Pro wrestling is all sizzle. The sizzle around AEW star MJF is more than we’ve seen in perhaps decades.
The wrestling world is all abuzz over the central question: is it a work? Which, if you have to ask, yes, of course, and a perfectly executed one, to this point, at that.
Think back a few weeks, when we first heard about MJF’s interview with a podcaster in which he expressed frustration over pay and booking, and then word got out that MJF and AEW head guy Tony Khan had had a meeting, and that Khan was upset, not so much over what MJF said, but that the interview hadn’t been authorized.
Hmmm, you had to wonder to yourself: why would the issue be that the interview wasn’t authorized, and not what was said in the interview?
Because the interview was just a seed being planted, and they didn’t want to get ahead of where the story was going.
MJF would go on to lose a dog-collar match to CM Punk at “Revolution,” which was pretty much the match of the night at that pay-per-view, and a clear necessary next step to set up Punk for a run at the AEW world title, then held by “Hangman” Adam Page.
That the conclusion to that match also led to the final break between MJF and his former bodyguard, Wardlow, well, so much the better.
The rumors of MJF’s frustration with AEW continued to be conveniently leaked to the wrestling media, in bits and pieces, to keep the embers that would become fire raging.
They had to be embers, though, because before MJF could go full-blown frustrated, he had a payoff to deliver to Wardlow.
The big guy had been paired smartly with MJF as his muscle three years ago, allowing him time to get better in the ring without having to do so on live TV, in the process developing and maintaining an aura of invincibility, when all along it was obvious that the pairing was going to end with a split.
The split, and subsequent literal shackling of Wardlow, got him over to a level we haven’t seen since Goldberg’s long undefeated streak back in the late 1990s.
That one was destined to come to a finish at “All Out” this past weekend, which meant, it’s time to finally unleash “Loose Cannon” MJF on the world.
Anybody who thinks the no-show reported ‘round the world at a pre-“All Out” fanfest was anything other than a work to get over that MJF is on the outs with Khan and AEW leadership doesn’t know the business.
MJF has famously and studiously made it a point of avoiding similar meet-and-greets, as one of the few pro wrestlers in this day and age who lives his kayfabe, in his case that he’s a real life asshole.
This is the guy, when you think about it, who has his parents show up at ringside with signs reading “We’re MJF’s parents, and we think he sucks, too!”
Having to give a few refunds to fans who plunked down their hard-earned for a chance to have MJF flip them off in a selfie is a small price to pay to make his frustrations seem real.
Because it was at that point that, if you were on the fence about whether or not this was a work, you got off the fence.
The word leaked to a wrestling journalist about MJF booking a flight home before “All Out” just made it seem all the more real.
He showed up the next night, got squashed, but didn’t go full “Loose Cannon.”
I was fully expecting him to pull a Brian Pillman, grab a mic, howl “screw you, bookerman!” and then leave the ring before the first powerbomb, but, no, he did business.
Which gets us to Wednesday night, and the instant classic promo, this generation’s “pipe bomb.”
If MJF and AEW were really on the outs, would AEW promote that it was giving MJF a live TV mic hours before then giving him a live TV mic?
And, sure, the live mic eventually was cut, but not before MJF was able to convey his position, that Khan has buried him, doesn’t pay him what he’s worth, joneses way, way too much over ex-WWE guys, before demanding to be fired.
Fan video from inside the arena has emerged on social media today showing us that Punk walked down to the ring to confront MJF off-camera at the end of his rant, but MJF ran out of the ring and left the arena through the crowd.
This, you’re pointing out to me now, screaming at your phone, is proof that this is real.
Of course Punk is upset at MJF and wanted to confront him; MJF just stole his “pipe bomb” shtick.
The broadcast team didn’t address the MJF remarks when the show came back from break. The match coming out of the break featured two ex-WWE stars.
This is genius-level stuff here, peeps.
Where things go from here is a good question.
I’m inclined to say, let’s just see where it goes.
I can see this setting up an eventual feud between MJF and Punk for the AEW title, with MJF winning and then threatening to take the belt with him to WWE.
I hope that happens, but not too soon.
I also don’t want to see MJF form a new faction of similarly disgruntled AEW Originals to start a sort of internal invasion with the Originals facing off against a contingent of ex-WWE guys.
Because then it would feel like a work, and right now, though it is a work, it doesn’t feel like a work.
The big thing missing from wrestling these days is a sense of there being real heat, real tension.
I like not knowing for 100 percent certain that everything here is as I have laid it out.
I like not knowing what might happen next.
MJF is the best thing wrestling has seen since Punk’s “pipe bomb,” since Ric Flair was in his mid-1980s heyday on the SuperStation, since “Rowdy” Roddy Piper first got me rooting for the bad guy in the Rock ‘n Wrestling days.
I just hope this good thing can keep going wherever it’s going to go, and that it takes its time getting there.
Story by Chris Graham