Hi folks! Today, we’re talking about AEW and the recent trouble it has faced with its wrestlers. Much has been said in the past week about CM Punk calling out Hangman Page, and I’d like to make things clearer. AEW hasn’t always been the most peaceful place to work, and I’d like to talk about incidents that highlight this. There’s also the wild card known as MJF, who will take up a considerable chunk of this piece, so let’s begin with him.
Maxwell aggressively tells the “marks” that we know nothing, and he’s right. However, what we do know is that tension between wrestlers and promotion has happened many times before. Rarely as obvious as he has made it, professional wrestling has a long history of talent and booker butting heads. Whether it’s their character portrayal, lack of bookings, or money issues, the oldest tale behind closed doors is that of the talent and booker needing to agree. When this doesn’t happen, there are usually some crossed words backstage, but hardly ever will it spill over onto the product.
MJF has said several times that he is a “professional”, yet repeatedly dropped in the fact that his contract is up in 2024. He would claim this was part of his character, but anyone who knows business will tell you this was a way to advertise and hype his services, so when the time comes to negotiate, he’s in a better place to do so. MJF admitted this during the Ariel Helwani interview, which he wasn’t cleared to do (more on that later). What we know is that MJF does not need to use his contract status to garner heat, so claiming that was a device to get AEW fans to hate him is moot.
However, MJF brings up several important issues that have not been addressed. Such as the pay discrepancy between those who helped to build AEW from the ground up, and those who recently showed up and got fat contracts right away. Lesser known stars like MJF, when he signed his initial contract, would be far behind the pay grade compared to, for example, CM Punk or Christian Cage. These guys aren’t wrestling full time in ten years, while young wrestlers like MJF, Darby Allin, Britt Baker, Jungle Boy, and Sammy Guevara will. It’s healthy to invest in young talent, although MJF found it unfair that he wasn’t making the same money, if not more than guys like CM Punk.
This created friction between the old guard and the new. The older stars have not made AEW’s business boom (aside from Punk’s merchandise sales) and the company was growing steadily without them. Yes, PPV buys and other metrics have continued to increase, but not by astronomical amounts. We could say this rise was because AEW is a young company and it was bound to do better numbers so long as it remained consistent. It didn’t need to spend a ton of money on former WWE Superstars to do that. AEW had made its stars long before they got there.
However, what MJF failed to realize is that playing hardball has decreased the chances of a lucrative deal. WWE gives out decent contracts, but he’d have to be delusional to think he’d make what Cody Rhodes or any of the main event guys are. MJF has put in the work to be a valuable commodity for TV, but you also need to know how to play the game. He has a lot of representation who have likely given him poor advice and this led to him no-showing a meet & greet. MJF tried painting himself as the victim, but the fact is that he robbed his fans of the chance of meeting him. He talks about how CM Punk inspired him when he was young, but he essentially stuck up a middle finger to any young fan who showed up that day with the dream of meeting him in person.
Tony Khan allowed him to air whatever grievances he had with a promo if only to stop fans asking what’s up. The promo was wicked and one of the best of the modern era, if not the best… because it was real. There was no reason for MJF to cut that promo other than to let off some steam. It was buried immediately, and no one has mentioned it since. If the promo was part of a work, then AEW wouldn’t wait months to capitalize. Yes, they could still do something with it if they figure something out, but the initial point of that promo was not to plug an upcoming match or feud. Had MJF returned a few weeks later to wage war on Tony Khan to kill the company in a storyline lasting to All Out? Then sure, it was a work.
Most promoters would never have let MJF mention his contract with Ariel Helwani in any form, or have one of their talents label them a “f****** mark” on global television. But it happened, and while it’s admirable that AEW gives its talent the freedom to express, sometimes this royally backfires. We can understand why Vince McMahon brought in some (not all) of the restrictions because he knows that talent going into business for themselves can damage the promotion’s reputation. There’s a time and a place to talk business, and it’s not mid-show or in a random interview.
Speaking of which, I seriously doubt that AEW did not know about MJF’s interview with Ariel Helwani. They knew about it, but they had to say they hadn’t agreed to let him do it because it would make them look unprofessional. AEW made it look like MJF had gone into business for himself and this was their only way to claw something back from an interview that painted them in a terrible light as he complimented WWE. I watched that interview this week and found it very interesting. Although, he really should have done more to shy away from contract talks because that put him in an awkward position.
When MJF talked about Tony Khan hiring ex-WWE guys and whether he would be treated better if he was one, this rubbed a few people the wrong way. Chris Jericho, who MJF had only good things to say (in the interview), said the following on Twitter:
For the record @AEW is the best sports entertainment company I’ve ever worked for & @TonyKhan is the best boss I’ve done business with. If certain talents feel they’re under compensated, maybe ur not as good as u think u are. Go elsewhere PLEASE. You’ll be begging to come back!
— Chris Jericho (@IAmJericho) June 3, 2022
And this is Chris Jericho, the guy who helped put AEW on the map from the beginning and has done nothing but help elevate talents like MJF. Yeah, the end of their feud could have been handled better, but MJF came out of that feud looking better no matter how it ended. And then there’s Christian Cage:
Shortly after turning heel, Christian Cage cut a promo, which is better known for how he reminded everyone how dead Jungle Boy’s father is. Most people who watch the above video skip forward to that part, but many overlooked how he buried MJF for no other reason than he had a live microphone and he can.
At the 3:30 mark, Christian talks about how he had been cashing his fat paycheck doing hardly any work. That’s a good way to get heel heat, by saying he only cares about cashing in, but this mirrored what MJF was saying in his interview with Ariel Helwani (he said there are no friends in AEW and it’s about money to him).
Christian sarcastically asked fans if they thought he came back to help elevate the young talent. This is genius because that’s exactly what he’s doing, but he’s being hypocritical. By saying this, he is giving MJF and everyone else the reason he’s paid so much, although doing so while in character. He then directly mentions other people complaining about their paychecks.
He makes sure this applies to everyone in the back. Try having a match that fans talk about more than a week after. A theme that I’d like to bring back later is that Christian Cage gives not only MJF advice, he gives him free advice because he’s hard up for money. When they have worked matches that have PPVs named after them and change the industry, then they may be worth the same amount of money. If you don’t like that, then you can eat his crumbs and enjoy it.
These words weren’t only a dig at MJF for being so hard up on his contract, but at other wrestlers who don’t do enough to have their matches remembered. There has been a divide between generations since AEW began, and it looks like this still exists. In the early days of AEW, Jim Ross would regularly bury talent on commentary and make comments like this:
“I told a kid the other day at AEW that everybody does the same f****** spot. All you guys go outside. You cluster up like coils. You stand there in a huddle, friends, and foes together, side by side so you can catch some leaping idiot going over the top who never wins with this move. They are looking for the “holy ****” chant. They love to hear ‘this is awesome’. It’s a spot folks. It’s a trapeze act. I don’t buy into that.”
An anonymous wrestler responded with:
“Look I know there is a lot that JR can teach us but burying us on the show or on his podcast is only going to make some of us ignore what he says. I grew up watching JR and he is the best and we love it that he calls our matches but maybe find a different way to criticize the wrestlers in the ring. Everyone is doing what they have been taught. I agree that sometimes things need to be slowed down but that won’t happen when the guy who is supposed to help put us over is going out there and publicly burying us.”
Continuing with the theme of advice, Hangman Adam Page recently admitted he doesn’t take advice from veterans. He may stand and listen, but he does not believe he needs to appreciate it because he helped build the company from the ground up and is a former World Champion. His exact words were, to a question where a fan asks what the best advice Sting & CM Punk has given him:
“They may give me some advice every once in a while, yeah, I guess I listen… but really, I don’t think I need to ask for advice from these people because I’m part of the movement that started this company in this revolution. And we’ve done just fine. So do we really need that advice?” You can find that comment in the video at the 6:30 mark.
So, this wasn’t a dig only at CM Punk, but at Sting and other wrestling veterans. He doesn’t listen to the advice because he’s stubborn and takes more pride in trial & error, instead of wanting to learn from some of wrestling’s best minds. As a former teacher, you’d expect him to want to learn from others, no? If CM Punk was remotely upset about this comment, it was more so because of his disrespect to the legends of the business than anything personal.
Some like to bring up the history between them on-screen as a reason for the backstage heat between them, but I’m not buying it. If Jon Moxley can say to his face that he only came back to AEW because he needed money, then Page saying he’s cancerous to the locker room isn’t landing either. For the sake of those who haven’t seen it or can’t remember, here’s the video:
For the time, nothing in this promo tells me there’s any real-life heat between them. If there was, there would have been some kind of sabotage, but they worked perfectly together to sell their title match. The one line which could have gotten under Punk’s skin was the line about worker’s rights. Less than a week before this promo, CM Punk tweeted this:
Doesn’t matter if your opinion of your coworker is positive or negative. Stand with them. Because they’ll do the same thing to you and you’ll wish someone helped. Trust me. You’re expendable. Together you’re unstoppable.
— player/coach (@CMPunk) May 21, 2022
However, I don’t think that this alone was enough to warrant what happened last week.
On Dynamite last week (unless it turns out to be a work), CM Punk effectively buried Hangman Page. He called Page out for a title rematch, but because Page was never scheduled to be out there, he couldn’t answer the call or respond to Punk calling him “coward s***”. Ignore everything else that happened in the segment, because it was designed to ignite a feud between him and Jon Moxley (including the Kingston stuff) ahead of their title match.
What does Punk calling Page out accomplish unless it leads to a match? Nothing. Usually talking to Page about any issues backstage would be the way to go, but Punk sent a message in the most public way. This was most likely in response to Page’s comment at GalaxyCon, but there’s probably more to this. The theme of “advice” continues throughout AEW’s life. Again, it’s the older generation trying to instill wisdom in the new generation, but nobody’s listening. The most interesting line was: “The apology needs to be as loud and public as the disrespect.”
Page took to Twitter following the segment to quote rapper Megan Thee Stallion. He wrote, “Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday bad b*tches have bad days too.” John Silver also reacted, posting a photo of Page in catering.
Best wrestler in catering
— John Silver (@SilverNumber1) August 18, 2022
So, what did Hangman Page mean with the lyric? I have never listened to Megan Thee Stallion before, so I looked it up and listened to the song, which is called “Anxiety”. The song tells of a girl who is often misunderstood and has bad days. She hates everyone and usually keeps her feelings down because no one gives a f*** what she has to say. Hangman Page has a history of social anxiety and the lyric could reference that.
Whether the Punk comments were triggering his anxiety, or he’s admitting that his social anxiety led to him upsetting others, is unknown. What we know is that Punk was annoyed with Page enough for him to be the first order of “not important” business upon his return after injury. If this is a work, then it’s poorly done because it hints that there’s real-life tension and Tony Khan needs to sort them out. And if it’s not a work, then Tony Khan needs to get better control of his talent because they are getting too much freedom to say whatever comes to mind.
He has not done enough to tell the talent that they need to respect the business. The young generation feels they deserve more and aren’t listening to those who paved the way, while the older generation is further alienating them by acting like they are above them. There are a lot of egos in AEW, and now that the party is over and business is more important than ever, it has created trouble in what used to be a paradise for talent. Former WWE guys jumped because they could have creative freedom while making a decent living.
There’s so little control that it felt refreshing to have the responsibility to go out on TV and nail a promo. But now that Vince McMahon is gone and Triple H is giving some of the freedom they originally craved, AEW isn’t the ray of hope it used to be. The fun and games are over. AEW needs to pull its big boy pants up and prove it has what it takes to be more than a company that survives. Otherwise, WWE will become more attractive, and AEW will suffer. It doesn’t help that Tony Khan is overly sensitive to criticism and caters too much to the online community.
There needs to be a drive toward better storytelling and character development because dream matches and dropping WWE references will only get you so far. WWE beat WCW in the Attitude Era because it dared to be creative. The draw of the Attitude Era was the characters & storytelling. AEW is so very far from that. Some fans claim it has done well with its “long-term storytelling”, but I don’t see it. There’s way more to long-term storytelling than what AEW has been doing, but I digress.
What is important now is that Tony Khan gets his roster together and reminds them who the boss is. You can’t be everyone’s friend in the business, and you can’t keep everyone on the payroll. If MJF is being annoying and claiming he deserves more money than CM Punk, pay him to stay home until his contract runs out. Some talents are going to play all the games they can to get the better deal. We’re in an age where a lot of the power is back with the wrestlers, and promoters need to be tougher than ever. Otherwise, you end up paying talent more than they are worth and can’t grow your business. That’s when you have trouble in paradise.
I hope this has made the current situation in AEW more clear. Please let us know what you think about Tony Khan’s handling of the roster in the comments. Thanks for reading!