Through the Covid epidemic, WWE and AEW have both continued taping shows in (mostly) empty arenas with a skeleton crew. Conspicuous by his absence from Dynamite has been one of AEW’s fastest rising stars: Maxwell Jacob Friedman, whose last appearance was on the March 18 episode, where he and Sammy Guevara sang along to Chris Jericho’s theme “Judas.”
On the April 22 episode of Dynamite, however, a pre-tape from MJF aired where he stood in front of “Max Rat’s House” in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Maxwell said that mankind had never faced a situation like the current epidemic before and that his fans needed him in these hard times. Still, unfortunately, he had suffered a very serious, life-threatening injury: a hangnail.
MJF made the announcement with his left arm in a sling, nurturing the rumors that his real injury is elbow-related. However, he had wrapped what looked like a kitchen towel around his pinky, stuffing the loose ends into the sling.
This past week, MJF provided another injury update, this time from Max’s Rats Estate in Long Island, New York. He appeared in a neck brace – because he had nicked himself while shaving. A normal man would have bled out, he said but not MJF, because he is a warrior.
The vignettes are a masterclass in wrestling promos. Not only do they leave us fans wondering how injured MJF really is, but they also underscore Maxwell’s smarmy, arrogant persona. Is MJF really injured? Or does he want to self-isolate and use these minor injuries as an excuse, while his colleagues risk life and limb?
The beautiful thing about these vignettes is not only that they could go on as long as AEW and MJF can come up with ideas to explain his absence. It is also their aesthetics. In today’s pro wrestling, we are used to perfectly produced vignettes, often with multiple camera angles, special effects, and even background music.
This is not the case with MJF’s injury updates. In the first one, Max stands in the driveway and we can actually hear the wind blowing as he speaks into the camera. There is minimal production which makes the entire vignette feel real. Not only is this refreshing to see, but it also fits MJF’s gimmick as an alleged rich kid. It leaves us to questions whether he – or his parents – actually have as much money as he claims. After all, he could have been standing in front of anybody’s house, right? And he could have been standing in anybody’s house in the second promo, right? Didn’t the screen read “Max Rat’s”? Rat is an old term for a wrestler’s groupie. Does he have a rich girlfriend? Multiple rich girlfriends? And wouldn’t that somehow also fit MJF’s gimmick: him being just rich by association, leaching off of some poor girl? It is this attention to detail and ambiguity that makes MJF, and these updates, so great.
Of course, there is a comedic element to the vignettes as well. The important point is that this comedy doesn’t make MJF look weak or dumb, just insincere. It underlines his gimmick, instead of undermining it, and it blurs the lines of kayfabe and reality.
MJF is truly a master of his craft and currently the most believable gimmick in wrestling. Who is the real Maxwell Jacob Friedman? We simply don’t know, and he is doing a masterful job of hiding it.
At the same time, AEW must be complimented as well. Not only do they know how to use Maxwell, but they have also given him the freedom to present himself in the way he wants to be presented – something that is unthinkable in WWE. As a fan of old school wrestling, one can see MJF’s fingerprints all over the angles he has been booked in so far. If they continue to give MJF the creative freedom that he seems to enjoy so far, the sky is the limit for him.
For MJF, the weekly updates on AEW's rising star's injuries strengthen his gimmick by blurring the lines of kayfabe and reality.