“It’s a crazy business we’re in, you know?” -Tony Montana
What started as a few tweets from those that were in attendance at the AEW fan fest a part of the Double or Nothing weekend became a major story online, as it made the rounds on various wrestling news sites that MJF, who is scheduled to compete in a featured bout against Wardlow at the pay-per-view, no-showed the autograph session. According to the tweets from those that were there, security at the event informed the fans that purchased meet and greet tickets that the AEW star’s signing was cancelled since he wasn’t answering his phone when the staff attempted to reach him. Fans were given the option to use their purchased meet and greet for another wrestler or were issued a refund.
Of course, given the cynical nature of the wrestling business, many assumed this was a work, but PWinsider’s Mike Johnson, the most accurate reporter in the industry, confirmed that Friedman legitimately no-showed the event. Granted, it’s still possible that this could be a publicity stunt, but what’s the pay off?
If this is a work then it’s a lame attempt by the promotion to get heat and the downside of all of it is exponentially bigger than any potential positive from such a stunt. First of all, All Elite Wrestling has a business model, much like many other forms of entertainment, that is designed to serve its audience. Those that follow the product invest their money through ticket sales and pay-per-view orders because of the program that AEW markets to them. Unless there is some emergency or family matter, it’s never a wise decision not to deliver on something the fans pay for. From what I understand, fans had to pay an extra fee in addition to the general admission ticket to meet the major names at the fan fest. There were fans that paid to meet MJF, and so far, there hasn’t been a reasonable excuse as to why he no-showed. More importantly, if this is a set up, it takes the focus away from Wardlow, who the angle is designed to boost to the next level so even if this is a misguided attempt to get heat, it still dilutes the effectiveness of the storyline.
All Elite as a promotion has a certain level of good will with the fans because of the spark that its existence brought to the industry. Instead of being dressed as court jesters on Raw, FTR had the option to sign with AEW, and have had some of the best matches in the history of the organization in recent months. The fact that Dax and Cash are two of the best workers in the business, but don’t have a match at Double or Nothing is a different discussion for a different time. The point being, the audience knows and appreciates that Tony Khan was willing to risk millions of dollars to launch AEW. Granted, even if All Elite flopped and went under in three months, the Khan family would still be worth billions of dollars, but the bottom line is, Tony Khan didn’t have to invest into a wrestling company to attempt to be financially secure. Sure, the goal for All Elite is to make a profit and the group has so it’s already a successful venture, but instead of everything that is involved in such a project, Khan could’ve bought an island where he could drink ice tea on the beach.
If the company was willing to work a situation where the fans intentionally didn’t get what they paid for, AEW risks the good will that it has with its fan base, which is difficult to earn in the modern era.
If this isn’t a work and MJF actually walked out, it’s nothing but bad press for everyone involved. Is it good business that there are rumors that one of the key matches scheduled might not take place? How does that help the buy rate? It’s not impossible that MJF went on strike, it’s happened in wrestling before, and it’s the promoter’s job to get the match in the ring. Vince McMahon paid to get Ultimate Warrior through the curtain at Summer Slam and then fired him directly after the match. If Tony Khan can’t deliver the pay off to this feud then how is AEW different from a local indy that Greg Valentine refused to show up for? Another key point to be made is that if this isn’t a work and MJF doesn’t appear at the pay-per-view because of a legitimate emergency or health situation, that’s not good news either.
Some have compared this to the Sasha Banks and Naomi situation since they recently walked out on Raw, and there are some similarities because it involves talent that are reportedly unhappy with their spot in each company. I will say much of the same about Friedman as I said about the Banks scenario, as far as what it translates to business wise. Assuming MJF isn’t happy with his deal, he has the right to refuse to perform for AEW, the same way that Sasha can refuse to wrestle for WWE, but the fact remains that each company has the leverage of a signed contract. It’s no secret that Friedman has expressed an interest to work for WWE, and right now, he has the momentum of a top angle on television behind him, but he’s legally contracted to work for AEW. In theory, MJF could stay on the sidelines for almost two years until his current AEW deal expires, but how much negotiating power would he have with a WWE contract if his stock drops after being away from the spotlight for such an extended period of time?
Furthermore and most importantly, MJF made a very unwise business decision if the story of a walk out is legitimate.
Obviously, he burned a bridge with All Elite, and even if this situation is resolved so that the PPV match can get in the ring as planned, how much of a push could he get going forward? How could Tony Khan ever trust MJF to put the world title on him without the risk of another walk out? The bottom line is, this stunt could’ve put a ceiling on how far Friedman will progress in AEW. On the flip side, just for the sake of discussion, if this walk out somehow gets him an early release to go to WWE, realistically, how much would the WWE want to invest in someone with a track record of threatening to quit the company? Keep in mind, MJF is very talented, but he doesn’t have the cache or the star power of Steve Austin or Brock Lesnar. Would Vince McMahon want to risk another Ultimate Warrior situation?
The bottom line is, pro wrestling is entertainment and that’s the job MJF signed a contract for. It’s his profession and his line of work. If someone refuses to go to work at an office building, their stuff usually gets mailed to them in a card board box. More than anything, the entire situation, which is undoubtedly a negative, has become the discussion instead of the pay-per-view. If this is a work, it didn’t sell an extra ticket or PPV because it gave the impression that a promoted match might not happen. It’s isn’t not a work, one of AEW’s top star refused to show up for a major PPV.
This really is a crazy business.
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Until next week
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