest. If I were humble, people would have more of a palate for me.

“My rise has been meteoric. I became a top name in AEW at the age of 23. The only other person I can think of that’s on my level is Randy Orton, who is one of the greatest of all-time. Unlike me, he’s a third-generation star. No one was waiting with bated breath for me to show up at their wrestling school. I made myself into a top guy into this industry.”

Only 25, MJF now has the chance to be in the same position that helped further elevate Ric Flair when he led the Four Horsemen. That pairing allowed Flair to flourish, especially playing the role of an antagonist relying on his partners for protection. For Friedman, this is a chance to excel in a new realm. He will benefit tremendously from FTR, who are precise and devoted to their craft inside the ring.

Parallels to the Horsemen will naturally be made, but Friedman made sure this group had five active members instead of four. That ties to his modus operandi as a performer and artist, which is to always create work that is both original and distinct.

“I wanted to take something that was old and put a modern-day spin on it,” says Friedman. “It’s incredible to me that we are so talented that we have Wardlow in a Big Bubba Rogers position. He’s gigantic and a freak athlete. FTR is the best tag team in the world. I’m also so excited for the world to see Shawn Spears. He’s never received the proper spotlight, but now people are going to recognize how incredible he is.”

Currently in play for the Pinnacle is a feud against the Inner Circle, led by Chris Jericho. The story has been intricate, beginning when MJF befriended Jericho and started teaming up with him in November. That run saw Sammy Guevara briefly exit the Inner Circle, which was followed up by MJF attempting to get Santana and Ortiz to turn on Jericho. That plan did not entirely come to fruition, which will lead to some vicious battles between the two groups, perhaps eventually in a WarGames-type of setting.

“Those old-school WarGames matches, they are absolutely incredible spectacles,” says Friedman. “If Inner Circle-the Pinnacle does happen, it would be the best version ever of that.

“Personally, I’m not sure it would be the right fit for me. I’ve seen the ‘Lights Out’ matches, the deathmatches, and I don’t know if that’s for me. But down the road, if it made sense, this would be the best blood-and-guts match in the history of the business.”

Following the Pinnacle’s massive beatdown of the Inner Circle, MJF explained his intentions on Dynamite last week, articulating the plan to build his own faction that will define AEW.

The story also extends back to last summer, when MJF was chasing Jon Moxley’s AEW championship. They headlined the All Out pay-per-view in September, which Moxley won after hitting the Paradigm Shift, even though that move had been banned from the match. This tied into MJF’s claim that he was not part of AEW’s inner circle, so he would never receive the opportunity to be champion. The story then progressed by MJF causing mayhem as part of Jericho’s Inner Circle, and now he has his own group to clear the path for his first run with the belt.

“Their story has been in motion for the last seven months,” says Friedman. “After I beat Griff Garrison in a match last year, I grabbed the microphone and told the world that if I had a group, if I had a faction, if I had people watching my back, I’d be the world champion. That thought, clearly, hasn’t escaped me.

“The world title is going to be a defining moment for me. I can look into the camera and say, ‘I’m better than you, and you know it,’ and anyone with half a brain knows that is true. Unfortunately, there are people out there with only a quarter of a brain, and the only way to solve that is to win the AEW world championship. That will prove I am the best in the world, and that is a day I am looking forward to so, so much.”

As all signs continue to point toward NXT moving to Tuesday nights, allowing Dynamite to soon run unopposed on Wednesdays, MJF promised that the entire wrestling world will be even further compelled to watch the carnage he creates on screen each week.

“There are a lot of ways to counter-program in TV land, but there is literally nobody in all of professional wrestling that can counter-program me or deliver higher ratings than me,” says Friedman. “My advice, if they are moving to Tuesdays, is to go out there and have fun. Put out the best product you can, and just be glad you don’t have to go face-to-face against me in any capacity.

“There is no other choice but to watch the Pinnacle. If you’re watching the Pinnacle, you’re watching history in the making.”

Adam Cole on his NXT debut: “I had not planned to do my ‘Adam Cole, Bay-Bay!’ at all that night”

Adam Cole and Kyle O’Reilly are continuing their feud in NXT.

The pair have considerable history together, dating back to 2009 in Ring of Honor when they debuted as the Future Shock tag team. They split in 2012, meeting in a tag match at ROH’s Anniversary Show, which saw a babyface Cole and Eddie Edwards defeat a heel O’Reilly and Davey Richards in a nearly 40-minute main event.

Ever since, their stories always found a way to intertwine. O’Reilly’s final two matches with ROH—winning the world title at Final Battle in 2016, then, as a result of not coming to terms on a new contract, dropping it back in his very first defense at Wrestle Kingdom 11—were both against Cole.

Cole and O’Reilly were approaching their fourth year together in the Undisputed Era, but that faction is now fractured. Cole turned on O’Reilly, and NXT now has the potential to showcase a compelling story between these two stars, one that dates back in NXT to Cole’s debut in 2017.

Cole surprised viewers when he emerged at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn III. Unlike most new NXT arrivals, he was not sitting in the first row of the crowd. Instead, he unexpectedly came into the ring after Drew McIntyre defeated Bobby Roode for the NXT championship, attacking McIntyre after he was distracted by O’Reilly and Bobby Fish.

“That whole night was so special,” Cole says. “Normally the introduction of a new and important wrestler to NXT was to see them in the audience. When I found out I was going to do something different, and start a new faction, that was so cool. I remember it being very nerve-racking, wondering if the audience would care. Fortunately, they did.”

One of the more memorable moments from that night is Cole delivering his first-ever “Adam Cole, Bay-Bay!” line in NXT.

Yet since Cole was introducing himself as a heel, he decided he would close out his debut by sauntering off-screen, not by shouting out his signature catchphrase. Right before the show went off the air, however, Cole changed his mind.

“I had not planned to do my ‘Adam Cole, Bay-Bay!’ that night,” Cole says. “I remember getting to the top of the ramp, the crowd was cheering, and I said, ‘Screw it.’ I bent down, and everyone shouted it with me. That caught some eyes.

“That whole night, from attacking Drew McIntyre to doing ‘Adam Cole, Bay-Bay!’ with 15,000 people, was the perfect intro.”

The (online) week in wrestling

  • A pairing between Andrade and Thea Trinidad—formerly Zelina Vega in WWE—would add value to any company in their main-event scene. 
  • If WWE is going to give us Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn at WrestleMania, then the next few weeks of SmackDown need to go into the extensive history of their friendship and feud. 
  • A great deal was added this week to WrestleMania, including the Fiend vs. Randy Orton and a singles match pitting Bad Bunny against the Miz, but the most standout bout added thus far is Rhea Ripley challenging Asuka. 
  • The Arez-Hijo del Vikingo match from this past Sunday was spectacular and falls into a must-watch category. 
  • Laredo Kid makes his return to AEW Wednesday night on Dynamite, which is a chance to showcase his talent on TNT. If he ever were to sign with AEW, he could work an extremely compelling main-event program with Kenny Omega. 
  • On the topic of Omega, he returned to Impact on Tuesday night. 
  • Mick Foley wrote a fantastic piece advocating for Lex Luger to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. 
  • In a tweet that is certainly not safe for work, Eddie Kingston does a tremendous job highlighting Tony Schiavone’s new graphic novel. 
  • Will Ospreay won the New Japan Cup last weekend, then executed a terrible angle where he turned on Bea Priestley. 
  • Japan was hit with an earthquake last weekend, which was felt during a New Japan show. 
  • Dave Bautista announced that he will no longer be part of this year’s WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony, but it will happen at a future date. 
  • Hikaru Shida was incredibly powerful in the graceful manner she spoke up against hate. 

Bandido wrestling on the same night for both CMLL and Ring of Honor

A potential candidate for match of the year will take place on Friday at CMLL’s Copa Junior VIP as Bandido meets Volador Jr.

There is gold on the line, as Volador is the reigning NWA world middleweight champion, but the story here will be the action in the ring.

Volador represents the elite standard for light heavyweights in CMLL. Bandido is one of the more underrated performers in the industry, making his biggest statement thus far in the main event of All In in 2018, teaming with Rey Mysterio and Fénix against the Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi. This bout, which is a clash between two incredibly talented babyfaces, has the potential to be a brilliant display of the craft.

“I am very happy that I have been given the opportunity to face such a big star of Mexican wrestling in Volador Jr.,” Bandido says through a translator. “I am well aware that it is going to be a struggle, and I will need to be at my absolute best to deliver for everyone watching.”

Taking place only days after the outrageously entertaining Hijo del Vikingo-Arez bout for lucha promotion RIOT on Sunday, Bandido and Volador certainly have their work cut out for them. And Friday will be especially unique as Bandido will be performing for two different companies—in two different countries—at the same time. In addition to working the live CMLL show, he was also part of Ring of Honor’s pre-taped Anniversary Show, which airs on pay-per-view on Friday night. He is wrestling with Rey Horus and Flamita on the pre-show in the six-man tag title match against Shane Taylor and the Soldiers of Savagery’s Kaun and Moses.

“I am so proud to be part of MexiSquad with Rey and Flamita,” Bandido says. “And wrestling Shane Taylor and SOS is a great opportunity, they are so talented.

“People will see a different kind of communication in the match between myself, Rey, and Flamita, the kind that all other teams want. This is going to be an amazing match.”

Ring of Honor announced in January that Bandido had re-signed with the company. He noted that a key factor in extending his stay is his pursuit of the world title.

“The fact that I have not yet reached the highest of the company is the reason I stayed,” Bandido says. “I want to have the heavyweight championship around my waist, and I want my shot against Rush.”

Especially with his All In history, Bandido would also be a great addition for All Elite Wrestling, which is a thought that has also crossed his mind.

“My present is in Ring of Honor, but of course I would love to work there some day,” Bandido says. “I will always remember All In, most of all sharing a dressing room and the same corner with Rey Mysterio. That was a dream come true.”

Bandido has worked across the globe, starring in Mexico, Japan and Australia, as well as the United States and United Kingdom. Part of his goals is to return to Japan, where he would relish a chance to work with some of the talent in New Japan Pro Wrestling.

“New Japan Pro Wrestling is a destination,” says Bandido, who loved the idea of facing the iconic Hiroshi Tanahashi for the NEVER open-weight championship. “I would love to have matches in New Japan. If it is facing a wrestling legend like Hiroshi Tanahashi, then that would be even better.”

Friday night stands as an opportunity for Bandido to further cement his status in the industry. His six-man match for ROH should be entertaining, and he seeks to set a whole new standard of excellence in his career during the match against Volador Jr.

“I am going to put everything I have into this match,” Bandido says. “If I do that, this can be a turning point in my career. I need to make it special for wrestling fans around the world.”

Matt Taven and Vincent set to bring a unique fight feel to their Unsanctioned Match at Ring of Honor’s Anniversary Show

Ring of Honor’s Anniversary Show pay-per-view took a massive hit when the company announced that Dragon Lee will no longer be on the show. One of the most talented professionals in the industry, there is simply no way to replace someone of his caliber. But, in addition to a world title from Rush and the six-man tag, there is also a considerable amount to like about this card, especially the Unsanctioned Match pitting Matt Taven against Vincent.

Since returning from an ACL tear in 2016, Taven has been a cornerstone for ROH. His run as ROH champion was criticized at the time, but he put on compelling matches as champ, and he was unquestionably the best choice to go over in the 2019 Madison Square Garden ladder match when he won the title against Jay Lethal and Marty Scurll.

Taven has now showcased even more depth and range while working as a babyface in his feud against Vincent, who has placed a convincingly terrifying spin on his work as a sadistic heel.

Sources close to the talent have confirmed that the Taven-Vincent match was filmed at the Police Athletic League in Fall River, Mass., which is where Taven and Vincent first began training on the independent scene. All signs indicate this be a different type of cinematic match, one without camera cuts and manipulations.

The goal here was to deliver an old-school fight, emanating from a building that both men know well. Capturing a brawl, reminiscent of the type you might see after last call at a bar, was a primary objective, making this match appointment-viewing on the card.

Tweet of the Week

How is Sasha Banks-Bianca Belair not a main event at WrestleMania 37?

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