MJF:True Heel Or Cheap Heat?

(Photo Credit: AEW)

The new All Elite Wrestling world champion, Maxwell Jacob Friedman wasn’t in attendance for the post-Full Gear Dynamite, but made an appearance on last night’s edition to address the audience for his coronation as champion, including the reveal of a custom championship belt. MJF claimed that he was going to remain the champion until “the bidding war of 2024,” a reference to when his contract was rumored to expire before he signed a new deal a few months ago, and a way to imply that he could jump ship to the WWE. The subtle reference to the bigger organization wasn’t enough, as he went on to mention Nick Khan, the WWE executive that negotiated some of the massive contracts that will make the company the most profitable in its history for the next few years. He even name-dropped Triple H to shoehorn as many WWE references as possible in one segment. But there was more, when discussing his future title reign, Friedman name-dropped Hulk Hogan, JBL, and made a disparaging remark about Bruno Sammartino’s death.

So, was MJF being edgy or was he desperate to get heat?

The 26-year-old was originally noticed for his look, crisp in-ring work, and his commitment to his persona. In many ways, MJF stood out because he was willing to stay in character and be a “real” heel, which put him ahead of the pack, as far as emerging young stars, but at the same time, he’s only doing what everyone should be theoretically doing in the first place. There was a time in pro wrestling when performers as “real” heels was the standard, not the exception, and that might be why the genre is watched by less people now than any other time in its history. The concept of legitimate heat is often traded in for a social media presence so Friedman doing what others aren’t willing to do in the modern era is one of the main reasons he was projected to have a bright future when he inked a deal with AEW a few years ago.

That said, there’s a fine line between heel heat and trying too hard to be a “shock jock” so to speak.

I’ve written it before, there’s no doubt that MJF could be a top guy for AEW, but the whole, “he’s willing to go too far” shtick gets worn out if that card is played too often. If you try to use “shock TV” all the time, it’s not shocking, it’s just a part of the regular program, which is why such tactics must be used sparingly. A true top-tier heels, and I think MJF has some of these traits, can project their persona and get heat with how they present themselves. The body language, the mannerisms, and the facial expressions are the intangibles that truly make a heel. For example, Roddy Piper would draw the jeers from the audience just by the way he walked to the ring and looked at the crowd. Tully Blanchard got heat just by the arrogant way he carried himself. The point is, you knew these guys were heels just by looking at them.

Again, MJF has some of those traits, but more often than not, opts not to utilize them. Instead, there’s a lot of yelling and attempts to go “over the line” that fall short of that mark since that tactic is used so often. When you try to “go too far” too often, it becomes standard and thus loses its effectiveness. That’s why those intangibles mentioned earlier are so important since they intrinsically have a measure of longevity and substance for a character. Tully Blanchard looked like a heel, walked like a heel, and worked like a heel. He didn’t have to bring up someone’s grave to get a reaction.

That’s where this MJF promo was such a miss, in my opinion. When you take a second to look at the layers of what he said, he did no favors for himself or the promotion. If Tony Khan thought any of this was a good idea in his attempt to win “booker of the year” from The Wrestling Observer awards, he should re-evaluate his priorities. 

What did MJF actually say?

It’s a common talking point, but it’s still true, the constant references to WWE make All Elite Wrestling look minor league. Instead of the progress of the promotion making enough noise that the WWE has to taken their existence into account, these promos scream “Hey! look at me over here!” If All Elite Wrestling made enough of a dent in the WWE monopoly of the industry, it’s very possible that the competition could be a point of discussion in one of the conference calls where shareholders are given the report for the record-setting revenue the sports entertainment empire brings in each quarter. You’d never hear the WWE acknowledge All Elite on their television, and one of the many reasons is, AEW isn’t on the same level in terms of a global presence. When MJF references WWE, it lets the audience know that the WWE is the major leagues and thus the implication is that All Elite is a secondary product. If Triple H said with a smile, “see you next year, Max” at a media event, it would put him on the same level, but when the references only go one way, it’s clear that one side is the minor league.

As far as his comments about former champions, he indirectly made himself look like a subpar champion. He mentioned Hulk Hogan, who Tony Khan (thankfully) banned from AEW events. While I’m sure Hogan would be happy to take a massive payoff from Tony, and pin MJF to win the title, Hulk isn’t going to be booked for All Elite so what’s the point of mentioning him? JBL isn’t coming out of retirement to challenge Friedman, either so again, what’s the point? As far as his disparaging comments about Bruno’s death, if he can’t get heat without mentioning someone’s grave, how effective of a heel is he? What’s he going to do next time to get heat? If he mentions another deceased former champion, by nature, it will result in diminishing returns. The biggest point, though is that each of the former champions that Friedman mentioned are bigger stars than he is and are more well-known so why make the comparison?

JBL has almost twice as many Twitter followers as MJF. Friedman acknowledged a company on television that won’t acknowledge him of their show, and he named a few world champions that are bigger stars than him. How exactly did this promo put anything over?

The attack on William Regal was puzzling since he turned on Jon Moxley, the top baby face in the company, and cost him the championship. Why would the audience feel bad for Regal a little over a week after he betrayed the biggest fan favorite on the roster? While Regal is one of the best of all time and his selling was realistic, beyond the fact that he’s not a sympathetic character, the segment fell flat because it’s not a surprise that Friedman is a snake, that was the entire premise of the finish at the pay-per-view. Some have claimed this is how Regal will be written off of television for an eventual return to WWE, but I’d guess that Tony Khan is just trying to keep the audience guessing, especially because the All Elite audience are familiar with the rumblings around the legendary grappler’s future. That said, if Regal isn’t going back to WWE, I have no idea how Tony would use him on television with the way his character was portrayed in this angle. Thankfully, Regal is such a resource and a legend, he’d be just as valuable of an asset to the company backstage.

A match like Dax Harwood vs. Bryan Danielson on Dynamite is a way that All Elite Wrestling can be presented as a true alternative to the WWE, whereas the MJF promo just make the company look minor league.

What do you think? Share your thoughts, opinions, feedback, and anything else that was raised on Twitter @PWMania and Facebook.com/PWMania.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta