A few years ago, I saw The Play That Goes Wrong. For anyone who hasn’t seen it, it’s a play about a play that, quite obviously, goes wrong. The sets fall apart, special effects set off at the wrong time, and mishaps occur with the few actors who can actually remember their lines.
By the time the intermission came, although I was having a great time, I was wondering about the kayfabe of it. Sure, all this disaster was highly entertaining, but in the reality of the play itself, why was it continuing with so many things going so badly? For that matter, why was it even put on in the first place? Luckily for me, the playbill was also kayfabed, with the fictional biographies of all the actors and crew. From there, I found out about the lead actor who was also running his university’s production company, the tech who’s clearly over the bullshit and is just trying to get his credits, the terrible support actor who’s taking too much delight in making the audience laugh at this serious drama, but who has a wealthy relative who provided a sizeable donation. During the second half, I got even more enjoyment out of the play knowing these extra details not only because they added depth to the show but because I knew that the writer had made sure there was a logic behind it all, that it all made sense.
Similarly, there is an angle playing out in AEW right now that many people are missing, one that was fairly subtle until last week’s AEW Dynamite line-up came out, and one of the announced segments was “MJF is contractually obligated to appear.” Usually, for those sorts of segments, the announcement is usually “<Wrestler> will appear” or something similar, but this week they wanted to make it clear that MJF was being forced to appear. Then you go back to MJF’s back and forth with Danielson on the January 4 AEW Dynamite, where in between insulting the crowd, the wrestling media, and Danielson, he said a couple of interesting things:
“… I get a big fat cheque in the mail, whether I wrestle or I don’t. That’s what makes me a special attraction…”
“… so I talked to that nerd Tony Khan in the back, and he told me that if you were to wrestle on Dynamite from now until February 8, you would be number one contender, and Bryan I’m normally known for making my opponents jump through a few hoops, but I’ll make an exception for you. If you can pull that off… I’ll give you a match, March 5 Revolution…”
For the last few weeks, many people have complained about AEW returning to the standard MJF pattern of making his opponent go through a gauntlet before getting a match with him. If you go back to that promo, it’s clear that isn’t what’s happening. MJF didn’t set the schedule; Tony Khan did. MJF hasn’t picked any of Daneilson’s opponents; Tony Khan has.
Once MJF found out who they were, he paid them a bunch of money to hurt Danielson, but he didn’t choose them.
Danielson picked up on it and saw through MJF’s bluster about being swamped with legal challenges for long enough to get MJF to agree to his stipulation for the match. He knew that MJF couldn’t stop him from earning his number one contendership, but he could be manipulated into agreeing to a stipulation where Danielson had the advantage for one simple reason: MJF needs to give the illusion that he’s still in control of his schedule.
So, if MJF isn’t making Danielson run this gauntlet, then why is Danielson having to fight all these opponents to get the title match? As MJF himself said, “In this company, wins and losses matter.” Tony Khan wants to ensure that the next title contenders are truly worthy of the shot, possibly to make sure that MJF can’t take legal action to prevent the title matches from happening. On top of that, he wants to put on exciting matches to draw crowds and viewers for his shows. He has the good fortune that the guy he’s booking, Bryan Danielson, loves wrestling more than any living person. To him, fighting Konosuke Takeshita, Brian Cage, Timothy Thatcher and Rush are not punishment, they are exactly what he wants to be doing. That he is successful at it is yielding him rewards, and has now gotten him to the point where he can spend an hour beating the piss out of a man who he hates and who has hurt someone who he loves like family.
Before All Out, MJF got a new contract paying substantially more. At Full Gear, he won the World Championship he’s been craving since day one in the company. He wanted a lot of money and prestige, and now he’s got them, but, as champion, he has many more responsibilities and, more importantly, obligations.
He can’t duck worthy challengers. If AEW books him for a title eliminator match, he has to fight in it. If there are dates on his contract, MJF has to turn up for those dates, lest he be in breach of it.
As Oscar Wilde said, “When the gods want to punish us, they answer our prayers.” Right now, MJF is finding out that getting everything he wants has taken away the thing he truly needs: control.
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