Maxwell Jacob Friedman Is Every City’s Worst Enemy

MJF and I go way back. We were Little League baseball teammates and summer sleepaway camp bunk buddies. We studied Hebrew under the same cantor and, when we earned good grades, we got to take the train into New York City. We grew up in the shadow of the Big Apple—close to the action but not too close. Ours was a neighborhood of quiet streets, manicured lawns and big houses with boats in the driveway.

This is all completely true, if you consider that the MJF character is an amalgamation of the worst kinds of people from our home region—Long Island, New York. MJF is smarmy, entitled and he uses way too much hair product. I know him well. He’s a goddamn heel.

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So it felt right Wednesday night when, at the first note of MJF’s theme song, Arthur Ashe Stadium erupted in boos. It was the second match on the AEW Dynamite: Grand Slam supercard, and MJF was set to wrestle Brian Pillman Jr. He stood less than 30 miles from his hometown of Plainview – Long Island, but he received anything but a hero’s welcome.

Hometown Heroes

Since returning to full-time touring, AEW has been purposeful in its booking of hometown stars: in Pittsburgh, Britt Baker D.M. D. successfully defended her AEW women’s world championship in front of a crowd waving yellow Terrible Towels; in Chicago, C.M. Punk made his long-awaited return to wrestling after seven years; and in Houston, Sammy Guevera proposed to his girlfriend before pinning longtime rival Shawn Spears.

It’s fitting, then, that MJF, AEW’s resident grouch, has recently taken on the responsibility of bashing whatever city AEW happens to be in that week. Implicit in the schtick is that MJF’s home of Long Island is the most wonderful place on earth. This is demonstrably false, of course, and only makes him more hateable.

MJF will get his homecoming December 8, when AEW Dynamite comes to the UBS Arena in Belmont Park – Long Island, but first, he had to go to a place he hates, Queens, to wrestle an opponent he hates in Pillman.

The bout was short, about nine minutes from bell-to-bell, and was undoubtedly a cool down after the thrilling time limit draw between AEW Champion Kenny Omega and Bryan Danielson. But the match, and its preceding build-up, was instructive in understanding why some believe the 25-year-old Long Island prick has what it takes to carry AEW into the future.

Cheap Heat

MJF and Pillman’s beef began on the September 8 episode of Dynamite, three days after MJF’s loss to Chris Jericho at All Out. He took his anger out on the Cincinnati crowd, calling the city “the biggest dumpster fire in the world” and insulting Pillman’s sister, Brittany, who was seated ringside. This, of course, prompted the run-in from Pillman, the hometown boy, and set up the match for Dynamite: Grand Slam.

MJF continued the location bashing the following Wednesday, in New Jersey, which he referred to as the “armpit of America.” It is generally frowned upon for heels to devote so much screen time to railing on the home crowd—it’s considered a bit too easy, or “cheap” heat—but MJF can get away with it because he’s been established as a despicable character for some time, having done and said horrific things to some of AEW’s most beloved babyfaces (see: Chris Jericho, Jon Moxley, early-stage Cody Rhodes). He doesn’t need to use cheap heat, and in that sense, his resorting to it makes him even more detestable to a smart audience.

In New Jersey, MJF reached a new low. In addressing Pillman’s late father, Brian Sr., he first looked toward the heavens. “Oh, who am I kidding?” he then said, shifting his gaze downward to the netherworld. He stomped on the ground and flashed a slimy grin. “Asshole! Asshole!” the crowd chanted. MJF then referred to Pillman’s mom as “Methanie.”

That once again brought out an angry Pillman, who’s gotten a nice mini-push in recent months after the airing of his father’s Dark Side of the Ring special. The documentary shed light on Pillman’s tough, scrappy childhood after his father’s death, casting him in stark contrast to the moneyed MJF.

Pillman, one half of the Varsity Blonds tag team with fellow upstart Griff Garrison, plays an old-school whitemeat babyface, with his mullet, rock ‘n roll theme song and fiery offense. He’s everything MJF is not, and on Wednesday, he benefited from sharing the ring with Long Island’s most loathsome creature.

No Flippy Shit

“Sportsmanship!” MJF shouted as the bell rang, extending a hand to Pillman.

Pillman knows a heel when he sees one, and so instead he tackled MJF to the mat with a double-leg takedown, delighting the Queens faithful. Eventually MJF took control, and slowly, methodically beat down Pillman.

Even MJF’s in-ring approach is something of a meta middle finger to fans of AEW, a company built on high-workrate matches. He almost always stays on his feet. He can do “flippy shit,” to be clear, but he chooses not to. He’d rather stomp on his opponents’ fingers, gouge their eyes and flip off the fans, all while wearing that lousy Long Island smirk.

That’s what he did for the bulk of the match against Pillman. Eventually Pillman made his comeback, and after MJF rolled to the outside, Pillman burst toward the ropes for a running dropkick. Right before he left his feet, however, MJF yanked Julia Hart, Pillman’s manager, in front of him. It was a textbook bad guy tactic, used by heels in wrestling for decades. Cheap heat, maybe, but it worked. Pillman rescued Hart, but then MJF took advantage once more, dropping Pillman to the ground with a clothesline. He then grabbed Hart by the arm and yelled in her face, killing enough time for Pillman to finally connect on the dropkick through the ropes.

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Back inside the ring, as the crowd chanted “Brian Pillman!” the babyface climbed to the top rope. MJF caught him in mid-air, though, and applied his Salt of the Earth submission finish. Pillman tapped out, and MJF slithered over to the disgusted Hart as fans voiced their displeasure.

Amid AEW’s recent influx of new stars, some of the company’s homegrown workers have gotten lost in the shuffle, even with the addition of the one-hour Rampage show every week. MJF has continued to get regular TV time, but where he goes from here is unclear. AEW’s main-event scene is packed, with Omega, the heel champion, not likely to be phased out anytime soon.

MJF’ll be back in the world title picture at some point, but for now, his primary function might just be to keep railing on the Dynamite crowds. Without even opening his mouth Wednesday, he received the loudest boos of the evening, and he inspired more than a couple of negative signs. “MJF is a cuck” read one. Another, held by, of all things, a Long Island couple, was a favorite: “We’re MJF’s parents,” the sign read, “and we think he SUCKS too.”

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Joshua Needelman

Joshua Needelman is a freelance writer based in New York who spends way too much time thinking about professional wrestling. He's written about the scripted sport for The Washington Post, The Guardian and Washington City Paper, and he's seldom found without a mug of steaming hot green tea by his side. He can be found on Twitter @JoshNeedelman.

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