By Jeff Lutz, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@JLutz82)
MJF’s toe-to-toe promo with Chris Jericho on Wednesday’s AEW Dynamite was a breakthrough moment for the young performer and for those of us who were unfamiliar with MJF’s pre-AEW work.
The promo started with MJF working solo, establishing his status as the most unlikable heel in the company, continued with him playing off Jericho as if MJF was also a 25-year veteran instead of a 23-year-old relative newcomer, and ended with observers like me considering the possibilities.
Those possibilities seem endless for MJF, who has already carved out a unique role in AEW as the only performer to draw consistent and unwavering boos. Jericho is great as a heat magnet – maybe the best the business has ever seen – but we know him too well to truly dislike him. We know he’s in on the joke, and he knows we know, so any negative reaction he receives is always attached to an appreciative wink and a smile from both sides.
That isn’t the case for MJF, who initially drew cheers as the sidekick to AEW’s top babyface, Cody, in a role he was never destined to keep. MJF simply can’t be a good guy, not now and maybe not ever, even though eventually fans will come to love him for his masterful work the same way they love Jericho. His look, personality, and verbal delivery all peg him as a villain – a much-needed villain who can vault AEW further into the mainstream.
I’m not immersed in all things wrestling, but I’m growing to love AEW even though I’m unfamiliar with many of its characters. I don’t know whether stars such as Darby Allin, Orange Cassidy, Hangman Page, or Scorpio Sky have reputations as fan favorites or if they’ve been hated at previous stops. I do know that all of them have been cheered since the launch of AEW and that longtime fans of their work feel invested enough in their personalities to celebrate them being on national television.
Even some of the other members of Jericho’s Inner Circle, particularly Santana and Ortiz, have redeemable qualities that keep them from becoming truly despised. Jake Hager and Sammy Guevara are well on their way, but nobody has vaulted into the realm of hate the way MJF did with a single act – throwing in the towel from Cody’s corner in Cody’s pay-per-view loss to Chris Jericho, then attacking Cody after the match – and a follow-up promo that set a perfect tone for the direction of his character.
MJF became a main eventer in that five-day period, even if his immediate future likely doesn’t include a run as AEW Champion. He has a ready-made feud with Cody and is already trusted enough on the microphone to apparently serve as the mouthpiece for Wardlow, who debuted to attack Cody on MJF’s behalf last week. His quick rise is exactly what AEW needs at this early stage of the company’s development. MJF can’t “make” Cody, but inserting MJF into a rivalry with the company’s top star will elevate the wrestlers MJF works with afterward.
We’ve reached paragraph eight without discussing MJF’s in-ring capabilities, the aspect of his work with which I’m most unfamiliar. At 23 and with limited experience, I can’t imagine MJF being as much of a natural as a wrestler as he is on the mic.
But any in-ring shortcomings, as long as they’re not egregious, will always be overshadowed by his talking skills. As long as fans want to see him get beat up, and pay to do so, it won’t matter how pretty his matches are. MJF can use his smarmy nature to increase the popularity of the wrestlers mentioned above among fans who didn’t see their matches on the independent scene and don’t yet have a reason to pull for them.
MJF is in the perfect company to continue his development. He can flesh out a more multifaceted, evolving character with Jericho’s assistance and can learn the art of in-ring storytelling by working with Cody. He can also polish his wrestling while working simultaneously with MLW in a lower-profile, lower-stakes environment.
MJF is far from a finished product, but that’s part of his appeal – just how good can he be? Finding out the answer might take ten years, but MJF already has the skills AEW can harness into a character that makes his and the company’s initials that everyone knows.