Professional wrestling is, was and always will be at its very best when rooted in reality, as fans witnessed Wednesday night when MJF stood in the center of the All Elite Wrestling ring and cut a scathing promo on company owner Tony Khan.
The 26-year-old voiced his disenfranchisement with his perceived value to the promotion he has been with since day one and his desire to no longer be there.
The vitriol that spewed from the lips of the self-proclaimed Salt of the Earth not only made public his heavily rumored disputes with Khan and the current landscape of AEW, but it also resulted in the Long Island native becoming the hottest star in professional wrestling following a promo that can most accurately be described as "explosive."
It isn't the first time a disgruntled employee with a live mic and a penchant for speaking his mind has captured the attention of the wrestling world and elevated his own stock in the process.
It also isn't the first time reality has blended with storyline to elevate the talent involved and bring in new eyes intrigued by a segment of television that left fans buzzing.
First, though, how did MJF get here?
The Salt of the Earth and How MJF Got Here
From day one in AEW, it was clear Khan and Co. had struck gold by signing Maxwell Jacob Friedman to a contract.
He was red hot, had captured the attention of indie fans through his work with Major League Wrestling and other high-profile promotions, and he was almost instantaneously viewed as one of the pillars on which AEW could build its future.
Then he was positioned in a program with Cody Rhodes that saw him buddy-buddy with The American Nightmare before turning on him in a fierce angle and rivalry. From there, he would battle Jon Moxley for the AEW world title in a feud that further proved his ability to hang with top-tier talent.
A show-stealing match with Jungle Boy at Double or Nothing 2020, a main event feud with Chris Jericho, an extraordinary program with CM Punk and a storyline in which he single-handedly elevated Wardlow's star all proved MJF was ready to grab the industry by the horns and run to the top of the card.
So it is easy to see why a guy responsible for so many memorable matches, moments and promos would be frustrated by the idea of former WWE guys infiltrating AEW and making "four to five times" what he is, per PWTorch's Wade Keller.
Guys like Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Malakai Black, Christian Cage, Adam Cole and Mark Henry.
Yes, Henry, the former world heavyweight champion and Hall of Famer whose past greatness is undeniable but whose only on-screen role with AEW is his weekly, Friday night catchphrase, "It's time for the main event!"
The other guys are undeniably high profile, but they all arrived at AEW only after competitors like MJF had laid the groundwork to ensure the promotion would be a success.
His frustration and anger over the lack of reciprocity by Khan is absolutely fair. The list of genuine stars MJF has worked with to help evolve the AEW product is awe-inspiring and to think he is so underpaid, at least according to the Keller report, is insulting to the reader let alone the talent himself.
It should be no great surprise that tensions boiled over in Las Vegas before Double or Nothing, when MJF no-showed at a meet and greet at the AEW fanfest and reportedly booked a flight out of town before his match with Wardlow.
He showed up, did the business and appropriately paid off the months-long storyline with Wardlow, ensuring the big man got the moment he had been working toward for the better part of two years, but that was not to suggest things had improved between him and Khan.
All of MJF's reported points of frustration were laid out in a promo that not only made him the hottest wrestler in the business but also replicated that of his childhood idol and set him up for the most significant run of his young career.
The wrestling world knew MJF could talk long before he took to the ring Wednesday night. He was regularly lauded as one of the best promos in the business, courtesy of his ability to get under the audience's skin and the conviction with which he spoke.
Act or not, no one had any problem believing the scarf-wearing heel believed every word hurled from his mouth. The pipebomb he unleashed on the post-Double or Nothing episode of Dynamite, though, was an entirely different beast.
Whether it was a shoot, work or something inbetween, the promo MJF delivered just a half-hour into the broadcast blew everything else on the show away and left fans buzzing. He talked about his frustration over his perceived value, namedropped WWE when talking about the new guys Khan has paid exorbitant amounts of money for and said he no longer wants to be in AEW.
It played to preconceived notions about his real-life feelings toward his employer, his status as the best in the world, a contract that is legitimately up in January 2024 and his disenchantment with a company that does not at all resemble the one he started to help build three years ago.
The promo was based in reality, and the fans recognized it as such. MJF spoke with such conviction that it was easy to buy everything he was selling.
Was it mostly genuine? Probably. Was it part of an expertly concocted plan by MJF and Khan to take real-life animosity and project it on television, for the sake of the show and possibly public therapy? Most likely.
And therein lies the beauty of it: Even if this is a work, that is hardly a bad thing. Much like Punk's famed pipebomb promo in 2011, which was also rooted in mounting frustrations, MJF's promo has the ability to make him the biggest star in the company and the most sought-after name in the industry.
The money he feels he is owed for his work? It will come tenfold as a result of what he accomplished Wednesday night. He was given the floor to voice his frustrations and, even if Khan was in on the whole thing, it works for all involved.
MJF's star burns brighter than it ever has (and with that comes a larger payday), AEW gains new viewers and fans are enthralled by the "is it or isn't it real?" nature of the storyline.
Even if Khan fails to pony up the money MJF feels is fair for everything he has done, Vince McMahon will be licking his chops at the prospect of writing the pro wrestling prodigy a check with more zeros than AEW Dark Elevation has squash matches.
As of Thursday morning, AEW Dynamite was still trending at No. 3 on Twitter. The most talked-about topic? MJF.
We have seen this play out before in the aforementioned Punk promo. MJF did not do or say anything that his idol and on-screen foe didn't in his own industry-shaking moment, right down to voicing frustration over other stars receiving accolades he believes he should have, assigning blame to fans for not supporting him and ranting his way right into his mic being cut off.
Just like Punk a decade ago, MJF is suddenly the hottest act in wrestling. How AEW follows up on his promo will be key to either protecting itself against his claims it was a shoot or ensuring it can build on the angle's momentum moving forward.
Either way, fans have every reason to be excited in the wake of Wednesday's jaw-dropping promo. If nothing else, the landscape of professional wrestling is about to get even hotter and more enjoyable than it has been in recent memory.
All thanks to a guy whose work to this point is reflective of someone in line for a massive pay raise, regardless of who is paying it out.