All Elite Wrestling’s biggest organic star has been off television for 63 days without a peep on when he’ll return. Since his new-age “pipe bomb” promo on the June 1 episode of “Dynamite,” MJF hasn’t surfaced. August’s first episode of AEW’s flagship show has a 99.999999% chance of being the ninth consecutive airing without the pride of Long Island, resonating with wrestling fans in that part of New York like Billy Joel. Everywhere else, he’s a supremely talented Nickelback.
Maxwell Jacob Friedman has no reason to be on the show tonight storyline-wise, but that’s part of his mystique. You can’t ever completely count him out of the realm of possibility, even if there’s a one-millionth chance it happens. He was taken out of the title sequences from both of AEW’s weekly television shows and all other promotional material since his break-the-fourth-wall soliloquy. That’s an ongoing story that entered a new fork in the road over the last two weeks.
As the fallout from Vince McMahon’s resignation as WWE’s chairman and CEO lingers throughout professional wrestling, and Paul “Triple H” Levesque takes over the company’s creative and talent-relations efforts, he’d be silly not to inquire of MJF’s availability to jump ship, just like “The Salt of the Earth’s” mentor and good friend Cody Rhodes did earlier this year. McMahon’s micromanagement would’ve watered down the bombastic, polarizing nature that makes MJF so entertaining.
Triple H has a small sample size as to how successful he’ll be in the new role and he’s never overseen a talent like Friedman. With Levesque in the driver’s seat, one of the big changes in WWE since McMahon’s exit is less scripting of matches and promos, per PWInsider. There’s also the aura of Triple H being a drastically better current-day internal leader than his father-in-law.
Let’s also state the obvious: MJF confirmed his contractual status in that last televised appearance. He’s signed with All Elite Wrestling until 2024. His easiest, and maybe only way out, if he’s still a disgruntled employee, is for AEW CEO Tony Khan to fire him. That begs the question: Why would Khan let one of his biggest stars walk to a rival company?
MJF might not take the call. Maybe Khan opened his wallet. This could all be an elaborate ruse blurring the line between reality and fiction in an art form of theatrical athletics. Or it could be exactly what Friedman is waiting for, either as a bargaining chip to bring to his current boss for a massive raise, to start a bidding war, or to start a relationship with a future employer. No matter where MJF falls in that blurry picture, I bet Triple H has attempted that dial. It would be my third call from his creative seat to “outside” talent, after Sasha Banks and Naomi.
When analyzing the future landscape of WWE, Triple H isn’t the only massive personality with weight in this situation. Stephanie McMahon, Levesque’s wife and Vince’s daughter, and Nick Khan — no relation to Tony or any of the owners of the Jacksonville Jaguars — are the company’s new co-CEOs. While Triple H was lauded for guiding NXT 1.0 and seems to have a strong rapport with the involved talents, we don’t know exactly where Stephanie and Khan fit into this. Expecting Raw and Smackdown! to become larger versions of prime black-and-gold NXT is foolish. There are too many cooks in the kitchen on the main rosters to seamlessly have that quality product appear, even if Triple H has a Gordon Ramsay-level acumen.
We’re into month No. 3 of MJF’s exile of whatever sort. Speculating as to his status is either 100% exactly what AEW wants, or precisely what they’d hate if he’s on the outs as much as his character presents. There’s no in-between. Friedman was a prick on television and did a phenomenal job translating that outside the squared circle. He’d give middle fingers to throngs of fans waiting in the heat to enter an AEW show, or to little kids getting a picture with him. He’s been rude during media interviews that are usually buttoned up as great airtime for live events.
MJF’s grievances only came to light after he no-showed a fan meet-and-greet in Las Vegas the day before Double or Nothing, AEW’s signature show, after being spotted in a casino beforehand. It was reported that Friedman had a flight booked out of town after intentionally missing the event. He did show up to wrestle former protege Wardlow 24 hours later, getting squashed and being met with deafening chants of “asshole!” louder than his entrance music. The following Wednesday was his last time inside the ring.
It was my educated prediction that AEW and Friedman buried the hatchet at some point. He was written out of storylines until the fall, or maybe even the winter. That’s the period when WarnerMedia will analyze the company for its next television deal. A blistering hot angle with MJF’s return with a hopefully healthy CM Punk in tow would do wonders. It’s not a huge mistake from the promotion. I believe this was a shoot-turned-work.
Would a possible MJF exodus from AEW be even larger than Rhodes’ exit? For a casual WWE fan, absolutely not. Being the grandson of a plumber and his previous “dashing” history conquers that alone for Cody. For someone that watches both companies, it’s way bigger. Rhodes ran his course in AEW and was thriving back in WWE prior to pectoral tendon surgery in June. No Friedman would turn a temporary loss into a permanent hole. Pure WWE fans wouldn’t know the generational talent within its walls. Securing MJF’s services away from Khan would be one heck of an early sign of raising the stakes of what a post-Vince-WWE is capable of from the ol’ idiotic daughter and doofus son-in-law though.