Before All Elite Wrestling World Champion CM Punk could address the Ontario, Cali., crowd during Friday night’s episode of Rampage, his eyes were bright red. As tears developed around his corneas, it was easy to know what was going through the Second City Saint’s mind. And he hadn’t opened his mouth.
Five days after winning AEW’s top title, Punk’s been sidelined with a foot injury that requires surgery. He hasn’t relinquished the title however, as the company will name an interim champion. There’s an obvious choice as to who that man should be. It’s MJF. Maxwell Jacob grand-slam hittin’ Friedman. Anyone else will fall short.
If Wednesday’s promo on Dynamite wasn’t completely a shoot, and AEW President Tony Khan would be an idiot to let someone as vicious with the gift of gab as MJF have a mic on live television without at least some knowledge of the insults he was going to spew, there’s one direction for AEW’s No. 2 minute-by-minute draw to go with No. 1 heading to the shelf. Of course, MJF pointed that out himself.
There’s one spot for MJF to enter with the bracket set up to crown an interim champion, Wednesday’s battle royal. Him being shady and somehow entering that match and winning it is simple. Then he beats No. 1 contender Jon Moxley later that night and goes on to Forbidden Door and wins the strap, by likely pinning Hiroshi Tanahashi. What a resume-building win that would be.
This scenario isn’t as simple as replacing Punk with another high-profile star. Moxley getting back to the mountaintop would be fine. But why would AEW settle for something we’ve already seen recently, no matter if it would be good? What’s so different about Mox now, amid his Blackpool Combat Club storyline, if he were to be champion? His persona of fighting on his own works. And he’d change it as champion? Count me out. If you must land the title inside the BCC, give it to Bryan Danielson. Him vs. Moxley as the two best from the stable? That would be great, if Moxley lost. And Danielson vs. Tanahashi would be fantastic.
Like Danielson, many good options exist within AEW to be its next champion. Only a sole perfect choice does. A worked shoot promo that delivers in epic proportions is incredibly rare in professional wrestling. The last one before MJF’s is obviously, and coincidentally, CM Punk’s “pipe bomb” from June 2011, where he aired grievances against his employer similarly to MJF. Punk’s persona blended breaking the fourth wall and on-camera canon in solid fashion. And it worked. By the end of that year, Punk began his 434-day WWE Championship reign.
AEW now has the chance to do a similar storyline, one of WWE’s best since the turn of the century, better. What better way for MJF to give a double middle finger to Khan and every employee in it from the top? He’ll hold the company hostage with its most prized possession in hand. Don’t like it? Try to beat him. MJF could easily prove his worth inside the squared circle and stay interim champion until Punk comes back. That all sounds similar to a storyline Ring of Honor pulled off with Kevin (Owens) Steen being the wildcard champion.
Punk’s feud with MJF preceded his title opportunity and included his only in-ring loss to the hopeful-interim champion since returning to professional wrestling last August. MJF would be on top of the company in Punk’s absence, but with a humongous asterisk, which would be played up as the final leverage keeping Khan from truly recognizing AEW as MJF territory. And guess what? There’s no public timeline for Punk’s return, but whenever it is, MJF needs to win that unification match too with full assholery.
AEW has plenty of time to build the star who can beat MJF, which would be a phenomenal opportunity for an ultimate hero. Until then, it’s Max’s time to shine. Imagine how many amazing matchups it would lead to: another match against Wardlow, who just beat MJF easily at Double or Nothing, a returning Kenny Omega, Danielson in a “Best in the World vs. “Better Than You” showdown, Eddie Kingston and so many others. Anything else won’t compare.