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Mapping Out the Rest of 2022 For AEW's MJF: Champion or Sideshow?

Philip LindseySeptember 16, 2022

Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling

Following AEW Double or Nothing, Maxwell Jacob Friedman’s absence was the hottest story heading into the summer. That seems hard to believe now considering everything that has happened in professional wrestling this year. However, his infamous promo from the June 1 episode and abrupt hiatus successfully blurred the line between fiction and reality.

It was an opportune scenario for MJF. After all, this fits his modus operandi. He always finds a way to tell us just enough of what we want to hear to get us to question our allegiances. His entire act is like an elaborate shell game that keeps everyone guessing.

The three-time Dynamite Diamond Ring winner will dangle a nugget of truth long enough to get us to buy in. Then he’ll disguise it behind bravado and conceit or slip and show us a fleeting moment of vulnerability. It’s so convincing that it’s easy to wonder if this is just a character or an aberration.

Hiding in Plain Sight

For three months, Friedman effectively went off the grid, and bigger headlines eclipsed his alleged dispute with Tony Khan. It felt like AEW had moved on without him as All Out approached, but the Casino Ladder Match raised anticipation again.

As a masked figure strolled down to the ring on that fateful night to gain his prize, it became clear: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” MJF is indeed a wolf in sheep's clothing, and Sept. 4 should’ve been the payoff to his long-awaited reveal.

His use of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” at the event was such a nice touch because the title encapsulates his journey since his loss at Double or Nothing. The song’s refrain “Pleased to meet you. Hope you guess my name,” was a clever way to reintroduce himself and foreshadow his reveal at the end of the show.

More to the point, he has effectively convinced a part of the audience that he’s a martyr, not a charlatan. They empathize with his plight as a homegrown star who Khan looked over when he signed ex-WWE star.

Unfortunately, CM Punk kicked off a debacle after the event that overshadowed him again. The straight edge star has dominated the news cycle for the past two weeks. Meanwhile, Friedman has been just captivating as ever on Dynamite and Twitter.

It’s a shame that we will miss out on the next chapter in his rivalry with Punk as AEW seeks to crown a new champion at Grand Slam. Moreover, this begs the question: has MJF’s ascent to the top of the card stalled for now? Is the pillar of the company destined to hold championship gold by the end of 2022, or is he just a bombastic con artist?

One could argue that the recent controversy has become a distraction. Conversely, it’s kind of worked out in the 26-years-old favor again because it lulled the audience into a false sense of security again. Everything he’s doing is so brilliant because it keeps us second-guessing our assumptions about what’s coming next.

MJF will thrive during the chaos because that’s what he does best. His return to AEW didn’t get the attention it warranted, but that plays into his narrative of choice, doesn’t it? Before he left, Friedman expressed resentment towards ex-WWE stars. Now, he has the chance to slink in and steal the spotlight from three of the biggest signees from the distinguished competition in Punk, Jon Moxley, and Bryan Danielson.

An Inevitability in a Deceptive Scheme

Next Wednesday, Moxley and Danielson will face off in the finals of the Grand Slam Tournament Of Champions. Nevertheless, the winner of the 2022 Casino Ladder Match is still the number one contender.

MJF has the right to challenge for the world title any time he chooses to, making him an immediate threat. However, most fans have convinced themselves that he won’t take advantage of the opportunity until later this year.

It would be right up his alley to continue to tease viewers for two months ahead of the next pay-per-view. So, Full Gear in Newark, NJ on Nov. 19 seems like a safe bet. Nevertheless, Friedman would also probably love to subvert expectations and do something underhanded.

Some fans have been cheering for him since his return. One would have to assume the Burberry scarf-clad devil will do something soon to cement himself as an unrepentant heel. What better way to get the crowd to boo during his crowning achievement than to steal Danielson's moment at Arthur Ashe Stadium?

Friedman has shared the ring with Mox for the last two weeks. AEW has set up an obstacle for The American Dragon, a lingering ankle injury from his semifinal match. Even more, MJF has set up a motive to try to take him out, and Stokely Hathaway has set up The Firm as his support system.

It’s not farfetched to guess that he and his faction on retainer will strike at Grand Slam. All Out didn’t pan out the way he planned, but this could be his chance to make a significant impact on another big stage.

On the contrary, that could be exactly what he wants us to think, and he will continue to bide his time. Maybe, MJF will hold the big chip until Winter is Coming and secure the title in December after Danielson has had a run as a fighting champion. He could wait until November when everyone expects it or cash in his shot on an arbitrary episode of Dynamite.

MJF will keep us guessing about his motives and the destination for his title match. Regardless, The Salt of the Earth will win the AEW World Championship by the end of the year. It seems inevitable now. Don’t let the sleight of hand fool you; this was always the end goal.

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