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Babyface or heel, MJF’s brilliance continues to shine

You’ve got to give the Devil his due. His ability to captivate and invoke a wide array of emotional responses from his audience is unmatched in professional wrestling right now. Couple that with the incredible story that’s being told, and it all makes Maxwell Jacob Friedman must see television.

They say the greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. I have a hunch the greatest trick Max and Tony Khan are trying to pull, is convincing the AEW faithful that MJF will complete his babyface turn at Full Gear.

As compelling as Max’s run has been since his surprise return at All Out, something about this story arc just doesn’t pass the smell test. And it all starts with MJF himself.

The man is the modern day Mozart of cutting a wrestling promo. You give MJF a microphone and he will churn out one classic after another. And just when you think his brilliance has finally peaked, he’ll go out and do what I was fortunate enough to watch him do live in Cincinnati on Oct. 18.

I’ve been to a fair amount of wrestling shows in my day and I can say this with the utmost certainty, that was the most engaged I’ve ever seen an entire arena. Sitting there at the Heritage Bank Center, I can’t say for sure that everyone was fixated on the ring, because I myself was in a trance. But I can tell you what I heard and what I did not hear.

The old Riverfront Coliseum is approaching its 50th year in service and is in desperate need of a few upgrades. That would include the sound system, which drew the ire of hometown hero Jon Moxley that night. After the show went off the air, Mox grabbed the mic one final time to send the crowd home happy. He wrapped his arm around some unsuspecting usher on his way out and entrusted him with the responsibility of fixing the mic issues that plagued the show for the live audience throughout the night.

I’m not telling you this just to dump on an aging arena. The people there are wonderful and they do they best with the resources made available to them.

I’m telling you all of this to drive home my point. It can be very difficult to hear what performers are saying in that building, especially if they’re competing with just the slightest bit of conversation. That night I heard MJF crystal clear. No one around me was talking. No kids we’re screaming. Even the cotton candy vender that hit up my section five times an hour was silent.

Maxwell commanded the attention of every single person in the arena that night as he laid he heart out on the line. A heart, until quite recently, we didn’t know that he had.

MJF has always been very good at what he does. Being as blunt as possible, he’s a prick. He plays the role to perfection, but just being a prick can only take you so far. It’s the extra layers to the MJF character that have been unveiled over the last year or so that have really taken him to the next level and shown that he’s much more than the wrestling equivalent of a 1990’s radio shock jock (albeit, a very entertaining shock jock).

As Max read aloud that email sent to him by William Regal when he was just 19, suddenly the picture started to come to focus. We started to get a clearer look into the past and what made MJF the man he is today. We learned of the one single moment that very well could have set him on the course to every terrible act he’s ever done over the last 7 years. In one perfectly executed segment, you’ve given a character purpose. You’ve given him motivation and you’ve given the audience an explanation. You’ve also given the fans a reason to connect with him.

Rejection.

It sucks. We’ve all been there. Whether it’s asking someone out on a date, applying for college scholarship or going for the big promotion at work, we’ve all been told, no. We’ve all been told at some point in our lives that we aren’t what someone is looking for or we’re simply not good enough. And we all react to it differently.

In the case of Maxwell Jacob Friedman, he decided to use Regal’s rejection email as motivation. He was going to prove him and all the other doubters wrong by any means necessary. MJF would one day be standing on the top of the professional wrestling mountain, no matter who he had to step on to get there.

Go back to what he said at the Toronto Dynamite. MJF admitted that even he hates who he has become, but called it a necessary evil to the AEW World Championship. That was another tiny crack in the facade. The self-acknowledgement that he knows he’s a bad guy, but that might not be who he truly is deep down. We saw glimpses of the humanity inside MJF during his feud with CM Punk earlier this year, but now it’s really starting to shine through and the crowds are eating it up.

Somehow, the most hated man in the sport just a few months ago, has reached cult leader status. He can do no wrong. He can tell a beloved international treasure like Renee Paquette to shut her mouth and still get cheered. He’s brash, he’s bold, he’s funny, and he’s firing on all cylinders. Tony Khan is potentially on the verge of the booking the most white hot babyface run in his company’s history — or is he?

I’m still not convinced. Again, it all starts with who we know MJF to be and that’s a pathological liar. You can’t trust a word that comes out of his mouth. He’s also extremely smart. This man has spent years cutting every corner he can to get to the top and now that he’s approaching the goal line, he’s going to choose to “earn it” against Jon Moxley? I’m sorry, that’s just not the smart play. I also find it hard to believe that MJF would let William Regal get the better of him, again.

Then, there’s everything that has gone down with The Firm.

This divorce happened extremely fast and frankly, to me, it’s one that doesn’t make a ton of sense. Why would Stokely Hathaway be so insistent on going against MJF’s wishes these past few weeks? It’s almost like he was trying to lose the group’s retainer.

After Stokely and the boys were fired for attacking Moxley on Wednesday, they in turn, took out their former employer. And they made it look convincing. Which, as anyone who’s ever watched a Vince Gilligan show can tell you, is exactly what you do if you’re trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes.

Could this all be an elaborate ruse cooked up by MJF and the Firm to lower Moxley’s expectations that help is coming from the outside at Full Gear? Potentially. I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’m also a huge fan of the conspiracy theory that William Regal has really been pulling the strings all along. Working as the shadowy figure in the dark, slowly moving the pieces into place, waiting for the prime moment to strike and finally help MJF reach the potential he always saw in him. The Emperor Palpatine to MJF’s Darth Vader, if you’ll allow for a quick Star Wars reference.

Then again, maybe the most obvious path is the one being taken here. Regardless, it’s compelling television and it’s a very interesting choice for Tony Khan to make.

While you would typically strike while the iron is hot, especially on a babyface turn, the company already has a number of good men on the roster. Maybe the right move is to solidify MJF as the greatest villain in the company’s history. Which, let’s be honest, he probably is already. That’s no excuse though to not go full Spinal Tap and crank this s—- to 11!

If I were a betting man, and I am, I would put my money on MJF having something up his sleeve at Full Gear next month. But whether he leaves Newark, NJ as a babyface or a heel, I suspect he will be leaving as the AEW World Champion.

And that will be the right decision.

What do you all think? Let us know in the comment section below. You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.

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