Friday, November 11, 2022

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MJF vs. AEW: The drama and ‘the work’ explained

All Elite Wrestling held one in every of its greatest exhibits of the 12 months Sunday night time with their Double or Nothing pay per view going down in Las Vegas. However as the primary match approached, there was far more curiosity in what was occurring exterior of the ring reasonably than between the ropes.

A firestorm of rumors and controversy began on Saturday when one of many firm’s brightest younger stars, Maxwell Jacob Friedman no-showed a scheduled meet and greet with followers — an look which price as much as $100 for these wanting to fulfill the wrestler. The absence led to hypothesis that MJF wouldn’t present as much as the PPV on Sunday, skipping his match all collectively, ruining a part of the present, and demanding his launch from the corporate. Nonetheless, others claimed this was all a “work,” outdated wrestling terminology for making the general public imagine what the wrestler and promoter wished them too.

Was this an athlete wanting out amidst a contract dispute, or a part of a conceived plan to make the viewers imagine in backstage drama the place there was none? The occasions that unfolded highlighted the difficult nature of overlaying skilled wrestling, and raised questions whether or not it’s proper to deal with wrestling like a standard fight sport, particularly in a medium the place fiction and actuality are so usually blurred.

It’s vital to know simply how good MJF is, as a result of he’s central to all of this. Friedman is likely one of the most enjoyable skilled wrestlers of the final 20 years. Hell, there’s a compelling argument that no person because the WWE Perspective Period within the late 90s has captured crowds with their promo abilities fairly like MJF. An AEW authentic, Friedman was one of many first performers to signal with the burgeoning promotion in February 2019, following a wildly profitable begin to his profession that noticed him transfer from impartial bookings, to mid-sized promotions — finishing a breakout run with Main League Wrestling that noticed MJF evolve into probably the most hated heels (unhealthy guys) within the enterprise.

MJF is an iconoclast in fashionable wrestling, a throwback to a previous period. By no means dropping character, he portrays himself as a mix between Mr. Good and the “Million Greenback Man” Ted DiBiase. That’s a reductive technique to sum up his character, as a result of there are occasions he’s proven vulnerability too, discussing antisemitism he endured in highschool and mixing old skool character sensibility with a contemporary edge. No one, and I imply no person his age is best at holding a crowd within the palm of his hand throughout a wrestling program, and that’s shined by as he’s gone toe-to-toe on the microphone with the likes of Chris Jericho and C.M. Punk — by no means getting overwhelmed by the second towards wrestlers who’ve extra expertise than years MJF has been alive.

When MJF joined AEW in 2019 on a five-year contract, he was a really completely different performer. Now he’s a bonafide celebrity, and with that comes the need for an even bigger spot, a bigger contract and extra alternative. It’s right here studies emerged that he was rising sad with AEW, significantly in gentle of a swelling roster that he was beginning to really feel misplaced in. As a result he began teasing potentially jumping to WWE when his contract was up, and speaking up wrestlers on their roster.

What makes this trickier is that displeasure with AEW has been a elementary a part of MJF’s character because the starting of 2022. The motivation behind his character has been to painting himself as put upon, or neglected by AEW proprietor Tony Khan — whereas different wrestlers acquired alternatives he felt he deserved.

Because of this as we entered the weekend of Double or Nothing we had a performer who by no means broke character, who made being upset with AEW a elementary a part of his persona, and an ideal state of affairs the place MJF and AEW might play this as much as most impact, ought to they select to drag the set off. No-showing a fan occasion and leaving Las Vegas earlier than the PPV was even full might be the final word “work” to rile up followers, blurring the road between fiction and actuality that wrestling so usually strives for, however not often reaches.

Ultimately, the match happened. MJF was on the cardboard, completed his program towards Wardlow — the place he acquired powerbombed into subsequent week, getting stretchered out of the ring, and primarily writing him off TV for some time. We nonetheless don’t know whether or not that is a part of a narrative, or overlaying for points behind the scenes.

How ought to the media react to this? There’s no good reply. Wrestling needs to get the eye of journalists, needs to be written about — however doesn’t need to reciprocate when one thing large happens. Tony Khan refused to deal with questions on MJF following Double or Nothing and wrestlers had been instructed to not discuss it. This closed system caught the eye of veteran hockey reporter Greg Wyshynski.

There’s an inherent need to take care of a few of the mystique of wrestling. To permit the medium to idiot followers and preserve them guessing like all good TV present — however the place is the road? Will we draw it when an athlete is offered as a malcontent? How about when followers pay good cash to fulfill a star, solely to have the chance taken away from them? What about when followers are invested in a product, spending their time and power to help a wrestler and never know whether or not they’re going to be out of the corporate or not?

These are the questions which might be swirling following AEW’s weekend in Vegas. Now there’s a choice to be made by everybody concerned. We are able to both proceed the method of treating wrestling like a pseudo-sport, permitting promotions to manage the narrative with out media problem — or we will push additional, dig deeper, and demand that with regards to points that stretch past storylines on a present, and into the lives of followers. These people who paid to fulfill MJF need to know whether or not it was an sincere falling out, or a deliberate “work,” turning their funding into an angle.

We live in a golden age of wrestling. It has by no means been higher to be a wrestling fan who can decide or select the performers, promotions or kinds they like to look at. There isn’t a homogenized product anymore, and it’s unimaginable to see — however together with this comes a accountability from these in highly effective positions. To respect the followers and never cross a line the place “the work” is extra vital than their funding. We, the media, additionally have to be robust sufficient to vary the paradigm, so we will serve the folks eager to know the reality — reasonably than take part within the complicity of letting “the work” exist when it fits an organization.

If wrestling needs to be handled like a sport, let’s do it — and meaning ruffling feathers alongside the way in which.

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