Whilst the wrestling world can often rely on past superstars and legends to draw audience numbers and attention, there are numerous young wrestlers waiting to break through the proverbial glass ceiling throughout the business; an array of talents that need to seize the notorious 'brass ring'. As WWE audience numbers have dipped, a variety of alternative promotions have emerged. With loyal fanbases and stellar in-ring work found across the globe, Vince McMahon's monopoly on the industry appears to be waning. In 2020 (prior to Covid-19), there are various routes that young wrestlers can take to establish prominence and gain exposure, and the WWE is no longer the "only" option.
Let's scour the wrestling world in search of young talents that seem ready to take that step up to the next level. Let's take a look at the future of the business:
On an episode of All Elite Wrestling’s (AEW) weekly show, Dynamite, MJF said the following to Cody Rhodes:
"A wise man one said, if you're a walk behinder, the view never changes."
Apt given these words were once spoken by Cody’s late father, Dusty, but also particularly apt give that MJF continues to blaze his own trail in the wrestling industry; MJF is no ‘walk behinder’. A throwback in many ways to the kayfabe despicable heels of the past, Maxwell Jacob Friedman is "better than you... and you know it." As talented and as charismatic on the mic as anyone else in the business currently, MJF oozes a 'superstar' aura that disenfranchised wrestling fans have been crying out for. With 5 years experience under his belt at just 24 years-old, the Burberry-clad New York native seems to be on the fast-track elevator to wrestling superstardom. In the build-up to their AEW Championship match at this year's All Out pay-per-view, champion Jon Moxley labelled his foe - MJF - the future of AEW. But, perhaps MJF's ceiling is even higher than that. MJF could well be the future of the whole wrestling business. A roster member of wrestling's flashy new promotion, AEW, consider it a certainty that MJF is in the 'right place'. With a mission statement that opposes Vince McMahon's juggernaut (WWE) in almost every way, it is clear that All Elite Wrestling are looking to establish a platform to allow the next generation of wrestlers to thrive. Cue the entrance of MJF, a guy that fans will pay to see lose. And, as we all know, money talks... but so does talent.
Friedman is an avid fan of old-school professional wrestling and this can be seen within both his in-ring and promo work. Focusing particularly on the latter, MJF is somewhat of a rarity in the modern age of wrestling; MJF blurs the lines between kayfabe and reality. In previous decades, there were numerous superstars blurring these lines and 'living their characters', but as wrestling hit the mainstream during the Monday Night War between World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) in the late-nineties and early-noughties, things started to change. Fast forward to the 2010s and the social media generation all but nullified kayfabe as a concept... apart from MJF. A true sh*tbird in all sense of the word, Maxwell Jacob Friedman is either a total arsehole, or just really, really good at playing his role 24/7. Be it on social media, during interviews, backstage at shows or in the ring, Friedman is MJF. Consider the fact that Maxwell Friedman is his real name and the lines become blurred even further. And this, this is the greatest compliment you can give MJF.
There have been various examples of fans attempting to draw MJF 'out of character' through various leaks, with one particular moment involving the resurfacing of a 2001 video of a young MJF singing You Are My Sunshine. Appearing on the Rosie O'Donnell Show, fans clamoured to embarrass Friedman with this revelation. Non-plussed, MJF initially refused to accept the video was him before later admitting to it and apologising for lying - "as a matter of fact that was the first time I've [MJF] ever lied". Admitting the appearance, MJF stated this was just Rosie O'Donnell - "a massive whale of a woman" - trying to hang on to her fading star and declining fame. Furthermore, MJF remembered encountering a young Britney Spears - who appeared on the same episode - and whilst he avoided her advances, he "didn't have the courage to tell her she wouldn't make it". Throw in his flashbacks to the ugly staff, the "pathetic excuse" of a cheese platter and the fact that after this "paralyzing" experience MJF had to shower five times to get rid of the "commoner stench", he acknowledged "it was a good pay day." Ladies and gentleman, I give you MJF.
But for all his excellence in character and promo work, for all his charisma and magnetism, MJF's wrestling ability is often overshadowed. Friedman is seen as 'a great promo' without people acknowledging his continued improvement in the ring.
First and foremost, MJF is in no way the 'finished article' in the ring, and his continued improvement will need to... well, continue. Right out of the Roddy Piper and Ted DiBiase mould when it comes to talking, MJF has stated his in-ring ability draws on the legends of the past: "I studied the Flair's, the Tullys, I studied the Ernie Ladds, Nick Bockwinkels. That's who I studied, because those guys' careers lasted a very long time because they wrestled intelligently. That's what they did.
"They didn't wrestle to garner a pop from the audience. I am wrestling to get the winner's purse, I'm wrestling to stay on top. I'm wrestling to be the top guy for the next 25 years, not for the next 2. That's the difference between my style and everyone else's.
"It's unfortunate that we have to see, every single Wednesday, a bunch of guys who are just clamoring for attention by either hopping over a top rope or jumping off of it. That's not my m.o. and it never will be."
This is pertinent when it comes to reviewing MJF's in-ring work. Improving in terms of technicality and grappling, Friedman stands out on AEW television because he is a throwback to bygone eras. Amidst a roster of high-flyer, 'spot monkey' and strong-style performers, MJF sticks to the basics and the fundamentals, further improving his stellar character work in the process. Contemporary wrestling fans crave more than this, and MJF is the 'pain in the ass' that won't give it to them.
That said, fans need only look at the contest between MJF and Jon Moxley at All Out to see that Friedman is as good a storyteller as anyone else in the ring. Combining his moveset with a ferocity and maliciousness that was in keeping with the nature of the feud itself, MJF also 'sold' a bearing from Moxley that almost garnered sympathy from the fans. Ultimately losing to a low-blow, MJF lost nothing during this performance, in fact Friedman enhanced his credibility as he and his blood-soaked body left the ring that night.
With a simple and consistent approach to wrestling, the 24 year-old has established himself as a current star, let alone a future star. With an unmatched ability to draw raw emotion and be genuinely detested by fans, MJF is no stranger to some of the more dangerous situations many believe are left in the past. Whether having his car keyed, having fans try to jump the guardrail to attack him, having fans wait for him after the shows or one particular moment where a fan "literally tried to kidnap" him. MJF is a 'heat magnet'... and also a magnet for death threats.
A rare uber-heel in an era of wrestling where it is 'cool' to be a bad guy - see Chris Jericho and the Inner Circle - MJF is poised to be a main-eventer player for years to come. I'll leave you with this image that perfectly sums up who Maxwell Jacob Friedman is: