There’s a fairly common misconception among casual wrestling fans that the first time Hulk Hogan jumped ship, changing the industry forever, was in 1993 when he departed the then-World Wrestling Federation for World Championship Wrestling. Sure, it eventually led to the New World Order and the wildly over-romanticized Monday Night Wars, but it was hardly Hogan’s biggest leap. Based on the financial and culture repercussions, Hogan’s biggest departure was when he left the American Wrestling Association to work for Vincent Kennedy McMahon in 1983. Weeks after signing with “New York,” Hogan was world champion, and ushered in era of professional wrestling and superstardom rivaled only by Stone Cold Steve Austin’s WWF in the late 90’s.
Decades later, wrestling still has defections. Developmental darling Adam Cole allowed his contract to expire to join Adam Cole on the same night the legendary Bryan Danielson debuted in All Elite Wrestling. Cody Rhodes has left the now-World Wrestling Entertainment for “alternative” promotions like New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor before playing a crucial role in the creation and development of All Elite Wrestling… only to return to the WWE.
But I believe the most important free agent in not only the future, but the history of pro wrestling has yet to hit the open market.
MJF Is the Most Important Free Agent in Pro Wrestling History
As far as “homemade stars” are concerned, Maxwell Jacob Friedman is AEW’s masterpiece. A throwback from a bygone era, this generation’s Ric Flair, MJF manages to play all the classics without becoming a parody of them. A physical specimen, MJF is the rare performer who is equally adept in the ring and on the microphone, especially at the young, young age of 26. From the very beginning, even as a recurring bit on AEW’s canonical YouTube counterpart, “Being The Elite,” his status as a “future world champion” has been set in stone.
So many of MJF’s feuds to this point have been money for AEW. For as much attention as Adam “Hangman” Page’s years-long redemption story has gotten, few in AEW have the character development consistency that MJF does. Whether it’s his relationships with the likes of Cody Rhodes and Chris Jericho, the development of his own faction, the blurred lines of his masterful feud with CM Punk, or the evolution of the Triple H/Batista storyline with Wardlow, MJF’s actions always make sense in his character, and he remains predictable without ever really becoming stale or boring.
MJF is unique because it feels like he could thrive in any setting. He could kick off an episode of Monday Night Raw with a 20 minute promo just as easily as he could tear the house down against the likes of Darby Allin on an episode of Dynamite. He can draw the attention of the New York Times with a duet just as well as he can paint the mat red with his own blood during a dog collar match. Any promotion would be lucky to have such a young, versatile, talented star.
Whether he leaves AEW in an unofficial capacity, which was rumored after a tumultuous Sunday afternoon, or in 2024, when his contract reportedly expires, Maxwell Jacob Friedman will be a hot commodity on pro wrestling’s waiver wire. WWE, still the promotion synonymous with professional wrestling, would love to grab someone so “made for Monday nights.” Ignoring the obvious, that losing MJF would be a massive creative loss for AEW, as well as a huge win for their competition, the departure would perpetuate a really unfortunate stigma for Tony Khan’s hall of brawl.
If AEW cannot retain MJF’s services, if they allow him to go to the WWE, then the political ramblings about “not being WWE’s competition” will be cemented. They, like New Japan Pro Wrestling, IMPACT, and Ring of Honor before them, will become just another minor league promotion that develops talent for Titan Towers. If AEW can’t retain the services of their youngest, brightest star, how will they ever really be able to rival the industry juggernaut?