It doesn’t matter if you think it’s a work, or a shoot, or some combination of those words that tend to send wrestling fans into hysterics. What matters is MJF and AEW are the talk of the wrestling world. The business is about buzz, and well, a mile long swarm of bees wouldn’t produce this kind.
Only MJF and Tony Khan will know, and debating the various facets and clues and coming up with our own theories and storylines is part of being a fan. It definitely feels like this all started in the spring as a genuine complaint from MJF about his contract, but has morphed and mushroomed into an intricate, while cacophonous, storyline with MJF not just blurring the lines between what’s real and what’s in story, what’s in and out of the ring, and what is actual news and what isn’t, but basically pissing all over them. And pissing all over them with a mischievous grin.
Here’s the thing, for me: Given all that had happened the previous weekend in Vegas around Double Or Nothing – all the rumors and reports that hinted at MJF no-showing the whole show but still doing his job, the actual no-showing of a meet and greet with fans, the “flight booking heard around the world” — it’s hard to fathom that Khan and AEW would hand MJF a mic on Wednesday night, send him out to the ring, and not know what was coming. Much like in the years since CM Punk’s famous “pipe bomb” promo, we know that the higher-ups knew what he was going to do, even if they might not have known all the details or the voractiy.
Sure, they painted it like they didn’t, going to black right afterwards, not having the commentary mention it again for the rest of the show. Or having Punk chase MJF off afterwards, only seen by those in the arena but surely known that it would quickly spread on Twitter. Sure, maybe it was more vulgar than anticipated, but if MJF has truly gone off the reservation, wouldn’t his mic have been cut? Maybe that’s too far for a wrestling show, but again, it’s far fetched that Khan would have been caught so off-guard.
And well, the theme of it hewed just a little too closely to Punk’s career-altering and landscape-altering promo to not think there’s a plan. Here was MJF blowing up how AEW was run, who gets favored, who gets the money, who gets the biggest slots, and there’s nothing someone like MJF can do to change that. All he’s done is provide two or three of the best storylines the still very young company has produced (which is true) and yet he’s never gotten to wrestle for a title. And the money that MJF wants and deserves (and he really does) is earmarked for those with a bigger name who have barely been around, compared to MJF’s tenure which started the same day as AEW did.
See for yourself. Replace the names and then ask if MJF didn’t hit every single note:
Even down to mentioning other companies by name or what fans think makes a great wrestler and what he thinks makes one, and all the reasons fans are wrong. MJF has just positioned Punk in the same role as Cena now. Someone he beat but then had to enter another match with simply because Punk said so, getting whatever he wants on the card simply by being a name. Technically they’re 1-1, and yet it was Punk who got the title shot and win because…well, he’s CM Punk. MJF, in his mind, represents what AEW should be, the elevation of wrestlers who worked their way up the card from the company’s start, and he’s seen it stomped out by an invader. Not just an invader, but one from WWE. MJF is choking on the irony and he’s going to make the rest of us choke on it, too.
And just like Punk, he’s threatening to leave. Begging to leave. Doesn’t see a way forward for him with his road blocked by imports who used to be in New York. Doesn’t feel that the man in charge, Khan, will ever see him the way he should be seen because he’s been seduced by the easy drawing power of Punk or Bryan Danielson or Adam Cole. Khan doesn’t get it, doesn’t know what he has, so MJF is going to take it away.
Even if MJF were completely serious and wants out this very second, it’s clear he’s box office and Khan would be nuts to let him go. Who’s not tuning in for every segment to see where this is going (beating Punk at All Out in Chicago?)? MJF would have to go completely mutinous to get out of his contract now, not showing up at all and going on strike or something. And as Sasha Banks and Naomi have proven, doing that only pumps your popularity. Much like 11 years ago, if MJF isn’t going to be booked like the top star that he’s proven to be, then he’s going to book himself as that and force his way to the top of the card. He won’t be ignored. It’s important to remember after Punk’s pipe bomb on WWE and John Cena and his threats to leave with the WWE title, within the year he started his 434-day title reign. He got exactly what he wanted.
It also adds to Punk’s story, where he’s portrayed himself as a bastion of what pro wrestling is supposed to be, while MJF, Eddie Kingston, and Hangman Page have screamed that he’s only using that as sheep’s clothing to do what’s best for himself. MJF Is now painting him as the 400-pound gorilla sitting on the roster and manipulating his way to the top and keeping everyone else from it.
Whether that’s actually true or not, it is in MJF’s mind and his motivations are clear. The smart money says this plays out as MJF pointing out to Punk that he has become all that he abhorred. It wouldn’t be a shock if MJF actually got a new contract a while ago. Or maybe he doesn’t at all and is fired tomorrow. It could literally go anywhere, but you can’t look away. Which is the point of it all, isn’t it?