Art imitated life last Wednesday when Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF) put on a scathing worked shoot rant that stole the show. His legitimate contract dispute with Tony Khan was used to convey a prohibited sense of astonishment.
MJF’s profane rhetoric laced with authentic and harsh criticism lobbied against Khan, and AEW was one of the most well delivered and passionate performances in a long, long time.
However, it didn’t sell anything.
Wrestlers are booked in speaking roles to advance a storyline while telling viewers why they should care about the next big match or a future event.
Comments in MJF’s tirade such as “I want you to fire me. You f***ing mark, fire me” are supposed to make the audience believe that MJF went off script and went into business for himself.
AEW never mentioned Khan and MJF’s strained relationship. They also didn’t tell fans that MJF might not wrestle at Double or Nothing when reports surfaced that a plane ticket out of Las Vegas was purchased for MJF.
Many promos can sound good, look good, and say a lot without saying anything. MJF’s speech sounded great, and he looked good saying it. Still, it didn’t advance any scripted narrative.
Regardless of how well the segment scored in the demo, there was no money in what MJF did on Wednesday. Yes, it was cool to hear MJF say things that many in the audience feel, such as, “Hey boss, would you treat me better if I were an ex-WWE guy?”
Cool doesn’t always equal dollars, and besides, no one believes that MJF talked out of turn during a televised broadcast. It was approved beforehand, meaning any real difficulties MJF and Tony Khan have in the future are essentially a work.
Boss: You mad? Please, talk about it publicly and use the F-word while you’re at it.
Employee: You got it!
Yeah, that doesn’t happen in the real world. And if that is how it happens in AEW, no one will care the next time the media reports another backstage tiff between MJF and Khan because the latter is trying to make money off of it.
On an episode of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s podcast, Broken Skull Session, Paul Heyman mentioned a promo he cut in the 80’s that he thought was sensational. Dusty Rhodes asked an elated Heyman backstage, “Where’s the money?”
Heyman forgot to mention the upcoming pay-per-view event’s name, date, and time. It’s difficult to sell a match to the audience when you don’t tell them where and when they can watch it.
Not all promos are created equal, and there is something to be said for a superb performance that stands on its own. Still, what was the point of MJF’s diatribe? To prove that he’s great on the microphone? We already knew that. To convince the audience what they were seeing was real? We were entertained but never fooled.
Worked shoot promos are often a one-trick pony equivalent to the shock and awe of a fireworks show. People love seeing bombs bursting in air on the 4th of July but not so much on the 5th of July.
CM Punk’s infamous pipe bomb promo in 2011 was in service of his WWE Title match against John Cena. While he referenced internet rumors and names that were a no-no on television, he didn’t break kayfabe.
Here are some excerpts from MJF’s pipebomb
“Because I’m not untrained like your faves?”
Kenny Omega admitted in a shoot interview that he never received formal training before he started wrestling. Allegedly, The Young Bucks never went to wrestling school.
The dilemma of untrained wrestlers is a behind-the-scenes debate as old as time. Some don’t mind, others loathe it. Most fans probably care which of their favorite stars went to wrestling school.
Those who believe Omega and The Bucks are overrated have even more fuel to criticize them if they learned about their lack of formal training for the first time from MJF.
-“Because I don’t pretend to watch New Japan?”
From local mom-and-pop independent promotions to the bright lights of sports entertainment, many behind the scenes love the work exhibited in the rings of New Japan Pro Wrestling.
It’s a passionate debate no matter which side of the fence you’re on. I know a wrestler who bleeds the red and yellow of the lion mark. I also know a promoter who feels New Japan is overrated due to its strong style presentation.
-“Because I don’t dump my opponents on their head?”
If wrestling was real, dumping your opponent on their head is a good thing. However, in make-believe land, this topic is two sides of the same coin. Certain types of suplexes are legitimately dangerous and require the wrestler to get as close as they can get to landing right on their head.
It takes good timing and skill from both wrestlers to perfect the moves, but (you knew there was a but coming), there is a weird tradeoff.
Whether they are giving or taking the suplex, some wrestlers take legit dropping someone on their head or landing on their head as a badge of honor. It’s not safe, but if both parties in a match don’t complain about it, it’s automatically perceived as awesome.
– “Because I’m not reckless?”
There are certain wrestlers in every promotion whose offensive repertoire looks like it legitimately hurts. Some are skillful artists who make it look good. Others are the reverse. AEW gets a lot of flak because it appears that they have more of the reverse on their roster.
-“Because I’m not chasing star ratings guys?”
Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer made the star rating system famous with fans and wrestlers alike. A five-star rating is the highest praise a wrestling match can receive from the famed journalist.
On his Something to Wrestle With podcast, Bruce Pritchard accused AJ Styles of being more concerned with getting a five-star rating from Meltzer instead of telling the story he was being paid to tell in the ring during his time in Impact Wrestling/TNA.
Vince Russo, in an interview, accused Christopher Daniels of the same thing. The Bucks, Omega, and others in AEW are openly friends with Meltzer, which used to be taboo. As a result, some believe the stigma aptly applies to many AEW wrestlers.
Striking while the iron is hot has never been more apropos; if AEW books MJF as the new interim world champion. However, between the swearing and inside baseball comments, it’s ultimately another example of AEW staying in its comfort zone instead of trying to expand its audience.
When CM Punk cut his pipe bomb promo, friends I hadn’t seen since high school or who hadn’t watched wrestling since the Attitude Era all asked with excitement, “Who is this CM Punk guy?!” and ordered Money in the Bank.
I didn’t hear anything about MJF.
MJF put on a performance for the ages on Dynamite and became the hottest topic in wrestling. His act, rant, diatribe, tirade, set, outburst, or speech has many names, but don’t call it a promo.