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MJF on why he returned to AEW, the state of the locker room post-All Out brawl, and more

MMAFighting’s YouTube

Maxwell Jacob Friedman did his first interview since returning to AEW this afternoon (Sept. 19), with Ariel Helwani on our sister site MMAFighting.

Interviews with MJF are always entertaining and noteworthy. But with this being the first one since not only the drama surrounding Friedman’s contract situation at Double or Nothing, his “pipebomb” promo on Tony Khan & subsequent hiatus, but also CM Punk’s gripebomb at the post-All Out media scrum and subsequent backstage brawl with The Elite... there was a lot to cover. Watching MJF do so honestly while attempting to paint a positive picture about the state of AEW heading into this week’s Grand Slam shows in New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium AND remain in character? Pretty remarkable stuff.

When Helwani’s questions took Max to a topic he didn’t want to address, like whether he purchased a plane ticket out of Las Vegas prior to his match with Wardlow at Double or Nothing as a negotiating tactic, or if he saw the brawl on Labor Day, MJF would say he “doesn’t deal in rumor and innuendo.” That still left him with a lot to say, however.

Some of the drama surrounding Max was said to have started with his last chat with Helwani, which reportedly wasn’t cleared in advance by AEW public relations. This one was approved, because:

“Tony Khan had no choice but to understand and to deal with the fact that if you want MJF on your show, you gotta abide by MJF rules. And it’s that simple. MJF wanted to be on the Ariel Helwani show today? MJF’s on the Ariel Helwani show today. No [there was no resistance], they’re terrified of me.”

They of course tackled why Friedman returned to the company at at All Out:

“Here’s the deal. When I went home I made it very clear: Pay up, or daddy doesn’t show up. Fact. So, I took my now beautiful fiancee with me to Greece for two weeks... I then went home, and I stayed home. I did not leave my home. Because I did not one single solitary wrestling fan to see me out in the wild. Do you know why? Because they don’t deserve to see me unless I’m getting paid to be seen. And that’s why the greatest trick the devil ever pulled is convincing the world he doesn’t exist. And that’s exactly what I did for three straight months. I take what I do very seriously. If you want to see a star, pay to see that star. So I stayed in my home. I went to a gym inside of my home. The only time I left my home was for those two weeks because I was committed to making sure that if any wrestling fan wanted to get a taste of MJF, MJF needed to get that money. And he did.”

Helwani clarifies that he got more money without extending his current deal past Jan. 1, 20224, which was allegedly a big sticking point in his pre-Double or Nothing negotiations with TK.

“Stupid bump in pay. Stupid. And still, yes, January 2024.”

That’s what drove his exit in May:

“Money. I’m a simple man. I go out there, all I do is win. I’m winning in the ring. I’m winning on the mic. I’m constantly winning. Obviously, I had no problem with how I was being showcased. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was money. I was looking to my left and my right, and I was hearing rumblings about what guys were making when I was two times, three times the draw they were minute-by-minute. I’ve seen the analytics. I went, ‘That doesn’t work for me.’ I’m MJ freakin F. Pay up. Not just in AEW. Guys in WWE, guys in Impact, guys in Ring of Honor at the time.

“I‘m not saying that I was or that I wasn’t [being paid less than some Impact talents]. I’m just saying, I saw what a lot of top guys were making across the board — except I don’t pay attention to New Japan, that’s a garbage promotion. The fact that people still talk about it like it’s a thing is hilarious to me. Whatever.”

And it’s what will drive his decision in “the bidding war of 2024.” As he’s said numerous times in the past, he’s open to any and all offers when his contract is up... except for New Japan, which Max targeted several times in a move designed to rile up a certain type of wrestling fan (see above). WWE was mentioned often, with Friedman praising Bruce Prichard and his good friend the American Roller Codester, Cody Rhodes. He also claimed to have never spoken to Triple H and would only shrug about co-CEO Nick Khan, but the bottom line is that he says he’ll go to whoever offers him the most money.

Which came up again when Helwani asked if he’d give AEW a discount on his next deal out of gratitude for their signing him in 2019:

“I like money... if I stay, you will know — I think the word I would use is grotesque — I was paid a grotesque amount of money. Because what’s gonna happen is there’s gonna be an ugly battle. And again, it could be any company. I will literally go to any company, except New Japan. I’ll go to any company if they’re willing to pay up the most dough.”

Now, about the things that have driven the pro wrestling conversation since All Out? MJF dodged several questions about what happened after the PPV between Punk and The Elite, using them as opportunities to hype the company he’ll be a part of for the next 15 months or so:

“I can not comment on the press conference. I don’t deal in rumor and innuendo. [Asked why he can’t comment] I don’t want to, because here’s the facts... there was a lot of things said — it doesn’t apply to me, it doesn’t concern me. And again, I’ll tell you why, and I’m gonna use numbers, cause numbers don’t lie. Numbers are facts, and facts don’t care about your feelings. When MJF goes out there, I pop a huge number. We killed it in the ratings, second week in a row. And again, if people leave, come, go, stay? People are gonna step up to the plate.

“We’ve got massive stars in our company. So I am not concerned in the least. I’m not going to comment on what was said because it doesn’t apply to me. Our company is — again, numbers don’t lie. Our company is great right now... there’s a lot of interesting stuff right now with a lot of massive stars in our company, so I choose to focus on that.”

He also “no comment”-ed a question about the brawl, and dismissed the idea that the post-All Out drama detracted from his return, pointing to his reaction on the fallout edition of Dynamite. He also wouldn’t answer if AEW needs Punk, but put over their feud as the best in company history.

As for Helwani’s (and a lot of fans) belief that “the inmates are running the asylum” at AEW?

“I don’t know if I agree with that... when I watch the locker room, when I watch the boys and I see how they react to certain situations — it’s a team atmosphere. Everybody wants these three letters to be successful. The only three letters I care about are MJF, but everybody in AEW cares about AEW letters. I think it’s palpable when you watch our show. I think you can feel it. You can feel when people go out they’re giving it 110%. Because they want to not just raise themselves up, but raise this brand new baby — we’re a baby. It’s a three year old company. They want to raise this baby up like in the freaking Lion King on top of the rock. And you feel that. It’s palpable. So no. I read stuff online, I chuckle. It’s ridiculous. Everybody wants this place to be successful. MJF wants MJF to be successful, but the locker room wants AEW to be successful. It’s a team atmosphere.”

MJF also said that was the atmosphere before things blew up on Sept. 4-5, too. He didn’t deny tensions between camps backstage, but compared it to a fight in a high school cafeteria: the other students don’t throw out everything they’re doing because it happened. They acknowledge the fight and move on.

The interview also touches on Friedman’s recent Twitter battle with Sheamus, his thoughts on Roman Reigns and the WWE product under Triple H (both positive), his most underrated (Ethan Page & Stokely Hathaway) and overrated (Jon Moxley) stars in the business today, and more.

Not to make Max’s head any bigger than it already is, but this really is an amazing interview that navigates some treacherous waters almost flawlessly... and still manages to be fun as hell. Check it out here.

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