By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Instead of rambling on for paragraph after paragraph, like I do every other week, I’m going to go ahead and in a Memorial Day twist, not bury the lede.
So, let me ask …
What exactly is it that MJF wants and when exactly did he decide that he all of a sudden needs it right now?
For those who either don’t care about AEW or had better things to do on a holiday weekend, here’s the short version of the story: AEW held its Double Or Nothing pay-per-view on Sunday night in Las Vegas, but ostensibly took over the place for nearly an entire week as it ran programming from Sin City and organized events from the desert throughout the weekend as well. One of those events included a meet-and-greet with MJF, who didn’t show up for it.
Fans were pissed because they paid a lot of money to meet the guy. AEW heads were (presumably) pissed because somebody under their watch let the fans down. And then, complicating things more, reports surfaced that MJF booked a flight out of town Saturday night and was going to bail on the Double Or Nothing PPV. The story swelled, as stories are wont to do in the Internet Wrestling World, and by the time Sunday morning came around, all anybody wanted to know was if MJF was still in town and if MJF was going to in fact step in the ring with Wardlow on Sunday night.
Naturally, he did, so the story had a happy ending. Or, well, at least a chapter to the story had a happy ending. Because the story here wasn’t just the weekend discord between MJF and AEW or Tony Khan; in fact, it was the extension of the ongoing discord between both MJF and AEW or Tony Khan. It’s been a story that’s been bubbling for a little while now, and considering Khan’s persistent “no comment” approach to anything MJF at the media scrum after Sunday night’s show, it’s probably going to continue to bubble as the weeks progress.
As for the fun fans have found in it thus far …
AN ELABORATE PLAN?
… Well, that can be summed up in the age-old work/shoot debate. Everyone on every social media platform shared their opinions on whether or not they believed the issues between MJF and his employer were real, and then they explained why they believed said things were real. Me? I don’t know. I mean, I really don’t. MJF has somehow, someway in this hyper-information age mastered the art of never being portrayed as anything other than Pro Wrestler MJF, so everything he does always makes us onlookers wonder what’s real and what’s not.
It would be hard to be surprised if this ordeal is all part of one big story he’s telling within the confines of the AEW universe because his commitment to his craft has been unparalleled in the wrestling world over at least the last three years, if not longer. And if he and Tony Khan are actually on the same page when it comes to this saga, you have to believe there’s no limit to which either will go to make sure this is a story that goes down as one of the most interesting in wrestling history.
Think about it. Khan has not been shy about spending whatever money he needs to spend in order to get the job done — all the way up to and including Sunday night, when he reportedly bought an extra hour of pay-per-view time to ensure Martha Hart would have as much time as possible to say whatever she wanted to say, and to make sure some matches would air after the NBA playoff game. As a result, he booked two last-minute matches on the fly and again sparked the “Are AEW pay-per-views too long?” debate that always happens the day after an AEW pay-per-view. And clocking in around five hours … yeah, count me among those who thought Double Or Nothing was too long.
But that’s not the point here. Instead, the point is this: Who’s to say, if this is, indeed, some long, elaborate narrative, that Khan wouldn’t sign off on the idea that MJF could no-show a meet-and-greet and then happily foot the refund bill himself? It’s going the extra mile to get some heat, but if there’s one wrestler in all the land who fans could shrug their shoulders at and say, “Yeah, I could see that guy pull something like that,” it would be MJF. We’ve all seen videos of him being unforgivingly cruel to those who have paid to meet him before; not coming to a signing at all shouldn’t feel far-fetched to anybody.
That said …
A CALCULATED RISK
… AEW is nothing if not for the fans and of the fans, and deliberately not following through with something created to make the fans happy seems like an unwise move, no matter how you cut it.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that people paying to have MJF treat them like dirt for 20 seconds is a lot more fulfilling than people waiting in line for a couple hours to find out the guy isn’t going to show. Money is one thing; credibility is another, and while TK can afford pretty much anything he wants whenever he wants it, he can’t buy back broken trust. And for that matter, neither can MJF, and for as much as he is purported to know about the wrestling business, he’s got to know that if he no-shows enough, he’ll start seeing his relevancy decline in ways that could permanently damage his career.
It’s one thing to be an asshole when everyone’s in on the joke, and it’s another to be an asshole while walking the line and making people guess if you’re actually an asshole — but then it’s a completely different playing field to just, you know, be an asshole. It’s the whole “go-away heat” idiom that has been dissected and analyzed and twisted and turned since the beginning of wrestling time. You don’t want that. That means no box office. And no box office means no business.
MJF has to know that, which is why no matter if it’s kayfabe or not, what happened this weekend was the type of calculated risk Gorilla Monsoon would champion on commentary back in the day. The operative word in that phrase, though, is “calculated.” Why? Because exactly how calculated can one be in this day and age? Everyone from fan to friend is quick to turn on anyone else, as long as the cause is right and the logic is there, be it flawed or not. The leash for this kind of stuff is a lot shorter these days than it was, say, 20 years ago, when forgiveness came quicker and easier and more frequently.
Or, in other words, if AEW advertises MJF for another meet-and-greet soon … and people pay their hard-earned money to meet him … and MJF doesn’t show up … yeah, there isn’t going to be much room for forgiveness after that. It’s the Lauryn Hill syndrome. Buy concert tickets at your own discretion; artist appearance not guaranteed. After she regularly either didn’t show up for her shows or didn’t hit the stage until three hours after call time, those once-large crowds became less-large crowds.
Which leads me back to this …
CASH OR CREATIVE?
… Why now?
It’s common knowledge (unless someone’s been lying to us for a while now) that MJF still has roughly 18 months left on his contract. So much has been written and reported about it that the difference (again) between what’s accurate and what’s not is probably thin. Does he want more money? It appears so — and as Jim Ross says nearly every week on his podcast, it always comes down to two things, cash and creative, so if the cash isn’t there, and MJF feels he’s worth more, then yeah, I think that’s a pretty simple explanation.
Does he want more years? I don’t quite know how that would be a sticking point right now. Unless if, deep down, Max is the most loyal guy on the planet and in 30 years, we’ll get an Undertaker-esque hall-of-fame speech where, for the first time, he breaks kayfabe and acts like he’s giving an intro to macroeconomics lecture at a community college, my guess is MJF wants a shot at the biggest of the big time, which is and always will be WWE. He can just ask his bud Cody about what that means.
So, if it’s not time, it’s money. And since the money had already been decided upon for at least the last two to three years, can someone please explain to me what happened over the last three to six months to inspire MJF to all of a sudden wake up and say, “Nah, I need more and I need more now!”? And even if that’s the case, you mean to tell me there’s no way either side of this argument can bend in any way to accommodate the other in order to make a better working relationship possible for all involved?
And that’s just the baseline. I think I can safely say that of the four people who read these columns every week, at least four of you believe you should be getting paid more than what you’re getting paid at whatever job you have. I know I can say that — and I just started a new job! It’s common practice for us to believe we are being shortchanged and we aren’t receiving the value of our worth. But do we wake up on a random Wednesday and say, “Hey boss, not today. I need 15-grand more a year or I’m out.”
We don’t. And even if we want to, at our most rambunctious, we go in and settle on $5,000 more a year before calling it a day. My point is that for as calculated as MJF is, MJF simply does not seem like an impractical person. Sure, the character is bratty, and yeah, maybe even Maxwell Friedman, the guy, is a brat, too. But being that committed, and being that well-versed in the history of this business, even he has to know this just isn’t how things work.
… In Tony Khan’s world, it does.
Which is entirely possible. Like I said earlier, Khan has no problem opening his pocketbook for anything from a live Rancid performance to a “Wild Thing” cover. And for all we know, maybe there have been lesser talents to come into AEW and demand more money halfway through their contracts and then get it. If so, MJF has all the right in the world to expect whatever he wants because in that case, maybe Khan set a precedent that might not have been the most advantageous precedent to set.
That brings us back to Khan, though, and the acumen for the wrestling business. His track record hasn’t been perfect in AEW, but he does seem to know what works and what doesn’t when it comes to his company’s fan base, and he’s got to know that MJF works — and works in a big way — for his fan base. So, then why not cough up the money, if that’s the only problem here? Well, there are three answers.
One, maybe MJF believes he should be the world champion sooner than later. If so, hey, that story writes itself because now that CM Punk holds that belt and those two are 1-1 against each other, it kind of feels like a title reign could be in his near future.
Two, there is true acrimony between MJF and Khan, and I don’t think it would be particularly shocking if that was the case. Who knows who the real MJF is, but if he’s anything like the pro wrestling MJF, you have to think that’s a tough personality to handle on a daily or even weekly basis, and maybe there are some unsaid or unspoken grudges there.
Or three, this, of course, is all part of some wildly elaborate story that started when reports leaked that Khan was annoyed with MJF for doing an interview AEW didn’t approve of beforehand. This feels likely if only because it would take so much thought and so much planning and so much commitment that only someone like MJF could author it.
The best part? Well, the best part is that it could be all three or even some combination of the three. That’s what makes this fun. That’s why any heated debate about whether this is a work or a shoot is moot. Instead, this engulfs what so many of us love about pro wrestling: The drama, the blurred lines, the questions, the speculation, the fun.
And here I thought something like this could never play out in the Internet age, where wrestling journalism and backstage reporting has become big business and platforms like Twitter both expose and illuminate a business that once prided itself on being so dark. No matter how it turns out, MJF accomplished at least one thing, and that’s being at the center of the entire wrestling world for a holiday weekend, which is no small feat. And truth be told, I’d be shocked if he didn’t single-handedly inspire some people to buy the pay-per-view Sunday night just to see what would happen. Is that enough of a victory for him, though?
That depends on what exactly it is that MJF wants.