In the lead-up to Full Gear, it seemed like AEW had turned MJF face. He had been getting massive pops since returning at All Out, which could have led to Tony Khan making him the top good guy in the company. The Salt Of The Earth would have never been a happy-to-be-here face, but All Elite Wrestling could have banked on a Stone Cold Steve Austin-type anti-authority figure working with modern wrestling audiences. Time and time again, MJF tried to push the boundaries of the TV-14 rating to get booed. And repeatedly, fans rebuked his efforts and cheered for him anyway. That’s part of what made William Regal’s double cross of Jon Moxley so sweet. Friedman has been telling audiences all along that he can’t be trusted. It’s a valuable lesson for AEW fans: Don’t get in their way when a wrestler is telling you who they are.
MJF has felt like a man of the people since All Out. His promos with Regal tugged at the heartstrings of anyone who’s ever been told they aren’t good enough. He seemed to be doing some genuine soul-searching before intervening in The Firm’s beat down of Moxley a few weeks ago. Fans were left wondering if they were seeing real character growth from Friedman. Nope. Not even a little. This is still the same man who told CM Punk that he’s a snake. This is the same guy who’s taken to calling himself the Devil. This is what MJF has always wanted to be since landing in AEW in the first place.
MJF Can Now Prove To AEW That He’s Everything He Says He Is
At Full Gear, MJF achieved two huge goals: he became the AEW World Champion and did it as a heel. For the last year, Tony Khan had struggled to find ways to pit good guys against bad guys, at least when it came to the top title in the company. Every feud over the World Championship since Hangman Adam Page beat Kenny Omega has been face against face. That’s fine every once in a while, but it leaves crowds split and fans at home unsure who they should be cheering for. How much better would CM Punk vs. Jon Moxley have been if one of them returned to the dark side?
MJF winning the World Championship gives AEW its first truly heel champion since Chris Jericho. Omega was working as a villain, but no one wanted to boo the Best Bout Machine. After getting help from Regal at Full Gear, the odds seem good that All Elite Wrestling fans will turn on MJF. This is precisely what he’s wanted this whole time, and it fulfills AEW’s most significant need, which is a bankable heel for all the heroes to chase around for the next several months. Make no mistake: MJF winning the title as a bad guy will dramatically impact AEW’s next phase. One that seems promising, full of homegrown talents and fresh main eventers.
AEW Full Gear Sets Up Pushes For Several Top Faces
MJF can determine who his first title defense will be against almost immediately. The World Title eliminator tournament final is set to take place on November 23, and it’s Ethan Page against Ricky Starks. Over the last few weeks, it’s felt like Starks is being positioned for a big push. His opponents during the tourney were three of the most physically imposing wrestlers on AEW’s roster. Wins over Nick Comoroto, Lance Archer, and Brian Cage set Ricky Starks up to look like a true giant killer. The kind of wrestler that fans can get behind and believe in, no matter how imposing the odds are. That’s why an MJF and Starks feud is the way to go for Khan and AEW moving into 2023.
Ethan Page has been on a great run as of late, but fans aren’t going to want to cheer for him over Friedman. He isn’t there right now. Starks is, though. After months of focusing on ex-WWE guys at the top of the card, it’d be an absolute breath of fresh air to watch Ricky Starks and Maxwell Jacob Friedman come to blows over the AEW World Championship. It’s a sign that Tony Khan is learning how to build stars internally finally, and it’s the kind of rivalry fans have been clamoring for over the last several months. Moxley was an outstanding champion and is undoubtedly AEW‘s ace. But the time has come for the company to discover what it has in young stars such as MJF and Starks. The new year can’t get here fast enough if this is where 2023 is heading for All Elite Wrestling.
Next: Saraya Vs. Britt Baker Might Be AEW’s Most Important Full Gear Match