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AEW Notebook: MJF lived the gimmick, like pro wrestlers used to always do

mjf cm punk
MJF celebrates his win over CM Punk on the Feb. 2 “Dynamite.” Photo courtesy All Elite Wrestling.

The guy we know now as Nikita Koloff was so committed to his gimmick that he legally changed his name, actually learned to speak Russian, and limited his spoken English to a handful of words, to the point that few outside of the wrestling business knew that his birth name was Nelson Simpson, and that he was from Minnesota.

Maxwell Jacob Friedman, AEW’s MJF, according to a recent report, exhibited a ballpark level of commitment to the storyline that had him out of AEW and completely out of the public eye over the summer.

It was to a point that MJF didn’t even maintain contact with close friends, only reconnecting just before he was set to make his return to AEW at the “All Out” pay-per-view.

This in a day and age in which you regularly see heels posing for selfies with fans, and wrestlers on all sides of the divide talking about what they think of their “character,” “booking,” “psychology” – basically doing everything they can do to jerk the curtain open a little more.

The mystique of pro wrestling has long since been revealed as a work, which is why it stands out that MJF did what he did this summer, though it was no surprise coming from him.

This is a guy who famously doesn’t do meet and greets, and whose parents are even in on the gimmick, appearing at shows from time to time with signs apologizing to fans for introducing their son to the business and for the day he was born.

We’re a long ways from Nikita Koloff working fans, which leads to this quick story from me.

Koloff was a favorite of mine growing up. I even developed a decent impression of his growing Russian to amuse myself while watching the matches.

Fast forward a few years, and I’m at a local indy wrestling show, chatting up the former wrestlers who were there in the school cafeteria for the meet and greet after the live card had started for the sellout crowd in the gym.

I was about 15 minutes into a conversation with one of the guys when it hit me: I was talking with Nikita Koloff.

He wasn’t really Russian? Seriously?

Chris Graham

I write books, two on UVA basketball, one on pro wrestling, one on politics, which is getting to be like pro wrestling more and more each day. I've finished three marathons, but my maranthoning days are over. I'm also a progressive who voted for Biden, but we need another Democrat in 2024. (Sorry, Joe, and thanks.) Want to reach me? Try [email protected]