MJF has his eyes on the AEW world title, but he has business to take care of first.
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MJF: “Chris Jericho is incredible, there’s no arguing that, but he has also never had to be in the ring with someone as talented with a mic in their hand as me”
MJF added another moment to his highlight reel when he shoved Chris Jericho off the top of a steel cage in AEW’s Blood & Guts match in May. As Jericho plummeted, MJF collected himself, perched atop the cage all by himself. With his face covered in blood, the 25-year-old phenom felt the sensation of knowing that he is one step closer to becoming the face of All Elite Wrestling.
“I have had a crippling fear of heights my whole life, but that night, I knew I had to take higher ground,” says MJF, whose name is Maxwell Friedman. “I genuinely think a lot of people go to this fish-out-of-water mode when they’re in front of thousands of people. They panic and just want it to be over, and they get backstage and exhale. Not me. I am soaking up every moment. I know I’m supposed to be doing this.
“At that moment, I was at the pinnacle of my profession. That showed, again, I am The Guy in All Elite Wrestling.”
A feud with Jericho is a magnificent spotlight, but it is the sort of place that leaves a talent liable to be exposed if they are unable to keep up with the quick-talking, sharp-witted wrestling legend. To his credit, MJF has excelled in the program, showing he has every tool necessary to be the top heel of a major company.
“I wasn’t going to allow myself to be swallowed up in any of my moments with Chris Jericho,” MJF says. “Chris Jericho is incredible, there’s no arguing that, but he has also never had to be in the ring with someone as talented with a mike in their hand as me.”
Even with his heightened post-Blood & Guts perspective, MJF knows he still has more terrain to climb. In order to reach the top of the industry, he will need to craft a career-defining run as AEW’s world champion.
“I’m going to get to that world title,” MJF says. “I should be world champion right now. Jon Moxley hit an illegal maneuver on me [at last summer’s All Out]. And the reason I can’t focus on that is because of Chris Jericho. He’s the reason I’m not challenging for the world title.”
A world title run is certainly not out of the question in the near future, but before that occurs, MJF needs to continue to showcase his value in the Pinnacle–Inner Circle feud.
“I can’t get to that world title if Chris Jericho still exists in my company,” MJF says. “That’s my goal once I’m done proving to the world that Sammy Guevara isn’t on my level.”
MJF meets Guevara in a pay-per-view–caliber matchup Wednesday night on Dynamite, an encounter he believes is necessary to dispel any beliefs that Guevara is on his level. Considering that these are two of AEW’s top emerging stars, the way the match will be presented is an important indicator of their potential as main-eventers.
“I’ve had opportunities for years to wrestle Sammy, both in the indies and in AEW, but I chose not to,” MJF says. “It’s got to the point where I have to wrestle him simply to show the world that this guy isn’t a professional, and he isn’t on my level.
“Comparing me to Sammy Guevara is like comparing Ric Flair to one of the Mulkey brothers. It’s a dog s— comparison. You want to call Sammy the future? Fine, but I care about what’s happening now, and I’m going to show him I am the present on Dynamite in the main event on TNT.”
Wednesday nights once again belong to AEW, and MJF plans to use Dynamite as his launchpad to the top of the industry.
“I dislike Chris Jericho because he’s getting in my way, but I genuinely dislike Sammy Guevara as a human being,” MJF says. “I don’t respect him, I don’t think he’s talented, and I don’t understand the hype around him. He’s a gymnast, not a pro wrestler. He’s self-centered, he thinks he’s better than he is, and he has an attitude that wouldn’t have been allowed in the wrestling business 10 or 15 years ago.
“I’m going to slow him down and out-wrestle him, and I’m really looking forward to seeing if the crowd still chants his name when they find out he’s a hack. The idea of that really excites me.”
The (online) week in wrestling
• Edge came back to SmackDown on Friday, and he will challenge Roman Reigns for the universal title at Money in the Bank. Although Edge returned from a nearly nine-year hiatus in front of a hot crowd at the Royal Rumble in 2020, the majority of his return has taken place in fan-less environments inside the WWE Performance Center and ThunderDome. It will be especially fun to see him reconnect with a live audience.
• The world title should always mean something. That is exactly how it feels—extremely meaningful—in the Bobby Lashley–Kofi Kingston program.
• The triple-threat tag match that opened Tuesday night’s edition of NXT was outstanding.
• Bronson Reed, who would be a tremendous addition to Raw, dropped the NXT North American title last night to the wildly talented—and extremely deserving following his years on the indies—Isaiah “Sweve” Scott.
• Piper Niven is a top candidate to become a breakout star in WWE. Immensely talented and charismatic, she is a rare talent. But, every week, I still can’t believe that the creative team named her Doudrop.
• John Cena didn’t mince words with Jimmy Kimmel, stating he will be back in WWE.
• Eddie Kingston cut a phenomenal go-home speech for the live crowd after last week’s Dynamite. There is absolutely no one with a more compelling past 12 months than Kingston, who went from cutting promos at indie shows last summer to now being an integral and beloved piece of AEW.
• Kenny Omega–Jungle Boy was an outstanding match with the right finish. Omega again elevates an opponent, Jungle Boy takes another step to stardom, and Christian Cage emerges as Omega’s next opponent. Will this lead to a Christian heel turn on Jungle Boy? Or is it too soon for him to turn?
• On the subject of outstanding promos, the work on the mic from Konnan on Dynamite was a reminder of his brilliance.
• WWE’s recent round of releases is another cold reminder of the nature of the business. I am looking forward to seeing what that collection of talent creates outside of WWE.
• Deonna Purrazzo’s outstanding work in her Knockouts title reign continues. She now needs the right opponent for a great match and moment at Slammiversary.
• Miro and Andrade are building their feud in AEW, but they will need to be careful how Andrade is presented with Triplemanía (where Andrade challenges Kenny Omega for AAA’s mega championship) right around the corner in August.
• Looking back on Steve Austin’s comments on the CM Punk pipe bomb—which just turned 10 years old—is a reminder of how much edge and excitement Punk brought to Raw.
WWE planning to hold Survivor Series in New York
WWE is returning to live shows in July, with SummerSlam in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium serving as the centerpiece of its return to the road. That will only be magnified in the months to come if the company finalizes a deal to hold Survivor Series in New York.
The agreement has yet to be signed, Sports Illustrated has learned, but the working plan within the walls of WWE is to hold Survivor Series at the Barclays Center. The news of Survivor Series at Barclays was first reported by The Mat Men Podcast. Though it would make sense to hold one of the company’s signature events at the famed Madison Square Garden, the two sides have yet to meet on a price that satisfies both parties for a pay-per-view. Even with WWE’s long history at MSG, the company’s new home in New York is Barclays, which has been a valued partner for WWE. (The Brooklyn venue hosted SummerSlam for four consecutive years and was the site of WWE’s ancillary events around WrestleMania 35 in 2019.)
In a recent interview with Sports Illustrated, WWE chief brand officer Stephanie McMahon hinted at upcoming surprises and the company’s desire to over-deliver on expectations. They are primed to do just that with the energy injected into a show with a hot crowd, and there are plenty of returning stars—like John Cena and Sasha Banks, in addition to Edge, who already came back last week on SmackDown—who innately know how to seize people’s attention.
Currently, there are no plans for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to return—but it is worth noting that the upcoming Survivor Series will mark the 25th anniversary of his debut, which took place at MSG. Any specific information on the potential return of Brock Lesnar is harder to acquire, as those negotiations run directly through Lesnar and Vince McMahon.
Internally, there is an abundance of optimism regarding the return to the road. As innovative a setting as the ThunderDome is, it has run its course. Stars like Banks, Roman Reigns, Bianca Belair, The Usos, Drew McIntyre, Bayley, Kofi Kingston, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Bobby Lashley and Big E deserve an immense amount of credit for keeping people interested in the product over the past year. This is an extremely competitive industry, and the upcoming stretch is an opportunity for the talent to showcase their worth as draws.
Tweet of the Week
Kenny Omega added a nice spin on the Jungle Boy photo with Anna Jay.
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.