A little lost in the polarizing buzz of an All Out headlining AEW championship feud between Jon Moxley and CM Punk are three little letters that cast a big shadow:
The buzz, divisive as it might be, at least has managed to distract from the fact MJF has yet to return to the promotion. That’s arguably a little concerning considering Sunday night’s big event is one of the landmark shows on the AEW calendar and MJF is one of the best in the company and pro wrestling outright.
So does MJF come back? The man has been missing since he cut a line-blurring promo on AEW’s Tony Khan back in early June. Roughly two months later, Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful Select reported MJF hasn’t been around at all.
One would think there is a very real chance this is all part of the plan. Punk, after taking the top title off “Hangman” Adam Page in his crowning moment, quickly suffered a foot injury. Moxley became the interim champion and the possible “Summer of Punk 2.0” spiraled down the drain.
Where this theory that this is all part of the plan stumbles is with the recent handling. AEW rushed a Punk-Moxley match on a regular episode of AEW Dynamite a few weeks before All Out. Punk “injured” his foot a few minutes in and Moxley picked up a dominant win. Punk, after a motivational pep talk from a pal, then secured the rematch for this Sunday on the go-home episode of Dynamite.
To say the build has been weird would be an understatement. One would think if Punk re-injured himself in a Wednesday night match where Moxley removed the “interim” tag from his reign, he wouldn’t be ready to go so soon again. But he tried to wave that off in an emotional promo when getting the rematch.
Messy, but there is an angle where MJF plays a part by being a shock return to mess with the main event. His returning to cost Punk a title in Chicago of all places would garner some heat, to say the very, very least. MJF-Punk, given their career parallels and interactions before the veteran’s injury, clearly seemed to be the direction everything was headed.
But it’s worth wondering if some of the chaos up and down the 14-match card, roughly half of which are title matches, is almost a distraction to draw attention away from the MJF situation.
After all, MJF himself has recently leaned into the idea he’s eyeing his 2024 contract expiration date. Fans don’t know all the behind-the-scenes workings of any wrestling company, but it doesn’t take much of a leap in logic to presume he might be miffed at the lack of headlining screentime after the arrival of so many ex-WWE guys when he’s supposedly one of the pillars of the company. And it doesn’t take a leap to understand WWE will undoubtedly have interest in a 26-year-old star like him who is already so great on the mic and in the ring, meaning a massive bidding war. And frankly, it doesn’t take a leap to wonder if he’d be better off in WWE-styled programming—just look at Cody Rhodes.
Barring something unexpected though, MJF’s 2024 contract expiration is a long, long way off and it’s hard to imagine all involved would just want him to sit out until that happens. AEW wants him and he wouldn’t want to flirt with getting rusty or having potential bidders on his services shying away, even slightly.
MJF, if nothing else, is an entertainer in the pro wrestling business. AEW, after some misfires here and there while WWE suddenly starts to thrive with Triple H as head of creative, needs a jolt amid serious competition. The marriage of the two ideas should end up meaning both sides come together to tell a great story that indeed weaves in some of this real-life drama and intrigue that already makes the stuff outside regular programming so compelling.
Punk’s initial injury screeched all of this to a halt. But for those reasons, it’s understandable if fans go into Sunday night hopeful MJF plays a role. There’s simply no better moment for all parties if MJF returns in Chicago and earns nuclear heat, smirk and scarf included for an unforgettable uptick in infamy.